Defensive linemen are some of the toughest athletes in football. Over the past decades, we have seen some great linemen on the National Football League (NFL) roster. Let us take a look at some of the greatest linemen in NFL history.
Teams: San Francisco 49ers
Years Played: 1950-1963
Leo Nomellini was not only a wonderful defensive lineman but also a professional wrestler before his 14-year run in the NFL playing for the San Francisco 49ers. He played both offense and defense and brought the needed physicality to his role as a lineman.
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks
Years Played: 1990-2003
Renowned for his hot-headedness, John Randle brought a similar level of heat in his performance on the field. He is known as one of the toughest defensive NFL players of all time. While he was known for his eccentric on-field behavior and trash-talking his opponents, there is not a better example of ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ than John Randle.
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Years Played: 1969-1981
‘Mean’ Joe Greene played as a defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. He has four Super Bowl wins, ten Pro-Bowl, and 8 All-Pro selections to his name. His opponents on the field described him as ‘ferocious’ and ‘intimidating’ in his style of play.
Teams: Los Angeles Rams
Years Played: 1962-1976
Merlin Olsen was one of the most famous members of the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ squad of the Los Angeles Rams. He played in the NFL Pro Bowl every year (except his last one) throughout his 14-year long professional football career. Merlin Olsen played 208 games for the Rams in the NFL and still holds the record for the most number of times selected for the Pro Bowl with several other players.
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
Years Played: 1985-2003
Bruce Smith is held as one of the best defensive end players in American football history. He holds the record of 200 quarterback sacks, which remains unbroken to this day. His exceptional performance on the field led to him being nicknamed ‘The Sack Man.’ As part of the Buffalo Bills squad from 1985 to 1999, Bruce Smith played in four consecutive Super Bowl Championships. He was awarded the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1987, 1988, 1990, and 1996. The number 78 jersey that Bruce wore for the Buffalo Bills was retired in his honor in a ceremony in 2016. He earned a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, and Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Teams: Memphis Showboats, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers
Years Played: 1985-2000
Reggie ‘The Minister of Defense’ White earns the top spot in the list of top defensive linemen of all time. Reggie White played for four teams throughout his 15-year long career and played 15 straight seasons of the National Football League. He received the honor of being the NFL Defensive Player of the year twice, in 1987 and 1998.
With his selection for the Pro Bowl and All-Pro thirteen times each, he is second on the all-time list for the most number of quarterback sacks with 198, only second to Bruce Smith’s 200.
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