A Tribute: Best New Orleans Saints' Defensive Players of All-Time
In February of this year, I wrote an opinion article on the best offensive players in New Orleans Saints' history. A lengthy illness has hampered me from writing the corollary piece defining the best Saints' players of all time on the other side of the line.
However, as I sit at home recovering from surgery and as the Saints prepare to defend their 2010 Superbowl title, it seems like an appropriate time to publish the companion article.
Defensive End: Doug Atkins
After he earned All-American honors at the University of Tennessee, the Cleveland Browns selected him as their first choice in the 1953 National Football League Draft.
Atkins was traded to the Chicago Bears for the start of the 1955 season. He developed into one of NFL's best defensive performers.
Exceptionally strong and agile, the 6'8", 257-pound Atkins was a devastating pass rusher who would often leapfrog the O-line to get at the passer. That was a skill that carried over from his collegiate days when he won the SEC high jump title.
For 17 years, Doug wrecked absolute havoc on opposing linemen, quarterbacks, and ball carriers. Linemen who faced Atkins always concentrated on not making Atkins angry. It was common knowledge that as tough as Doug was, he was twice as tough when angered.
Atkins, who was selected to eight Pro Bowls, finished his career with three successful seasons as a New Orleans Saint.
After Atkins finally retired following the 1969 season, legendary Bears' coach George Halas openly admitted, “There never was a better defensive end.”
Defensive Tackle: La'Roi Glover
La'Roi Glover makes this list on the basis of his consistent high-quality play over an extremely long career. He was selected by the Oakland Raiders as the 34th pick in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in 1996 and completed his career in 2008 with the St. Louis Rams.
An extraordinarily durable player, Glover missed only one game due to injury during his sophomore pro season.
During his career, he was voted as the New Orleans Saints' Man of the Year and Unsung Hero. In 2000, he was awarded as the New Orleans Saints' Defensive MVP. He went to six Pro Bowl and was also named the Rams' 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Defensive Tackle: Derland Moore
An All-American walk-on player at the University of Oklahoma, Derland Moore was selected in the second round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Saints.
Another player selected for his durability and consistency, Moore set a team record for service with 169 games played in 13 seasons with the Saints. He led the team in sacks in 1980 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1983.
Moore retired from the NFL in 1986 and was inducted into the New Orleans Saints' Hall of Fame. He was also named a member of the New Orleans Saints' 40th Anniversary Team.
Legend has it the Moore described himself as the "most losing player in Saints' history," playing on 13 teams for 5 coaches and never once reaching the playoffs. In his last professional season with the New York Jets, Moore finally reached post-season play.
Defensive End: Wayne Martin
Drafted in the first round in 1989 out of the University of Arkansas, Wayne Martin played his entire 11-year career with the Saints.
Martin is second to Rickey Jackson in career sacks with 82.5. His best season came in 1992 when he accumulated 15.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 70 tackles.
This selection was a difficult one. I also gave serious consideration to long time Saints Jim Wilks and Bob Pollard. I gave Martin the edge because of his effectiveness against the run and as a sack leader.
Linebackers: The Dome Patrol
The Dome Patrol, consisting of inside line backers Vaughn Johnson and Sam Mills along with outside linebackers Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling, are beyond a doubt the best linebacker corps ever assembled in professional football.
During the Dome Patrol's reign (1987-1994) the Saints
- Made four playoff appearances, including the franchise's first ever playoff appearance in 1987
- Claimed one western division title
- Led the league in points surrendered and turnovers in 1991
- Led the league in points surrendered in 1992.
- Had twenty-seven games giving up ten or fewer points, with five shutouts.
The four linebackers made NFL history by collectively being named to the Pro Bowl in 1992.
Because of the dawn of mega-contracts and salary caps, it is unlikely that a group of linebackers such as the Dome Patrol will ever hit the field again.
Cornebacks: Jabari Greer / Tracy Porter
Cornerback has not historically been a strong position for the Saints. This is born out by the fact that not a single player at this position has ever been elected to the team's Hall of Fame.
I normally would not select players with such brief careers with the Saints as "the best" at the position. However, for Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, I am making an exception.
Consider this– together they combined to allow just one touchdown pass during the entire regular season (although they missed a combined 11 games with injuries). As last season's Super Bowl run progressed, statistical analysts began to note that Greer was having a success rate matched only by the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis.
Porter was solid all season but broke out as as a big-play specialist in the playoffs with interceptions against Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
For much of last season, Porter and Greer were the secret to the Saints' success on defense, allowing coordinator Gregg Williams to throw a plethora of packages at offenses and free safety Darren Sharper to freelance at the safety position.
Safety: Tommy Myers
Tommy Myers was acquired by the Saints as a 3rd round draft choice out of Syracuse and played his entire 10–year career in New Orleans.
Myers was an unspectacular yet consistent and reliable player. His best season was in 1979 in which he was selected as an All-Pro and appeared on the NFC Pro Bowl team.
A versatile player, Myers was also a solid special-teams player, serving as the team's primary punt returner for several seasons and as the occassional holder for extra points and field goals.
Safety: Darren Sharper
Yes, I know that I picked two free safeties for this best of all-time list. Yes, I do realize that strong safety Sammy Knight deserves consideration for this list. And finally, yes I do realize that Darren Sharper has only played for the Saints in two NFL seasons.
However, consider his remarkable accomplishments during his brief tenure with the Saints
- On October 4, 2009, Sharper returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown, the longest in Saints history.
- It was also his second 95+ yard interception return for a touchdown for the season.
- On October 25, Sharper returned his third interception for a touchdown on the season, a team record.
- At the end of Week 8, on Monday Night Football, Sharper intercepted a pass from Atlanta's Matt Ryan to help keep the Saints' perfect record. It was his seventh interception of the season.
- On December 27 game against Tampa Bay, he intercepted Josh Freeman's pass and returned it 21 yards giving him 9 interceptions on the year and 376 return yards (an NFL record)
From an overall career perspective, Sharper shares the NFL record with Deion Sanders for most games with 50+ interception return yards (9) and holds the record for most games with 75+ interception return yards (6).