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Top 10 Greatest Defensive Tackles in NFL History

best defensive tackles in nfl

In this modern era of the NFL, the offense is king. However, a team cannot win games by being completely dependent on the offensive unit. That is where defense comes into play. According to many analysts, the concentration and focus of any defensive unit has to be greater than that of the opposing offense. The battle of an American Football game is won in the trenches, and every team needs commanding people to guard them.

Defensive tackle is a position that is vastly overlooked in the modern game. Now that the physical aspect of the game has taken a  backseat, the job of a defensive tackle has also been reduced considerably. But that does not take anything away from their importance in any defensive unit. Their job is to stop the quarterback from finding his teammates or to simply knock the pass down if it is within reach.

Over the years, some of the greatest defensive tackles in the league have also emerged out to be great leaders of the line. the likes of Bruce Smith and Reggie White have always helped their franchise in their quest for championship sand have never backed down from a challenge. Keeping that in mind, here are some of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history.

#10. Aaron Donald

The NFL has not seen many players who have looked as vicious as Aaron Donald. A physical specimen, Donald can take down any of his opponents with ridiculous ease. Such is his strength that other players seem to bounce off him whenever he is in motion. There is no doubt about the fact that he is one of the most dominating defensive presences in the league at the moment.

Apart from the obvious fact that he hits like a freight train, Donald has got a good footballing brain on his broad shoulders. He uses it to good effect and positions himself in such a way that prevents the runners from crating space and also gives him an opportunity to attack the QB. Moreover, it helps him to sustain the level of quality that is required in this pass-happy era.

In a short seven-year span in the NFL, Donald has already racked up three DPOY awards and is an invaluable player on the Rams roster. If he carries on in this vein of form, there is little doubt that he is going to end up in the Hall of Fame.

#9. Randy White

One of the quintessential defensive tackles in the game, it is very hard to believe that Randy White originally started as a linebacker. However, he was quickly steered towards being a defensive tackle by his coaches which turned out to be a great decision. Over the years, White garnered a reputation as one of the most determined and focused people on the pitch.

Considered as one of the greatest Cowboys of all time, Randy White was part of the golden era of that franchise. In fact, many analysts say that he was the most influential player in that defensive unit and commanded respect from everyone on the roster. His impact was strongly felt on the field and the Dallas Cowboys rose to become a force to reckon with.

In his storied 13-year-long career, Randy White went to the Pro Bowl on nine different occasions and also has a Super Bowl victory to his name. In fact, he was judged as the Super Bowl MVP alongside teammate Harvey Martin. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

#8. Bob Lilly

One of the oldest additions in our list, Lilly is credited as being the player who ushered in a new style of play as far as defensive tackles are concerned. Never one to back down from a challenge, Bob Lilly was an inspiration to players even during his playing days. He was the epitome of speed and grace and the way he glided across the turf was a treat to watch.

He is also considered one of the most durable players to ever grace the game. In fact, he only missed one game during his 14-year-long career. In the modern era where NFL athletes are treated as fragile commodities, this kind of a stat is almost unheard of.

One of the most respected players in the Dallas Cowboys franchise, Bob Lilly is affectionately called “Mr. Cowboy” by the franchise faithful. In honor of his contribution to the game we all love, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

#7. Gino Marchetti

Modern NFL fanatics might not know about Gino Marchetti, but that does not take anything away from what he achieved in the league. Part of the iconic Dallas Texans and Baltimore Colts franchises, Marchetti was a star in his prime. He was one of the most dangerous players on the field who had no regard for the opponent and moved to incapacitate them.

Many of the people who played with him have later come out to admit that he was one of the hardest hitters the game had ever seen. Apart from this, Marchetti was also an intelligent bloke, he could sense where danger was lurking and was always the first on the scene to stifle it. Because of his presence, the Colts became a force of nature during the ’50s.

There is another interesting fact about Gino Marchetti, he was also an army veteran. In fact, he was a machine gunner during World War II and famously fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

#6. Merlin Olsen

The only reason why Merlin Olsen finds himself at sixth on our list is that he does not have a Super Bowl ring. For many, he is arguably the greatest defensive tackle to ever play the game. The perfect amalgamation of skill and grace, the name of Olsen is associated with brilliance.

