These guys were their respected franchise's pass rushers and run stoppers, but Canton still eludes them. This is a ranking of the top 10 defensive linemen not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
10. Neil Smith
He was one of the most productive pass rushers of the 90s.
The second overall pick in 1988 by Kansas City, Neil Smith was brought in to revive a weak defense. Together he and linebacker Derrick Thomas became one of the best pass rushing duos in the NFL. By 1993, he led the NFL in sacks with 15 while helping the Chiefs become one of the most dominate teams in the AFC. In 1997, Smith signed with Denver and helped the Broncos win back to back Super Bowls in 1997-1998. He spent one final season with the Chargers before retiring in 2001. In his 13 seasons, he was a six-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and two-time Super Bowl Champion while recording 104.5 sacks, 30 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, four interceptions, and 2 touchdowns.
The problem people seem to have with Smith is that he was never seen as the dominating force on the defense. In Kansas City, Derrick Thomas was the standout, and Steve Atwater was the enforcer for Denver. For him to make as many Pro Bowls and have over 100 sacks, he will eventually get a gold jacket.
9. Lyle Alzado
"Darth Raider" was one of the first athletes to admit to using steroids.
A fourth-round pick in 1971, Lyle Alzado built a reputation for his intense and intimidating style of play. Whether he was playing defense end or defensive tackle, he was a force against the run and the pass. Over his career with Denver, Cleveland, and the Raiders, Alzado amassed 97 sacks, 20 fumble recoveries, and three safeties. In his 15 year career, he was a two-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, the 1982 comeback player of the year, and Super Bowl champion.
Alzado was one of the first major sports figures to admit to using anabolic steroids. In the last years of his life, as he battled against the brain tumor that eventually caused his death, he asserted that his steroid abuse directly led to his fatal illness. In an article of Sports Illustrated, he admitted to using steroids for much of his pro career. He died at age 43 after a battle with brain cancer in 1992.
8. Mark Gastineau
He could have been the greatest pass rusher ever.
A second-round pick in 1979, Mark Gastineau was a key part of the famed "New York Sack Exchange." The defensive line combined for 66 sacks in 1981, including twenty by Gastineau, to lead the Jets to their first playoff game since 1969. In 1984, Gastineau had his best individual season with an NFL record 22 sacks and was named the NFL defensive player of the year. He holds the NFL record as the only player to lead the NFL in sacks in back to back seasons. In his 10 years with the Jets, Gastineau was a five-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, the Jets all time sack leader, and two-time NFL defensive player of the year.
The only thing people remember about Mark Gastineau today is all the other stuff. From his relationship with Brigitte Nielsen to his sack dance, Gastineau put a lot of attention on himself rather than his play. That and his late hit on Bernie Kosar in the 1986 AFC Divisional Playoffs ultimately cost the Jets the game.
7. Gerry Philbin
He was Jets first great defender.
A third-round pick in 1964, Gerry Philbin was an immediate starter. A ferocious pass rusher, Philbin recorded 14.5 sacks in 1968, helping the Jets win the AFL Championship. In Super Bowl III, he anchored the Jets defense in limiting the Colts to seven points as New York pulled off the greatest upset in history. He spent his final years in Philadelphia and in the World Football League before retiring after 1974. In his 11 seasons, he was a three-time All-AFL selection, AFL champion, and Super Bowl champion.
Philbin suffers from the fact that he played in the era before the sack became an official statistic. He was the defense for the early Jets teams, and he doesn't get the credit he's due.
6. Ed "Too Tall" Jones
"Too Tall" was one of the most physical imposing defenders the NFL has ever seen.
The first overall pick in 1974, Ed "Too Tall" Jones was the first player from a historical black college to go number one overall. He became the starting defensive end in 1975 and helped Dallas to a victory in Super Bowl XII. After the 1978 season, Jones left football to become a boxer. He returned to football in 1980 and was better than ever. Jones was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era as his success batting down passes convinced the NFL to keep track of it as an official stat. According to the Cowboys' stats, Jones is unofficially credited with a total of 106 quarterback sacks. He retired after 1989 after never missing a game and playing the most games in Cowboys history. In 15 seasons, he was a three-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion.
The fact that Jones gave up football to pursue boxing hurt him in the long run. Had he stuck with football, Dallas would have been likely favorite to make it back to the Super Bowl in 1979.
5. Rosey Grier
He was a key defensive tackle for two franchises.
