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Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Pass Rushers in NFL History

greatest pass rushers in nfl

Whenever there is talk of a good defensive unit, the first image that comes to mind is a blinding pass rush, with burly figures hurrying across the turf in an attempt to sack the opposition’s quarterback. That job is done by bypass rushers who are an integral part of any franchises’ defense. Without them, the QB will get ample time to pick out a teammate further down the pitch, getting ever closer to the end zone.

Primarily the job of an ideal pass rusher is to stop the quarterback from throwing the ball. When that chance is missed, the player then starts to block scrambling opponents. That is why they are called the first line of defense. A good pass rusher is invaluable for a franchise to make any headway into the league.

Over the years, players like Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith have made a name for themselves only because they were able to carry out their duties with great command. The rusher needs to be physically strong and nimble to take down an evasive QB. Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history.

#10. Richard Dent (Chicago Bears)

Being the part of the iconic Chicago Bears defense of ’85, Richard Dent was a beast in his prime. He put his exceptional game awareness to good use by anticipating the movements of the opposing quarterback and stifling the threat. With him on board, the Bears’ defensive unit knew that they had a player who was fearless and unstoppable on his day.

“The Sackman”, as he was affectionately called by fans and teammates, was ruthless on the field. His sacks were enough to knock the wind out of any player’s lungs, irrespective of all the protective gear. Moreover, he was not just a one-trick pony. Whenever the ball was lost, he threw himself in the line of runners and stopped them from naming any headway. When the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl XX, Dent was adjudged as the MVP of that game.

In honour of his storied, 14-year-long career, he was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 2011. It is needless to say that Dent’s brilliance will be remembered for a long time by the Bears faithful and the league as a whole.

#9. Jason Taylor (Miami Dolphins)

Jason Taylor was not a defensive tackle by design and nor did he play as such. However, he provided most of his memorable moments as part of a pass rush in which he took down the opposition quarterback quite a lot of times. In his prime, he was relentless and did not let the QB out of his sight.

Taylor generally played as an outside linebacker who drifted into centre-field on numerous occasions. Throughout his career, different coaches found his strength to be tremendous game awareness and they used it perfectly. He was always one step ahead of the quarterback and could predict his movements with surprising accuracy.

Moreover, Taylor was built like a freight train and was one of the hardest hitters in the league. He recorded league-leading stats of 18.5 sacks in the 2002 season. His exploits across three franchises in the NFL landed him a Hall of Fame inclusion in 2017.

#8. John Randle (Minnesota Vikings)

The career graph of John Randle is the perfect example of why perseverance and dedication always bear fruit. After going undrafted, Randle finally found a home with the Minnesota Vikings. And thus started one of the greatest sagas of brilliance in NFL history. HE proved why he was chosen and showed what other teams missed out on by not drafting him.

Randle used his burly frame to good effect and was a force of nature during his prime. He was so vicious with his tackles that the quarterbacks often admitted that they were scared of him appearing out of nowhere. He was one of the most important factors behind the Viking’s resurgence during the ’90s.

John Randle was also renowned as a trash talker. Due to this, he was named “motor mouth” by his teammates. He used trash talk as a weapon to force the opponent into committing mistakes. Over his 13 years long career, he recorded 137.5 sacks and is remembered as one of the most dangerous pass rushers to ever grace the game. The Vikings star was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

#7. Michael Strahan (New York Giants)

Nowadays, the name of Michael Strahan is associated with Good Morning America and other TV shows. However, many people tend to forget that he was one of the biggest stars in the NFL not that long ago. Playing for the New York Giants all through his career, Strahan produced numbers that are worthy of a Hall of Fame inclusion in every season. He provided security and a sense of invulnerability to his teammates behind him.

Over his long and illustrious career, Strahan also achieved several milestones. He still holds the record for the most number of sacks in a single season with 22.5. This statistic is proof of his domination over the entirety of the league. With him on board, the Giants became a force to reckon with. Moreover, it also won him the DPOY award for the 2001 season.

The cherry on top of his storied career came in his final game as the Giants defeated the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLIII. With one Super Bowl ring to his name, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Strahan was going to be a Hall of Famer. That turned out to be true when he was included in the pro football Hall of Fame in honour of his contribution to the game.

#6. Derrick Thomas (Kansas City Chiefs)

Arguably This man is one of the greatest linebackers of all time, Derrick Thomas was proficient in pass-rushing as well. He was the main factor behind the Chiefs becoming such a menacing defensive unit during the mid-’90s. Some of the current crops of linebackers in the league have admitted to studying Thomas’ game tape to draw inspiration. The chiefs’ star was an influential player right from the start of his career and it was evident every time he took to the field.

