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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Great DL and Great LB, playing together

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 9, 2009

In mid-May, I examined which teams were fortunate enough to have the best linebackers playing with one another during the best times of their careers. In early June, I did the same thing for defensive linemen. It's not difficult to combine those posts to come up with the top front sevens ever.

Of course, when I say top front sevens ever, you know what I really mean -- the front sevens with the best players (at the right stages of their career) playing together since 1950. I split the groups up into 3-4 defenses and 4-3 defenses, because I believe 3-4 defenses are underrated in the current analysis I'm using. Defensive linemen in the 3-4 do not get many accolades nor do they compile objective stats; it's often impossible without the use of videotape to distinguish a good 3-4 DL from a great one or a mediocre one. As a result, I think the Approximate Value system that we've been using has been hurting 3-4 defensive linemen, and therefore we should separate out the two types of defenses.

Not surprisingly, Mike Ditka's Bears comes out on top in this analysis. The '87 Bears ranked as the 3rd best linebacker corps in the earlier post, as they had Singletary, Marshall and Wilson all in the age 25-30 range. The Super Bowl Bears had the same three linebackers, but Marshall in particular was harmed by our scoring system -- he was just 23 years old that season.Not to be overshadowed, the '87 Bears defensive line came in as the #4 group; Hampton, McMichael, Dent and Perry were all in that same 25-30 years of age range. What's interesting about those '85 Bears is not only were they dominant, but they were young. Even with 31 year old Gary Fencik in the secondary, the average age of the starting 11 on that defense was just 26.2 years old. Fencik was the only defensive starter over the age of 28, which might help explain why they decided filming a dance video was a good idea.

The '70 Vikings aren't far behind, almost exclusively on the strength of their unbelievable front four. Linebackers Roy Winston, Lonnie Warwick and Wally Hilgenberg are not household names anywhere outside of Minnesota. Despite never making a Pro Bowl, the three players played in 441 total games for the Vikings. The players were in their primes in 1970, as were the beef up front; that's why that version of the Minnesota squad looked the best in this sort of analysis.

The rest of the top 4-3 fronts bring in the usual suspects from NFL history.

From the '70s, you have a bunch of Steelers/Rams/Chiefs teams, in addition to the Vikings. Lombardi's Packers are well represented. Curiously, no team from the '90s is high on the list, although some teams that played the 3-4 had solid numbers.

Enough introduction. I'll assume you have read the prior two posts, on the formula for linebackers and the formula for linemen. Here is a list of the top 50 front seven groups since 1950, with all multiples excluded. Due to space concerns, I had to leave out the AV and age of all players; I compensated by showing the overall grade of the front seven, along with the grades for average LB and average DL on the team. I had to make the font smaller, too, but hopefully you guys can read this.


