The 10 Greatest Pass Rushers of All Time
What JJ Watt is doing to the NFL right now is criminal. He should be arrested for being too good at what he does. A pass rusher, a tight end, a blocking back, a pass catcher and oh when he finds time for it, a sack artist.
Right now, there is no better defensive player in the league and with him challenging records and making commercials and working on those dance moves, it is a decent bet he gets many league MVP votes – if he isn’t chosen as the NFL’s most valuable – this season.
Great pass rushers disrupt the game, force opponents to game plan for them and make fans scream in the stands once they hammer the opposing quarterback into the ground.
Lawrence Taylor was the first player where teams admitted they had to plan for him specifically. Taylor was the prototype for the mega-pass rusher and all out defensive terror. Today, Watt has that same kind of impact.
Here is a list of my top 10 pass rushers of all time. I do take into account that the “sack” was not a real statistic until 1982. Many pass rushers were not given the credit they deserved for the work they did in creating havoc in opposing backfields.
10. Leslie O’Neal
O'Neal was a two-time All-American playing college football with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. He joined the Chargers after they selected him in the first round with the eight overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but suffered a major knee injury at the end of his first season. He returned within two years, and finished his career as the Chargers all-time leader in sacks. As of 2013, he ranked 10th all-time in NFL history in sacks.
9. Jack Youngblood
Youngblood was a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League (NFL) for fourteen seasons during the 1970s and 1980s. He was a five-time consensus All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Before playing professionally, Youngblood played college football for the University of Florida, and was recognized as an All-American. He is considered among the best players Florida ever produced—a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and one of only five Florida Gators to be named to the Gator Football Ring of Honor.
8. Al “Bubba” Baker
Baker made his mark early as he began his NFL career with the Lions with an incredible 23 sacks (an unofficial stat at that time) his rookie year, with five sacks in a single game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is a team record that still stands today. He played for the Lions for five seasons, starting 66 of 67 games. In his last season with the Lions, 1982, when sacks became an official statistic, he totaled eight point five in only nine games. He also had two career interceptions with the Lions.
He played the next four seasons, 1983-86, with the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom his season sack totals were 13, 10, 4 and 10.5. The sack-master holds the franchise's top three all-time, single-season sack efforts. IN 1983, along with the 13 sacks, he also had two interceptions. In 1987, he was a reserved defense lineman for the Cleveland Browns, then served in the same position in 1988 for the Minnesota Vikings. He returned to the Browns as a starter for all 16 games of the 1989 season as well as for all nine games he played for the Browns in 1990, his final NFL season at age 34
7. Richard Dent
Dent retired after the 1997 season. His lifetime statistics included 137.5 sacks and eight interceptions; he returned these picks for 89 yards and one touchdown. He also recovered 13 fumbles, returning them for 56 yards and one touchdown. He had 124.5 sacks during his first stint with the Bears, from 1983 to 1993. At the time of his retirement, his 137.5 sacks ranked him third in NFL history behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.
During Super Bowl XLIV, Dent joined other members of the 1985 Chicago Bears in resurrecting the "Super Bowl Shuffle" in a Boost Mobile commercial.
Dent has been nominated numerous times for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2005-2009, he was among the top 15 finalists in the selection process. After several years of unsuccessful nominations, he was finally selected for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on February 5, 2011. His induction speech was notable for omitting any mention of both Ditka and Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan
6. Derrick Thomas
Thomas is one of only 25 NFL players to achieve 100 or more sacks, and ranks fifth all-time in Chiefs' history with 649 career tackles. During his career, he also recorded 1 interception and recovered 19 fumbles, returning them for 161 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thomas established Chiefs career records for sacks, safeties, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. Off the field, Thomas established the Third and Long Foundation in 1990, which helps inner city youth learn to read and teaches life skills through educational and cultural programs.
On January 31, 2009, Thomas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility.
