Saturday, June 11, 2022

Jeff Kerr: "The 10 Greatest Defensive Players of All-time"

By TJ Troup 
Jeff Kerr at CBS Sports recently listed the 10 greatest defensive players of all-time. Wow! That is truly a difficult assignment, and no doubt Kerr saw every Hall of Fame defensive player from 1950 through 2021 play in person, right? Oh, he did not? 

Well then he studied hours of film of these men, and based his evaluations upon having played and coached this game of passion? Oh, he did not? 

Rather than continue to challenge his list, how about you folks that read the Journal listing your top ten, and you might want to add a short phrase or two to explain what put this man on your list. For me, that would be entertaining, and insightful. 

Steve Sabol did NOT have Jeff Kerr as one of the members of his "Blue Ribbon Panel" to select the 100 greatest players of all-time. Bet all of you can guess who was on the Blue Ribbon Panel. 


  1. From Brian Wolf

    My List


    Sorry, no Sanders. A player has to TACKLE ...

  2. Sorry, I goofed. Seau has to be in there somewhere, maybe ahead of Derrick Brooks but most of the secondary people were involved in numerous turnovers ...

    Spill the beans Coach, I would honored to know your Top Ten ?

  3. Reggie White in front of LT and I stopped reading

  4. I'll play:
    (in no particular order:)
    Night Train Lane- most dominant corner ever....(best nickname too)
    Dick Butkus- the name and face that come to mind when the posirion "middle linebacker" is mentioned and the standard by which all intimidators are measured....
    Gino Marchetti- the first and arguably most dominant pass rusher ever....his sack totals are lost to history due to the absence of documentation, but even in his late-30s a dominant force
    Deion Sanders- with respect to Mr. Wolf, if the guy across from you never gets a sniff of the ball, tackling is secondary (yes, a gridiron pun)
    Aaron Donald- my "recency bias" is always on high alert, but goodness gracious, has anyone in history been able to take over games "better" than this guy?
    Lawrence Taylor- (see immediately above)...ok, maybe this guy, but different position
    Ed Reed- if Bill Belichek puts him in the pantheon, that's good enough for me
    Bill WIllis-John Turney ranks him #2 at nose tackle and I'm not disputing Mr. T, but I urge you all to get on YouTube and check out old Brownie film....this man has been a complete revelation....from a peculiar frog-stance, and at 215 lbs, he is a consistent and relentless disruptor....I am simply enamored of this lost legend...

  5. oops, lost count....Deacon Jones of course....(guess I deserve that "headslap")
    #10: I'm reserving a draft pick for a later date

  6. I'm always changing my lists but this is about where I'm at:

    1. Reggie White - fantastic peak and amazing longevity. Likely + another 20 sacks and a pro bow/all pro had he not started in the USFL. Played RDT, nose in the bear and LDE at high levels.
    2. Lawrence Taylor - I think his legend ever so slightly outweighs what I see on YouTube. Currently charting every play of his 1986 MVP campaign at the 1st q of week 8 at the moment. Great rusher, one of the best i've ever seen at crashing the LOS on runs away from him, decent at zone and man.
    3. Aaron Donald - Too soon? Maybe. But he's head and shoulders above everyone in the modern NFL.
    4. Ed Reed - Could do everything at S and a bonus on ST.
    5. Ray Lewis - Long and productive career with AP DPoY votes in 7 seasons! Was a self promoter but I think he backed up it.
    6. Deacon Jones - His sacks and TFLs hold up against anyone at any time.
    7. Dick Butkus - Bad luck with injuries, seemingly played at as a high of a level as anyone. If not for the fans of his era never ceasing to bang his drum I would probably nudge him down to 9th or 10th.
    8. Deion Sanders - Best cover corner, almost every game I chart of his ends up amazing. Sure, below average at/willingness to tackle but that is a bit over blown. I've gone through quiet a few games where at no point in the game did he need to make a tackle in the flats. I think people over estimate the frequency of which he halfassed it.
    9. Bob Lilly - Checks all the boxes - stats, film, awards, etc.
    10. Bruce Smith - Multi DPoY winner and AP DPoY votes in 9 seasons. I don't put any stock in his last few seasons, but his others were great.

    HM: Night Train Lane, Rod Woodson, Ronnie Lott.

  7. Hey guys I'll chime in here on this topic since I am very passionate about defense. The men I feel who had the greatest impact that I have seen enough film on.

