Since Halloween is nearby, I decided to do a special edition of the GOAT. series to honor the Defensive Ends and 3-4 Outside Linebackers that caused nightmares for offenses throughout history.
Now, however, it's time for the EDGE rushers. Basically, an EDGE rusher is a player who plays Defensive End, 3-4 OLB, or a combination of the two.
These guys usually have one job, get the quarterback, which is why they are all being combined into this one list. More and more, football is about versatility, so I expect that in another decade or two, there will be a few more hybrid type players on this list, such as Khalil Mack and Von Miller, who both have a case now to be considered for this list, but they need to stuff the stat sheet a little more before receiving a spot on a list with some many greats.
Now let's go over these greats, and why they all made the list.
Here are the, Unarguably, 20 Greatest EDGE Rushers Of All-Time:
Awards: 5× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, 2× NFL sacks leader, and NFL record 4 career safeties (tied)
Had Jared Allen been healthy all 13 seasons of his career, he might have earned a higher place on this list. When Allen was at his best, he instilled fear into the great quarterbacks of the modern era, especially Aaron Rodgers, who became well acquainted with Allen during the early years of his career. Allen spent most of his career, however, overshadowed by some of the other members of this list, but in 2011, he emerged as a great EDGE rusher in his own right.
Awards: 9× Pro Bowler, 3× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
For 17 years, Julius Peppers has been one of the great defensive ends in the league, but he never broke into that superstar tier; instead remaining in the elite tier most of his career. Peppers would have great streaks, then he would take a year off and make teams question if he lost a step. After a down year, Peppers would either switch teams or lose his position on a team and then come back more dominant to cement his elite status.
Awards: 6× Pro Bowler, 3× First-team All-Pro, Second-team All-Pro, 1× NFL sacks leader, 2× AFC Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and Miami Dolphins Honor Roll
That highlight film of Jason Taylor against the Bears sums up most of his career. Taylor was a game-changing playmaker, but he was mostly playing for the Dolphins, who never really fielded a good enough offense to make the defensive efforts of guys like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas worth it. Still, Taylor's efforts did earn him multiple accolades, and a place in Canton, to go with his status as one of the greatest defensive ends/outside linebackers ever.
Awards: 6× Pro Bowler, 5× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Famer, Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor, and NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Championships: One NFL Championship and Three NFC Championships
Eller wanted to go down as a great defensive end, and he definitely earned that right. While Eller may not have been the elite playmaker that many of the players on this list were, but he was consistently on the field making plays that helped his team make four Super Bowls. The Vikings went on to lose all four of those Super Bowls, but that goes back to the issue of the "Purple People Eaters" being an elite defense, Eller, Alan Page, and Jim Marshall never went to that Superstar level in the postseason.
Awards: 7× Pro Bowler, First-team All-Pro, Second-team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Championships: One Super Bowl and One AFC Championship
One of a few active players on this list, T-Sizzle is the prototypical example of the hybrid 4-3 End and 3-4 OLB. Suggs definitely benefitted from playing with some of the greatest defensive players in history, but you don't just win the DPOY and DROY awards by playing on a great team. Suggs went out there and earned day after day, week after week, year after year, and in the midst of his 16th season, Suggs is still causing problems for some of the best offensive players ever.
Awards: 6× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, Pro Football Hall of Famer, New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer, and New Orleans Saints Ring of Honor
Championships: One Super Bowl and One NFC Championship
Rickey Jackson and the "Dome Patrol" of the New Orleans Saints were the only things that saved that team from being a complete dumpster fire prior to the turn of the century. Seriously, the Saints had the greatest linebacking core in NFL history, led by Rickey Jackson, and managed to only have six winning seasons and no playoff wins until the 2000 season. Jackson literally left New Orleans for San Francisco and won his only Super Bowl thanks to finally being on a great team, not just a great linebacking core.
Awards: 7× Pro Bowler, 5× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year, 2× NFC Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, Los Angeles Rams Ring of Fame, and Los Angeles Rams No. 85 retired
Championships: One NFC Championship
From one of the legendary linebacking cores in the "Dome Patrol," to one of the legendary defensive lines in the "Fearsome Foursome 2.0." Similar to how Rickey Jackson anchored his unit, Jack Youngblood anchored the second iteration of the foursome in L.A. The second version of the Foursome played similar to the first, but Youngblood and the rest of his line never escaped the shadow of the legendary "Fearsome Foursome" that preceded them.
