The defensive tackle position in football isn’t the most glamorous but it may be the most important position on defense. Defensive tackles are responsible for stopping the run, filling the gaps and attacking the quarterback. In today’s NFL EDGE rushers typically make more money than a DT but there are exceptions. For example, Aaron Donald is the highest-paid defensive player by quite a bit. With that said, let’s take a closer look at some of the best defensive tackles of all time.
10. Aaron Donald
The previously mentioned Aaron Donald is the prototypical modern defensive tackle. His combination of speed, strength, and technique is unmatched. In his 10 year career, Donald has accumulated numerous accolades, including three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. multiple All-Pro selections and a Super Bowl ring. Donald recently flirted with retirement but decided to continue his career in 2023.
322 solo tackles
9. Dan Hampton
Hall of Famer Dan Hampton spent his 12 year career with the Chicago Bears. Hampton was a 6x All Pro and 4x Pro Bowler. Nicknamed the “Danimal” he was a versatile defensive lineman who had multiple seasons with double digit sacks. Hampton was one of the key reasons that the Bears led the NFL in fewest rushing yards and touchdowns during his career there.
10 fumble recoveries
8. Cortez Kennedy
Cortez Kennedy made a huge impact in the NFL and for the Seattle Seahawks. Despite playing on teams with limited success, Kennedy’s dominance at defensive tackle was second to none. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992 and earned eight Pro Bowl selections during his Hall of Fame career.
569 solo tackles
11 forced fumbles
7. Bob Lilly
Bob Lilly, known as “Mr. Cowboy,” was a staple of the Dallas Cowboys defense for 14 seasons. His combination of strength and agility was impressive for his era. Lilly earned 11 Pro Bowl selections and was the first defensive tackle to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. He is a Hall of Famer and also a Super Bowl champion.
18 fumble recoveries
6. Reggie White
Reggie White was a transcendent talent who could dominate from multiple positions along the defensive line. While he is often associated with defensive end play, White’s versatility allowed him to excel as a tackle as well. With two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and a Super Bowl victory, White’s impact on and off the field is still felt to this day.
175 solo tackles
5. Merlin Olsen
Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen was known as a gentle giant off the field and a destructive force on it. A stalwart for the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome, Olsen’s combination of size, strength, and agility made him a dominant force. He earned 14 Pro Bowl selections and 5 All Pro selections.
9 fumble recoveries
4. John Randle
John Randle‘s journey from undrafted rookie to Hall of Famer is the stuff of legends. His fiery personality and relentless motor made him a disruptive force for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Randle, an eight-time Pro Bowler, recorded double-digit sacks in six seasons.
277 solo tackles
3. Alan Page
Alan Page was not only a defensive tackle but also a legal scholar and judge off the field during his Hall of Fame career. On it, his menacing play set him apart at the position. A member of the famed Purple People Eaters, Page combined strength, agility, and a deep understanding of the game to garner nine Pro Bowl selections and an NFL MVP award.
23 fumble recoveries
2. Warren Sapp
Warren Sapp brought a new era of athleticism to the defensive tackle position. His quickness off the line and pass-rushing finesse redefined the role. With seven Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl victory, Sapp remains one of the most dominant defensive tackles of the modern era. Off the field he continues to mentor the next great defensive linemen and is currently the working with Deion Sanders at the University of Colorado.
440 solo tackles
Joe Greene, famously known as “Mean Joe,” tops our list as the best defensive tackle of all time. His ferocious play for the Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain defense set the gold standard for defensive tackles going forward. Greene’s relentless pursuit of quarterbacks and ability to stuff running backs earned him four Super Bowl rings and two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
16 fumble recoveries
*= Active NFL player