Well, here we go again. It’s time for another “Greatest of all-time” list. This time, I have selected the five best defensive tackles in NFL history. Thank goodness, that it didn’t take a lot of cerebral brainpower to compile this list.
To be honest about it, the five greatest defensive tackles in NFL history really stood out for me like Broadway billboard complete with all the works. Unlike their neighboring defensive ends, where there were many deserving candidates for the all-time top five, there were only seven or eight players I really had to look at when compiling the list for defensive tackles. Having said that, here is my compilation of the five best defensive tackles in NFL history.
I’m not going to get into a long-winded explanation about why I selected White as the greatest defensive lineman of all-time because I already did in selecting him as the greatest defensive end in NFL history. However, I will say that
White earned this spot as well simply because he is the greatest defensive lineman of all-time at either position.
Whether White, affectionately known as “The Minister of Defense” was playing end or tackle, he was simply unstoppable. I think many people consider him as strictly a defensive end, but White was so versatile early on in his career, that the Philadelphia Eagles played him at every position on the defensive line when needed.
White’s 13 consecutive Pro Bowl trips are simply mind-boggling and he also retired as the NFL’s all-time career sack leader with 198. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 1980 and 1990s, the 75th Anniversary Team, and was voted first-team All-Pro 10 times in his 15-year career. Defensive end, defensive tackle – it really doesn’t matter. Reggie White is the greatest defensive lineman of all-time – period.
“Mean” Joe Greene
My heart really wanted to put “Mean” Joe Greene in the number one spot, but White was so good, I just couldn’t do it. No matter – Greene, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 pick in the 1969 NFL Draft, was so dominant that his greatness can never be denied.
Almost from his first game, the 6-4, 275-pounder showed the superstar talents that established him as the defensive foundation in head coach Chuck Noll’s legendary program that produced four Super Bowl victories for the Steelers in the 1970s.
Greene was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969 when he received the first of his 10 Pro Bowl invitations and was named All-NFL five times. In both 1972 and 1974, when Greene was selected as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
He had career-high 11 sacks in 1972 when Pittsburgh reached the playoffs for the first time ever.
Armed with speed, quickness, strength and great determination, Greene could dominate a game almost single-handedly. He was also a natural leader, who captained the Steelers’ defensive units beginning in 1977. Greene also was very durable and played in 181 of a possible 190 regular-season games in his career. Hands-down “Mean” Joe Greene is the second best defensive tackle in NFL history.
On the field, Alan Page was a player of almost historical proportions. Off the field, he is an icon and an inspiration for many African-Americans. A consensus All-America at Notre Dame in 1966, Page was the Minnesota Vikings’ second pick in the first round of the first combined AFL-NFL draft in 1967. Although he had played defensive end in college, he was moved to defensive tackle with the Vikings and won the starting right tackle job in the fourth game of his rookie season where he remained a starter for the rest of his career.
Page wound up his career in 1981 after playing in 238 games, all but three of them as a starter. He was also named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 1971, and was only the second defensive player to be accorded such an honor at the time. He was also named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1971 and 1973 and earned All-Pro honors six times.
Voted to nine straight Pro Bowls, Page was intelligent and hardworking with amazing speed and quickness. He recovered 23 opponents’ fumbles, and unofficial figures show that he also blocked 28 kicks and recorded 173 sacks. Rather than wait for the ball carrier, Page sought him out. “A defensive player should think of himself more as an aggressor, not as a defender,” he once said. After retiring from pro football, Page became a lawyer and was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court where he still serves and sets a shining example for all to see. Simply put, Page is one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history.
White was the Dallas Cowboys’ first pick and the second player selected in the 1975 National Football League Draft but didn’t develop into a superstar until his third season, when he became the starting right defensive tackle on a permanent basis. For the remainder of his 14- season, 209-game NFL career, White was the anchor of several excellent defensive lines the Cowboys fielded.
White capped his first season as a starter by being named as the co-Most Valuable Player in the Cowboys’ 27-10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII. That same year he began a string of nine straight seasons running through 1985 as an All-Pro selection. He was also was named to nine straight Pro Bowls during that span and in 1978, was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year.
White missed only one game in 14 seasons and played in 209 regular season games, at the time of his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. For his career, White was credited with 1,104 tackles, 701 solo tackles and 111 sacks and will always be remembered as one of the greatest defensive tackles in NFL history.
This was a tough selection but when I looked long and hard, Olsen was the guy who fit the bill for me. He was a standout as a rookie and stood out in every game he played for the Rams in a 15- year career in which he never missed a Pro Bowl. Ten times he was selected a first- or second-team All-Pro.
Olsen’s true strength may have been the intelligence he used in each game, where he continually outwitted bewildered opponents. Before the era of Olsen, and teammate and future Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, the NFL was considered an offensive league, but starting in the 1960s the Rams fielded one of the most famous defensive lines of all-time. The “Fearsome Foursome” of Jones, Olsen, Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier and Lamar Lundy teed off on quarterbacks a such an alarming rate, that their nickname was born and legacy set before defensive play became a focus of fans and coaches throughout the league. Sure, there were several other deserving candidates for this spot, but for me, Merlin Olsen is definitely one of the top five defensive tackles of all-time.