Lee Roy Selmon
Awards: 6× Pro Bowler, 3× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, Pro Bowl Co-MVP, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers #63 retired, Tampa Stadium Krewe of Honor, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor
Had a bad back not end his career in his prime, Lee Roy Selmon might be the greatest defensive end ever. Selmon was a massive man that might be the greatest finisher in football history because when he got his hands on someone, that person was almost guaranteed to go down due to Selmon's sheer size and strength. Selmon might be the greatest Tampa Bay Buccaneer ever, but his nine-year career goes down as maybe the greatest what if in football history.
Awards: 9× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, 2× NFL sacks leader, 2× Butkus Award, and NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Championships: One Super Bowl and One AFC Championship
Another hybrid type, Demarcus Ware was a legend before he even left Dallas, but his time in Denver help cement his legacy as one of the great EDGE rushers in NFL history. Ware had a fire in him that helped him become a great player and a great leader because his ferocity and tenacity made him a playmaker that inspired the guys around him. D-Ware wrapped up his career a bit early at 12 seasons, but he slowed down a ton in his last season, which hurt his greatness a bit given that from 2006-2012 he was borderline unstoppable.
Awards: 4× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, 3× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Bert Bell Award, and 2× NFL sacks leader
The Lee Roy Selmon of the modern era, J.J. Watt is one of, if not the, best players in the NFL, but he just can't stay healthy. Watt has had seven injuries since the end of November in 2015 and is a likely candidate to continue to have injury issues given the injuries he has had. For a four year stretch from 2012-2015, Watt looked on pace to potentially be the greatest defensive player in NFL history, but now he is more of a Houston Hero than a GOAT, but at 29 years old he could still return to his superstar level from a few years ago.
Awards: 9× Pro Bowler, 3× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, NFL Man of the Year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, NFL sacks leader, Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Kansas City Chiefs No. 58 retired, and an NFL record seven sacks in one game
Derrick Thomas is one of the greatest pass rushers of all-time and could have been even higher on this list if it wasn't for a tragic car accident that ended his life at the age of 33. D.T. was a superstar on and off the field, with his decade of dominance corresponding with a level of humanitarian work that would rival just about anyone in NFL history. This list has quite a few "what if" players, but Thomas is definitely one of the biggest and saddest of those players.
Awards: 4× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, Super Bowl XX MVP and 1× NFL sacks leader
Championships: Two Super Bowls and Two NFC Championships
Don't let the lack of awards fool you into thinking that Richard Dent was not on a completely different level in his prime. The "Monsters of the Midway" were lead by this monster defensive end that helped lead the Bears to a win in Super Bowl XX to cap off an amazing 1985 season. When Dent retired, he was third all-time in sacks, but time would pass him by as his era saw elite pass rushers and run stoppers come from everywhere and redefine the EDGE rusher.
Awards: 8× Pro Bowler, 3× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, NFL sacks leader, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor
Chris Doleman is what happens when you put Carl Eller and Jared Allen together, so it is fitting that he is significantly higher than his to fellow Vikings alumni. Doleman was an elite pass rusher and run stopper, which made him into a superstar for Vikings, Falcons, and 49ers teams that felt his presence would make them into a Super Bowl team. Actually, scratch the Vikings and Falcons of the Super Bowl Contenders list because those franchises just love to find a way to screw up being a contender.
Awards: 7× Pro Bowler, 4× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, 2× NFL sacks leader, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, New York Giants Ring of Honor, NFL record 22.5 sacks in a season
Championships: One Super Bowl and Two NFC Championships
Strahan is the all-time leader in franchise sacks for the NY Giants, which is impressive given who has played for that team over the years, Strahan's 22.5 sacks record have been under threat a few times, yet is really starting to seem like an unbreakable record given the way the NFL has changed over the past few years. Still, greatness is partially about how consistently great a player is, and Strahan has as many seasons under six sacks as he does with double-digit sacks, having done both six times.