tm-yr     Grade   LDE              LDT               RDT             RDE              LLB                 MLB              RLB                LBavg  DLavg
chi-1987  100.1   Dan Hampton      Steve McMichael   William Perry   Richard Dent     Otis Wilson         Mike Singletary  Wilber Marshall    14.5   14.1
min-1970   99.7   Carl Eller       Gary Larsen       Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Roy Winston         Lonnie Warwick   Wally Hilgenberg   11.3   16.4
ram-1967   96.8   Deacon Jones     Merlin Olsen      Roger Brown     Lamar Lundy      Jack Pardee         Myron Pottios    Maxie Baughan      12.8   14.6
min-1971   93.4   Carl Eller       Gary Larsen       Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Roy Winston         Carl Gersbach    Wally Hilgenberg    9.3   16.4
gnb-1962   92.6   Willie Davis     Dave Hanner       Henry Jordan    Bill Quinlan     Dan Currie          Ray Nitschke     Bill Forester      14.6   12.2
pit-1976   92.2   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        Ernie Holmes    Dwight White     Jack Ham            Jack Lambert     Andy Russell       12.2   13.9
pit-1978   91.9   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        John Banaszak   Dwight White     Jack Ham            Jack Lambert     Loren Toews        13.8   12.6
pit-1977   91.4   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        Steve Furness   Dwight White     Jack Ham            Jack Lambert     Loren Toews        13.2   12.9
ram-1968   91.3   Deacon Jones     Merlin Olsen      Roger Brown     Gregg Schumacher Jack Pardee         Myron Pottios    Maxie Baughan      12.5   13.5
min-1972   91.3   Carl Eller       Gary Larsen       Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Roy Winston         Jeff Siemon      Wally Hilgenberg    9.3   15.9
chi-1984   89.0   Mike Hartenstine Steve McMichael   Dan Hampton     Richard Dent     Otis Wilson         Mike Singletary  Al Harris          11.5   13.6
ram-1976   89.0   Jack Youngblood  Larry Brooks      Merlin Olsen    Fred Dryer       Jim Youngblood      Jack Reynolds    Isiah Robertson    13.3   12.3
min-1968   88.4   Carl Eller       Gary Larsen       Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Roy Winston         Lonnie Warwick   John Kirby          9.3   15.1
ram-1975   87.6   Jack Youngblood  Larry Brooks      Merlin Olsen    Fred Dryer       Ken Geddes          Jack Reynolds    Isiah Robertson    13.0   12.2
kan-1970   86.8   Jerry Mays       Curley Culp       Buck Buchanan   Aaron Brown      Bobby Bell          Willie Lanier    Jim Lynch          13.7   11.5
chi-1959   86.6   Earl Leggett     Fred Williams     Bill Bishop     Doug Atkins      Joe Fortunato       Bill George      Larry Morris       14.1   11.1
gnb-1963   86.6   Willie Davis     Ron Kostelnik     Henry Jordan    Lionel Aldridge  Dan Currie          Ray Nitschke     Bill Forester      14.8   10.6
ram-1970   86.6   Deacon Jones     Merlin Olsen      Diron Talbert   Coy Bacon        Jack Pardee         Myron Pottios    Maxie Baughan      10.8   13.5
tam-2002   86.1   Greg Spires      Anthony McFarland Warren Sapp     Simeon Rice      Al Singleton        Shelton Quarles  Derrick Brooks     11.6   12.8
chi-1988   85.6   Al Harris        Steve McMichael   Dan Hampton     Richard Dent     Ron Rivera          Mike Singletary  Jim Morrissey       9.9   14.0
ram-1966   85.1   Deacon Jones     Merlin Olsen      Rosey Grier     Lamar Lundy      Jack Pardee         Bill George      Maxie Baughan      10.8   13.2
ram-1977   84.2   Jack Youngblood  Larry Brooks      Cody Jones      Fred Dryer       Bob Brudzinski      Jim Youngblood   Isiah Robertson    10.7   13.0
kan-1971   84.2   Marvin Upshaw    Curley Culp       Buck Buchanan   Aaron Brown      Bobby Bell          Willie Lanier    Jim Lynch          14.3   10.3
pit-1973   84.0   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        Ernie Holmes    Dwight White     Jack Ham            Henry Davis      Andy Russell       11.2   12.6
