Fresh off winning his first Super Bowl, Aaron Donald has been anointed as the best defensive tackle in NFL history by a panel of ESPN experts.
Two days after naming the greatest of all time among offensive players, ESPN's panel of 50 experts, reporters and analysts unveiled the best players at every defensive position and special teams.
Donald, Deion Sanders (cornerback), Ray Lewis (linebacker), Lawrence Taylor (edge-rusher), Ronnie Lott (safety), Devin Hester (returner/special-teamer) and Adam Vinatieri (kicker/punter) make up the six-player defense/special teams group.
The Los Angeles Rams superstar received 39 out of 50 votes as the GOAT defensive tackle. Hall of Famers Joe Greene (five) and Deacon Jones (three) were the only other players at the position to receive more than one vote.
"Donald has not only finished first in pass-rush win rate at defensive tackle in all five seasons of the metric's existence, but his worst PRWR season in that span (24.2 percent in 2020) is more than two percentage points higher than the best season by any other defensive tackle (Grady Jarrett at 21.5 percent in 2019)," ESPN's Seth Walder said. "It's a wild level of sustained dominance."
Sanders has the distinction of being the only player on offense or defense/special teams to receive votes at multiple positions. Prime Time was the overwhelming choice as the GOAT cornerback with 32 votes. He also received six votes as a returner/special teamer.
The closest race was at kicker/punter, where Vinatieri edged out Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens by one vote. Vinatieri received 22 votes, with the differentiating factor likely coming down to his series of big-time playoff kicks for the New England Patriots.
"It comes down to clutch kicks," Tim McManus said. "Vinatieri is far and away the leader in that department, nailing 39 kicks in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime to either tie or give his team the lead, according to Football Outsiders."
Tucker is the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history (91.1 percent). He has never made less than 82.5 percent of his attempts in a season and has six seasons with a success rate of at least 90 percent (and two at 89.7).
Taylor received the most support of any defensive player. The New York Giants icon had 40 out of 50 possible votes at edge-rusher. He finished with 142 career sacks, though the NFL only recognizes 132.5 since the sack didn't become an official stat until his second season in 1982.