12 Best Defensive Tackles in NFL History

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The quarterbacks mostly grab the headline in NFL. Sure, everyone loves to score, but this doesn’t mean that the defense is useless. The best defensive tackles in NFL helped their team to win.

The main objective of the defense team is to stop the opposing players from scoring the goal.

Best Defensive Tackles in NFL History (Source: NFL)
Best Defensive Tackles in NFL History (Source: NFL)

The opposition fans aren’t fond of the best defensive tackles in NFL history. But, even the cynics would agree that without them, the game would not be the same.

So, the finest defensive tackles in NFL history challenged others to work harder, and they made the game more interesting. They make the field goal worthwhile.

12 Best Defensive Tackles in NFL History

In this article, we’ll be talking about the most excellent defensive tackles in NFL. After looking at the impact of tackles on the final score, the list has been prepared.

The list is prepared after looking at different sites like Ranker NFL and the official site of NFL.

Ranking Player Name Team
12. Alex Karras Detroit Lions
11. Keith Millard Minnesota Vikings
10. Leo Nomellini   San Francisco 49ers
9. Curley Culp Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers, and Detroit Lions
8. Casey Hampton Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Dan Hampton Chicago Bears
6. Roger Brown Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams
5. Buck Buchanan Kansas City Chief
4. Arnie Weinmeister New York Yankees, New York Giants, and BC Lions
3. Warren Sapp Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders
2. ‘Mean’ Joe Greene Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, and Arizona Cardinals
1. Bob Lily Dallas Cowboys

12.  Alex Karras

Kicking off the list, we’ll talk first about Alex Karras. Alex is an actor, defensive tackle, and wrestler. He played for the Detroit Lions.

Karras was voted to Pro Bowl four times, and he barely missed any games during his tenure at Detroit Lions. He also made it to three First-Team All-Pro in 1960, 1961, and 1965. Alex played professionally in the NFL for more than a decade.

He is included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his impressive performance in the NFL.

11. Keith Millard

This recent defensive tackle was one of the best of the 20th century. He played for Minnesota Vikings for nine seasons.

His peak performance as a player was during his run with the Vikings. Keith Millard managed to win the coveted AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1989. Similarly, he was also part of First-Team All-Pro.

Apart from that, he also won the Player of the Month in 1989 October. Keith was 6 feet 6 inches and weighed 260 pounds during his prime.

As he was a statuesque player, the opposition feared him, and he could defend efficiently. His combination of physique and skills made him one of the most efficient tackles in the league’s history.

Read more about 15 Best NFL Guards of All Time.

10. Leo Nomellini

Another player/wrestler on this list is Leo Nomellini. In the early days, it was dominated by wrestlers. Teams preferred heavyweights who practically bullied the opposition.

This mixture of killer physique and skills also worked for Leo Nomellini. Nomellini played all the 14 seasons of the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers.

Leo Nomellini during an NFL match (Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Nomellini showed potential from his college days. Of course, not all the first drafted players turn out to be superstars, but Nomellini turned out to be an exception. He went on to play as an offensive as well as defensive tackle while piling on impressive records.

Nomellini was included in 10 Pro Bowls, made it to 6 first Team All-Pro. He is also included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame list for his contribution to the sports.

9. Curley Culp

Curley Culp was one of the key players for the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers. He played the league for 16 seasons from 1968 to 1981.

In the span of one and half decades, he became better and better. Initially, he was picked in the second draft. His initial year for Chiefs was pretty unremarkable. But he became a better player the following season itself.

Curley played 169 games where his career sacks are 68.5, which is an impressive number for a defensive tackle. The six-time Pro Bowl player was also included in AFL First-Team All-Pro in 1969.

This record also shows that he was an All-Time great player. He is also included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

8. Casey Hampton

Casey Hampton Jr. is one of the best defensive tackles for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played all 12 seasons of the NFL for the Steelers.

Casey is also one of the more recent players on the list of best defensive tackles. He was making records even in his college years. For the Texas Longhorn Football team, he recorded 329 tackles which is a staggering number for a college player.

So, he was selected in the first draft. Later, he was included in 5 Pro Bowls and went on to win two Super Bowl championships.

Casey’s performance was integral in winning both the Super Bowl Championship. ‘Big Snack’ Casey was also included in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ all-time team to celebrate their 75th anniversary.

See more about the Top 12 NFL Quarterbacks of Current Year.

7. Dan Hampton

The Chicago Bear’s defensive tackle Dan Hampton was included in the Hall of Fame list in 2002. In his career spanning from 1979 to 1990, he played 167 games with a career sack of 82.0.

