Top 10 defensive linemen of the decade

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As the decade comes to a close, we’re creating some Top 10 lists for 2010 to 2019. Up next, our Top 10 defensive linemen.

1. J.J. Watt: This week’s attempted heroics aside, Watt has been the dominant lineman in the game, with three defensive player of the year honors. The 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Watt also earned five All-Pro honors, and for a guy with his run of injuries lately, that’s even more impressive. Despite missing 33 games the last four seasons because of injury, his 96 sacks are tied for the most of any player this decade. Trying to come back from a torn pectoral muscle to play in the postseason would just add some polish to a resume that doesn’t need it.

2. Julius Peppers: There might have been other players more impactful by the end of the decade, but how many of them were All-Decade players in the 2000s? Peppers had 78.5 of his 159.5 career sacks this decade, a decade that started with the Bears (and included plays like this), and included a stop in Green Bay before returning home to Carolina. He could have probably played in the NBA because of his extreme athleticism for a man his size, but was simply better at football, and will be a future Hall of Famer.

3. Aaron Donald: The Rams defensive tackle has changed the way people look at the game, becoming an impact pass-rusher from the inside. That shortest-distance-between-two-points-is-a-straight-line style has allowed him to post 72.0 sacks in six seasons, including his 20.5 in 2018. He’s earned a pair of defensive player of the year awards, and has redefined the position, as everyone now wants to find undersized interior pass-rushers.

4. Calais Campbell: Campbell has played for a couple of almost-good teams in Arizona and Jacksonville, but has done most of his good work for bad organizations. Through it all, he’s been a productive player (81.0 sacks this decade) and is known as a leader in locker rooms. He’s the kind of player who you wish could play for a regular contender, as he deserves better than some of what he’s endured (though he willingly took the Jaguars’ money).

5. Cameron Wake: One of the all-time underdog stories in NFL history, Wake entered the league as an undrafted rookie in Giants camp in 2005, and needed two years in the CFL (where he posted 39 sacks) to get the league’s attention again. He landed in Miami and made an immediate impact there. In the last decade, only Watt and Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones have more sacks than his 95.0.

6. Cameron Jordan: The Saints defensive end was not an overnight sensation, but has gradually improved to become one of the top players at his position at the age of 30. He had 29.0 sacks in his first four seasons, but has 39.5 the last three. He’s also a very good player against the run, and has accomplished something which previously seemed impossible — he has helped the Saints become good at defense.

7. Ndamukong Suh: His greatest skill might be getting paid, but he keeps getting that money for a reason. The former No. 2 overall pick by the Lions earned rookie of the year honors, before leaving to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league when he skipped to Miami. While his hired-gun routine might turn some people off, he keeps getting signed because he’s still capable of changing games.

8. Geno Atkins: If not for Donald and the fact he has labored in football obscurity in Cincinnati, Atkins would get even more recognition from the general football watching public. He deserves it. He has 75.5 sacks this decade. Unlike a lot of the players on this list, he was drafted in the fourth round, and has built himself into one of the best. And again, he’s done it for the Bengals, where .500 seems like an accomplishment, and one which is eluding them now.

9. Cam Heyward: Heyward’s position in the Steelers’ 3-4 does not lend itself to big numbers, but sacks alone can’t define his impact there (though he did have 12.0 in 2018). He’s become the foundation of a Steelers defense that has rolled a number of pass-rush options in behind him, and remains their leader.

10. Haloti Ngata: He was caught between decades (drafted in the first round in 2006), but his work as one of the best run-stuffers in football deserves recognition. Ngata was traded to the Lions in 2015, but he was the foundation of the Ravens defense, allowing the guys behind him to run free and make plays.

69 responses to “Top 10 defensive linemen of the decade

  1. “In the last decade, only Watt and Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones have more sacks than his 95.0.”

    Von Miller has 105 sacks, and seeing as how he was drafted in 2011, pretty sure they all happened this decade. Come on- how do you forget about the most prolific sack artist of the decade?

  2. Glad the Browns gave the Ravens Ngata for magic beans and Kamerion Wimbley. Browns GM Phil Savage should have been fired for that oversight year one. Phil listened to Romeo Crennel’s request for a very average pass rusher.

  3. Donald should be at worse #2 and not having Mack in the top 10 is a joke. I’m assuming Miller and Jones are being considered LB (because they are) but edge rusher LB are essentially DE. Mack was primarily a DE with the Raiders.

  4. Is this Christmas Day or April 1? No Chandler Jones? Seriously? This guy averaged 9 sacks a year for the 4 years he was with NE (2021-2015) and 15 sacks a year SO FAR for the 4 years he has been with AZ (and its otherwise unremarkable defense) and has 19 sacks this year with a chance to tie or beat Strahan’s record.

  5. birdsofafeather11 says:
    December 25, 2019 at 3:21 pm
    Where the he’ll is Fletcher Cox?
    ——————
    This NY Giants fan agrees!

  6. I expected to see one person from the Vikings on here.
    Jared Allen is the first to come to mind.

    I don’t like these lists. They seem to prefer players who played the tail-end of their careers at the beginning of the decade over players starting their career at the end of the decade. Both should be given the same consideration.

  7. Wilfork the greatest NT who ever lived and he is not on this list?

    JJ Watt disappears in big games and NE has demolished him for years.

    Pathetic list. Absolutely pathetic.

  8. Kyle Williams… that was missed

    For those people that say no to Suh, it is because you dislike him. He is a game changer, you could ask every NFL coach and they will tell you the same thing.
    I don’t like his attitude and how he goes after the money, but he always takes up 2 and most times 3 players to block him.
    Quickest to get off the ball ever.

