Our position-by-position look at the best eligible players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now shifts from offense to defense, as we look at the best defensive linemen who have not yet earned a bust in Canton.
From Art Donovan, Deacon Jones and Ben Davidson to Bubba Smith, Mark Gastineau, and Michael Strahan, NFL history is filled with charismatic defensive linemen who were recognized not just for their talent, but also for their showmanship and flamboyance.
Defensive line units have also regularly been fan favorites with names such as “Doomsday”, “The Fearsome Foursome”, “The Purple Gang” and “The Steel Curtain.”
Defensive linemen have also been well respected by Hall of Fame voters, as the position is second only to the offensive line in the number of modern era players enshrined in the Hall.
However, much like offensive linemen, because statistics are inconsistent and tell only a part of the story, ensuring that the most deserving defensive linemen are inducted is a tough challenge.
Though some recognition was given to the sack as far back as the 1960s and sack leaders were printed on Topps football cards in the 1970s, the sack wasn’t recognized as an official statistic until 1982.
This provides a challenge for some of the best defensive linemen of the 1960s and 1970s who were known for their pass-rushing ability, but don’t have the same “numbers” to show for their prowess as players of the last three decades.
There are, of course, also great defensive linemen who were primarily run stuffers and didn’t have impressive stat totals, regardless of whether they played prior to or after the sack became a recognized stat.
In selecting the best defensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame, I looked at the individual statistics of post-1982 candidates, but also looked at overall team defensive prowess for players from all eras.
I also analyzed how each candidate compared to players of their own era in regard to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
Selecting the top 10, and even the best 25, was quite a challenge. There are many great defensive linemen who have yet to receive the call from Canton, but who were regular participants in the Pro Bowl or key performers on championship teams.
One player who ended up being ranked much lower on the list than one might expect is former Viking Jim Marshall.
At the time of his retirement, Marshall had played in more games than any other player in NFL history. On the famous "Purple Gang" that included Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, Marshall was generally considered to be equal to those two greats.
However, when comparing his credentials with those of other similar defenders, Marshall surprisingly didn’t stack up. He participated in only two Pro Bowls and was never an All-Pro.
In addition, Marshall famously was man handled by a variety of offensive linemen in the four Super Bowl appearances for the Vikings.
Despite being eligible for the HOF for 25 years, Marshall has been a finalist only once, in 2004.
So, here is my list of the top 10 eligible defensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.