Minnesota Vikings: Ranking the Top 10 Vikings Defensive Linemen
The Minnesota Vikings have had some very good defensive linemen during their 50 years. During their dominance of the 70's they boasted one of the best defensive lines in NFL history. With Hall of Fame inductees Alan Page and Carl Eller, along with Jim Marshall—who should be in the Hall of Fame, and Gary Larsen they were known as the Purple People Eaters. Their motto was "meet at the quarterback."
This quartet played together from 1967 until 1974 and all four were named to the 1969 Pro Bowl.
From the time Page joined Larsen, Eller and Marshall with the Vikings in 1967 until 1978, they led a strong defense that saw the Vikings make the playoffs 10 times.
The most commonly used statistic to judge the worth of a defensive lineman is the quarterback sack. Unfortunately this is a statistic that was not recognized and recorded by the NFL until 1982. That means for 21 of the 50 years the Vikings have played in Minnesota no official record for quarterback sacks was compiled.
In order to compile and rank a list of Vikings' defensive linemen I looked at the longevity of their careers with Minnesota, how many games they played, the number of Pro Bowls they were selected to, and how many times they were named First-Team All-Pro.
There should be little objection for those on the list, although the order could be debated.
Honorable Mention: Jared Allen 2008-2010
The only thing that is keeping Jared Allen from making the list is the fact that he has only played three seasons with the Vikings.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist, Ray Tannock has ranked the Vikings trade for Allen as the best in franchise history.
There's no doubt that if Allen can continue to produce at his 13.3 sacks per season over the past three seasons his name will be right up there with not only Minnesota's best, but the best in the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Keith Millard 1985-1990
Keith Millard would join the Vikings in 1985 after playing one season in the USFL. It was the same year that Chris Doleman was drafted in the first round.
Millard was an force at defensive tackle. In five-plus seasons he registered 53 sacks in 75 games.
In 1989 Millard was named the NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year. His 18 sacks that season was second on the team to Doleman's 21.
In 1988 and 1989 Millard was named First-Team All-Pro and would go to the Pro Bowl.
A knee injury limited his 1990 season to only four games, and essentially end his career with the Vikings.
No. 10: Doug Martin 1980-1989
Starting the ranking is Doug Martin. In his 10 seasons as defensive end with the Vikings Martin recorded 50.5 sacks playing in 126 games.
Martin's first year with the Vikings in 1980 would be Doug Sutherland's last.
Martin would close out his career as part of a defensive line that would include Chris Doleman, Henry Thomas and Keith Millard.
No. 9: Doug Sutherland 1971-1980
Before Jared Allen joined the Vikings in 2008 and donned the number 69 jersey, Doug Sutherland played 10 years on the defensive line in Minnesota with the same number.
Sutherland joined the Vikings in 1971 and backed up the famed Purple People Eaters. With the departure of Gary Larsen following the 1974 season Sutherland would move into the starting lineup alongside Jim Marshall, Carl Eller and Alan Page.
Sutherland would play in 164 games starting 94 of them at defensive tackle.
No. 8: Gary Larsen 1965-1974
In 1965 Gary Larsen joined Jim Marshall and Carl Eller as part of the Vikings defensive line. When Alan Page joined the team in 1967 they would become the Purple People Eaters.
From 1969-1971 the Purple People Eaters would lead the Vikings as the top ranked scoring defense in the NFL.
Larsen would be a member of three of the Vikings Super Bowl teams, retiring following the 1974 season after playing in 135 games, starting 107 of them. He would be named to two Pro Bowls in 1969 and 1970.
In 1969 all four starters on the Vikings defensive line would make the Pro Bowl.
No. 7: Henry Thomas 1987-1994
Henry Thomas played eight seasons with the Vikings making two Pro Bowl appearances and recording 56 sacks.
Thomas would join the Vikings in 1987, and play second fiddle to Chris Doleman for seven seasons. In 1990 John Randle would join the Vikings, putting three members of this ranking together for four seasons.
