Power Ranking the 5 Greatest Defensive Ends in Minnesota Vikings History
Welcome to the latest in a series of slideshows that power rank the greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time by position. Each week, a different position will be featured. The best Vikings to ever take the field at that position will be ranked from fifth to first.
How does a guy get on the list?
It's all about being a Viking. While stats will certainly be taken into account, there will be other, more subjective criteria as well. There's a certain feel to those classic Vikings standing on the sideline at Met Stadium in freezing conditions with steam coming out of their face masks. Those are the quintessential Vikings to many fans.
There are certain players (Mike Morris, Scott Studwell) who would have fit perfectly in that era. Those are true Vikings. Other players (particularly Adrian Peterson) would have been fun in any era.
These lists are filled with players who epitomize what it means to be a Viking.
Last week, we did the guards. This week, we'll focus on defensive ends. Great pass-rushing ends are highly coveted, and the Vikings have had some all-time greats over the years. Cutting this list down to five was the toughest job so far in this series of rankings.
Click on as we power rank the top five defensive ends in Minnesota Vikings history.
(All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted.)
Honorable Mention: Mark Mullaney
Mark Mullaney is one of the forgotten men in the history of the Minnesota Vikings. He had the misfortune of being the guy who took over at defensive end after Carl Eller and Jim Marshall were no longer able to hold down the position for the famed Purple People Eaters.
Since the NFL didn't record sacks as an official statistic until 1982, it's not completely clear how many sacks Mullaney recorded during his 12-year stay in Minnesota. According to team lists and other sources, Mullaney scored 45.5 sacks over the course of his career. That's good for 11th on the Vikings' all-time list.
While his sack numbers weren't spectacular, they are more impressive when you consider that he didn't become a full-time starter until his sixth season, and he only started 97 games.
Mullaney gets honorable mention on this list because of his consistency and his ability to play both defensive end positions.
Mullaney was also the first NFL player to wear a tinted visor on his helmet—due to an eye injury he suffered in the 1984 season.
5. Doug Martin
Doug Martin also sometimes gets forgotten by Vikings fans.
He came to Minnesota in 1980 as a first-round draft pick from Washington and became a full-time starter the following year. The reason that Martin sometimes gets overlooked is that he played half of his career across from Chris Doleman. It also doesn't help that he's the guy who took over when Jim Marshall finally retired.
Martin was an accomplished pass-rusher, recording 50.5 sacks in his 10 years with the Vikings. He led the NFL in sacks with 11.5 in the strike-shortened year of 1982 (nine games). He followed that with a career-high 13 sacks in 1983. He was named to the Pro Bowl following both seasons.
Martin was hurt in 1984 and battled injuries for the rest of his career. Though he recorded nine sacks in both 1986 and 1987, he was never again the force that he'd been earlier in his career.
Martin beats out Mullaney for the fifth spot on the list because he was more dominant in his peak years. His sack total places him 10th on the Vikings' all-time (unofficial) list.
4. Jim Marshall
Jim Marshall never got the acclaim he deserved. In fact, though he was an outstanding defensive end in the NFL for 20 seasons, he is probably best known for his wrong-way run in 1964 (captured in the video).
Marshall is legendary for his toughness and durability. Over the course of a 20-year NFL career, he started every one of the 282 games played by his teams. (Marshall played for Cleveland in 1960 and came to Minnesota in a trade prior to the 1961 season.)
For a long time, that was an NFL record. Imagine a 42-year-old defensive end starting all 16 games in today's NFL.
Marshall wouldn't have stuck around so long if he wasn't effective. His unofficial total of 127 sacks is second on the Vikings' all-time list. Marshall also recovered 30 fumbles in his career, good for No. 2 on the NFL's all-time list.
Marshall was the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. He was only selected to the Pro Bowl twice (1968, 1969) and is not in the NFL Hall of Fame. His exclusion from the Hall is a travesty.
Because of his sustained excellence and his impact on the NFL record books, Marshall beats out Martin for No. 4 on our list.
3. Jared Allen
When Vikings general manager Rick Spielman (then vice president of player personnel) traded a first and two third-round draft picks for Jared Allen in 2008, a lot of people were skeptical. Allen, though coming off a 15.5-sack season for Kansas City, had been in trouble with the NFL and was known as a malcontent by the Chiefs brass.
Score one for Spielman. Since coming to Minnesota in 2008, Allen has recorded 74 sacks, amongst the best numbers in the NFL.
Counting his last year in Kansas City, Allen is one of only two players in NFL history to record 14 or more sacks in three straight seasons (Reggie White is the other). Allen has been named to the Pro Bowl in four of his five years in Minnesota and has been first-team All-Pro three times.
He's been worth the price.
Allen has a relentless motor. He's been a leader both on and off the field for the Vikings and has climbed to the No. 6 spot on the team's all-time sack list in just five seasons. His 22 sacks in 2011 are a team record. He plays the run well, makes big plays (17 career fumble recoveries) and makes his teammates better.
For his high production and his status as one of the elite defenders of his era, Allen edges out Jim Marshall for No. 3 on this list.
2. Chris Doleman
If it's possible to quietly dominate the NFL, Chris Doleman did so for 15 years from 1985 to 1999. Doleman, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, compiled 150.5 sacks for three teams during his NFL run. He wasn't as famous as Reggie White or Lawrence Taylor, but he was arguably just as effective.
During his 10 years with the Vikings, Doleman recorded 96.5 sacks, good for fifth on the team's unofficial all-time list. (Because the league didn't record sacks as a statistic until 1982, the official NFL all-time leaderboard has Doleman fourth all time and No. 1 on the Vikings' list.)
That number is even more impressive if you note that Doleman only totalled 3.5 sacks over the first two years of his career.
Doleman was consistent, as well. Beginning in 1987, he recorded at least seven sacks in 13 straight seasons. His high-water mark was 21 in 1989, which was a Vikings record until Jared Allen recorded 22 in 2010. After spending five years with Atlanta and San Francisco, Doleman returned to Minnesota in 1999, where he tallied eight sacks at the age of 38.
During his time in Minnesota, Doleman was named to six Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro twice.
Doleman's longevity and his ability to produce late into his 30s give him the edge over Allen for the No. 2 spot on the list.
1. Carl Eller
When Minnesota Vikings fans describe the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s, they talk about the Purple People Eaters. When they talk about the Purple People Eaters, they talk about Carl Eller. After hearing fans talk about how Eller dominated opposing offenses and caused quarterbacks to quake with fear, you'd think he was a giant.
Definitely dominant, Eller was surprisingly small.
During his playing days, Eller stood 6'6" and weighed 247 pounds. In today's NFL, the fearsome Eller would likely be a tight end instead of terrorizing opposing passers. Eller was also remarkably durable. Beginning in his rookie season of 1964, the "Mad Moose" started all but one game for the Vikings for 14 seasons.
Eller was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2004 after being a finalist 12 times. Like many of his teammates from the '60s and '70s, Eller was disparaged by the Hall voters because the Vikings lost four Super Bowls. He should have gone into the Hall in the early '80s.
Eller's 130 sacks (unofficial total) put him at the top of the Vikings' career list. This total would place him 13th on the NFL's all-time list. Even more impressive, Eller achieved these numbers during an era when quarterbacks seldom threw the ball as much as 20 times a game.
Eller, for his sheer dominance, his longevity, and his legendary status as the most fearsome member of the Purple People Eaters, stands above all others as the greatest defensive end in Minnesota Vikings history.
Check in next week for the next power ranking of all-time Vikings.
Is someone on the list that shouldn't be there? Have a player you'd like to nominate? Speak your mind in the comments section below.
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