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Top 10 NFL Best Defensive Ends of All Time Rankings

Ranking the best Defensive Ends of All Time in the NFL such as Michael Strahan, J.J. Watt, and many more as Reggie White leads the way


By admin | October 21, 2021

Before we get into the Best Defensive Ends of All Time Rankings let’s get into the position. The defensive side of the football continues to deal with the evolution of the offensive side of the game.

Once a game that was dominated by run is now a game dominated by pass while quarterbacks have gotten faster and more athletic to play the position. With the key to slowing down opposing offenses, the defensive end position is one of the biggest keys on the field and one that has the potential to create a ton of disruption.

This disruption is what we have seen over the years from the games top defensive ends from different generations to the next. With that said, here is our list of the Top 10 Best Defensive Ends All-Time

Honorable Mention

Chris Doleman

Team(s): Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons & San Francisco 49ers

The former Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers star defensive end, Chris Doleman was as good as nearly any great defensive end to play the game and it showed over his Hall of Fame NFL career.

Doleman racked up a career 150.5 sacks over his playing days just missed landing inside the Top 10 Best Defensive Ends of All-Time list. In addition to the sacks, Doleman racked up eight Pro Bowl honors, three First Team All-Pro selections and led the NFL in sacks during the 1989 NFL season.

Carl Eller

Team(s): Minnesota Vikings & Seattle Seahawks

One key member of the Purple People Eaters is the former Minnesota Vikings great Carl Eller who put together a stellar career both at the collegiate and NFL levels. During Eller’s playing days the Vikings won 10 Central Division titles and the 1969 NFL Championship.

Eller recorded 130.5 sacks during his playing days with the Vikings before adding three additional sacks in his final year with the Seattle Seahawks. Eller was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1971, led the NFL in sacks in 1969 and was named to six Pro Bowl teams.


Top 10 Best Defensive Ends of All Time

10. Julius Peppers

Team(s): Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears & Green Bay Packers

Playing in a pass-happy offensive ERA, Julius Peppers made himself known as one of the best defensive ends on the field on every Sunday or any given day that his teams were on the field.

After being drafted number two overall during the 2002 NFL draft, Peppers went on to record 12 sacks, force five fumbles and one interception en route to the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Peppers recorded at least double digit sacks in 10 of his 17 NFL seasons including a career high 14.5 during the 2008 NFL season for the Carolina Panthers.

When his career was over, Peppers had recorded 159.5 career sacks to go along with 51 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions and six defensive touchdowns.

9. Jack Youngblood

Team(s): Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams selected Jack Youngblood with the 20th overall pick of the 1971 NFL draft to become the eventual future of the defensive end position for the team for the next 14 NFL seasons.

Over those 14 seasons, Youngblood recorded 151.5 career sacks and ten fumble recoveries while earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 1975 and 1976.

In addition, Youngblood would make seven Pro Bowl teams, be selected five times as a First Team All-Pro and led the NFL in sacks during two different NFL seasons.

8. Lee Roy Selmon

Team(s): Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The hype and eyes were all on the former Oklahoma Sooners star coming into the 1976 NFL season after leading his college team to back National Championships.

Selmon wouldn’t disappoint the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization or the fans over the next nine seasons making six straight Pro Bowl teams and being named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1979.

Selmon would go on to record 78.5 career sacks and 28.5 forced fumbles over his playing days helping him earn three First Team All-Pro honors and becoming a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

7. J.J. Watt

Team(s): Houston Texans & Arizona Cardinals

A debate can be made whether or not J.J. Watt is deserving of a Top 10 Defensive Ends All-Time spot but his resume indicates he is well deserving. Watt, who is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, continues to build his NFL Hall of Fame resume.

Entering the 2021 NFL season, Watt had recorded 102 career sacks to go along with 26 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries, two interceptions and three defensive touchdowns.

His success on the field led to him earning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards while leading the league in sacks twice and being named First Team All-Pro in five seasons. 

