The 10 Best Defensive Ends of All Time in the NFL

The NFL is among the most exciting sports and ranks top when it comes to the most popular sports in the USA. So what makes the game so exciting and challenging? The answer is the defense of the game.

The NFL is an intensely physical sport where the players get very physical. Defenders have the advantage of doing almost anything to take away the ball from the opponents.

Although people claim that playing in offense is harder, the fact is, it is harder because of the presence of the defenses, who do not let the offense get past the line. You can also know about the best defensive backs of all time in the NFL if you are an NFL freak.

Here is a list of the ten best defensive ends of all time who were big threats to the offense and made it almost impossible to get past through.

They are the Best Defensive Ends of All Time

Defensive Ends are the last line of defense. They are usually strong and big players on the team. The offense in the NFL runs like angry bulls who would break through anything that gets in front of it. However, defensive ends stop them from scoring. Here are the ten players who were best at taming the offense:

  • Reggie White (1985-2000)
  • Deacon Jones (1961-74)
  • Bruce Smith (1985-2003)
  • Doug Atkins (1953-69)
  • Chris Doleman (1985-99)
  • Howie Long (1981-930)
  • Gino Marchetti (1952-66)
  • Lee Roy Selmon (1976-84)
  • Jared Allen (2004-2015)
  • Julius Pepper (2002-2018)

1. Reggie White

Full NameReginald Howard White
Date of BirthDecember 19, 1961
Place of BirthChattanooga, Tennessee, U.S.
Height6 ft 5 in
Weight300 lb
NFL DraftN/A
TeamsMemphis Showboats, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers
PositionsDefensive End
NFL ChampionN/A
Super Bowl champion1 Time: 1996
First-Team All-Pro8 Times: 1986, 87, 88, 89, 1990, 91, 95, 98
Defensive Player of the Year2 Times: 1987, 88
NFL Sacks Leader2 Times: 1987, 88

Reggie White has been dominant in the defense for over a decade. During his time in Philadelphia, he was next to impossible to get through. He was at his peak during this time. He was the sacks leader for back-to-back seasons. He also holds a record for 39 sacks in only 28 games.

Reggie was the defensive player of the year and the sacks leader in 1987 and 1988. There are more in his accolades. White produced 10+ sacks in 9 seasons in his career, and his total of 198 sacks is the second-highest in the history of the NFL.

  • Career Statistics of Reggie White
GamesAVTacklesSacksInterceptionsForced Fumbles

2. Deacon Jones

Full NameDavid D. “Deacon” Jones
Date of BirthDecember 9, 1938
Place of BirthEatonville, Florida, U.S.
Height6 ft 5 in
Weight272 lb
NFL Draft1961 (Los Angeles Rams, Pick: 186)
TeamsLos Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers
PositionsDefensive End
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro5 Times: 1965, 66, 67, 68, 69
Defensive Player of the Year2 Times: 1967, 68
Pro Bowl8 Times: 1964-70, 1972

The eight-time pro bowler and five-time all-pro Deacon Jones was the master of sacks. During the 60s, he would make 20+ sacks in multiple seasons, playing only 14 games. There was no official recording of the sack number in his time. Jones himself had a record of counting sacks in his career.

Whether these are the exact number or not, he was a genius and deadly in defense. He has announced the defensive player of the year for two consecutive years. He is not only among the best defensive ends of all time, but he is also one of the best players in the NFL.

  • Career Statistics of Deacon Jones

3. Bruce Smith

Full NameBruce Bernard Smith
Date of BirthJune 18, 1963
Place of BirthNorfolk, Virginia, U.S.
Height6 ft 4 in
Weight265 lb
NFL Draft1985 (Buffalo Bills, Pick: 1)
TeamsBuffalo Bills, Washington Redskins.
PositionsDefensive end
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro8 Times: 1987, 88, 1990, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97
Defensive Player of the Year2 Times: 1990, 96
Pro Bowl11 Times: 1987, 88, 89, 90, 1992-98

Smith’s stats speak for him. An 11-time pro bowler, nine-time All-pro, and two times defensive player of the year! Did he miss anything?

Smith was drafted into the NFL in 1985 when he was the 1st pick in the draft and got recruited by the Buffalo Bills. Smith had all the abilities that one needs to be on the list of the best defensive end of all time.