kan-1973   83.3   Marvin Upshaw    Curley Culp       Buck Buchanan   Wilbur Young     Bobby Bell          Willie Lanier    Jim Lynch          14.3   10.1
tam-2003   82.9   Greg Spires      Anthony McFarland Warren Sapp     Simeon Rice      Ryan Nece           Shelton Quarles  Derrick Brooks     10.5   12.8
gnb-1966   82.7   Willie Davis     Ron Kostelnik     Henry Jordan    Lionel Aldridge  Dave Robinson       Ray Nitschke     Lee Roy Caffey     12.6   11.2
pit-1979   82.6   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        Gary Dunn       John Banaszak    Jack Ham            Jack Lambert     Dirt Winston       13.2   10.8
min-1974   82.5   Carl Eller       Doug Sutherland   Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Roy Winston         Jeff Siemon      Wally Hilgenberg    9.1   13.8
tam-2001   82.3   Marcus Jones     Anthony McFarland Warren Sapp     Simeon Rice      Shelton Quarles     Jamie Duncan     Derrick Brooks     11.7   11.8
ram-1969   81.8   Deacon Jones     Merlin Olsen      Coy Bacon       Diron Talbert    Jack Pardee         Doug Woodlief    Maxie Baughan       9.1   13.6
det-1961   81.7   Darris McCord    Alex Karras       Roger Brown     Bill Glass       Carl Brettschneider Joe Schmidt      Wayne Walker       12.0   11.4
chi-1960   81.5   Maury Youmans    Earl Leggett      Fred Williams   Doug Atkins      Joe Fortunato       Bill George      Larry Morris       13.9    9.9
rav-2006   81.5   Trevor Pryce     Kelly Gregg       Haloti Ngata    Terrell Suggs    Adalius Thomas      Ray Lewis        Bart Scott         15.4    8.8
nyg-1960   81.4   Jim Katcavage    Dick Modzelewski  Rosey Grier     Andy Robustelli  Cliff Livingston    Sam Huff         Harland Svare      10.8   12.3
det-1962   81.0   Darris McCord    Alex Karras       Roger Brown     Sam Williams     Carl Brettschneider Joe Schmidt      Wayne Walker       12.1   11.2
nyg-1958   80.9   Jim Katcavage    Dick Modzelewski  Rosey Grier     Andy Robustelli  Bill Svoboda        Sam Huff         Harland Svare      10.6   12.3
ram-1978   80.8   Jack Youngblood  Larry Brooks      Cody Jones      Fred Dryer       Jim Youngblood      Jack Reynolds    Bob Brudzinski      9.4   13.1
cle-1957   80.7   Bill Quinlan     Bob Gain          Don Colo        Len Ford         Galen Fiss          Vince Costello   Walt Michaels       9.5   13.0
chi-1958   80.6   Jack Hoffman     Fred Williams     Bill Bishop     Doug Atkins      Bill Roehnelt       Bill George      Joe Fortunato      11.9   11.2
chi-1983   79.8   Mike Hartenstine Jim Osborne       Steve McMichael Dan Hampton      Otis Wilson         Mike Singletary  Al Harris          10.7   11.9
dal-1981   79.8   Too Tall Jones   John Dutton       Randy White     Harvey Martin    Mike Hegman         Bob Breunig      D.D. Lewis          7.5   14.3
pit-1972   79.6   L.C. Greenwood   Joe Greene        Ben McGee       Dwight White     Jack Ham            Henry Davis      Andy Russell       11.1   11.6
nyg-1961   79.6   Jim Katcavage    Dick Modzelewski  Rosey Grier     Andy Robustelli  Cliff Livingston    Sam Huff         Tom Scott          10.6   12.0
min-1976   79.6   Carl Eller       Doug Sutherland   Alan Page       Jim Marshall     Matt Blair          Jeff Siemon      Wally Hilgenberg    9.9   12.4
kan-1974   79.4   Marvin Upshaw    Tom Keating       Buck Buchanan   Wilbur Young     Bobby Bell          Willie Lanier    Jim Lynch          13.7    9.6
clt-1971   79.0   Bubba Smith      Billy Newsome     Fred Miller     Roy Hilton       Ray May             Mike Curtis      Ted Hendricks      12.0   10.8
chi-1957   78.8   Jack Hoffman     Fred Williams     Bill Bishop     Doug Atkins      Stan Wallace        Bill George      Joe Fortunato      11.8   10.9
rav-2000   78.5   Rob Burnett      Sam Adams         Tony Siragusa   Michael McCrary  Peter Boulware      Ray Lewis        Jamie Sharper      12.0   10.6
chi-1955   78.4   Jack Hoffman     Fred Williams     Bill Bishop     Doug Atkins      Joe Fortunato       Bill George      George Connor      13.7    9.3

