Judy Battista served on the 26-person blue-ribbon panel that voted on the NFL’s All-Time Team, a collection of the 100 greatest players and 10 greatest coaches in the league’s 100-year history. Different positions from this dream team will be revealed each Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network through Week 17. Judy will review all of the selections in this space. This week, four position groups were revealed:
DEFENSIVE END (7): Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, Deacon Jones*, Gino Marchetti*, Lee Roy Selmon, Bruce Smith, Reggie White.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (7): Buck Buchanan, Joe Greene, Bob Lilly*, Merlin Olsen, Alan Page*, John Randle, Randy White.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (6): Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Bell, Derrick Brooks, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Lawrence Taylor*.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER (6): Dick Butkus*, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Junior Seau.
*Denotes unanimous selection.
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If you ever were a quarterback, thought about being a quarterback or thought a quarterback was your favorite player, you might want to avert your eyes from the NFL’s All-Time Team representatives on the defensive front, announced Friday night on NFL Network.
In the latest episode of NFL 100 All-Time Team, which was dedicated to defensive linemen and linebackers, Bill Belichick made a point of telling Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor how much he loved that they took pride in stopping the run. The panel’s selections, though, reflected how important chasing the quarterback has been to the modern game, even long before sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
It was Deacon Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end from the Los Angeles Rams‘ “Fearsome Foursome” D-line, who is credited with coining the term “sack” for tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. Jones was a unanimous selection for the All-Time Team, not because he named the sack, but because he was excellent at accumulating them. Pro Football Weekly once reported he had 173 1/2 sacks in his career. Jones was first-team All-Pro five times. During Friday’s episode of NFL 100 All-Time Team, Pittsburgh Steelers great Joe Greene — a four-time first-team All-Pro in his own right and a member of the All-Time Team, although surprisingly not unanimously — said he wore No. 75 because Jones did. And Taylor — the greatest defensive player in history (Belichick’s words) and another unanimous honoree — looked dreamily at the mention of Jones’ signature move, the head slap.
Of the seven defensive tackles, seven defensive ends and 12 linebackers selected, six were elected unanimously: Jones, Taylor, Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti, Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly (whose successor, Randy White, is also on the All-Time Team), Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page (who was the first defensive player to be named league MVP; Taylor was the second) and Bears linebacker Dick Butkus (who, as Lewis put it, created why you don’t go across the middle).
Not surprisingly, the all-time sack leader, Bruce Smith, who finished with 200 sacks, is on the team. So is Reggie White, who ranks second with 198 sacks — and who, by the way, is the greatest defensive player in Taylor’s eyes.
Two championship squads enjoyed substantial representation on this dream team. The Kansas City Chiefs‘ 1969 squad, which won Super Bowl IV, had three players make the cut: defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, linebacker Bobby Bell and LB Willie Lanier. And the “Steel Curtain” defense, which propelled Pittsburgh to four Super Bowls in six seasons during the 1970s, boasts four honorees. Linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert both made it. Lambert’s resume includes Defensive Player of the Year honors, but Belichick said teams were told not to worry as much about Lambert, but to try to block Greene, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year who is the greatest Steeler ever. Their coach, Chuck Noll, joined Paul Brown and Belichick on the list of 10 all-time coaches. Noll, who spent 23 seasons in Pittsburgh, transformed a franchise that had never won a playoff game into one of the greatest dynasties in history.
Strikingly, the defensive front list included more recent players than the running back class did. Among running backs, only Emmitt Smith played into the 2000s, playing through 2004. Lewis retired after the 2012 season, and, of those named so far, he is the member of the All-Time Team who played most recently. The others who played in the 2000s: Junior Seau, Derrick Brooks, John Randle, Smith and White.
Among the finalists the panel of voters considered was J.J. Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who, in nine seasons, has 96 sacks. But Watt’s candidacy was hampered by his injury history. At the time of the voting — in the spring of 2018 — Watt was coming off two consecutive injury-abbreviated seasons, making it difficult to project what his career will look like when it is over. Watt is still just 30 and presumably has at least several more years left. When he is healthy, he remains dominant — when he played 16 games in 2018, he had 16 sacks — but after not missing a game in his first five seasons, Watt has played just one full season in the last four. He, and some of his contemporaries, including Von Miller and Aaron Donald, figure to be leading candidates for the 125th-year team.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.