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Who Are the Best EDGEs in NFL History? Ranking the Top 10 EDGEs of All Time

Who are the best edge rushers in NFL history? Pro Football Network ranks the top 10 with a list that includes Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White.

If quarterback is the NFL‘s most critical position, edge rusher might be No. 2.

On defense, creating pressure and sacking quarterbacks is the name of the game. For most of the NFL’s modern history, affecting the pocket and disrupting a quarterback’s timing has been the most effective way to halt a passing attack.

Who are the best edge rushers in the NFL record books? We’re counting down the top 10.

Top 10 Edge Rushers in NFL History

Honorable mention: Willie Davis, Carl Eller, Richard Dent, Derrick Thomas, Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs

10) Chris Doleman

The fourth overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, Chris Doleman’s career changed when the Minnesota Vikings transitioned to a 4-3 defense before his third NFL season. Doleman was allowed to play with his hand in the dirt and became a genuine pass-rushing fierce.

Doleman went on to post double-digit sacks in eight of his subsequent 12 campaigns. His best season came in 1989, when he led the NFL with 21 sacks, earned first-team All-Pro honors, and finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

After spending time with the Atlanta Falcons, Doleman joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1996 and managed three straight 11+ sack seasons from age 35 through 37. He rounded out his career with one final Vikings year, registering eight sacks as a 38-year-old in 1999.

9) Kevin Greene

Kevin Greene spent much of his career as an outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes. Because he sometimes had responsibilities in coverage, Greene wasn’t necessarily rushing the passer on every down.

And yet, he’s still third on the NFL’s all-time sack list after taking down opposing quarterbacks a whopping 160 times.

Greene broke out for the Los Angeles Rams in 1988, posting the first of three straight 13+ sack seasons.

After schematic changes altered his role for the Rams, Greene played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers to close his career. He led the NFL in sacks in 1994 and 1996, becoming one of only two players in history to pace the league in sacks for multiple teams.

8) Julius Peppers

The most recent Pro Football Hall of Fame entrant on our list, Julius Peppers earned his gold jacket in 2024 after finishing with 159.5 sacks over his 17-year career. A physical freak of nature at 6’7″ and 295 pounds, Peppers played football and basketball at North Carolina before the Panthers took him second overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.

He hit the ground running from Year 1, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors for Carolina after a 12-sack performance. Peppers grabbed four All-Pro berths for the Panthers, spent his 30s with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, and then returned to Carolina for a two-year stint from 2017 to 2018.

7) Jack Youngblood

Before Greene took over as the Rams’ star pass rusher in the mid-to-late 1980s, Jack Youngblood was Los Angeles’ most terrifying force up front. Youngblood, the 20th pick of the 1971 draft, spent his entire career with the Rams, going after quarterbacks from 1971 through 1984.

While the NFL has only officially counted sacks since 1982, Pro Football Reference unveiled an unofficial sack list in 2021 that dates back to 1960, “based upon review of official play-by-plays, watching game film, photographs, and coaches’ stats.”

That re-examination helped Youngblood’s cause; he’s sixth all-time on PFR’s unofficial list with 151.5 sacks. He was almost unblockable from 1973-79. During that stretch, Youngblood averaged 13.5 sacks per year, twice led the league in sacks, made the Pro Bowl every season, and earned six All-Pro nods (five first-team).

6) Michael Strahan

More than two decades after he set the mark, Michael Strahan still owns — or at least, shares — the NFL’s single-season sack record.

Strahan registered 22.5 sacks for the New York Giants in 2001, infamously taking down Packers quarterback Brett Favre in the regular-season finale to surpass Mark Gastineau’s previous record of 22 sacks. T.J. Watt tied Strahan’s mark in 2021.

Strahan won Defensive Player of the Year that season, then led the league in sacks again two years later. A seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro, and Super Bowl winner, Strahan ranks sixth on the all-time official list with 141.5 sacks.

5) J.J. Watt

In terms of peak, few edge rushers can compete with J.J. Watt’s run with the Houston Texans from 2012 to 2015.

Watt’s 69 sacks over those four years were 18.5 more than any other player. His 190 QB hits nearly doubled that of the second-place defender. Watt had 119 tackles for loss during this period; LB Lavonte David was second with 68.

Unsurprisingly, Watt racked up awards in this stretch, winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies in four years. While injuries hindered much of the rest of his career, he made another All-Pro team for the Texans in 2018 and was underrated for the Arizona Cardinals from 2021 to 2022.

4) Deacon Jones

Hoping to become a star and worried that “David Jones” was too common a name, Jones gave himself the nickname “Deacon” after joining the Rams in 1961.

“Football is a violent world, and Deacon has a religious connotation,” Jones said in 1980. “I thought a name like that would be remembered.”

Of course, Jones hardly needed a sobriquet to go down in the history books. One of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL annals, Jones coined the phrase “sack” while posting 173.5 of them during his career, third-most on the league’s unofficial sack list.

Jones posted 15+ sacks for the Los Angeles Rams every year from 1964 to 1969, leading the league five times while earning All-Pro honors each season.

3) Bruce Smith

The definition of consistency, Bruce Smith spent an absurd 19 years in the NFL. He somehow managed at least five sacks in 18 of those seasons.

With that type of longevity, it’s no surprise Smith ended his career as the NFL’s all-time sack leader, finishing his career with an even 200 sacks.

Smith put up double-digit sacks in 13 of 15 seasons from 1986 to 2000, winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards and earning 11 All-Pro nods (seven first-team) during that stretch. He wreaked so much havoc despite playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, a position not typically geared toward sack and pressure production.

2) Reggie White

Reggie White has an argument as not just the best edge rusher of all time, but the best defensive player in NFL history. If you want to rank the “Minister of Defense” ahead of the other legend we’ve put at No. 1, we won’t fight you — it’s truly splitting hairs.

White is second on the NFL’s sack list despite spending the first two seasons of his career in the USFL. He dominated immediately after joining the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985, winning and finishing second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after posting 13 sacks.

White registered at least 11 sacks in each of his first nine pro campaigns, winning Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting 21 sacks in 1987. He won another DPOY award after somehow putting up 16 sacks as a 37-year-old Green Bay Packer in 1998.

A first- or second-team All-Pro in 13 of 15 campaigns, White hit at least 10 sacks for an NFL-record nine consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1993.

1) Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor was more than just a dominant pass rusher — he redefined how the sport of football was played.

Taylor, the second pick in the 1981 NFL Draft, took the league by storm from Day 1. He posted 9.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and the first of two consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards.

From 1984 to 1990, Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Giants while racking up 10+ sacks each season. His masterpiece was the 1986 campaign, when Taylor managed 20.5 sacks and became the second — and to date, most recent — defensive player to win NFL MVP.

Rival offenses couldn’t figure out how to stop Taylor. Teams began searching for larger offensive tackles to take on the legendary pass rusher. Washington head coach Joe Gibbs created the two-TE offense, hoping to contain Taylor’s blitzes.

Nothing worked. While Taylor doesn’t boast the longevity of other great defenders, his peak is unparalleled in NFL history.