5. Coy Bacon
Bacon had his first opportunity for serious playing time at right defensive tackle in 1969 due to injuries.. Following Lamar Lundy's retirement in 1970, Bacon lined up at right defensive end for the next three years. He had eleven sacks in 1971, and was named to Second-team All-Pro. Bacon was voted as the Rams defensive lineman of the year in 1971 and 1972 by the Rams Alumni Organization. Bacon was Second-team All-Pro again in 1972.
In 1973, Bacon was sent to the San Diego Chargers along with running back Bob Thomas for quarterback John Hadl. He had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown that year. In 1976, Bacon was traded from the Chargers to the Bengals for wide receiver Charlie Joiner. Bacon then had a NFL high 21½ sacks for Cincinnati in 1976 prior to the NFL officially recognizing individual sacks. He made the Pro Bowl and was a Second-team All-Pro selection. He has been credited with 130 career sacks.
4. Deacon Jones
Jones was considered by many to revolutionize the position of defensive end. He was credited with coining the phrase "sacking the quarterback".
In 1999, Jones provided an L.A. Times reporter with some detailed imagery about his forte: “You take all the offensive linemen and put them in a burlap bag, and then you take a baseball bat and beat on the bag. You’re sacking them, you’re bagging them. And that’s what you’re doing with a quarterback.”
What separated Jones from every other defensive end was his speed and his ability to make tackles from sideline to sideline, which was unheard of in his time. He also was the first pass rusher to use the head slap, a move that he said was, "...to give myself an initial head start on the pass rush, in other words an extra step.
3. Reggie White
He was a defensive end but also played some defensive tackle in the National Football League (NFL) for 15 seasons during the 1980s and 90s. He played college football for the University of Tennessee, and was recognized as an All-American. After playing two professional seasons for the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League (USFL), he was selected in the first round of the 1984 Supplemental Draft, and then played for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers, becoming one of the most decorated players in NFL history.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 13-time Pro Bowl and 12-time All-Pro selection holds second place all-time among career sack leaders with 198.5 (behind Bruce Smith's 200 career sacks) and was selected to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. During his professional career, he was also known for his Christian ministry as an ordained Evangelical minister, leading to his nickname, "the Minister of Defense". White is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Lawrence Taylor
After an All-American career at the University of North Carolina (UNC) (1978–1981), Taylor was drafted by the Giants as the second overall selection in the 1981 NFL Draft. Although controversy surrounded the selection due to Taylor's contract demands, the two sides quickly resolved the issue. Taylor won several defensive awards after his rookie season. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Taylor was a disruptive force at outside linebacker, and is credited with changing the pass rushing schemes, offensive line play, and offensive formations used in the NFL.
Taylor produced double-digit sacks each season from 1984 through 1990, including a career high of 20.5 in 1986. He also won a record three Defensive Player of the Year awards and was named the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his performance during the 1986 season. He was named First-team All-Pro in each of his first nine seasons and was a key member of the Giants' defense, nicknamed "The Big Blue Wrecking Crew", which led New York to victories in Super Bowls XXI and XXV.
1. Bruce Smith
In his 19 NFL seasons, Smith played in 279 games, amassing 200 sacks, two interceptions, 46 forced fumbles, and 15 fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for 33 yards and a touchdown. Of his 19 seasons in the NFL, 13 of them were seasons where he had at least ten sacks, a testament to his consistency year in and year out. He was also named All-Pro nine times. His 200 sacks give him the record for most career quarterback take-downs. As Smith spent most of his career in a 3–4 defensive scheme, a defensive scheme not geared toward creating sack opportunities for defensive ends, many consider the record particularly impressive.
Indeed, Smith's peers elected him to the Pro Bowl every season from 1987 to 1998 (with the exception of his injury-laden 1991 season). In 1987, he was named the Pro Bowl MVP. Smith was twice named the AP's NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1996), twice named the NEA Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1993) and four times named UPI's AFC Defensive Player of the Year (1987, 1988, 1990, 1996).