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Best defensive player in NFL history?



Who is the best defensive player in NFL history?


John Clayton: Lawrence Taylor

Though this might be a disservice to some of the defensive greats prior to 1981, Lawrence Taylor is the best defender in the history of the league. Clearly, he was best I've seen in 35 years of covering football. Taylor changed the game. He was a college defensive end who had the speed and explosion to rush from the linebacker position. His skills allowed the Giants to use a 3-4 scheme and showed coaches how a great pass-rusher can be used with his hands off the ground. Many players dominated the game from the defensive side of the ball, but few changed the game. Taylor ushered in a new era of defense to combat Bill Walsh's fast-paced West Coast offense.




Jeremy Green: Taylor

The best defensive player of all time was the original "LT," Lawrence Taylor. Not only is he the greatest defensive player, you could make a case for him being the best player ever on either side of the football. Taylor is the only player in NFL history to win three NFL defensive player of the year awards. He is also only one of a handful of defensive players to be named the league's most valuable player.


LT changed the way the game was played at the outside linebacker position. He was a phenomenal stand-up pass-rusher who could not be single-blocked. He showed excellent speed off the edge and an unmatched closing burst once he turned the corner. He had an excellent motor and showed a great desire to get to the quarterback.


There have been a lot of great defensive players over time, but LT is the best I have ever seen. I would be surprised to see anyone ever take that title away from him too, because they just don't make players like him anymore.


Merril Hoge: Mel Blount and Taylor

If I used the criteria of changing the game because of physical dominance then the pick would have to be former Steelers cornerback Mel Blount. Name one corner today who is 6-3 or 6-4 and 220 pounds. That was Blount, though. When he got his hands on receivers they were erased from the game. He was an amazing physical specimen who just dominated physically. If I use the criteria of which player caused the opposing team to be consumed with stopping him, then it's Taylor. He demanded everyone's attention on the opposing squad and he was still unstoppable. It didn't matter what type of game plan you drew up, it didn't work


Len Pasquarelli: Deacon Jones

Lawrence Taylor may be the player who elevated the public's consciousness on the importance of the sack, but it was the game's greatest defender, former Los Angeles Rams end Deacon Jones, who essentially invented it. He not only got after passers at a time when sacks weren't a recognized statistic -- the league didn't start counting them until the 1982 season -- but he actually coined the term sack. Jones claimed to have registered 180½ career sacks. Football historians have pretty much settled on 173½ as a more documented number. That includes 26 sacks in 1967 and 24 in 1968. An eight-time Pro Bowl performer and two-time defensive player of the year, Jones was such a dominant player that he forced the league to outlaw the "head slap," his favorite pass-rush move. And he owned the nickname "Minister of Defense" long before anyone attached it to Reggie White, another guy who belongs on the short list of greatest defender candidates. Jones' last NFL game was in 1974, so two generations of current fans never saw him play. Too bad, because he was a devastating, one-of-a-kind force.


Joe Theismann: Taylor

I don't want to sound like a homer for saying this, but Taylor has to be considered the greatest ever for three reasons. One, no defensive player has ever had an impact on the game the way he did. Teams simply didn't know how to stop him because he was too big and too fast for opposing blockers. Second, there aren't many other defensive players who inspired their teammates to be better the way LT did. His offensive teammates didn't want to come to the sideline after a three-and-out series because they knew they had let him down. The final reason is probably the biggest. Ever since LT stepped onto the field, every general manager in the NFL has tried to find a linebacker in the same league as him. While there have been some guys who have had amazing seasons or great runs for two or three seasons, none has sustained that level of greatness over the course of his career like LT.

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I saw Deacon Jones play in a couple of games and no doubt he is one of the top 5 defensive players of all time. But he played during an era where the offensive lineman could not extend (as in hold a defensive player) their arms. Doing so would have merited an immediate holding penalty; so it was a lot easier to get past them. Someone like Conrad Dobler (Old Mr. Nasty himself) could probably give a treatise on the different techniques (and dirty tricks) practiced across the era from the late 60's to the early 80's. I bet he would say it was a lot easier playing the O-line in the 80's even with Taylor.


The first time I saw Taylor rush against Ron Jaworski's Eagles...I must admit I almost came in my pants. Holy Shit! He picked up the back (Wilbert Montgomery?) who was supposedly "blocking" him and carried him all of the way to ol' Ronnie. He tossed the back and then he ATE Jaworski alive with a bone jarring tackle. I knew right then that I was seeing a legend in the making an awesome sight.


And the one team that the 69'ers hated to play were the 80's and early 90's Giants. Even the great Jerry Rice was scared shitless concernig Belichiks gameplans designed to punish him. It was only when he caught that last gasp bomb in a game in 87? or 88?; where Rice caught the ball and was going to be tackled by the CB or the FS. But what happened is that the FS took the wrong angle and knocked the CB off of Rice leaving him to race down field and win the game.


Prior to that Rice never had a big game against the G-men because he was always hearing footsteps. Remember the 86 divisional playoff game where the Giants pulverized them 49-3. What a lot of people don't remember was that on the 69'ers first possession Rice was racing past the secondary on the way to a sure touchdown and he just drops the ball in mid stride worrying his little self to death anticipating a monster hit from an unseen Giant. Once the Giants recovered the ball (for a safety?) Jerry was never the same. And then Burt (aka TurnCoat Burt) gives Montana a concussion, with the rest being history. Taylor's chop tackle of Jaworski, Theisman leg break, Marshall Cream Pie (Montana) along with Burt's push slam tackle of Montana are my favorite Giants hits of all time.

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