Derrick Thomas was the perfect amalgamation of technical brilliance and gifted skill. His playing style invoked fear in the hearts of every opponent he faced. The way he went about his time on the field was a thing to behold and he never failed to entertain. Thomas still holds the record for the most number of sacks in a single season with 7 against the Seattle;e Seahawks.

Unfortunately, his career was cut short because of a horrific car crash that resulted in his death at the young age of 33. Many analysts and NFL historians speculate that he still had a few years left in him and could have impacted the league a bit more. He was awarded an honorary Hall of Fame induction in 2014 in remembrance of the contributions he made to the league.

#5. Deacon Jones (Los Angeles Rams)

The oldest player to feature on our list, Deacon Jones played in an era where the number of sacks was not counted as one of the official statistics. However, that does not take anything away from the way he performed in every game for the Los Angeles Rams during the mid-’60s. Considered by many as the greatest defensive end to ever grace the game, Jones was an absolute beast in the way he approached the game.

He is credited as the player who coined the term “sack” in the NFL. An invaluable part of the “Fearsome Foursome”, the dominance of Deacon Jones just could not be ignored at all. He was always in the thick of the action and produced match-winning performances in almost every game.

Unofficially, it is said that Jones has 173.5 total sacks throughout his 13-year-long career. That is significantly greater than some of the best pass rushers of the modern game. That is exactly why Jones was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1980. There is no doubt about the fact that he was one of the most prominent players of his generation.

#4. Kevin Greene (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Hands down one of the most agile players in the history of the game, Kevin Greene was a force of nature. He was one player who could not be stopped no matter how hard the opposition tried to stifle him. Despite being a linebacker, Greene was seldom on the sidelines and often found him amid all the action.

Kevin Greene was one of the rare breeds of players who could rally the entire crowd behind him at any stage of the game. That is he was such a crowd favourite will all the different franchises he played for. Chants of “sack the quarterback” rang around the stadiums whenever he took to the field. He recorded more than 160 sacks during his storied career.

The legacy of Greene will always be remembered as one of the most iconic characters in the game. Everything ranging from his flowing locks of hair to his swagger was so brilliantly different and slightly eccentric. But that is what set him apart from the rest. At a time when the NFL was labelled as the “no fun league”, Kevin Greene was a source of entertainment in every game he played.

#3. Reggie White (Philadelphia Eagles)

One thing is for certain, Reggie White was one of the league’s most eccentric characters in history. As far as opposing offences are concerned, White played like a one-man team whenever he faced them. To this day, he is regarded as one of the finest minds in the game to ever grace the game. Modern-day playmakers strive for their level of game awareness and determination.

The “Ministry of Defense” was known all around the country because of two reasons. The first one is his defensive brilliance that was well renowned, and the second one is his trademark sacks. Despite possessing a big and burly frame, White was quick on his feet and could get to positions that the other pass rushers could not reach.

Throughout his 15 years long career, Reggie White recorded 198 sacks which are the second-highest in NFL history. That statistic by itself should be enough to convince anyone about the kind of quality he was able to produce. In honour of his contribution to the game for such a long period, he was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame back in 2006.

#2. Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills)

Who doesn’t remember the epochal Bruce Smith and his legendary career? The man played 18 seasons in the NFL and produced match-winning performances in every single one of them. Even though he was a defensive player, his exploits made him an instant crowd favourite everywhere he went. Smith was part of the unfortunate Bills squad who reached the Super Bowl on four consecutive occasions but could not win a single one of them.

Bruce Smith is hands down the greatest defensive end of all time. He proved so by providing the Bills with much-needed dynamism in defence. What he was able to do on the field has been hard to repeat for any other player in the history of the game. Smith used his physical attributes to produce performances that were out of the ordinary and he did this in every game.

With 200 sacks to his name, it is safe to say that he was a prolific pass rusher as well. He still holds the record for the most number of Sacks by any player in the history of the game. Bruce Smith’s legacy will forever be remembered as the man who revolutionised defensive tactics in the league.

#1. Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants)

It just had to be Lawrence Taylor, didn’t it?

The kind of impact he was able to produce from defence has only been matched by the best quarterbacks in the game. LT is credited for revolutionising the role of an outside linebacker in the league with his speedy runs and hard hits. Moreover, Taylor is also remembered for being one of the most aggressive players in the history of the game.

In every picture that has ever been taken of him during games, Taylor has appeared focused and locked in. This temperament brought him a lot of good as he was awarded the DPOY on three occasions, and won the Super Bowl twice with an iconic Giants squad. Lawrence does not need to prove his greatness to anyone, because his stats do the talking for him.

With 132.5 sacks over the course of his career, Lawrence Taylor has etched his name in the history books as one of the most multi-faceted players of his generation. He was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1999 in honor of his contribution to the sport. There is no doubt about the fact that LT’s legacy will always be known as one of the most prolific pass rushers in the history of the NFL.


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