  9. Justin Smith. Baddest of all the bad guys. Made all-pro at two DL positions one year. Was unblockable as a 49er.

  10. Vince Wilfork forced team to put 2 guys on him and clogged the middle for others to make plays. Probably the greatest nose guard of all time. This is a PR list which is why JJ Watt is at the top. Chandler Jones has produced better than him. We’re talking about production not name recognition.

  11. Watt is going to be the Terrell Davis of defensive linemen when it comes time for the Hall of Fame. A short career of brilliance surrounding mediocrity and injuries.

  12. mjb says:
    December 25, 2019 at 8:54 pm
    Watt is going to be the Terrell Davis of defensive linemen when it comes time for the Hall of Fame. A short career of brilliance surrounding mediocrity and injuries.

    5 1 Rate This

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    Or, Darelle Revis.

  13. The only reason Chandler Jones is not on the list is because Belichick traded him in a really dumb trade. And these guys are huge patriot fans which deny his cheating ways every chance possible. Someone prove me wrong.

  14. Kyle Williams should be considered for this list but I understand why he’s not. But if they expanded this list he’s on. He’s on the cusp but when you play on average at best teams you tend to get overlooked.

    No issue with this list but please stop with the “Wilfork is the best defensive lineman ever crap”. Great yeah but not nearly as good as Ted Washington. He had twice as many sacks as Wilfork and he played with lesser talent on some teams. It’s really not even close when u break it down.

  15. For some in the comment section: they put together a list of lineman of this decade. So as much as I would love to see Wilfork on this list, he played only half of this decade in NE. I’m not counting the last two years in Houston and then he retired. Neither can one expect Chandler Jones on this list no matter how dominating a player he is, since he is a lineBACKER. This filter has to apply first when you claim that some player should be on this list.
    All this said: where is Kyle Williams?!

  16. dmnirican says:
    December 25, 2019 at 3:28 pm
    “In the last decade, only Watt and Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones have more sacks than his 95.0.”

    Von Miller has 105 sacks, and seeing as how he was drafted in 2011, pretty sure they all happened this decade. Come on- how do you forget about the most prolific sack artist of the decade?

    _______________________________________________________________________

    He’s a linebacker. This is defensive lineman. Pay attention.

  17. Of all the guys on this list, Watt was the most disruptive. Batted balls, sacks, disruptions, he did it all. Anytime the Patriots faced him he was a nightmare. I’d say he should be #1 by a mile. But the guy most like him on this list was Cameron Wake. Way more than a pass rusher.

  18. Hasn’t wilfork been retired for like 5 years? So irritating how ne fans think their players belong everywhere.

    ————

    Hasn’t JJ Watt missed the equivalent of 3 or 4 seasons this decade? (32 games in the last 4 years)

  19. I think this list is a bit fanboy bent. Vince Wilfork, Michael Bennett (even if I hate him) and a few others are big misses. All the guys that did get named were great players to be sure, but the author was selective in order to get his personal favorites onto the list.

  20. omniscient48 says:
    December 25, 2019 at 4:57 pm
    Is this Christmas Day or April 1? No Chandler Jones? Seriously? This guy averaged 9 sacks a year for the 4 years he was with NE (2021-2015) and 15 sacks a year SO FAR for the 4 years he has been with AZ (and its otherwise unremarkable defense) and has 19 sacks this year with a chance to tie or beat Strahan’s record.
    ******************************************
    Sorry I jumped the gun here. Chandler Jones is on the Linebacker list which came out today. It is difficult to classify these guys as DEs or LBs, but I would never want Chandler Jones to try to cover an Alvin Kamara or a George Kittle.

  21. Ayub Josef says:
    December 26, 2019 at 8:51 am
    Wilfork’s work was done in the last decade not this one.

    3 1 Rate This

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    He had a 12 year career. From 2010-2014, no one was better as an interior lineman and no one took on doubles and still wrecked a game like he did.

    If you don’t know the sport, please do not comment.

    The fact Ngata is on this list and is not on Wilfork’s level, is pretty ridiculous.

    There’s Vince and everyone else. His athleticism, at least for someone that size, is unmatched, alongside his football IQ.

  22. patriotmaleorgy says:
    December 25, 2019 at 10:53 pm
    The only reason Chandler Jones is not on the list is because Belichick traded him in a really dumb trade. And these guys are huge patriot fans which deny his cheating ways every chance possible. Someone prove me wrong.

    5 3 Rate This

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    Really dumb huh?

    Hightower, Gilmore, etc, are not in NE without the deal. Your jealousy is incredible.

    NE has, arguably the #1 D in the league right now and Chandler Jones plays on one of the worst. That should be enough.

    Next, Joe Thuney is probably the best LG in the conference. It was fleece job deluxe in the name of understanding economics, teambuilding and applying a certain amount of money across the roster, as opposed to one player.

    Chandler Jones is not a gamer. Hightower is, hence why BB calls him Mr. February. I am pretty sure Pats fans and BB are thrilled with the decision. LMAO

    Yep. Just checked again. We’re thrilled.

    I could keep going, but you’re too dumb to understand these kinds of concepts. This isn’t the NBA. It’s the NFL, the greatest team sport, save for maybe the NHL.

  23. tylawspick6 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 11:52 am

    NE has, arguably the #1 D in the league right now and Chandler Jones plays on one of the worst.

    AGREED

    Chandler Jones is not a gamer.

    LOL. Now you have lost all credibility.

  24. So Julius Peppers makes the Defensive Linemen list, but he played a 3-4 linebacker at Green Bay. Most of your Defensive Linemen list are pass rushing 3-4 linebackers. Why didn’t you just make a list for edge rushers?

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