He also helped his team to win the Superbowl Championship during the 1985 season. During the season, he was also selected in Second-team-All-Pro.

Dan Hampton (Source: Wikimedia)

For his performance in 1984, he was on the First-team-All-Pro. He is also included in the list of 100 greatest Bears of all time. Apart from that, he was also on the NFL 1980s All-Decade-Team.

His performance is not revealed in the stats, as he suffered injuries in his career. He suffered through about a dozen injuries throughout his career. So, in context to the injuries, his stats become even more impressive.

6. Roger Brown

The 6 feet and 5 inches tall Roger Brown intimidated the opposition players. He also weighed around 300 pounds during his career. So, he could take on any quarterback.

He was picked in the fourth draft and went on to play for Detroit Lions (1960-1966) and Los Angeles Ram (1967-1969).

In his short career of 9 seasons, he had 79 sacks. Apart from that, he played for two First-team-all-Pro in 1962 and 1963. Similarly, he played the Pro Bowl consecutively from 1962 to 1967.

So, his performance was peak high throughout his career. He is also on the Pride of the Lions list, which includes the likes of Jason Hanson.

5. Buck Buchanan

The uber-famous Buck Buchanan’s name is almost synonymous with the defensive tackle. His game style has influenced a lot of younger defensive tackles.

Buck is so influential to NFL that there is an award named after him. The award is provided to the outstanding defensive tackles in the Football Championship of college-level games.

He played for Kansas City Chiefs from 1963 to 1975. During this period, he played for 2 Pro Bowls. He also helped his team to win a Super Bowl Championship in 1970.

Buck was taller and heavier than other players in NFL. He was 6 feet 7 inches. This gave him a competitive advantage over the opposition.

In 2019, NFL released an All-Time-Team to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Buck was also on the list.

4. Arnie Weinmeister

Compared to other great defensive tackles in NFL, Arnie has a shorter career span. He played professional football for only six seasons.

During his six seasons, he played for different teams. He played two seasons for New York Yankees and four seasons for New York Giants.

Despite having a short career, he managed to leave a significant impact on the game. Arnie was on Pro Bowl and First-Team-All-Pro team four times. This alone shows how good he was as a defensive tackle.

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3. Warren Sapp

Warren Sapp’s thirteen-year-old career is filled with career highs and awards. So it’s tough to find an actual low point in his career expanding from 1995 to 2007.

The game changed a lot during his time. First, the game got more competitive with the use of computers to determine the Player’s weaknesses and strengths. However, Warren always managed to reinvent himself.

Warren Sapp (Source: Wikimedia)

His list of achievements itself is staggering. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. Apart from that, he was on 4 times for First-Team-All-Pro.

The list goes on. He helped his team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to win the Super Bowl Championship in 2002. Apart from that, he was on two NFL ALL-Decade-Team. He was on both the 1990s team and 2000s.

Not all players can continue to perform this well for this long. That’s why he deserved a spot on this list of the 12 best defensive tackles in NFL history.

2. ‘Mean” Joe Greene

The nickname Mean Joe sums up Joe Greene. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 275 pounds. Compared to other players, he had a physical advantage. But, more than physical advantage Greene was about skill.

Joe is regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. His records speak for himself.

Joe Greene helped his team to win four Super Bowl championships. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year two times in 1972 and 1984.

During his first season, he won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He made it to 5 First-team-All-Pro and played 10 Pro Bowl.

Joe made the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. Similarly, he was on the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time-Team and the 100th Anniversary All-Time-Team.

1. Bob Lily

The best defensive tackle on our list is Bob Lily. Lily played for Dallas Cowboys from 1961 to 1974. During his 14 seasons stay at Cowboys, he helped the team win a Super Bowl Championship.

He has an impeccable record for a defensive tackle. He made it to the First-Team-All-Pro list seven times. Similarly, he played Pro Bowl 11 times.

Bob was also on the NFL’s list of 1960s-All-Decade-Team and 1970s-All-Decade-Team. Therefore, he’s number 1 on the list of best defensive tackles in the NFL.

Bob Lily NFL legend signing autographs after NFL retirement (Source: Wikimedia)

Furthermore, his name is also in the NFL’S 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.


Defensive Tackle always doesn’t get the fame and recognition they deserve. However, they are essential to the game. Of course, the list is subjective, and we may have missed great defensive tackles. You can comment on your favorite defensive tackles below.

Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

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