The last few days we have gone over Rams past and explained who the greatest linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties are in franchise history. Here, we have our 10 best Rams defensive linemen of all-time.
The Rams history of top defensive linemen reads like a list of all-time NFL greats. The Rams had the most storied defensive line of all-time: the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ in the 60s and early 70s, and, incredibly, that tradition has carried though today with Aaron Donald at the heart of the Rams 2022 Super Bowl title.
Does Donald crack our Top 10 list of great defensive linemen? Of course he does. But you must be a superstar to sniff this Top 10. There’s great and there’s Great.
Here’s the top 10 all-time best defensive linemen in Rams history:
10. Rosey Grier
Grier has had one of the most fascinating lives of any American.
With the New York Giants he played in the Greatest Game Ever Played, the 1958 NFL Championship Game.
He was a bodyguard for the Kennedy family and wrestled the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan after Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
He became a famous TV personality.
Grier started off with the Giants from 1955-1962 before being traded to the Rams. He started every game for four years and is a member of the ‘original’ Fearsome Foursome. Unofficially (because sacks are unofficial until 1982) he had 21 sacks for the Rams before an Achilles injury ended his career in 1967 and the Rams got Roger Brown.
Grier, now 90, is the last surviving member of the Fearsome Foursome.
9. Chris Long
The Rams wasted Chris Long’s prime. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, and there’s no easy way to say this…the Rams stunk.
Long, the son of Raiders legend Howie Long, had 54.5 sacks in eight years with the Rams, including 13 in 2011 and 11.5 in 2012. He never had a winning season in St. Louis, but after he left, he was part of Super Bowl winning teams in New England (2016) and Philadelphia (2017). He retired in 2019.
8. Lamar Lundy
You know how these days scouts talk about a player having “great length”? That was Lamar Lundy. A fourth-round pick out of Purdue, Lundy was 6-foot-7, 245 pounds of unblockable speed. The Rams used him as a wide receiver for three years (wouldn’t you?) and he had six TD catches in his career.
At defensive end, Lundy was the freak coming off the end of the Fearsome Foursome from 1957-1969. He had 60.5 sacks, unofficially. He just made the Pro Bowl once (because other Rams kept making it). The Rams made the playoffs twice in his career.
7. Robert Quinn
It’s hard to properly place Quinn on this list. He was the Rams first-round pick in 2011, and was All-Pro in 2013 when he had 23 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in St. Louis.
Again though, the Rams were bad then.
Quinn came to LA with the franchise and became more of a situational pass rusher. He finished with 62.5 sacks in his Rams career, and has since bounced around with the Dolphins, Cowboys, Bears and was just on the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. He’s probably on the downside of his career, but in his prime, Quinn was one of the best players in the NFL.
6. Leonard Little
You can’t tell the Leonard Little story without mentioning the bad stuff, including the drunk driving accident that killed a woman when Little was driving. Little was suspended eight games in 1999 for that and had other legal issues in his career.
Little spent his whole NFL career in St. Louis and was a freakish athlete. He played a lot of special teams at first, then settled in at defensive end and chased quarterbacks. He was on the field for “The Tackle” in the Rams Super Bowl win in 1999 and was an All-Pro in 2003. He ranks fifth in Rams history with 87.5 sacks.
5. Fred Dryer
He’s Hunter. Basically, when Merlin Olsen moved on, Dryer became the centerpiece of the Rams defensive line when he was traded from the Giants in 1972.
Dryer led the NFL with 15 sacks in 1974 and made the Pro Bowl in ’75 when he had 12 sacks. The Rams made the playoffs eight times in his career, including Super Bowl XIV. He’s the only player in NFL history to record two safeties in one game.
But then “Hunter.”
After his NFL career, Dryer became a TV star, the lead actor in a shoot-em-up show called “Hunter.” Think Walker, Texas Ranger but for the early 80s. It was so bad, it was good.
4. Larry Brooks
Brooks was Dryer’s running mate on the Rams defensive line throughout the 70s. You look him up and he’s been largely forgotten, but he could play. Brooks was a 14th round pick out of Virginia State and the Rams plugged him into the defensive line and he started 122 games in 11 seasons.
Brooks made the Pro Bowl five times and was All-Pro once. He led the Rams defensive linemen in tackles every season from 1973-1980 except for in 1975 when he hurt his knee.
That knee injury eventually shortened his career. He finished with 74.5 sacks, sixth most in franchise history. Then he went on to a long coaching career.
3. Aaron Donald
When healthy, Aaron Donald is the best defensive lineman in the NFL.
The Rams got him in the first round out of Pitt in 2014 and he immediately became a star. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year. He’s been NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. He’s been All-Pro seven times and voted to the Pro Bowl all nine years he’s been in the NFL.
Only 6-foot-1, Donald is compact, strong as six horses, and quicker than a flash of lightning. If he retired tomorrow (please don’t) he’d be put in the Hall of Fame. Right now he’s sitting on 103 sacks and with about five more good years he could finish in the top five all time for sacks (Bruce Smith has 200). He won Super Bowl LVI with his play on the final drive and will be a Rams legend forever.
2. Deacon Jones
Speaking of Rams legends. You know, if Donald were on any other franchise, he’d probably be No. 1 but the Rams history of D linemen includes two of the all-time greats.
Jones is the inventor of the head slap (outlawed eventually by the NFL) and coined the term sack, saying it had to do with destroying an offense, like how cities were destroyed in wars. (It also had a PG-13 rating connotation too, in that you were laying the quarterback to bed…you know, putting him in the sack).
No one will ever really know many sacks Jones had since they weren’t a stat during his career, but the estimate is 159.5. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and was All-Pro five.
Jones was No. 2 in the NFL MVP voting in 1967 (Unitas won). How many DL can say that? Jones was put right in the Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year eligible. The NFL gives out the Deacon Jones Award to the league leader in sacks. Jones died in 2013 after a rich, full life.
1. Merlin Olsen
I’m going to go off script here for a moment.
Clearly, I love the NFL, I love football, but every year when the NFL gives out the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award I get a little bothered. Payton was an amazing football player (perhaps the greatest ever), but if the award is also supposed to include off-the-field works…Payton doesn’t measure up to No. 1 here.
The NFL Man of the Year Award should be the Merlin Olsen Award.
All right, off my soapbox.
Olsen played for the Rams from 1962-1976. 15 years, 14 Pro Bowls, five times an All-Pro. He was the prototype defensive lineman, strong against the run, great at rushing the passer. His longevity and excellence still resonate throughout the NFL community.
Then, after his playing days, he became an excellent broadcaster and TV star. He was put in the Hall of Fame in 1982 and I can still hear his voice in my head. He died in 2010 when the Rams were in St. Louis and it was hard for the franchise to honor him. He was a man without a team.
Olsen is the greatest Ram of all time, and I wish the NFL would do more to recognize him.