Awards: 8× Pro Bowler, 3× First-Team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFC Defensive Player of the Year, 2× NFL sacks leader, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
Even in 1991, Jeff Fisher was screwing up the careers of legends, as his decision to move the Rams from a 3-4 to a 4-3 basically cost Greene two years of his career that he could have amassed even greater stats and awards instead of being stuck in a position he couldn't play as well. Greene was a sack machine outside of his 1991 and 1992 seasons, where he traded in those sacks for tackles for loss. Greene mauled Joe Montana four and a half times in a game and once hit Brett Farve so hard that Farve spit blood because Greene took bull rushing literally in order to actually gore people.
Awards: 11× Pro Bowler, 9× First-team All-Pro, Second-team All-Pro, Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, and Indianapolis Colts No. 89 retired
Championships: Two NFL Championships
Marchetti might be the greatest defensive player in the pre-Super Bowl era, as his size, athleticism, and discipline turned him into a nearly unstoppable force that could overwhelm double and triple teams on a weekly basis. Prior to being a professional football player, Marchetti served in the U.S. Army as a Machine Gunner during WWII including fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, and he played like a warrior. Marchetti was a force that dominated the league his prime in ways that few have done since.
David "Deacon" Jones
Awards: 8× Pro Bowler, 5× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, 2× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, and Los Angeles Rams No. 75 retired
Remember how I mentioned in the Jack Youngblood entry that they never escaped the shadow of the original "Fearsome Foursome," well Deacon Jones was the shadow that Youngblood couldn't escape. Jones was the greatest pure pass rusher the league had ever seen until about a decade after he retired and the 80's pass rushers changed the game. Still, Jones is often credited with inventing the term "sack," despite never officially recording a sack because the stat didn't exist, otherwise he would be third all-time.
Awards: 11× Pro Bowler, 8× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, 2× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 4× AFC Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, Buffalo Bills No. 78 retired, and NFL record 200 career sacks
Championships: Four AFC Championships
The top four spots on this list I feel all have some controversy to them, but these top three come down to what makes someone deserving of being called greatest more: stats, awards, or opinions of peers and experts. Smith wins the stats category, as he has the most tackles and sacks of the top three while making it to four straight AFC Championship games with the Bills. Smith also hung around the league for 19 seasons, which helped him pad those stats a bit, but don't let that distract you from the fact that he was great, just not the greatest.
Awards: 13× Pro Bowler, 10× First-team All-Pro, 3× Second-team All-Pro, 2× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 3× NFC Defensive Player of the Year, 2× NFL sacks leader, First-team All-USFL, Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, Philadelphia Eagles No. 92 retired, and Green Bay Packers No. 92 retired
Championships: One Super Bowl and Two NFC Championships
Since USA Today just so happened to agree with me, I figured their video could do as good of a job with the explanation as me. In all seriousness, White inspired a fear in opposing offenses that was almost unmatched, and he used that fear to become one of the most decorated defensive players ever, including being tied for second in All-Time Pro Bowl selections. If White wouldn't have wasted two seasons in the USFL, White might have accomplished even more, but it still probably wouldn't have been enough to take the top spot on this list.
Awards: 10× Pro Bowler, 8× First-team All-Pro, 2× Second-team All-Pro, NFL Most Valuable Player, Bert Bell Award, 3× NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, 1× NFL sacks leader, NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, New York Giants No. 56 retired, and New York Giants Ring of Honor
Championships: Two Super Bowls and Two NFC Championships
L.T. changed the entire game of football forever with his sack of Joe Theismann that ended Theismann's career, but that play was just a microcosm of what Taylor did during his career. Taylor and White are honestly closer in greatness than people are willing to give White credit for. The biggest difference is that L.T. was a 3-4 OLB that occasionally played like a 4-3 DE, whereas White was just a 4-3 DE, which led to Taylor emerging as the Greatest EDGE Rusher of All-Time.
Since part of the gimmick with this list was to go into the most feared, I would say that most of this list would honestly still go in the same order for the most feared because that tends to be how it works with EDGE rushers. Teams tend to fear EDGE rushers that were the greatest the most because they were that good.
The only difference would be that the injury-prone players would be way more feared when they were healthy rather than when they were injured or getting older. A player like J.J. Watt was much more feared in 2015 than he is now, but he's trending upward.
Honorable mentions to Khalil Mack and Von Miller, who are both on pace to make a list like this someday, but with so many great EDGE players, they both could use a DPOY award, in Mack's case a second, to really put them past Jared Allen's and Julius Peppers' insane sack numbers.