At the beginning of his professional career, he was criticized for being one-dimensional. Many started to call him a Push-rush-only defensive end. Smith took it as a challenge and sharpened his skills. In 1990, he was also doing great in defending the run. It earned him his first defensive player of the year award.

Smith was no less impressive during his last few seasons. Between 2000 and 2002, Smith scored 24 sacks in 36 games, despite being in his late 30s.

When Smith declared his retirement in 2003, many thought he was retiring early, as he could play a few more seasons.

Career Statistics of Bruce Smith:

GamesAVTacklesSacksInterceptionsForced Fumbles

4. Doug Atkins

Full NameDouglas Leon Atkins
Date of BirthMay 8, 1930
Place of BirthHumboldt, Tennessee
Height6 ft 8 in 
Weight257 lb
NFL Draft1953 (Cleveland Browns, Pick: 11)
TeamsCleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears.
PositionsDefensive End
NFL Champion3 Times: 1954, 1963
First-Team All-Pro1963
Defensive Player of the Year2 Times: 1954, 1963
Pro Bowl8 Times: 1957-1963, and 1965

Doug Atkins was the best defensive end of his time. With 6’8 “in height and over 250lb, he looked huge and had incredible strength. Atkins was a great challenge for the opposition. Even making a pass through him was almost impossible.

From being a two-time NFL champion, an eight-times Pro bowler and one-time All-pro, and two-times defensive player of the year! He had achieved nearly everything in the NFL.

George George Halas commented about Atkins that there had not been anyone like Atkins. He is undoubtedly one of the best defensive ends of all time.

  • Career Statistics of Doug Atkins

5. Chris Doleman

Full NameChristopher John Doleman
Date of BirthOctober 16, 1961
Place of BirthIndianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Height6 ft 5 in
Weight287 lb
NFL Draft1985 (Minnesota Vikings, Pick: 4)
TeamsMinnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons
PositionsDefensive End
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro3 Times: 1987, 89, 1992
Defensive Player of the YearN/A
NFL Sacks Leader1 Time: 1989
Pro Bowl8 Times: 1987, 88, 89, 1990, 92, 93, 95, 97

Chris Dokemann was born in 1961 in Indianapolis and got drafted into the NFL in 1985. Since then, he played for 14 seasons and competed in 232 games.

Doleman was a quick learner and soon came to the spotlight. He was mentioned in the 1987 All-pro list and was the NFL sacks leader in 1989. Doleman is also an eight-time pro bowler. Doleman was a dedicated player, and he never missed a single game except for injury leave.

With 150.5, he holds the record for fourth most sacks by a player. Doleman also made more than nine hundred tackles and 44 forced fumbles. Doleman was indeed one of a kind player.

  • Career Statistics of Chris Doleman
GamesAVTacklesSacksInterceptionsForced Fumbles

6. Howie Long

Full NameHoward Matthew Moses Long
Date of BirthJanuary 6, 1960
Place of BirthSomerville, Massachusetts, U.S.
Height6 ft 5 in
Weight265 lb
NFL Draft1981 (Los Angeles Raiders, Pick: 48)
TeamsLos Angeles Raiders
PositionsDefensive end
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro3 Times: 1983, 84, 85
Defensive Player of the YearN/A
Pro Bowl8 Times: 1983-87, 89, 1992, 93

Howie Long had his NFL debut in 1981 in the defense-packed Los Angeles Raiders. The raiders during this time were full of defenders. Many thought Long would be lost in the crown of defenders. However, as you can see, that was not what happened.

The eight-time pro bowler was not as fierce as many of the other players of this time were, but Long was still a very good defending end. Long retired in 1993 from professional football. By then, he had played 179 games, scored 84 sacks, and ten forced recoveries. Long was elected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. 

  • Career Statistics of Howie Long
GamesAVSacksInterceptionsForced Recoveries

7. Gino Marchetti

Full NameGino John Marchetti
Date of BirthJanuary 2, 1926
Place of BirthSmithers, West Virginia
Height6 ft 4 in
Weight244 lb
NFL Draft1952 (Dallas Texans, Pick: 14)
TeamsDallas Texans, Baltimore Colts
PositionsDefensive end, Offensive Tackle
NFL Champion2 Times: 1958, 59
NFL Sacks Leader1 Time: 1960
Defensive Player of the YearN/A
First-Team All-Pro9 Times: 1956, 57, 58, 59, 1960, 61, 62, 63, 64

It’s no surprise that the two-time NFL champion, nine times All-pro, 11 -times pro bowler, and one-time sacks leader has made the list. With so many accomplishments, he deserves to be called one of the best defending ends of all time.