A third-round pick in 1955, Rose Grier developed into a dominant run stopper and pass rusher. He played eight seasons with the Giants helping them win the NFL Championship in 1956. In 1963, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Along with Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen, and Deacon Jones, Grier helped form arguably the best defensive line in NFL history. His career ended in 1967 due to a torn Achilles. In 12 seasons he recorded 44.5 sacks, was a two-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and NFL champion.
Between New York and Los Angeles, Grier played alongside three Hall of Fame defensive linemen. He was the heart and soul of both defensive lines and is as inspiring as a person off the field as you likely find from a football standpoint.
4. Harvey Martin
"Too Mean" was once Dallas' all time sack leader.
A third-round pick in 1973, the coaching staff didn't believe Harvey Martin could be a dominant defensive end because he was too nice. He eventually improved his physical strength and his technique by practicing against future hall of fame tackle Rayfield Wright and also developed into an emotional player and fierce competitor. By 1975, he was a fulltime starter. According to the Cowboys' stats, Martin is unofficially credited with a total of 114 sacks leading the Cowboys in sacks seven times during a nine year period. In 1977, Martin recorded an unofficial 23 sacks and was named the NFL defensive player of the year. Martin retired after 1983 as a four-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, three-time NFC Champion, Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl XII co-MVP.
The big thing keeping Martin out of the Hall of Fame is his post football life. He admitted to being a cocaine addict and quit football after refusing to take a drug test. Although coach Tom Landry sent him to rehab in 1983, Martin continued to abuse drugs and alcohol. He hit rock bottom in 1996 when he was jailed on domestic violence and cocaine charges, receiving probation and spending eight months in a court ordered rehabilitation program.
3. Jim Marshall
Playing 20 NFL seasons at defensive end, Jim Marshall is footballs Cal Ripken.
As a member of Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters," Marshall was a forceful defensive end who posted an unofficial 127 sacks in 19 years in Minnesota. At one point he held the league record for most games played and games started. He's still holds the NFL record for the most opponents fumbles recovered with 30.
Unfortunately for Marshall, one play can make or break a career. Other than losing four Super Bowls, Marshall is most famous for his "Wrong Way Run" where he returned an opponents fumble in the wrong direction for a safety. Despite this one play blunder, Marshall had a stellar 20-year career. One play should not be how he is remembered. With his teammates on the line in Alan Page and Carl Eller already in Canton, it's time for Marshall to join them.
2. Joe Klecko
He was the leader of the "New York Sack Exchange."
A sixth-round pick in 1977, Joe Klecko and his teammates formed one of the leagues best defensive lines. In 1981, the unit recorded 66 sacks including a league-leading 20.5 by Klecko. Whatever the team asked of him, he performed to his highest ability. He spent time in his career in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses play defensive tackle, defensive end, and nose tackle.Klecko is one of just two men in league history to make the pro bowl at all three defensive line positions. Klecko spent his final season in Indianapolis before retiring after 1988. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, two time All-Pro, and the 1981 defensive player of the year.
I honestly don't know what's keeping him out of Canton. He was one of the most consistent defensive linemen in the league for over a decade, and he deserves a gold jacket.
1. L.C. Greenwood
As a 10th-round draft pick from a school that at the time was called Arkansas AM&N, Greenwood entered the NFL behind 237 other players in 1969.
As a defensive end who weighed less than 230 pounds, Greenwood was no lock to make the roster. He would go on to be a two-time first-team All-Pro while being voted to six Pro Bowls, and he would retire as the Steelers' all-time leader in sacks. Even so, Greenwood always was an underrated component of the defense that dominated the NFL for most of the 1970s. Greenwood started a grand total of 151 games as the end next to tackle Joe Greene on the Steel Curtain, and some of his best days came in the playoffs.
He had four sacks in Super Bowl X, one in Super Bowl XIII, and was the one who batted the Fran Tarkenton pass that was intercepted by Greene in Super Bowl IX. He had four sacks in those five classic 1970s playoff street-fights with the Raiders. Overall, he posted 10 sacks in 17 playoff games, to go along with 73.5 sacks during his 132 regular season appearances between 1972 to 1981. He led or tied for the team lead in sacks four times in eight Steelers seasons that included four Super Bowl championships, and Greenwood was the preeminent pass rusher on one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. L.C. Greenwood deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and because he is not, he is one of the biggest snubs in history.
Kevin Goodwin on August 14, 2015:
Joe klecko world be my choice if I had a vote.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 21, 2015:
A great list. To me Jim Marshal and Too Tall are the most deserving on the list.