Thomas would start 117 of 118 games and score two defensive touchdowns for the Vikings.
No. 6: Kevin Williams 2003-Present
Not as famous as the Purple People Eaters, Kevin Williams made up one half of the Williams Wall along with Pat Williams.
A five-time First-Team All-Pro, Williams has been named to six Pro Bowls in eight seasons playing defensive tackle for the Vikings.
Over those eight seasons he has started 126 games, missing only two games in 2005 recording 49.5 sacks.
No. 5: Chris Doleman 1985-1993
Chris Doleman was drafted fourth overall by the Vikings in the 1985 draft and would start 13 games that season at left outside linebacker as part of a 3-4 scheme.
In 1987 the Vikings would go back to four defensive linemen and Doleman would excel at defensive end recording 11 sacks that season.
Over 10 seasons with Minnesota Doleman would play in 154 games, starting 142 of them. While with the Vikings he would be named to six Pro Bowls and twice named First-Team All-Pro.
In 1989 he led the NFL with 21 sacks.
In his 10 years with the Vikings Doleman would play alongside four other members of this ranking—Henry Thomas for seven seasons, Keith Millard for six, Doug Martin for five, and John Randle for four.
No. 4: Jim Marshall 1961-1979
Jim Marshall played 19 of his 20 NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Incredibly over that span he never missed a single game due to illness or injury.
After his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, Marshall would join the Vikings in their inaugural season in Minnesota. According to Pro-Football Reference.com, he would start every game in his career. His 270 games are the most by any Vikings player.
A member of the Purple People Eaters, Marshall will always be associated with his recovery of a fumble against the 49ers">San Francisco 49ers in 1964 that he returned for 66 yards, in the wrong direction for a safety. Fortunately for Marshall the Vikings would go on to win the game 27-22.
A member of all four of Minnesota's Super Bowl teams and the first member of the Purple People Eaters, Marshall was overshadowed playing along side future Hall of Famers Alan Page and Carl Eller, having been named to only two Pro Bowls.
It's a travesty that Marshall has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No. 3: Carl Eller 1964-1978
Carl Eller played 16 seasons in the NFL, all but the last was with the Minnesota Vikings. Eller was a five-time, First-Team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler.
According to the Vikings.com Eller is credited with 130 sacks and recognized as the franchise leader.
He started 201 games for the Vikings, second only to Jim Marshall's 270 games among defensive players in Vikings history.
In 1964 he played defensive end, opposite Jim Marshall on the Vikings defensive line.
In 2004 Eller was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No. 2: Alan Page 1967-1978
Alan Page joined the Vikings in 1967 and was the last piece to form the famed Purple People Eaters joining Jim Marshall, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen.
Page was a dominating force on the Vikings defensive line for 11 plus seasons.
A six-time, First-Team All-Pro, Page was selected to nine consecutive Pro Bowl starting in 1968, his second year with the Vikings.
Recognized as a dominating defensive tackle, in 1971 Page was the first defensive player to be named the NFL's AP Most Valuable Player.
A member of all four of Minnesota's Super Bowl teams, Page and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
No. 1: John Randle 1990-2000
John Randle went from undrafted free agent, to third all-time in sacks in franchise history in 11 seasons with Vikings, culminating in a trip to Canton when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Randle is second among all defensive players having played in 176 games over his career in Minnesota.
Randle was a determined player who was overlooked in the draft because of his size (6-1 and 290 pounds), and where he played, Division II, Texas A&I University (now called Texas A&M-Kingsville).
For six consecutive years from 1993 to 1998 Randle was named First-Team All-Pro and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
Randle broke into the Vikings starting defense in 1991 playing along side Chris Doleman and Henry Thomas for three and fours respectively.
Unlike the members of the Purple People Eaters who played together for eight seasons, the bulk of Randle's career found him playing alongside a different cast of characters each year.
Randle led the team in sacks nine of 11 years he spent with the Vikings recording at least 10 sacks in eight consecutive seasons.