6. Michael Strahan

Team(s): New York Giants

Michael Strahan was the face of the New York Giants defense and a key member of the team that won Super Bowl XLII. Strahan, who was selected during the second round of the 1993 NFL draft, put together an Hall of Fame career for the Giants from the day he was drafted in 1993 to his final NFL season in 2007.

Over the course of his career, Strahan was named to seven Pro Bowl teams, led the NFL in sacks in two different seasons and was selected four times as a First Team All-Pro.

His best season came during the 2001 NFL seasons when Strahan led the NFL in sacks with 22.5 total sacks and forcing six fumbles while taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award. 

5. Doug Atkins

Team(s): Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears & New Orleans Saints

The Hall of Famer Doug Atkins was one of the best defensive players of his time and one that possessed a ton of athletic talent making it difficult for opposing offenses to protect their quarterback from him.

Atkins, who had size, speed and jumping abilities used a wide range of moves to slow down opposing offenses. His production on the field helped evolve the defensive end position. Atkins was an eight time Pro Bowler, First Team All-Pro and a two time NFL Champion. 

4. Gino Marchetti

Team(s): Dallas Texans & Baltimore Colts

Along with Doug Atkins, Gino Marchetti helped shape the defensive end position and helped evolve it to what we see in today’s football. Marchetti was known for his ability to do it all on the field slowing down opposing teams running attack while also making it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to make plays.

Over his career he helped turn the Baltimore Colts into a team to beat during his playing days leading them to two NFL Championships in back to back seasons. Over his career, Marchetti was a nine time First Team All-Pro, 11 time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in sacks in 1960. In his last six seasons, Marchetti racked up 56 sacks in just 67 games. 

3. Deacon Jones

Team(s): Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers & Washington Redskins

When you think of some of the greatest defensive players of All-Time Deacon Jones is at the top of the list. Jones, who was a 14th round pick in the 1961 NFL draft, put together a career that only some hope to accomplish.

Jones would lead the NFL in sacks in five different seasons, win two Defensive Player of the Year awards and would receive First Team All-Pro honors in five different seasons.

Despite not being an official stat, Jones would rack up double digit sacks in eight different seasons including recording 22 sacks in two different seasons as well as 21.5. 

2. Bruce Smith

Team(s): Buffalo Bills

Some argue that Bruce Smith is worthy of the top spot among all defensive ends based on his play on the field. Smith, who the Buffalo Bills selected with the first overall pick during the 1985 NFL draft, helped lead the Bills to four different Super Bowls. Over his career, Smith racked up 1,225 tackles, forced 43 fumbles and recorded 200 sacks.

In addition to his career statistics, Smith was a four time AFC Defensive Player of the Year, two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an 11 time Pro Bowler and was named as a First Team All-Pro in eight different seasons.

1. Reggie White

Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers & Carolina Panthers

When it comes to the top three spots on the Top 10 Defensive Ends All-Time, it is very difficult to make a correct choice as all three were great players on the field.

However, it is hard to look past how great Reggie White was and how much he provided to his teams on the defensive side of the football. White recorded 1,112 tackles over his career while recording 198 sacks.

During his career, White led the NFL in sacks in both 1987 and 1988 while winning Defensive Player of the Year in both seasons. White was a 13 time Pro Bowler and an eight time First Team All-Pro over the course of his NFL career.

How would you rank the best Defensive Ends of All Time in the NFL? Rank below to be added in the NFL Power Rankings.

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Players Count 10
  1. Doug Atkins

    DE All-Time
  2. Michael Strahan

    DE All-Time
  3. J.J. Watt

    DE All-Time
  4. Lee Roy Selmon

    DE All-Time
  5. Jack Youngblood

    DE All-Time
  6. Julius Peppers

    DE All-Time
  7. Carl Eller

    DE All-Time
  8. Chris Doleman

    DE All-Time
  9. Reggie White

    DE All-Time
  10. Bruce Smith

    DE All-Time
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