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Which NFL Teams Draft the Best Defensive Linemen?

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They say the path to the Super Bowl revolves around defense.  It’s difficult to argue that statement but after dissecting some of the best and worst teams drafting defensive linemen, it made me rethink that notion.  In the end, any Super Bowl winning team has to have all the pieces and even the best defensive fronts sometimes fall short of the ultimate prize.

The overall success (or lack thereof) is pretty intriguing concerning the scouting departments that get it right and just as well to the staffs that fail miserably. Below is a closer look at some of the best in the history of the NFL at drafting prospects to play on the defensive line.

 

Who Drafts the best Defensive Linemen?

Minnesota Vikings

Their success begins with the Purple People Eaters, the name given to the defensive front for the Vikings in the late 1960s. The four included Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen. Only Page and Eller were drafted by Minnesota, but their success is insurmountable in the history of the NFL.

Both Page and Eller would find themselves enshrined with the immortals of the game after their inductions into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The lineage of success lasted through the decades for Minnesota.

Chris Doleman ushered in the next generation of immensely talented pass rushers drafted by the Vikings. He is fourth all-time in the NFL with 150.5 sacks and No. 1 in the history books for Minnesota. His teammate John Randle ranks tied for seventh overall all-time with 137.5 quarterback sacks. They are also Hall of Fame players joining Page and Eller.

One of the most famous defensive linemen in recent Vikings lure is Jared Allen. He ranks in the top-ten all-time with 134 sacks, but Allen was not drafted by Minnesota. Allen entered the league as a fourth-round selection by the Kansas City Chiefs (2004). Even without Allen being drafted the Vikings still have done a remarkable job at keeping their defensive unit stacked up-front.

Besides his exceptional talent, Allen had another thing in common with the players’ before him in Minnesota. They shared the defensive interior with other superstar quality teammates. Allen lined up next to Kevin Williams who is a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro.

The Vikings have drafted 16 defensive ends/tackles since their inception (1961) in professional football. Besides the their four Hall of Fame selections, players like Keith Millard (1985-90) and Henry Thomas (1987-94) add to the proven track record of the Vikings using draft picks that make a positive lasting impression on the defensive line.

New York Giants

The New York Giants were the first team to be referred to as the “Fearsome Foursome” back in 1957 after a New York paper published the term about the team’s front four. Defensive ends Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage and tackles Rosey Grier and Dick Modzelewski made up that quartet.

Before any of the mentioned players below were even born, the team drafted defensive end Fred Dryer (Hollywood actor “Hunter”) in the 1969 NFL Draft. A first-round pick out of San Diego, he won the starting job as a rookie and led the team in quarterback sacks in each of his first three seasons (1969-71) with 29 total sacks. He was traded to New England for three picks, but never reported to the Patriots who ended up dealing him to the Los Angles Rams.

The original “Fearsome Foursome” combined with one of my all-time favorite cop detective shows growing up (that actually starred an NFL player) and New York definitely sways my opinion on being one of the top teams to use the draft to extract some of the best talent the league has ever witnessed on the front line of the defense.

Their recent success only enhances their prowess to dominate drafts by avoiding the big-bust players on the defensive line.

Grab a seat in Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean and head back in time to the 2003 NFL Draft. New York used their first two picks on defensive tackle William Joseph (first-round) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (second-round). Add in future Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan taken a decade earlier, and the beginnings of their title run emerged from a defensive standpoint.

Two years after the additions of Joseph and Umenyiora, the Giants added defensive end Justin Tuck (2005) in the second-round. One year later New York they used their No. 1 pick on Mathias Kiwanuka an edge rushing specimen from Boston College.

In that same draft the Giants helped solidify the interior with fourth-round pick Barry Cofield, a defensive tackle out of Northwestern.

That time capsule (2003-06) helped New York rise to the top of the NFL mountain twice in the span of four years (2008-12).

In 2010, the team used their 10th all-time first pick in a NFL Draft on another defensive end name Jason Pierre-Paul. In five seasons he has been named to two Pro Bowls and recorded 42 sacks and still maintains most of his fingers.

 

Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams

According to NFL legend, the Rams were the fourth team that coined the “Fearsome Foursome,” but No. 1 in my book.

To my own ignorance I thought the original “Fearsome Foursome” was none other than the quartet of Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones. Three-fourths of the unit (Lundy, Jones, and Olsen) were drafted in the late 50s and early 60s (1957-62). Grier was acquired from the New York Giants.

The Rams have had a successful pipeline of NFL Draft selections for nearly 70-years. With their fourth-round pick Lamar Lundy (1957) to their modern day selection (2014) of Aaron Donald, the Rams organization has the proven know-how to produce top-notch defensive line talent via the NFL Draft.

Three players selected by the franchise- Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood- all have sculpted bronze busts in the historic gallery of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Their elite status overshadows the other talents that have played for the Rams that were acquired in the NFL Draft.

The 1990s had a modestly impressive run with the selections of Sean Gilbert (1992), Kevin Carter (1995) and Grant Wistrom (1998).

A decade later the success remains.

The tradition is still up-to-par currently with their roster pertaining to drafted Ram defensive linemen. The list includes Chris Long (2008), Robert Quinn (2011) and Aaron Donald (2014).

Top-to-bottom, the Rams are as good as it gets.

 

 


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.