Willie Roaf, who was the first offensive lineman picked in the 1993 draft, moved from right tackle to the left side after just one season. He earned 11 Pro Bowl nods and was a first-team All-Pro four times as a member of the New Orleans Saints and three more times with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Saints picked Roaf as the eighth player overall in the 1993 NFL Draft. The move paid off immediately as he didn’t miss an offensive snap at right tackle during his All-Rookie campaign. He also was voted to the Pro Bowl and named the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year that season.
In order to select Roaf in the draft, the Saints had to depart with star linebacker Pat Swilling, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1991, to Detroit for the No. 8 pick. The move caused quite a stir among members of the media and fans in the “Big Easy,” but Head Coach Jim Mora was determined to select the burly lineman out of Louisiana Tech. Luckily for Mora, Roaf silenced the critics almost instantly with his bone-jarring blocks and outstanding play at tackle.
Willie was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s and the 2000s. He is one of just 13 position players to be named to multiple all-decade teams since the 1970 merger. The others include: Larry Allen, John Hannah, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Ronnie Lott, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Mike Webster, Reggie White, and Gary Zimmerman. Aside from that group, other individuals named to two of the NFL’s all-decade teams include: coach Chuck Noll ; kickers Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson; punter Sean Landeta; and return men Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Rick Upchurch.
Roaf was an important cog in the Saints success and started at left tackle in New Orleans’ first-ever playoff victory, a 31-28 defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in 2000. Willie gave quarterback Aaron Brooks the time needed to throw four TD strikes that day.
With Roaf protecting his blindside, former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green never missed a start. Roaf also cleared the way for running back Larry Johnson, who set a then team-record when he rushed for 1,750 yards in 2005. Johnson broke his own record the following season.
Roaf was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Fellow Class of 2012 enshrinee and Arkansas native Cortez Kennedy was inducted into the state’s Hall two years earlier. Kennedy and Roaf are the first Arkansas Hall inductees to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year.
“He was the best player on our team during his entire tenure with us, one of the top players in the history of our franchise and one of the NFL’s greatest at his position.” - Saints Owner Tom Benson
“The way he moved, his quickness, athletic ability and skill, that was what impressed me about Willie the most. That’s what made him such a great player. If I were starting a team right now, I’d take Willie.” - former Saints Head Coach Jim Mora
“One of the most impressive attributes about Willie was his ability to compete against the best. The better the player he faced, the more dominating he became. To me, he's the finest offensive lineman to ever play the game. He was truly a "shut-down" tackle.” - former Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil
“He was the best tackle I played against in the league period. The only guy that I played against that came close to him was Anthony Muñoz.” - former Saints Defensive End/Defensive Tackle Wayne Martin
“Willie always put the team first and really cared about his teammates both on and off the field. He didn’t ever want to let his team down.” - former Saints Offensive Line Coach John "Jack" Henry
“There was no defender he couldn’t handle. And, when he played the best, he played them better every time he faced them.” - former Saints Offensive Line Coach John Matsko