    Lawrence Taylor-Could turn a game single handedly with his electric plays.
    Reggie White- Consumate power end who plays run and pass. Explosive.
    Aaron Donald- He has done it long enough and in an era that permits strangling by o-lineman.
    Bob Lilly- A freak of nature. Only seen about 6 full games though but past his prime against Philly in 1974 he still looked dominant.
    Joe Greene- Had a great feel for the game in late 70s though tools had waned to injury and in early 70s he was totally controlling games.
    Merlin Olsen- I liked how he stacked up the run when i saw him by throwing blockers into the ballcarier.
    Lee Roy Selmon- Best defensive end against the run all time.
    Ted Hendricks- Could do any skill on the field and do it superbly.
    Jack Ham- Best pass coverage backer ever.
    Deion Sanders- Played ball in flight about as well as one can.

    I have not seen enough film of DIck Butkus, Dick Lane, Deacon Jones, and Willie Lanier to have a well formed opinon.

    1. I can definitely see where you are coming from with Butkus. I think I've watched every available clip on youtube from that preseason game vs. the Packers, to the game of the week/season recaps along with his Illinois v Michigan college game. All together it isn't much, and maybe I should have just abstained him from my list.
      As for Deacon, I think enough exists that a person can get a pretty good idea of what he was doing and when, how his injury effected him later on in his career, etc.

      I notice you had 9 players in the front 7 in your top 10 which I get as they are almost always in the frame and it's far easier to watch them on a play by play basis.

    2. I saw Jones in a game in 71 I believe playing against Ron Yary and he looked solid. I want to see more.

      Yes it does seem many of the picks were in the front 7 but I was very close to listing Ed Reed, Kenny Houston, and Willie Brown.

    3. Hi write regarding the Deacon :he looked solid"....I know you know a great deal about the game, but my goodness man....Mr. Jones had more sacks than games played....the term "sack" was introduced to describe his mid-60s at his peak mayhem....just sayin'

    4. HI JHoltgym.... yes the "looked solid" comment about Deacon Jones was referring to the one specific game I saw of him playing against Ron Yary on october 26, 1970 which i saw on Youtube. I charted Deacon with 'forcing a sack' against Yary which he didn't bring down the qb but he harrassed him into his teammates arms. In the run game though I saw Yary moving Deacon out at the point of attack at times. Yes I do realized Deacon is more than just solid and that he was a legitimate all time great.

  8. As of today (I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow), my list looks like this:

    Reggie White—incredible power, great athleticism with the Eagles; most consistently excellent pass rusher I've seen, who could beat blockers with pure physicality or with savvy moves and counter moves; solid against the run; could play wide or inside with aplomb; seemed to get a little lazy after putting on weight in Green Bay, but I don't think it had too significant an impact overall

    Aaron Donald—almost unparalleled combination of physical gifts and on-field effort; best hands and feet of any DL I've ever seen; snap burst matched only by maybe Page and Adams among DTs; has significant gravity and still beats his blockers at a higher rate than anyone else; has only played 8 seasons, and I would put those 8 seasons over any cherry-picked 8 years from anyone else; the best player in a league that is increasingly catering to the other side of the ball.

    Lawrence Taylor—unbelievably fast, whether exploding off the ball or in backside pursuit; better in coverage than he usually gets credit for; uncanny power for his relatively small stature, he was a physical marvel who felt out of time (like Bobby Bell or Randy Moss); scary intensity; I'm lower on him than most because, while he absolutely changed the way people blocked rushbackers, I find myself more impressed by guys like White and Donald who played positions opponents already had decades of experience combatting and dominated regardless. Also LT wasn't double nearly as much as the two I have above him, despite the mythology.

    Ed Reed—the best cover safety ever, with unmatched range, both vertically and laterally; incredible ability to know what was happening, bait quarterbacks, and drive on the ball; once the ball was in his hands, he was a nightmare for offenses to bring down, and his returns provided tremendous help to often woeful offenses; he was so smart and well-studied that he was able to play in such a way that you might think he had access to a time machine and already watched the game unfold; a tremendous strong safety early in his career as well

    Ronnie Lott—very good cornerback and terrific safety; not super athletic, but had smarts and technique that allowed him to be in position to make the right play; feared hitter who could set the tone with a shoulder blow; maybe his best trait was his laser focus, which helped mitigate the speed advantage receivers had over him; top notch against the run, and a good communicator to his defense

    1. Continued (my original post was too long to publish as one comment):

      Deion Sanders—the best pure cover corner ever, and my belief in this grows with each game I study; he wasn't Aeneas Williams in the run game, but his tackling struggles seem overhyped based on what I actually saw on tape; a hyperelite athlete who could afford to take risks that slower DBs couldn't take; far smarter than many admit, and his preparation was impeccable; like Reed, turned defense into offense with the ball in his hands; also like Reed, played defensive back in a far tougher era to cover receivers than past greats like Blount, Johnson, or even Haynes