He was a part of the iconic “Fearsome Foursome” and played alongside the likes of Deacon Jones. ever since the start of his career, everyone knew that Olsen was a star in the making. That is why he won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1962 and didn’t look back since.

Merlin Olsen has another record of his name. He has made the most number of Pro Bowl appearances, spanning across 14 years. In 1982, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in honor of his dedication to the craft and the joy he brought to the spectators.

#5. Joe Greene

When the defensive unit of your franchise is dubbed as the “Steel Curtain”, it means that you are doing something right in terms of not letting the opponent past you. That is exactly what Pittsburgh Steelers’ did during that iconic era. Led by Joe Greene, that unit was a force of nature.

Joe Greene was the focal point of that defense and was flanked by the likes of Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. The kind of intensity he brought to the field was unparalleled and it inspired confidence in his teammates. Many analysts credit Greene as the perfect mentor to the legends of the game like Lambert or Ham.

Joe Greene was definitely the most experienced player of that lot. He used his experience to good effect and led the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. Apart from the team victories, Greene also received quite a lot of individual accolades, that include two DPOY awards from ’72 and ’74 respectively.

#4. Deacon Jones 

As far as tackling is concerned, there have not been many players better than Deacon Jones. In fact, he is credited to coin the term “sack” in the NFL. Part of a Rams side that was notorious for their physical play, the “secretary of defense” was always in the think of the action. The way he plowed through offenses and dominated the field was emulated by his teammates and that gave birth to one of the most vicious units in history.

Jones was an iconic player who was filled with swagger and certain confidence in the way he functioned. From the way he strutted after a tackle, it was evident that he felt no remorse for the player he just flattened. That is the mean streak that ran through him during the course of his playing career.

Such was his dominance in the league that he received the DPOY for two years in a row. During his time, there was no other player who could match him in terms of physical strength and brute force. In honor of his brilliance, Deacon Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 1980.

#3. Alan Page

The name “Purple People Eaters” has always sounded funny to me. However, it sure as hell didn’t sound funny to the players who faced them. Leader of the legendary Vikings defense, Alan Page was a man of intense focus and concentration. Dedicated to bettering himself with each passing game, Page was a player whose tackles could knock people out cold.

With 173 career sacks to his name, Alan Page is regarded as one of the wildest tacklers of his generation. In fact, he is only bested by Reggie White and Bruce Smith, both of who are regarded as legends of the league. Page even won the regular-season MVP award in 1971, a rare achievement for someone who plays in defense.

There is no doubt about the fact that Alan Page is one of the greatest defensive tackles that the game has ever produced. For anyone doubting him, his Hall of Fame induction in 1988 should be proof enough.

#2. Bruce Smith

In an era where the Bills offense was the most potent in the league, Bruce Smith and the defensive unit were swept quietly under the rug. However, when it was their turn to save the game, they did so in quite some style with Smith at the helm. Considered as one of the most dominant players in the history of the league, Bruce Smith was fiercely competitive and always wanted to deliver for the franchise.

Players who played against him have admitted how much of a menace he was on the field. He is also regarded as one of the most intelligent defensive players of all time because he ended his career with 200 sacks to his name. That is the record for the most successful tackles by a single player and it stands to this day.

Smith also won the defensive player of the year on three occasions during his playing days. In lieu of his brilliance on and off the field, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 2009.

#1. Reggie White 

The “Minister of Defense” might not sound threatening as a name, but Reggie White sure was. Hands down the hardest tackler ever to play the game, White was a beast during his prime. With him on board, the Green Bay Packers and the Eagles became one of the toughest teams to beat in the entire league.

Despite being double-teamed on innumerable occasions, he still emerged as the victor. There was just something about him that set him apart from the rest of the crowd. It was because of this distinction that he was able to deliver on the biggest stages. always respected by his teammates, Reggie White is undoubtedly one of the legends of the game.

As far as individual accolades are concerned, white has a boatload of those too. In 1987 and 88, he won the DPOY despite playing for a Eagles side that was severely weakened at the start of both seasons. Reggie White was also adept at sacking the quarterback and managed to do so on 198 occasions throughout his career. That is why he is at the top of our list, ahead of all the other icons.


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