Some truly great defenders have played in the NFL. But who are the best of the best, the ones who put fear in opposing quarterbacks and offenses? Everyone has an opinion — and so does Sports Illustrated Kids.
In this excerpt from our book 1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Football, we make the case for the top 10 sack masters to ever play professional football, from legends like Reggie White to current stars like DeMarcus Ware. Check it out, argue with your friends, then pick up a copy of the book for more debate-ready football top 10s!
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1: Deacon Jones, Defensive End (1961-74)
During the playing career of Deacon Jones (number 75), the NFL did not track sacks as a statistic. So in 2008, the magazine Pro Football Weekly re-watched his game film to calculate just how many sacks Jones had. They approximated "The Secretary of Defense" had three seasons of 20 or more sacks for the Los Angeles Rams. Since the NFL started tracking sacks in 1982, there have been only 11 20-sack seasons. Jones's numbers are even more impressive when you consider that not only were NFL seasons just 14 games at the time, but teams didn't try to pass nearly as often as they do today, meaning fewer chances for sacks.
Photo: Tony Tomsic
2: Reggie White, Defensive End (1985-2000)
"The Minister of Defense" had a rare blend of power and quickness. He had 10 or more sacks in each of his first nine seasons, dominating for the Eagles and later the Packers.
Photo: Allen Kee/Getty Images
3: Bruce Smith, Defensive End (1985-2003)
Smith is the only man in NFL history to record 200 career sacks. He was the heart of a Buffalo Bills defense that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s.
Photo: Bill Frakes
4: Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker (1981-93)
Taylor had 20½ sacks for the Super Bowl champion 1986 Giants. The explosive edge rusher is the only player to be named AP Defensive Player of the Year three times.
Photo: John Biever
5: Derrick Thomas, Linebacker (1989-99)
A nine-time Pro Bowler, Thomas had one of the greatest games ever. On November 11, 1990, he recorded seven sacks against the Seahawks, still a single-game record.
Photo: John Biever
6: J.J. Watt, Defensive End (2011-present)
With a combination of size and athleticism never seen before, Watt is on pace to someday be the greatest pass rusher ever. He had 20-plus sacks in two of his first four years.
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
7: Gino Marchetti, Defensive End (1952-66)
The seven-time All-Pro played offensive line early in his career. It helped him learn to beat blockers. He led the D on a Colts team that won back-to-back titles in 1958 and '59.
Photo: Hy Peskin
8: DeMarcus Ware, Linebacker (2005-present)
A four-time All-Pro with the Cowboys, Ware tied an NFL record by recording a sack in 10 straight games between 2007 and '08. He's still terrorizing QBs now, for Denver.
Photo: Jezz Zelevansky/Getty Images
9: Doug Atkins, Defensive End (1953-69)
At 6'8", Atkins was a monstrous presence on the Chicago Bears' defensive line. Overpowering blockers, he made the Pro Bowl eight times in his 12 seasons with the Bears.
10: Michael Strahan, Defensive End (1993-2007)
Strahan holds the single-season sack record, 22½ in 2001. He ended his career in style, with a sack of Tom Brady to help the Giants win Super Bowl XLII, his final game.
Photo: John Iacono
1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Football
Pick up a copy of "1st and 10" on Amazon.com or your favorite bookstore for more great football lists!
Top 10 Sack Masters