And, for Tim Truemper, the '69 Cowboys come in at 77.7, the '70 Cowboys at 76.7 and the '68 Cowboys at 76.5. Of those three teams, the linebackers were strongest in '68 and weakest in '70 while the DL was strongest in '70 and weakest in '68. So with a more precise overlap, one of those teams would have made the list.

Here's the same analysis for the 3-4 teams. The Saints' famous Dome Patrol linebackers hold several spots up top, since those great linebackers kept playing behind a constantly shuffled front three. It's a testament to the greatness of those LBs that the '91 Saints match up with the Orange Crush from 1978. That Denver defense did not have a weakness up front, with its average DL and average LB having a grade over 11.0. The '79 Broncos (with the same players) ranked sixth among the 3-4 LBs while the '78 DL ranked seventh among 3-4 defensive linemen. A very balanced unit, and certainly in the discussion for greatest 3-4 front seven of all time. Here's the full list of the top 50 units. Some very recent teams are on this list, and remember, that to the extent that they have young players, they're probably undervalued by this system.

tm.yr      Grade  LDE               NT                 RDE                LOLB              LILB             RILB              ROLB            LBavg  DLavg
den-1978   80.1   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Lyle Alzado        Bob Swenson       Joe Rizzo        Randy Gradishar   Tom Jackson     11.6   11.3
nor-1988   80.1   Frank Warren      Tony Elliott       Jim Wilks          Rickey Jackson    Sam Mills        Vaughan Johnson   Pat Swilling    13.9    8.2
nor-1989   79.6   Frank Warren      Jim Wilks          Jumpy Geathers     Rickey Jackson    Sam Mills        Vaughan Johnson   Pat Swilling    14.3    7.4
nor-1991   79.3   Wayne Martin      Jim Wilks          Frank Warren       Rickey Jackson    Sam Mills        Vaughan Johnson   Pat Swilling    14.0    7.7
nor-1990   77.0   Wayne Martin      Robert Goff        Jim Wilks          Rickey Jackson    Sam Mills        Vaughan Johnson   Pat Swilling    14.4    6.5
nor-1987   76.6   Bruce Clark       Tony Elliott       Jim Wilks          Rickey Jackson    Sam Mills        Vaughan Johnson   Pat Swilling    13.1    8.1
den-1981   76.4   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Rulon Jones        Bob Swenson       Larry Evans      Randy Gradishar   Tom Jackson     12.0    9.5
pit-2003   76.0   Aaron Smith       Casey Hampton      Kimo von Oelhoffen Jason Gildon      James Farrior    Kendrell Bell     Joey Porter     12.4    8.8
pit-1994   75.6   Gerald Williams   Joel Steed         Ray Seals          Kevin Greene      Levon Kirkland   Chad Brown        Greg Lloyd      13.2    7.6
rav-2003   75.4   Anthony Weaver    Kelly Gregg        Marques Douglas    Adalius Thomas    Ed Hartwell      Ray Lewis         Peter Boulware  13.1    7.6
den-1979   74.8   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Brison Manor       Bob Swenson       Joe Rizzo        Randy Gradishar   Tom Jackson     12.1    8.8
pit-1995   74.8   Brentson Buckner  Joel Steed         Ray Seals          Kevin Greene      Levon Kirkland   Chad Brown        Greg Lloyd      13.4    7.1
buf-1996   74.4   Phil Hansen       Ted Washington     Bruce Smith        Bryce Paup        Chris Spielman   Mark Maddox       Sam Rogers       9.1   12.7
pit-1993   74.0   Kenny Davidson    Joel Steed         Donald Evans       Kevin Greene      Levon Kirkland   Chad Brown        Greg Lloyd      12.6    7.8
buf-1992   73.9   Phil Hansen       Jeff Wright        Bruce Smith        Cornelius Bennett Shane Conlan     Carlton Bailey    Darryl Talley   10.2   11.1
rav-2004   73.4   Anthony Weaver    Kelly Gregg        Marques Douglas    Terrell Suggs     Ed Hartwell      Ray Lewis         Adalius Thomas  12.2    8.3
nyg-1991   72.9   Eric Dorsey       John Washington    Leonard Marshall   Carl Banks        Gary Reasons     Pepper Johnson    Lawrence Taylor 11.6    8.8
rai-1987   71.8   Howie Long        Bill Pickel        Sean Jones         Linden King       Matt Millen      Jerry Robinson    Rod Martin       9.1   11.8
den-1982   71.7   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Rulon Jones        Jim Ryan          Larry Evans      Randy Gradishar   Tom Jackson     10.5    9.9
pit-1997   71.5   Nolan Harrison    Joel Steed         Kevin Henry        Jason Gildon      Levon Kirkland   Earl Holmes       Greg Lloyd      11.7    8.2
pit-2006   71.3   Aaron Smith       Casey Hampton      Brett Keisel       Clark Haggans     James Farrior    Larry Foote       Joey Porter     10.9    9.3