      Ray Lewis—no real weaknesses; great against the run and covered well; among the best I've seen at disengaging blockers with his strong hands; even at an advanced age, he could cover decently because of his encyclopedic knowledge of opposing offenses; inspired teammates around him to play better, and communicated to them and got them in position to make plays; great explosion on head on tackles; rare speed in pursuit in his early years ; ranks above Butkus because it was simply harder to play defense in his era, and he didn't play his best in a league that saw significant talent lost to a rival league

      Dick Butkus—preternatural diagnostic ability; ferocious hitter who threw his body around recklessly; destroyed lead blockers with extreme prejudice; very good in coverage, despite revisionist history maintaining otherwise; managed to stand out as clearly excellent, despite playing on a bad team; guaranteed to go all out on every snap

      Bob Lilly—powerful and quick and knew how to attack blocking schemes; set up shop in opposing backfields; great snap quickness and could bend like an edge rusher for most of his career; great pad level that gave him leverage against opponents; incredible cardio that let him play the entire game like his hair was on fire; we don't have the fancy stats like we do for Donald, but tape shows a guy who consistently beat doubles

      Bruce Smith—much closer to White than he tends to get credit for; great peak with sustained level of play, and able to transition well into a new role as an elder statesman; remarkable speed around the edge, especially for a 3-4 end; used speed to set up effective counters, but didn't go inside too often because he wanted to maintain integrity against the run; great spin move; whether as a 40 edge rusher or a 30 one gapper, he got a ton of attention from offensive lines and usually won his battles (his Boselli performance was embarrassing, but even White had the Erik Williams debacle); could sink to an under tackle type role in nickel, like a young JJ Watt

    2. Just missed the cut, and could easily be in the top ten depending on my mood that day:

      Joe Greene—a black hole for opposing run games, the fulcrum of the Steel Curtain; made everyone around him look better than they were, in my opinion; inhuman power and downright frightening aggression; great swim move when pass rushing, even though that isn't what he is remembered for

      Rod Woodson—unfairly compared to Sanders as a cover corner, was adept in man and zone, outside or in the slot; could face any receiver archetype (quick, fast, big with equal effectiveness; good force corner and solid blitzer; nose for the ball with 71 picks and 32 fumble recoveries (though ten were his own fumbles and three were teammate fumbles); like Deion, a threat to score or significantly improve field position when he got his hands on the ball

      Deacon Jones—pass rusher extraordinaire, it feels like sacrilege to have him out of the top ten; intimidating persona with brain scrambling pass rush moves to match; great speed off the edge when pass rushing or chasing a play to the opposite side; probably ranks second to only Seau in tackles for loss; would jump offside and fall for traps early on, but got it together eventually; I have him behind Smith because injury caused him to be inconsistent after 1969, pass rushing was easier in his era, and Merlin Olsen drew most of the double teams

      Also, Watt would have been an easy candidate for the top ten had he stayed healthy. Alas and alack.

  9. This is somewhat in order but not really:

    Reggie White
    Lawrence Taylor
    Dick Butkus
    Bob Lilly
    Ed Reed
    Merlin Olsen
    Ray Lewis
    Aaron Donald
    Ronnie Lott
    Dick Lane

    Donald can move up but I'm doing this if he retired today. JJ Watt is close but he just wasn't healthy long enough for me to put him here. The first 4 are my top 4 and then the rest can be put in any order for the most part.

  10. A Donald, D Butkus, B Lilly, R White, B Smith, M Olsen, D Sanders, R Woodson, J Watt, L Taylor, R Lott, D Lane, E Reed ... all in the conversation ... but don't slight Joe Schmidt, Larry Wilson, Emlen Tunnell, Gino Marchetti, Bobby Bell, Jack Ham ...

    1. From Brian wolf

      Good call JM ...

      Tunnell is hard to leave off any list, along with Blount and Seau.

  11. In Coach Troups post he mentioned the NFL Network 100 list, I think that would be the one that came out in 2010 which means voting was likely done during or before the 2009 season as it takes a while to get all the media created.

    Using that 2010 list as a guide they had with defensive rank and overall:
    1) [3rd overall] Lawrence Taylor
    2) [7th] Reggie White
    3) [10th] Dick Butkus
    4) [11th] Ronnie Lott
    5) [13th] Joe Greene
    6) [15th] Deacon Jones
    7) [18th] Ray Lewis
    8) [26th] Bob Lilly
    9) [27th] Merlin Olsen
    10) [29th] Jack Lambert

    HM 11/30th Night Train, 12/31st Bruce Smith, 13/34th Deion Sanders

    All legendary players, and though it was 13ish seasons with players rookie seasons being: 1981, 1984, 1965, 1981, 1969, 1961, 1996, 1961, 1962, 1974. I would not say any of the players were not deserving though half being from the 1960s may have been a bit of a sweet spot for the voters.

  12. From Brian wolf ...

    Rest In Peace ... Tony Siragusa