1. Art Shell, 1968-1982
Not only is Art Shell at the top of this list, but he was also among the best tackles in NFL history, and there those who believe there was no one better. The 6-5, 270-pound Shell was selected by the Raiders in the third round (No. 80 overall) of the 1968 NFL Draft out of Maryland State and was a fixture at left tackle for the next 15 years. During the 1970s, Shell was a mainstay in the greatest line in NFL history, along with center Jim Otto, guard Gene Upshaw, and tight end Dave Casper, who like Shell all are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Shell played in eight Pro Bowls, was selected to the All-Pro team four times, made the All-American Football Conference team seven consecutive years, and was voted onto the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team and the NFL 100-Year Anniversary team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989. Shell played in 24 post-season games for the Silver and Black, who were 15-9 in those games, including a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI and a 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV. The victory over the Vikings might have been the highlight of Shell’s career, as he held Pro Bowl defensive end, Jim Marshall, without a tackle or an assist. In 1999, Shell was ranked No. 55 by The Sporting News on its list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in NFL history. When his playing career was over, Shell went into coaching, and that 20-year career included two stints as head coach of the Raiders. He had a 54-38 record until going 2-14 in his last season in 2006. Shell was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1990 by the Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, United Press International, and several other media organizations.
2. Bob Brown, 1971-1973
Even though Brown played only the last three seasons of his brilliant career with the Raiders, he still had enough left to show that he was among the very best tackles in NFL history. The 6-4, 280-pound Brown was selected in the first round of the 1964 NFL Draft (No. 2 overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles and the first round of the 1964 AFL Draft by the Denver Broncos (No. 4 overall) after being a unanimous All-American at Nebraska. Before coming to the Raiders, he played five years with the Eagles and 11 with the Los Angeles Rams, being selected to the Pro Bowl six times (once with the Raiders), making first-team All-Pro in five seasons and second-team in four others, and also was selected to the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team. The Raiders acquired him in a 1971 trade with the Rams for tackle Harry Schuh and cornerback Kent McCloughan, who both were starters for Oakland. “The Boomer” was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. During the 1971 season, he was one of five players on the Raiders line who eventually made it to the HOF, the others being center Jim Otto, tackle Art Shell, guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Ron Mix, who spent his last season in Oakland after a great career with the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers. Brown wowed his new Raiders teammates on the first day of training camp, when he got into his three-point stance, fired out, and with a powerful forearm smash broke a padded wooden goal post.
3. Henry Lawrence, 1974-1986
When Raiders' right tackle John Vella was injured in 1977, Lawrence stepped in to replace him and stayed there for the next 11 seasons, and the line didn’t miss a beat. The 6-4, 275-pound Lawrence was drafted by the Raiders in the first round (No. 19 overall) of the 1974 NFL Draft out of Florida A&M. Lawrence started every game in eight of the seasons he played and kept the offense alive by recovering nine fumbles in his career. Like Vella, as the right tackle for the Silver and Black, he protected the backside for left-handed quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler, starting 148 games in his career. Lawrence, nicknamed “Killer,” supposedly because of his affinity with the ladies, had to wait until tackle Art Shell and guard Gene Upshaw left the Raiders before he made the Pro Bowl in 1983 and 1984, and he played on all three of the Silver and Black’s three winning teams in Super Bowls XI, XV, and XVII, including key roles in those last two victories over the Philadelphia Eagles to cap the 1980 season and over the Washington Redskins at the end of the 1983 season. Lawrence, who was drafted by a team that already had perhaps the best line in NFL history, stepped up to that level and started in 13 of the 20 post-season games in which he played.
4. John Vella, 1972-79
The 6-4, 265-pound Vella is another Raiders lineman who played in relative anonymity because he lines up on the other side of the offensive line from tackle Art Shell and guard Gene Upshaw. However, Vella was vital to the success of the Raiders because his pass blocking protected the backside of quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler. Although he never made All-Pro or the Pro Bowl, Vella was highly valued by the Raiders for the job he did on perhaps the greatest offensive line in NFL history, playing opposite four future Hall of Famers. He played a vital role, as did the rest of the O-line in the 32-14 rout of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI when the supposedly pass-happy Raiders rushed for 266 yards. Vella was selected by the Raiders in the second-round (No. 43 overall) of the 1972 NFL Draft, out of USC, where he was an All-American as a senior and also played on the Trojans’ baseball team that captured the College World Series in 1970. Vella was hampered by injuries from 1977 to 1979, eventually lost his job to Henry Lawrence, and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings in 1980. After retirement, Vella opened a store called “John Vella’s Raider Locker Room,” in Castro Valley, near Oakland, selling Raiders gear, novelties and collectibles.
5. Lincoln Kennedy, 1996-2003
The 6-6, 335-pound Kennedy was selected in the first round (No. 9 overall) of the NFL Draft out of Washington by the Atlanta Falcons after making consensus All-American as a senior and playing in three consecutive Rose Bowls for the Huskies. But after three disappointing seasons with the Falcons, he was traded to the Raiders for a fifth-round draft choice. He flourished in Silver and Black, starting 119 of 121 games at right tackle in his first eight seasons with the Raiders while recovering nine fumbles during his career. Kennedy played in three straight Pro Bowls from 2000-2002 and was selected first-team All-Pro in 2000 and 2001, in addition to playing a major role on the Raiders offensive line as they made it to Super Bowl XXXVII, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kennedy’s career in Oakland ended because of a torn calf muscle in 2003, and he attempted a comeback with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 but failed to pass a physical. However, in 2007, 2008, and 2010 he played for the Tampa Bay Storm in the Arena Football League. Kennedy, who earned a degree in speech communications, went into broadcasting after retiring from football and has worked for Fox Sports, Premiere Radio Networks, the NFL Network, and Raiders broadcasts on Compass Media Networks.
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