The NFL has seen its fair share of exceptional defensive linemen over the years, but the 2010s witnessed a remarkable group of players who dominated the line of scrimmage. These athletes wreaked havoc on opposing offenses and played a pivotal role in the success of their respective teams.
In this article, we’ll talk about the top 10 NFL defensive linemen of the 2010s.
Top 10 NFL Defensive Linemen of the 2010s
Defensive linemen are often considered the unsung heroes of the NFL. While their stats may not always be as eye-catching as those of quarterbacks or running backs, their impact on the game is immeasurable. These giants of the gridiron are tasked with disrupting the opposing team’s offense, and the 2010s produced some of the best.
Selecting the top 10 defensive linemen of the 2010s wasn’t a simple task. We based our choices on a combination of factors, including sacks, tackles, quarterback pressures, and overall disruptive play.
- Aaron Donald
- J.J. Watt
- Geno Atkins
- Ndamukong Suh
- Cameron Jordan
- Calais Campbell
- Fletcher Cox
- Justin Smith
- Chandler Jones
- Gerald McCoy
Let’s take a look at these players now.
1. Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, is widely regarded as the premier defensive player of his generation. His impact on the game is unparalleled, and this is largely due to his extraordinary ability to penetrate the offensive line and disrupt plays.
Donald’s dominance is characterized by his incredible combination of speed, strength, and technique. At 6 feet 1 inch and 280 pounds, he might not have the size of some other linemen, but he makes up for it with his quickness and agility. His low center of gravity allows him to get under offensive linemen’s pads, giving him leverage to explode into the backfield.
His understanding of offensive line schemes and blocking techniques is second to none. He can read plays, anticipate movements, and shoot through gaps with astonishing precision. Donald’s disruptive play often results in tackles for loss, quarterback sacks, and forced fumbles.
His consistency is a testament to his greatness. Season after season, he maintains an elite level of performance, earning multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards. What sets him apart is not only his physical attributes but also his tireless work ethic and dedication to his craft. Aaron Donald has redefined the role of a defensive tackle in the modern NFL, making him a true legend of the game.
2. J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans, is a true force to be reckoned with. His reputation for incredible strength and athleticism has made him a standout player in the league. Watt’s dominance extends to his remarkable consistency, having earned three Defensive Player of the Year awards during the 2010s.
Watt’s physical attributes are impressive. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches and weighing around 290 pounds, he possesses the size and strength to overpower offensive linemen. What sets him apart is his extraordinary athleticism, allowing him to be equally effective in rushing the passer and defending the run.
Watt is known for his ability to disrupt plays in multiple ways. He’s not just a pass rusher; he’s a game-changer. He has a knack for swatting down passes at the line of scrimmage, intercepting them, and even returning interceptions for touchdowns.
Throughout the 2010s, Watt’s performance consistently placed him among the league leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. His tenacity, combined with an unparalleled work ethic, has made him a symbol of resilience and dedication. J.J. Watt’s impact on the field goes beyond statistics; he’s a leader and a game-altering presence who has consistently dominated the league.
3. Geno Atkins
Geno Atkins, a defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, has been a formidable force in the middle of the defensive line. What makes Atkins stand out is his unique combination of power and technique, making him a nightmare for offensive linemen.
Atkins is a disruptive presence on the field. He possesses immense strength, allowing him to engage and shed blocks with ease. This power enables him to control the line of scrimmage and disrupt running plays. His ability to push the pocket also puts tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
What truly sets Atkins apart, however, is his exceptional technique. He’s a master of hand placement, leverage, and body positioning. These skills enable him to outmaneuver offensive linemen, consistently getting into the backfield to make tackles for loss and sack the quarterback.
Throughout the 2010s, Geno Atkins was a consistent Pro Bowl selection and a cornerstone of the Bengals’ defense. He may not always receive the same level of attention as some of his counterparts, but his impact on the game is undeniable. Atkins is proof that technique and power, when combined, can create a defensive lineman who strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents.
4. Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. His aggressive and physical style of play set him apart as a game-changer during the 2010s.
Suh’s imposing presence on the field was evident in his relentless pursuit of quarterbacks and ball carriers. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches and weighing around 310 pounds, he possessed the size and power to disrupt plays in the trenches. His ability to shed blocks and create chaos in the backfield made him a headache for offensive linemen and a game-wrecker.
What made Suh particularly remarkable was his ferocity. He played with an intensity that was second to none, often pushing the boundaries of physicality. While his aggressiveness occasionally led to controversies, it undeniably had an impact on his performance. Suh’s combination of strength, quickness, and sheer determination made him one of the most feared defensive linemen of his era.
Suh’s legacy extends beyond his individual accomplishments; he influenced how teams approached offensive line protection schemes and changed the dynamics of the game. His physicality and aggressive style left a lasting mark on the league and made him a memorable defensive lineman of the 2010s.
5. Cameron Jordan
Cameron Jordan, the defensive end for the New Orleans Saints, is renowned for his versatility and consistency in both stopping the run and rushing the passer. He has been a cornerstone of the Saints’ defense, providing stability and impact.
Jordan’s unique skill set allows him to excel in various aspects of the game. When it comes to stopping the run, he showcases exceptional awareness and an ability to diagnose plays. His combination of strength and technique enables him to set the edge effectively, preventing running backs from turning the corner and forcing plays inside.
On the pass-rushing front, Jordan has consistently been a threat to opposing quarterbacks. His blend of speed and power allows him to beat offensive tackles off the edge. He also displays a wide array of moves, including a strong bull rush and a quick swim move, which keep offensive linemen guessing.
