When it comes to discussing some of the greatest defensive players in the history of the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene has to be part of that conversation.
Yet, for former New York Giants star and the man widely considered the greatest defensive player in league history in Lawrence Taylor, Greene doesn’t even make his own personal top 5 list. Neither did Los Angeles Rams’ star Aaron Donald, who has wrecked the league for the last decade, raising some serious gripes about the validity of Taylor’s stance.
Appearing on a recent episode of “I Am Athlete” podcast with host Brandon Marshall, Taylor listed himself, Reggie White, Deacon Jones, Deion Sanders and Ronnie Lott as his top 5 defensive players ever in the NFL, which certainly generated some discussion.
Some names on the top 5 certainly make sense, like Taylor himself, the Minister of Defense in Reggie White, and even Deion Sanders, but not having Greene — let alone Donald — on his top 5 list is rather insane from Taylor.
Greene was easily one of the most impactful, disruptive defenders in the NFL during his time with the Steelers from 1969-81. In 181 career games (172 starts), Greene recorded 77.5 sacks for the Steelers, adding another 16 fumble recoveries and one interception, helping turn the tide within the Steelers’ franchise, going from doormats in 1969 and 1970 into a bonafide dynasty in the 70s, winning four Super Bowls.
Individually during that span, Greene was a 10-time Pro Bowl, five-time First-Team All-Pro, three-time Second Team All-Pro, twice won the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year, was named to the NFL’s All-Decades team of the 70s as well as the 75th and 100th-anniversary teams in NFL history, and went on to have his No. 75 retired by the franchise while heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a first-ballot player.
While he might not have the sack numbers that guys like Taylor and White have, he was the centerpiece of one of the best defensive units ever in league history, that being the “Steel Curtain” in the 70s, alongside guys like Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, L.C. Greenwood and Donnie Shell.
Though that’s quite a bit of Hall of Fame talent on that defense, Greene was the focal point, the heartbeat, the key cog in the engine. Once he came to Pittsburgh, he changed everything. He is Mr. Steeler, and certainly deserves his standing as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, regardless of what Taylor has to say.
Jones was certainly a terrific player in his own right with the Rams, but he doesn’t come close to the impact Greene had. Jones is undoubtedly a top 10 defensive player ever, but having him over Greene is a bit crazy from Taylor, who was known for having a screw or two loose during his playing days.