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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top-25 Defensive Lineman of All-Time

Top-25 Defensive Lineman of All-Time

Only the best!
Publish Date: 04/23/2022
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 19: Bruce Smith #78 of the Buffalo Bills in action against the Miami Dolphins during NFL football game December 19, 1993 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Florida. Smith played for the Bills from 1985-99. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

As always, active players are not eligible.

25) Jason Taylor

Taylor is the Dolphins’ all-time sack leader and one of the all-time great pass rushers. His 139.5 career sacks rank sixth all-time in the NFL. The two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year also had 46 forced fumbles and eight interceptions in his stellar career.

24) Cortez Kennedy

One of the best defensive tackles to ever play the game. He holds the single-season sack record for an interior lineman with 14 in 1992. Additionally, he routinely ranked among tackle leaders for his teams despite being constantly double- and triple-teamed.

23) Howie Long

Long is one of the greatest 3-4 defensive ends of all time. He was named NEA Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and helped the Raiders blow out the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.

Video: Howie Long: Iconic

Howie Long: Iconic

22) Chris Doleman

Doleman’s 150.5 career sacks rank fourth on the official all-time list, and the speedy pass rusher is behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White among defensive linemen.

21) Joe Klecko

Probably the most underrated defensive lineman in NFL history. Klecko was named an All-Pro while playing DE, NT, DT.

Video: Klecko

Klecko

20) Charles Haley

Haley was a hybrid player, also spending time at outside linebacker, but he truly left his mark on the game as a disruptive edge pass rusher in the trenches.

19) Michael Strahan

Strahan is the Giants’ all-time sack leader and officially ranks fifth in NFL history with 141.5 career sacks. He also holds the official record for sacks in a single NFL season with 22.5, set in 2001.

18) Willie Davis

Davis is one of the most decorated players in NFL history. He anchored a Packers defensive line to achieve dynasty status under Vince Lombardi, winning five NFL championships and two Super Bowls from 1961-68.

Video: Willie Davis Black College Football HOF former Grambling Tiger and Green Bay Packer

Willie Davis Black College Football HOF former Grambling Tiger and Green Bay Packer

17) Richard Dent

Dent is best remembered as a star defensive end for the famed 1985 Chicago Bears defense that is widely regarded as the best in the history of the NFL. Dent had 17 sacks during the ’85 season, which was tops in the NFL. He also took home MVP honors for his stellar performance in Super Bowl XX, which included 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He is one of just three defensive linemen ever to win a Super Bowl MVP.

Video: Richard Dent: The Best of the Best

Richard Dent: The Best of the Best

16) Warren Sapp

His freakish combination of speed, power, and athleticism, especially for a player of his size, helped him to 100 career sacks (including the playoffs), officially the second most for a defensive tackle in NFL history. He was also a dominant run stopper, an extraordinary all-around player.

15) Carl Eller

Eller was the left defensive end for the famed “Purple People Eaters” unit that dominated the NFL in the early 1970s. His 133.5 career sacks would be good enough to rank 12th all-time if sacks had been counted as an official statistic during his era. He played in 4 Super Bowls and was named the 1971 defensive player of the year.

14) Doug Atkins

At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, Atkins was anything but a gentle giant. Instead, he used his immense size, nasty disposition, and agility as a champion high jumper to dominate opposing offensive linemen for 17 seasons. Atkins was named all-pro 10 times during his career.

Video: Doug Atkins. #9 All-Time Pass Rusher in NFL History

Doug Atkins. #9 All-Time Pass Rusher in NFL History

13) Randy White

White would thrive as one of the best interior linemen to ever play in the NFL. He also was extremely durable, missing just one game in 14 seasons. The Hall of Famer played in three Super Bowls, six NFC title games and is one of just three defensive linemen in NFL history to win a Super Bowl MVP.

Video: Top 100 Greatest Players #62 Randy White

Top 100 Greatest Players #62 Randy White

12) Jack Youngblood

Youngblood was one of the toughest players ever to play the game. He famously played with a broken leg throughout the playoffs, the Super Bowl, and even the Pro Bowl. He unofficially compiled 151.5 sacks in 202 games during his Hall of Fame career.

Video: Jack Youngblood

Jack Youngblood

11) Lee Roy Selmon

Selmon had a relatively short NFL career due to injury, but no one can debate his status as one of the greatest defensive ends in the game’s history. He is the Buccaneers’ all-time sack leader (78.5); he had 380 quarterback pressures, forced 28.5 fumbles, and compiled a remarkable 742 tackles in just 121 career games. A longer career would have led easily to a top 10 ranking here.

10) Buck Buchanan

Buchanan missed just one game in 13 seasons, making him one of the most durable players in NFL history. However, his immense size, speed, and power helped him become one of the greatest defensive tackles in the history of the game. His long frame (6-7) helped him bat down 16 passes in 1967.

buck

9) John Randle

There is not another defensive tackle on this list that could find his way into an opposing backfield with the ferocity and ease of Randle. His 137.5 career sacks officially rank seventh all-time and first among defensive tackles. In addition, he is the only true defensive tackle in the 100 Sack Club out of the 31 total members.

Video: John Randle - Moment of Impact

John Randle – Moment of Impact

8) Bob Lilly

Known as “Mr.Cowboy,” Lilly missed one game during his 14 seasons. He is considered one of the most intelligent players in NFL history. Lilly’s volatile combination of speed and strength helped him become one of the all-time greats at the defensive tackle position.

7) Gino Marchetti

Marchetti’s skills as an elite run-stopper and relentless pass rusher earned him 11 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. He was named the top defensive end of the NFL’s first 50 years.

Video: Gino Marchetti Tums-All Time Neutralizer

Gino Marchetti Tums-All Time Neutralizer

6) Merlin Olsen

Olsen is regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the history of the NFL as a member of the Rams’ famed “Fearsome Foursome” defensive front alongside Deacon Jones. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl and NFL-record 14 times, missing the cut in only his final professional season.

Video: Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen

5) Alan Page

A member of Minnesota’s feared “Purple People Eaters,” Page is certainly in the conversation for the greatest defensive tackle of all time. He is credited with 173 career sacks, which would rank far and away as the most ever by a defensive tackle if sacks were counted as an official stat during his era.

4) Mean Joe Greene

He earned his nickname thanks to a nasty mean streak that helped him dominate opposing offensive linemen. A temperament that often carried over even after the whistle had blown. He was a disruptive force in the middle and proved to be extremely effective against both the run and the pass despite constant double-teams throughout his career.

3) Deacon Jones

The legendary Jones is credited with coining the term “sacking the quarterback.” This makes sense, considering he is one the best at doing just that. Jones (unofficially) had 173.5 career sacks, which would be good enough for third all-time. “The Secretary of Defense” averaged over 20 sacks per season during a ridiculously productive five-year stretch (1964-68).

Video: NFL Films Remembers Deacon Jones

NFL Films Remembers Deacon Jones

2) Reggie White

No other player in the game’s history could explode through an offensive line quite like No. 92. He was a master of the “swim move,” the bull rush, and the forearm shiver. These techniques helped White fight through constant double-teams, transforming him into an unstoppable force as a pass rusher.

1) Bruce Smith

Smith is one of the most dominant players in NFL history regardless of position or era. He is the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200 and also holds the NFL record for most seasons with double-digit sacks (13). Those numbers become even more impressive when you consider that Smith spent most of his career playing in a 3-4 scheme, which is not traditionally geared to yield high sack numbers for the defensive end position.

Video: Thunder and Destruction - Bruce Smith

Thunder and Destruction – Bruce Smith

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