You know, the more of these “Greatest of all-time” lists I do, the more I realize how hard it is to narrow any specific profession down to the top five or ten of all-time. Since I have bills to pay – and editors to answer to – I always manage to get the job done – no matter how strenuous.
Now that I’ve wasted the majority of my cerebral capacity writing that, I guess I had better move on to finishing this column focusing on the five best defensive ends in NFL history before the rest of my mental capacity is depleted.
I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t know that Reggie White is the best defensive end – and defensive lineman – to ever play the game of football. I, for one, feel very fortunate to have seen White play up close and personal when I was a young reporter in Philly covering the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 80s and early 90s.
“The Minister of Defense” was responsible for introducing many of the popular moves that are now used by defensive linemen across the league. White swam, bull-rushed, spin-moved and just plain old, overpowered his way past, not one, but many times, two or three, bewildered offensive linemen before ultimately flattening the opposing quarterback like a steamroller.
Cementing his legacy – and longevity – is the fact that White won the NFL defensive player of the year over a decade apart (1987, 1998). Although his career total of 198 sacks, which he set in 15 years, has been surpassed, no defensive end has – and possibly ever will – surpass the greatness of Reggie White – the best defensive end in NFL history.
I think Smith was an exceptional player, but I have to admit that it was sad to seem him hang around about three seasons too long just to surpass White’s career sack total. Having said that, I have to say that Smith, in his prime, was nearly as frightening as White.
It may have taken Smith 19 seasons to record his 200 career sack total, but he was clearly one of the game’s best defensive ends of all-time and one of the most dominant defensive linemen of his era, winning the NFL defensive player of the year twice (1990, 1996).
Smith, may have tarnished his legacy slightly toward the end of his career, but there is no denying his greatness, which I believe, was good enough to make him the second best defensive end in NFL history.
All I can say is that David “Deacon” Jones was waaay before his time. Jones played in an era before sacks were an official statistic, but still registered 21 sacks during the 1967 season alone – which, by the way, was only 14 games long back then.
Jones’ unofficial career sack total of nearly 173.5 is absolutely astounding when you consider that the teams of his era ran the ball much more than in today’s pass happy NFL.
Like White and Smith, Jones was the NFL’s defensive player of the year twice (1967, 1968) and undeniably one of the best defensive ends of all-time.
I’ll defend this selection with anyone who doesn’t like Youngblood as the fourth best defensive end of all-time. Youngblood had over 150 sacks in the 70s – of course, before it was recorded as an official statistic. I loved Youngblood’s intensity and to this day, say that Youngblood possessed one of the game’s best fear inspiring faces of all-time. Young blood played equally well against the run and pass but did manage to record an amazing 18 sacks in 1979. He was tough and he was durable as well and played in over 200 consecutive games. He was an All-Pro from 1974 through 1976 and again in 1978 and 1979 and played in seven straight Pro Bowls from 1973 to 1979. Simply put, Youngblood is one of the best defensive ends to ever play the game.
This was the toughest selection of all. I could have gone with numerous guys like Gino Marchetti, Jim Marshall, Howie Long, Richard Dent or even Michael Strahan.
However, I fully believe that Eller is the fifth best defensive lineman of all-time. The deciding factor was Eller’s ability to, not only sack opposing quarterbacks, but impact a game with his uncanny ability to block kicks and both, cause – and recover – fumbles.
Playing on a defensive line that included Jim Marshall at the opposite end and Hall of Famer Alan Page and Gary Larsen at the tackles, Eller was an integral part of the Minnesota Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters.”
In one three-season period from 1975 to 1977, Eller recorded 44 sacks, according to unofficial statistics (sacks did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982).
Eller was named first- or second-team All-Pro every year from 1967 through 1973. He was All-NFL or All-NFC from 1968 through 1973 and then All-NFC again in 1975. In 1971, he won the George Halas Award as the NFL defensive player of the year and was selected to play in six Pro Bowls (1969-1972, 1974, and 1975).
Simply put, Eller is one of the best defensive linemen of, not only his era, but any era.