What truly distinguishes Cameron Jordan is his commitment to his craft and his leadership on and off the field. He sets the tone for the Saints’ defense and is a vocal presence in the locker room. His consistency in performance is a testament to his incredible work ethic and preparation. Cameron Jordan’s impact on the Saints’ defense extends beyond statistics; he’s a leader and a vital component of their success.
6. Calais Campbell
Calais Campbell, a versatile defensive lineman who has played for several teams during the decade, including the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars, is an imposing figure on the field. His remarkable combination of size and athleticism has made him a standout in the league.
Standing at 6 feet 8 inches and weighing around 300 pounds, Campbell’s physical stature alone is enough to intimidate opponents. His size provides him with a significant advantage in battles along the line of scrimmage. He’s not just tall and powerful; he’s also surprisingly quick for a man of his size.
Campbell’s versatility is another asset that sets him apart. He’s played both defensive end and defensive tackle, showcasing his ability to adapt to different roles as per his team’s needs. His athleticism and agility allow him to excel as a pass rusher, while his strength and size make him a formidable force against the run.
Throughout the 2010s, Calais Campbell consistently put up impressive numbers in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback pressures. He’s known for being a team leader and a mentor to younger players. Campbell’s career is a testament to his adaptability and his ability to perform at a high level, no matter where he lines up on the field.
7. Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, has been a linchpin of the team’s defense, playing a vital role in their Super Bowl-winning season. His unique ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt opposing offenses has made him a game-changing defensive lineman.
Cox’s impact is most evident in his ability to generate interior pressure. His quickness off the line and powerful bull rush make it challenging for offensive linemen to contain him. This disrupts the timing of opposing quarterbacks and forces them to make hurried decisions, resulting in sacks, interceptions, and incompletions.
What makes Fletcher Cox particularly impressive is his consistency in providing this disruption. Over the course of the 2010s, he has been a dominant force, regularly ranking among the top defensive tackles in the league. His ability to shed blocks and make plays in the backfield is essential to the Eagles’ defensive success.
Cox’s role in the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory in the 2017 season cannot be overstated. He was a disruptive force throughout the playoffs, putting immense pressure on opposing quarterbacks in critical moments. His impact on the team’s historic championship run solidified his place as one of the top defensive linemen of the 2010s.
8. Justin Smith
Justin Smith, a former defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, was not just known for his on-field excellence but also for his incredible work ethic and leadership. He played a crucial role in the 49ers’ success during the 2010s.
Smith’s work ethic was legendary. He was known for his relentless motor, constantly pursuing the ball and never taking a play off. His leadership by example set the tone for the entire 49ers defense.
On the field, Smith’s performance was marked by his physicality and versatility. He could play both defensive end and defensive tackle, showcasing his ability to adapt to different situations. His exceptional strength allowed him to control the line of scrimmage and stop the run effectively.
Smith was also a disruptive force in the passing game. He consistently generated pressure on quarterbacks, even if it didn’t always result in sacks. His ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt the timing of opposing offenses was invaluable to the 49ers’ defensive success.
Although he has since retired, Justin Smith’s impact on the game and the 49ers’ defense during the 2010s is still remembered. His work ethic, leadership, and performance have left a lasting legacy in the NFL.
9. Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones, a defensive end and outside linebacker known for his versatility, has made a significant impact in the NFL during the 2010s. Jones’ ability to disrupt both the run and the pass has established him as a force to be reckoned with.
One of Jones’ most notable attributes is his length and reach. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches, his long limbs allow him to be a constant threat to quarterbacks. He’s excellent at swatting down passes at the line of scrimmage, which often leads to interceptions or deflections. His awareness and vision also make him adept at reading the opposing offense’s plays.
In terms of rushing the passer, Chandler Jones has consistently ranked among the league leaders in sacks. His combination of speed and power is a challenging combination for offensive tackles to handle. He has a wide array of pass-rushing moves, which keeps opponents guessing and allows him to disrupt the pocket effectively.
Jones’ versatility is a key factor in his success. He can line up as a traditional defensive end, as an outside linebacker, or even drop back into coverage when necessary. His adaptability is a valuable asset to his team, making him a versatile weapon on defense.
Throughout the decade, Chandler Jones has been a game-changing presence on the defensive side of the ball. His ability to impact both the passing and running games makes him one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen of the 2010s.
10. Gerald McCoy
Gerald McCoy, a defensive tackle who spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2010s, was a true disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line. What set him apart was his remarkable combination of quickness, agility, and technical proficiency.
McCoy’s quick first step off the line of scrimmage is a hallmark of his play. He excelled at penetrating the offensive line and getting into the backfield. This quickness allowed him to disrupt plays in the running game and pressure quarterbacks consistently.
His agility was a game-changer. McCoy had an uncanny ability to move laterally along the line, shedding blocks and making plays from sideline to sideline. He could chase down running backs in the open field and was a nightmare for quarterbacks to deal with in the pocket.
What truly distinguished Gerald McCoy was his technical proficiency. He was a master of hand-fighting and leverage, allowing him to consistently beat offensive linemen. His ability to read and react to plays made him a constant presence in the backfield, recording sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback pressures.
During his time with the Buccaneers, McCoy was a key leader on the defense and an anchor on the defensive line. His quickness and agility set him apart as one of the most effective interior defensive linemen of his era. Gerald McCoy’s ability to disrupt plays made him a standout player during the 2010s, and he remains a respected figure in the league.
The 2010s were a golden era for NFL defensive linemen. These remarkable athletes changed the way the game is played, leaving a lasting impact on their teams and the league. Their unforgettable moments and game-altering plays will be remembered for years to come.