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The Battle of the Eras: Defensive Ends & Roster Update

A few weeks ago, Adam Nannini and I began a series on our NFL Basement podcast called “Battle of the Eras.” Catchy, right? The concept is simple. We are both constructing a 53-man roster, position by position. Adam is using only players from the “classic” era, meaning they were in their prime before 1980. Nate is creating his roster with “modern” era players who started their careers after 1980.



The Set Up

Each week on the NFL Basement, we select our players for a given position. We defend our choices and debate one another’s picks. The goal is not to necessarily pick the best and most talented players at each position but to construct the best team. For example, if you were creating the best band of all time, you’d want your lead singer, guitarists, and drummer to fit together.

Here is a breakdown of the roster numbers:
QB (3)
RB (3)
FB (1)
WR (6)
OL (9)
DT (4)
DE (5)
LB (6)
CB (5)
TE (4)
S (4)
LS/KR (1)
K (1)
P (1)

Last week, we chose our defensive ends. Comparing old school and new school defensive ends is a challenge because the sack statistic didn’t become official until 1982. This meant all of Adam’s defensive ends were left without the most important metric by which we measure their effectiveness. Here are the players we chose:

Nate’s Modern Team

Bruce Smith (starter)

The greatest defensive end of all time. Smith is the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks (200 career sacks) and even more impressively, he did it while playing predominantly in a 3-4 defense. A 3-4 is designed to get its outside linebackers impressive sack totals, not its defensive ends. For Bruce Smith to produce the numbers he did at that position, it’s a feat that is unmatched by his peers. 

Reggie White (starter)

The “Minister of Defense” is one of the most disruptive defensive linemen to ever play the game. Weighing in at nearly 300 lbs, White was incredibly strong and forceful. Also blessed with natural speed and agility, White overwhelmed tackles and consistently destroyed double teams. His 198 career sacks are 2nd all time, and if not for spending two seasons in the USFL at the start of his career, he’d likely be #1 on the list. In 1987, White produced the most impressive year ever by a defensive end with 21 sacks in 12 games. 

Howie Long (backup)

Long is one of the best all-around DEs of the modern era. Long didn’t get by on natural athleticism. He made his mark with power, strength, and force. Long was versatile and the Raiders would move him all over the line of scrimmage. He was a great run defender, who consistently blew up plays in the backfield. 

Julius Peppers (backup)

Peppers might be the most physically gifted defensive end the NFL has seen. At 6’7″, 295 lbs, Peppers was strong, fast, powerful, and explosive. He finished his career fourth on the all-time sacks list and had 10 seasons with double-digit sack totals. Peppers had some of the most active hands, forcing 52 fumbles (2nd all-time)  and deflecting 79 passes in his career.

J.J. Watt (backup)

Watt is the premier defensive end in today’s NFL. In six healthy seasons, he has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Lawrence Taylor is the only other player to win three such awards. At 295 lbs, Watt is versatile enough to play any position along the defensive line. Injuries have put a damper on Watt’s production in the last few years but there’s little doubt, when healthy, he’s one of the premier players to ever line up at defensive end. 

Adam’s Classic Team

Deacon Jones (starter)

Deacon Jones is one of the best pass rushers of all time. In fact, it was Jones himself who coined the term “quarterback sack.” His speed and relentlessness around the edge helped him record three seasons of better than 20 sacks (unofficially). His signature move was the “head slap” which has since been banned. 

Lee Roy Selmon (starter)

Selmon was the first ever draft pick of the Buccaneers when they were an expansion team in 1976. He retired at the age of 30 due to a back injury. Despite the short career, Selmon still managed to put together a Hall of Fame resume. His unofficial 78.5 sacks are still the most in Tampa Bay history.

Gino Marchetti (backup)

Marchetti wasn’t just one of the best defensive ends to ever play the game. He was also a machine gunner in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Marchetti was relentless as a player. He was nearly unblockable due to a rare blend of power, speed, and nastiness. Many regard him as one of the best all around defensive players in NFL history. 

Doug Atkins (backup)

Atkins was unusually tall at 6’8″, but he used that height to his advantage. Atkins was also a high jump champion in college and used his height and leaping ability to routinely knock down passes. At 260 lbs, Atkins was larger than most of the offensive tackles he played against, and he could overwhelm them at the point of attack. The NFL Network named Atkins the #9 pass rusher of all time. 

Buck Buchanan (backup)

Technically, Buchanan was a defensive tackle because at 6’7, 270 lbs, he was always one of the largest players on the field. He is, however, built like a modern day defensive end. Buchanan was an exceptional athlete for his size, reportedly running a 4.9 forty. His size and speed made him virtually unblockable, even for the best offensive linemen of his time. 

The Rest of the Team

We’ve now chosen players at each position except Quarterback. Here are the teams as they currently stand.

Nate’s Modern Team

Running Back: Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Roger Craig
Fullback: Larry Centers
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witton
Offensive Tackle: Anthony Munoz, Jonathan Ogden, Joe Thomas, Willie Roaf
Guard:  Bruce Matthews, Larry Allen, Randall McDaniel
Center: Dwight Stevenson, Dermonti Dawson
Defensive Tackle: Warren Sapp, John Randle, Aaron Donald, Cortez Kennedy
Defensive End: Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Howie Long, Julius Peppers, J.J. Watt
Linebacker: Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Brooks, Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, Brian Urlacher
Safety: Ronnie Lott, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, John Lynch
Cornerback: Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey, Darrell Green, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson
Kicker: Justin Tucker
Punter: Shane Lechler
Special Teams: Steve Tasker

Adam’s Classic Team

Running Back: Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, Lenny Moore
Fullback: Marion Motley
Wide Receiver: Paul Warfield, Raymond Berry, Bob Hayes, Lance Alworth, Don Hutson, John Stallworth
Tight End: Mike Ditka, Dave Casper, Jackie Smith, John Mackey
Offensive Tackle: Art Shell, Ron Mix, Forrest Gregg, Jim Parker
Guard: John Hannah, Gene Upshaw, Joe DeLamielleure
Center: Jim Otto, Mel Hein
Defensive Tackle: Merlin Olsen, Mean Joe Greene, Randy Whtie, Bob Lilly
Defensive End: Deacon Jones, Lee Roy Selmon, Gino Marchetti, Buck Buchanan, Doug Atkins
Linebacker: Dick Butkus, Jack Ham, Bobby Bell, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ted Hendricks
Cornerback: Mel Blount, Dick Night Train Lane, Mike Haynes, Wille Brown, Herb Adderly
Safety: Emlen Tunnell, Jack Tatum, Paul Krause, Ken Riley
Kicker: Lou Groza
Punter: Sammy Baugh
Special Teams: Gale Sayers

There you have it! The teams are nearly complete. Don’t miss the next episode of the NFL Basement as we select our final position: Quarterbacks! Also, feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and give us your thoughts. Who is building the most dominant roster, Adam or Nate?