The best 3-4 defensive line? That honor probably belongs to the New York Jets. Muhammad Wilkerson made the Pro Bowl last year and would have been a second-team AP All-Pro choice if that organization knew anything about how to create a ballot. The other defensive end, Sheldon Richardson, was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. The nose tackle, Damon Harrison, was easily the top run-stuffing tackle in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus, and was PFF’s highest-graded nose tackle overall. You will probably find this hard to believe, but Rex Ryan has said that he wants to have all three of the Jets starting defensive linemen make the Pro Bowl.
How rare is that? Pretty rare — in fact, a 3-4 line has never sent all three players to the Pro Bowl. But even among 4-3 teams, sending three defensive linemen to Hawaii is a very rare feat. Although you might be surprised about when it last happened.
What other teams have sent three defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl during the Super Bowl era?
- Beginning in 2006, Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams began dominating opposing running games. In 2008, Minnesota traded for Jared Allen, and the three of them all made the Pro Bowl that season (the fourth defensive lineman, Ray Edwards, wound up getting a big contract from the Falcons after looking good next to those three for a few years).
- The 1991 Eagles have the top estimated DVOA against both the run and the pass among all teams since 1950. That year, Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons weren’t just all Pro Bowlers: all three were first-team All-Pro selections by each of the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly, the Pro Football Writers Association, and the Sporting News. Mike Pitts was the fourth member of the line, but presumably he was the real reason for the unit’s success because he went to Alabama.
- In 1980, Dan Fouts obliterated the record for passing yards in a season,1 and John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow were all first-team All-Pros. But the defensive line was nearly as good: defensive end Fred Dean made the Pro Bowl, along with defensive tackles Louie Kelcher and Gary Johnson (in fact, Dean and Johnson were both first-team All-Pro choices, too). All three players were selected by the Chargers with top-35 picks in the 1975 draft, and formed the backbone of a defense that led the league with 60 sacks.
- The 1978 Rams sent Jack Youngblood, Larry Brooks, and Cody Jones to the Pro Bowl (Fred Dryer was the fourth defensive lineman). Three years earlier, Merlin Olsen, Youngblood, and Dryer were Pro Bowlers for Los Angeles (Brooks was the fourth defensive lineman). Yeah, those Rams lines were good.
- In 1973, Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and Dwight White made the Pro Bowl for the Steelers. In an unrelated note, Pittsburgh fans reported that Ernie Holmes was the biggest snub for the Pro Bowl that year.
- In 1970… and 1969… and 1968, the Vikings sent three defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl each year. Alan Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, and Jim Marshall were the starters throughout that period. Page and Eller made it each year, of course, with Marshall joining them in ’68 and ’69, and Larsen going in ’69 and ’70. Yes, that means all four were Pro Bowlers in 1969, when the Vikings had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.
- In 1968, the Jets sent three players to the AFL Pro Bowl: Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, and Verlon Biggs. In ’67, the Rams (Deacon Jones, Olsen, and Roger Brown) and Browns (Paul Wiggin, Walter Johnson, and Bill Glass) both pulled off the feat in the NFL. In 1966, the Raiders (Ike Lassiter, Tom Keating, and Ben Davidson) and Patriots (Jim Lee Hunt, Houston Antwine, and Larry Eisenhauer) did it as well.
In the pre-free agency era, this feat was just slightly easier to pull off. Since 1993, just two teams have managed to send three defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl. The 2014 Jets would be the first 3-4 team to ever send all three defensive linemen to the Pro Bowl: that’s a pretty tall task, but hey, it’s August, the perfect time for optimism.
- Of course, this was just the third year the league had played a 16-game season. But Fouts also set the record for passing yards per game in this year, albeit by a much narrower margin. Who was the previous record holder? Is this your first time at the site? [↩]