Marchetti was drafted into the NFL in 1952. Marchetti played in the NFL at a time when sacks were not included in the official stats. So, you won’t find him in the record book, but with his mesmerizing and skillful performance, he has become immortal in the NFL.

  • Career Statistics of Gino Marchetti

8. Lee Roy Selmon

Full NameLee Roy Selmon
Date of BirthOctober 20, 1954
Place of BirthEufaula, Oklahoma
NFL Draft1976 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pick: 1)
TeamsTampa Bay Buccaneers
PositionsDefensive end
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro3 Times: 1979, 1980, 82
Defensive Player of the Year1 Time: 1979
Pro Bowl6 Times: 1979-1984

In the 1976’s draft, Selmon was the first choice of Tampa Bay. The Bay had high expectations. Though they did not win a super bowl title during this time, they had some prestigious finishing in the tournament. And Selmon’s contribution was critical, and fans appreciated him for this.

Selmon had the speed and quickness to harass the quarterbacks; Selmon had an incredible year in 1979 and became the defensive player of the year. However, his team could not bag the NFL championship.

  • Career Statistics of Lee Roy Selmon
GamesAVTacklesSacksForced Fumbles

9. Jared Allen

Full NameJared Scot Allen
Date of BirthApril 3, 1982
Place of BirthDallas, Texas, U.S.
Height6 ft 6 in
Weight255 lb
NFL Draft2004 (Kansas City Chiefs, Pick: 126)
TeamsKansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers
PositionsDefensive end
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro4 Times: 2007, 09, 2020, 11
Defensive Player of the YearN/A
NFL Sacks Leader2 Times: 2007, 2011

The two-time sack leader Jared Allen was the master of the sacks of the modern era. His professional career began in 2004 when he was drafted into the Kansas City Chiefs. He is a four-time All-pro and four-time pro bowler.

He signed a staggering contract with the Minnesota Vikings worth $72 million. He was a constant performer that earned him the position amongst the best defensive ends of all time in the NFL.

  • Career statistics of Jared Allen
GamesAVTacklesSacksInterceptionsForced FumblesPass Deflections

10. Julius Peppers

Full NameJulius Frazier Peppers
Date of BirthJanuary 18, 1980
Place of BirthWilson, North Carolina, U.S.
Height6 ft 7 in
Weight295 lb
NFL Draft2002 (Carolina Panthers, Pick: 2)
TeamsCarolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears
PositionsDefensive end, Outside linebacker
NFL ChampionN/A
First-Team All-Pro3 Times: 2004, 06, 2010
Defensive Player of the Year1 Time: 2002
Pro Bowl2004-06, 2008-2012, 15

Julius Peppers was one of the prodigies who did not age fair. He was drafted into the NFL in 2002, and the same year he became the defensive player of the year. Winning the award in the debut year was something never heard of, but Peppers had done it.

Many thought the young boy from North Carolina would change the game forever, breaking and setting record after record. However, that did not happen. Pepper did not win the award again in his career. He was not a constant performer like most of the legends of this list.

Peppers had some great years at the beginning of his career, but then he went on for some dull seasons. He had ups and downs in his career. Nonetheless, his five-time All-pro and being the seven-time super bowler establishes him among the best defending ends of all time.

  • Career Statistics of Julius Peppers
GamesAVTackles:SacksInterceptionsForced FumblesPass Deflections


Being a good defensive end is a difficult task, and being the best is something that is possible only for those who are passionate, dedicated, and also god-gifted. These players on the list knew their roles and were the best in them. They motivated the next generation’s players and inspired them to dream. Their contribution to the game is not possible to explain words. We can only show them respect by acknowledging them as the best defending ends of all time in the NFL.

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A.H. Mostofa Zaman is the chief editor of The News Titan. He is a professional journalist who focuses on reporting on the American Football news from the world of entertainment. He is determined in his quest to provide you with the most recent information and coverage available from all across the world.


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