The Greatest Defensive Ends of All Time

Over 9.7K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Greatest Defensive Ends of All Time
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Please rank the players based on their career accomplishments

When it comes to striking fear into an opposing offense, having a great defensive end can be a game changer. A lightning quick defensive end can cause chaos for offense by interrupting a quarterback's rhythm by rushing and hitting him. A great defensive end is double teamed most of the time, allowing for his counterpart to blow up an offense's scheme. A great defensive end isn't measured by stats, though having a lot of sacks certainly doesn't hurt his claim to being one of the greatest of all time.

There are a lot of familiar faces on the list of greatest defensive ends of all time. Famous defensive ends like Reggie White, Michael Strahan and Jack Youngblood are some of the toughest and menacing players in the league. White and Strahan were considered the best defensive ends of their generation. Strahan currently holds the single season record for sacks in a season. Youngblood cemented his status as the toughest player in the NFL when he played in Super Bowl XIV with a broken leg.

Selecting who the greatest defensive end of all time isn't easy, especially since most of these defensive ends either are in or will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But you can vote for who you feel is the best-ever on this Ultimate List.
Most divisive: Willie McGinest
Ranked by
  • Reggie White
    4,918 votes
    Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles

    Known as the "Minister of Defense" for his dual-role as an ordained minister and dominant force on the field, Reggie White left behind an untouchable legacy in the NFL. His relentless work ethic and explosive power off the line made him an incredibly disruptive force against opposing offenses, striking fear into the hearts of quarterbacks throughout his illustrious career. A staunch leader both on and off the field, White's impact on the sport is still felt today as future generations of defensive ends aspire to reach his level of dominance.

  • Joe Greene
    2,693 votes
    Pittsburgh Steelers, North Texas Mean Green football

    A cornerstone of the Pittsburgh Steelers' vaunted "Steel Curtain" defense, Joe Greene became synonymous with success during his time in the NFL. His fierce demeanor, coupled with exceptional speed and strength, allowed him to terrorize opponents and anchor one of the league's all-time best defensive units. Greene's ability to inspire his teammates with his unmatched passion for the game and his unwavering determination set a new standard in professional football.

  • Bruce Smith
    3,988 votes
    Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Virginia Tech Hokies football

    Universally revered for his incredible combination of power, speed, and technique, Bruce Smith proved nearly impossible to contain throughout his career. Opposing linemen were frequently left frustrated and helpless, as Smith used his remarkable skillset to effortlessly shed blockers and wreak havoc in the backfield. His humble demeanor off the field belied the ferocity with which he played the game, leaving a lasting impression that still resonates today.

  • J. J. Watt
    5,123 votes
    Arizona Cardinals

    A relentless competitor with an unparalleled motor, J. J. Watt has established himself as one of the most feared defensive ends the NFL has ever seen. Equally adept at rushing the passer and stopping the run, Watt's unique combination of size, speed, and football IQ allow him to make game-changing plays all over the field. The tenacity and work ethic with which he approaches the game have cemented Watt's status as an icon for defensive linemen everywhere.

  • Deacon Jones
    3,680 votes
    Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils football, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins

    Often credited with coining the term "sack", Deacon Jones truly revolutionized the position of defensive end during his storied career. With his trademark "head slap" technique and unparalleled speed off the edge, Jones quickly earned a reputation as one of the most feared pass rushers in league history. Opponents and teammates alike often marveled at his incredible tenacity and dedication, making Jones a true pioneer for the position and an inspiration to future generations.

  • Julius Peppers
    2,720 votes
    North Carolina Tar Heels football, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers

    A freakish athlete with seemingly limitless potential, Julius Peppers brought a new level of excitement to the defensive end position. His rare blend of size, speed, and athleticism allowed him to effortlessly bat down passes, chase down ball-carriers, and close in on quarterbacks, leaving fans and opponents in a state of awe. Peppers' sustained excellence throughout his career serves as a testament to his undeniable skill and determination, making him a true legend of the game.