We’re talking defense. The guys who don’t get all the credit, but as the saying goes, win the championships.
The Rams have a tremendous legacy of defensive heroes. They are the home of the original (and best) Fearsome Foursome, the best defensive line ever put together in the annals of professional football. And the Rams don’t win Super Bowl LVI without the contributions of their defense in the playoffs.
As one of the oldest franchises in the NFL, starting in Cleveland, moving to Los Angeles, then Anaheim, then St. Louis, back to Los Angeles, the Rams have multiple defensive players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here are the 10 best defensive players in Rams franchise history.
10. Aeneas Williams, Defensive Back
The Rams saved Williams from the hapless Arizona Cardinals getting him on a Draft Day trade in 2001 for a second and fourth- round pick.
In St. Louis, Williams moved over to free safety and gave the Rams defense a great backbone during their Greatest Show on Turf days. He had the clinching interception in the 2001 NFC Championship game against the Eagles to send the Rams to the Super Bowl.
Williams retired after the 2004 season and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. In his career he had an amazing 12 defensive touchdowns, including eight pick sixes.
9. Jalen Ramsey, Defensive Back
When you do a list like this you always run across the same issue. How do you compare players across eras? But a player like current Rams star defensive back Jalen Ramsey, you know he could have played at any time.
Entering his seventh year, Ramsey has already been in five Pro Bowls and is a three-time All-Pro. The trade of Ramsey from Jacksonville was the first seed in the Rams’ Super Bowl win. He’s the prototype defensive back in today’s NFL, big enough to match-up against the wide receivers and tight ends but also fast enough to stay with them. And if a ball is in his area, he’s going to go get it.
8. Nolan Cromwell, Defensive Back
I hate that people have forgotten how good Cromwell was with the Rams. He’s still second on the all-time franchise list with 37 interceptions in his 11 years with the team.
He played from 1977-1987 for the Rams coming out of the University of Kansas where he was a track and football star. He was on the 1980 NFL All-Decade team and played in 161 games. The Rams weren’t super successful as a team at the time, but Cromwell was a star, a true sideline-to-sideline safety.
7. Kevin Greene, Defensive End
Kevin Greene brought football into the hybrid world. While Lawrence Taylor may have been the first true linebacker/rush defensive end, Greene filled the role brilliantly in his Hall of Fame career.
A walk-on at Auburn, Greene was the Rams fifth-round pick in 1985. He played on special teams his first year, but then emerged as a situational pass rusher extraordinaire for the Rams. In his eight seasons with the club, he had 72.5 sacks. He then went on to play for the Steelers and Panthers, finishing with 160 sacks in 228 games. He was put in the Hall of Fame in 2016 and was a member of the All-Decade team for the 1990s.
6. Andy Robustelli, Defensive End
One of the greatest long shots in NFL history. Robustelli went to Arnold College (now the University of Bridgeport) in Connecticut and was drafted in the 19th round by the Rams in 1951.
He went on to become one of the premier defensive ends of his era. He helped the Rams win the NFL title as a rookie and was an All-Pro twice for the Rams.
The Rams traded him to the New York Giants after the 1955 season for a first-round pick and he played nine great years there, including winning the Bert Bell Award in 1960, which was then the league’s MVP award. Robustelli missed just one game in his 14-year career and left the game with a then-NFL record of 22 fumble recoveries.
5. Les Richter, Linebacker
If you’re looking for a comparison, Les Richter is Herschel Walker of his day. Richter was the centerpiece of the biggest trade in NFL history at the time, when the Rams traded 11 (eleven) players to the Dallas Texans for him in 1952.
Only four of those 11 ever really played for the Texans, while Richter went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Rams.
Richter was known as a fierce linebacker for his day (code for mean). He was also a center and place-kicker for the Rams. He never missed a game in nine seasons, even playing one with a busted cheekbone. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
4. Deacon Jones, Defensive End
The inventor of the Sack (he coined the term), and the infamous head slap, where he would slap the helmet of a poor offensive lineman, Jones led the NFL in sacks five times.
Jones had 22 sacks in 1964 and 1968, allegedly. The NFL didn’t count sacks as an official stat during his time.
Jones was a 14th round pick out of South Carolina State in the 1961 Draft and played for the Rams for 11 years before seasons with the Chargers and Redskins. He was a five-time All-Pro.
3. Jack Youngblood, Linebacker
Youngblood is famous for playing in Super Bowl XIV with a broken fibula. That’s cool fact number one. Cool fact number two is he played in the Pro Bowl later with the same injury!
Youngblood was a first-round pick out of Florida in 1971 and fit in as Jones replacement on the Rams defense. He owns the Rams record for most consecutive games played with 201 and most playoff starts at 17. He was a member of the 1970s NFL All-Decade team and put in the Hall of Fame in 2001.
2. Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle
Here we go again with comparing players of different eras, but it’s safe to say the NFL now has never been better. And in that field of superior athletes, Donald stands out. Blessed with an odd combination of size, power and quickness, Donald is a difference maker for the Rams at a position where there just aren’t many players like him.
In his first eight years with the franchise, he’s been selected to eight Pro Bowls. As of this writing he ranks third in franchise history with 98 sacks and has been NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times.
1. Merlin Olsen, Defensive Tackle
A quintessential star in every way: on the field, in the announcer’s booth and as a television leading man, Olsen played 15 years with the Rams and was the anchor of the famed Fearsome Foursome.
Olsen was selected to the Pro Bowl 14 times and has the rare distinction of being on both the All-Decade team for the 60s and 70s. Olsen was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 1982.