nyg-1992   70.9   Eric Dorsey       Erik Howard        Leonard Marshall   Carl Banks        Pepper Johnson   Steve DeOssie     Lawrence Taylor 10.5    9.7
rai-1976   70.8   John Matuszak     Dave Rowe          Otis Sistrunk      Phil Villapiano   Willie Hall      Monte Johnson     Ted Hendricks   11.1    8.8
buf-1995   70.8   Phil Hansen       Ted Washington     Bruce Smith        Bryce Paup        Marlo Perry      Cornelius Bennett Sam Rogers       8.0   13.0
sfo-1989   70.7   Pierce Holt       Michael Carter     Kevin Fagan        Charles Haley     Matt Millen      Mike Walter       Keena Turner     9.6   10.8
den-1983   70.6   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Rulon Jones        Jim Ryan          Randy Gradishar  Steve Busick      Tom Jackson     10.2   10.0
nyg-1988   70.2   Eric Dorsey       Jim Burt           Leonard Marshall   Carl Banks        Pepper Johnson   Harry Carson      Lawrence Taylor 11.1    8.7
pit-1990   70.0   Keith Willis      Gerald Williams    Donald Evans       Bryan Hinkle      Hardy Nickerson  David Little      Greg Lloyd      11.0    8.7
mia-1982   69.9   Doug Betters      Bob Baumhower      Kim Bokamper       Bob Brudzinski    A.J. Duhe        Earnest Rhone     Larry Gordon     8.7   11.7
den-1980   69.8   Barney Chavous    Rubin Carter       Brison Manor       Rob Nairne        Larry Evans      Randy Gradishar   Tom Jackson     10.7    9.0
buf-1988   69.5   Art Still         Fred Smerlas       Bruce Smith        Cornelius Bennett Shane Conlan     Ray Bentley       Darryl Talley    7.9   12.6
nyg-1989   69.3   John Washington   Erik Howard        Leonard Marshall   Carl Banks        Gary Reasons     Johnie Cooks      Lawrence Taylor 10.3    9.4
nyg-1987   69.3   George Martin     Jim Burt           Leonard Marshall   Carl Banks        Pepper Johnson   Harry Carson      Lawrence Taylor 10.9    8.6
pit-2005   69.3   Aaron Smith       Casey Hampton      Kimo von Oelhoffen Clark Haggans     James Farrior    Larry Foote       Joey Porter     10.8    8.6
rai-1986   69.0   Howie Long        Bill Pickel        Sean Jones         Jerry Robinson    Matt Millen      Reggie McKenzie   Rod Martin       9.0   11.0
pit-1999   68.6   Orpheus Roye      Joel Steed         Kevin Henry        Jason Gildon      Levon Kirkland   Earl Holmes       Carlos Emmons   10.9    8.3
buf-1989   68.3   Art Still         Fred Smerlas       Bruce Smith        Cornelius Bennett Scott Radecic    Ray Bentley       Darryl Talley    7.9   12.3
rav-2008   67.7   Justin Bannan     Haloti Ngata       Trevor Pryce       Jarret Johnson    Ray Lewis        Bart Scott        Terrell Suggs   11.5    7.3
kan-1998   67.7   Leslie O'Neal     Tom Barndt         Chester McGlockton Derrick Thomas    Wayne Simmons    Donnie Edwards    Anthony Davis   10.1    9.2
phi-1980   67.7   Dennis Harrison   Charlie Johnson    Carl Hairston      John Bunting      Bill Bergey      Frank LeMaster    Jerry Robinson   9.1   10.5
pit-1992   67.6   Kenny Davidson    Gerald Williams    Donald Evans       Jerrol Williams   Hardy Nickerson  David Little      Greg Lloyd      10.7    8.3
den-1989   67.6   Alphonso Carreker Greg Kragen        Andre Townsend     Simon Fletcher    Karl Mecklenburg Rick Dennison     Michael Brooks  10.5    8.6
pit-2000   67.5   Aaron Smith       Kimo von Oelhoffen Kevin Henry        Jason Gildon      Levon Kirkland   Earl Holmes       Joey Porter     11.1    7.8
buf-1990   67.5   Leon Seals        Jeff Wright        Bruce Smith        Cornelius Bennett Shane Conlan     Ray Bentley       Darryl Talley    9.2   10.3
pit-2007   67.4   Aaron Smith       Casey Hampton      Brett Keisel       Clark Haggans     James Farrior    Larry Foote       James Harrison  10.1    9.1
buf-1997   67.2   Phil Hansen       Ted Washington     Bruce Smith        Bryce Paup        Chris Spielman   Damien Covington  Sam Rogers       7.8   12.0
buf-1993   67.2   Phil Hansen       Jeff Wright        Bruce Smith        Cornelius Bennett Marvcus Patton   Mark Maddox       Darryl Talley    8.4   11.2
sfo-1992   67.1   Pierce Holt       Michael Carter     Kevin Fagan        Tim Harris        Keith DeLong     Mike Walter       Bill Romanowski  8.9   10.5
rai-1978   67.1   John Matuszak     Otis Sistrunk      Dave Browning      Ted Hendricks     Monte Johnson    Willie Hall       Phil Villapiano 11.3    7.3
kan-1991   66.8   Neil Smith        Dan Saleaumua      Bill Maas          Chris Martin      Tracy Simien     Dino Hackett      Derrick Thomas   8.4   11.1

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 8:53 am and is filed under Approximate Value, Best/Worst Ever. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.