Top 10 NFL Defensive Tackles of All-Time (5-1)

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A list of the greatest Defensive Tackles to ever play the game in respect to their eras.

It’s about time we show the big boys up front some love and break down the greatest defensive tackles to ever play the game. Note, this is a list for 4-3 three technique defensive tackles, so 3-4 nose tackles will not be considered for this ranking.

5. Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen was one of the biggest defensive tackles of his era and his size would still translate today. Standing 6-foot-5-inches and weighing 270 had excellent conditioning and was known for his hustle.

Hustle wasn’t the only thing he was known for; however, Olsen was a two-gap defensive tackle before the term was even used. One of the greatest ever at establishing a front at the line of scrimmage, keeping his shoulders square and shedding his blocker based on the direction of the play.

Olsen was selected to five consecutive first team All-Pro teams from 1966-1970. He totalled 91.0 unofficial career sacks showing his elite ability to rush the passer, but his run stopping is why he is this high on the list.

Olsen never missed a game in his career and was selected to 14 pro bowls which is tied for second all time, only trailing Tom Brady. Teaming up with Deacon Jones, Rosey Greir, and Lamar Lundy, Olsen was part of one of the greatest defensive lines of all time called the fearsome foursome.

4. Alan Page

Alan Page was the first defensive player to ever win MVP in 1971 and the only defensive lineman to ever win the award. He also won Defensive Player of the Year in 1971. Page totalled 148.5 unofficial career sacks which would rank as the most ever for a defensive tackle.

Page was the most quick and agile defensive tackle to ever play the game and showed it with his dominating pass rush. From 1970-1975 Page was selected to 5 first team All-Pro teams, as well as finishing top 5 in Defensive Player of the Year voting three times.

Page also has the most blocked punts/kicks in NFL history with 27 showing he ability to affect the game in more ways than one. Even though he was undersized, Page did not struggle against the run. He may not have been the run stopper other guys on the list were, but he more than made up for it with his pass rushing ability.

If Merlin Olsen’s Rams had one of the greatest defensive lines ever, The Minnesota Vikings’ Purple People Eaters, consisting of Jim Marshall, Gary Larson, Carl Eller, and Page is the only one that’s better.

3. Bob Lilly

The tape of Bob Lilly shows a player with arguably the greatest pursuit in the history of the game. For a defensive tackle Lilly has impeccable speed and agility and was used perfectly by Tom Landry in his flex defense.

In the span of 8 years from 1964-1971 Lilly was a first team All-Pro seven times and would have won a Defensive Player of the Year, if not multiple, if the award was around at the time. Lilly totalled 95.5 unofficial career sacks showing his ability to rush the passer with unmatched relentlessness.

Bob Lilly’s prime is arguably one of the greatest ever for a defensive tackle and lasted eight years which is incredible. Lilly also never missed a start in his 14 year career which adds to his legacy.

Another defensive tackle that was part of a dominating defense, the doomsday defense of the cowboys was one of the best of their era and they can thank Bob Lilly for making that possible.

2. Joe Greene

Joe Greene was honestly tied with Lilly for my list at number two, but I wasn’t going to take the easy way out and two things give Joe Greene the edge. First he turned what once was a terrible franchise in the Pittsburgh Steelers, to four time Super Bowl Champions in six seasons, still the most ever for a team in that time frame.

Secondly, Bob Lilly had only one negative thing said about him in his career and that was that he could have been a little meaner for the position of defensive tackle. While, the man that was nicknamed “Mean Joe Greene” never had that said about him.

An absolute menace on the field he would terrorize opponents and didn’t care if they liked it or not. Easily the greatest defensive tackle ever against the run, if tackles for loss were a stat when Mean Joe played he may have the most ever.

Greene won Defensive Player of the Year twice in 1972 and 1974. He also finished third in 1973 and fifth in 1975 rounding out a four year stretch where he would be named first team All-Pro four times, and win two Super Bowls.

Greene would add one more first team All-Pro in 1977 and two more Super Bowls. The only thing keeping him from first on this list is his prime was shorter than the man at number one due to shoulder injuries.

1. Aaron Donald

No, this isn’t recency bias, Aaron Donald is simply the greatest player at the defensive tackle position of all time. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, and then followed that with seven consecutive first team All-Pro selections, and seven consection top five finishes for Defensive Player of the Year.

He would win that award three times in 2017,2018, and 2020, which ties him for the most ever by a defensive player regardless of position and the most ever for a defensive tackle. His prime was just as dominant, if not more, than Lilly’s and also added a Super Bowl win in 2021.

The dominating matter of his prime, as well as the length, is ridiculous. If he was to never play a down again he could still be ranked here, and every season he plays just adds to his legacy.

Donald has 103.0 career sacks and is the only defensive tackle ever with a 20 sack season. Donald also was the best NFL player for a span of three years, not just defensive player which is something that is not easy to do when the quarterback position gets so much attention.

On tape is where the real dominance of Donald is shown, dealing with double teams, and some triple teams on a constant basis, he still finds ways to shut down the opposing team. One of the quickest and technically sound pass rushers of all time, he can also penetrate and affect the run game.

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