NFL Rankings: Top 5 Defensive Players of All-Time

(© imago images) Copyright: imago/Icon SMI Linebacker Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 56)

The NFL has showered us with amazing talent on the defensive side of the ball throughout over its 102 seasons. From the likes of Aaron Donald, who became the highest paid non-quarterback player ever recently, to legends like Lawrence Taylor who transformed how the linebacker position is played, we’ve been privy to greatness throughout the years. But who are the best five defensive players of all-time? Let’s add our picks into the debate.

#5 Ray Lewis (Linebacker)

Ray Lewis was the face of the Baltimore Ravens defense for over a decade and the only player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in their career. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year (2000 & 2003), was the leader of the unit that set records for fewest rushing yards (970), shutouts (four), and points allowed (165) in a 16 game season.

#4 Deion Sanders (Cornerback)

Arguably the most electrifying player in NFL history, Deion ‘Showtime’ Sanders was the most dominant cornerback of his era. He was known for shutting down star wide receivers and finished his career with 53 interceptions and 1,331 interception return yards, the second-most ever at the time of his retirement.

Sanders was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and also earned eight Pro Bowl appearances and six first-team All-Pro selections.

#3 Aaron Donald (Defensive Tackle)

The only player currently active, Aaron Donald is known for revolutionizing the defensive tackle position with his amazing strength and athleticism. In his 9-year career, Donald already has three Defensive Player of the Year awards tying for most in NFL history. He’s made it to the Pro Bowl in each of his eight seasons, putting him only one behind Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas for the most consecutive Pro Bowls to start a career. 

In terms of stats, Donald has 103 sacks in his career, the most for a defensive tackle after their first nine seasons ever. He also has 150 tackles for loss and 226 quarterback hits, second-most by a player in NFL history through their first nine years.

#2 Reggie White (Defensive Tackle)

Known as the ‘Minister of Defense,’ Reggie White was a force to be reckoned with off the edge of the defensive line. He finished his career with 198 sacks, which was the most in NFL history when he retired back in 2000. He had 12 seasons in his career where he finished with double-digit sacks, including nine straight to start his career, another NFL record. 

When it comes to attacking the quarterback, there’s never been anyone better, averaging 0.85 sacks a game, the most for players who have played at least 100 games.

#1 Lawrence Taylor (Linebacker)

One of the scariest defenders to line up against, Taylor put fear in the hearts of every quarterback he played against. He was the NFL MVP in 1986, when he led the league with 20.5 sacks and became the first defensive player to MVP honors since 1971 and also the last since.

Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Giants and had three Defensive Player of the Year awards to go with it. Additionally, he had the most Pro Bowls to start a career (10) and had eight first-team All-Pro selections. 

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