NY Jets: Selecting the greatest all-time defensive line


August 11, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive Muhammad Wilkerson during practice at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets have had some great talent on their defensive line over the existence of the franchise, here are the best all-time at each position including back ups.

It is the bye week for the Jets and while there will be some team news this week, with no football this coming Sunday, news will be a bit slow. The off week got me thinking about our defensive line. It has proven to be the strength of this football team and the latest ranking put them at near the top in the NFL at the quarter point in the season.

With the new rankings in, I began to think how this line would fair compared to Jets’ defensive fronts of the past. I thought of taking that angle, and comparing this unit with units of the past, but that seemed rather unfair to the players and honestly, I thought it would be rather mundane.

Instead, I want to present my all-time defensive line. With all the talent the Jets have had up front over the years, it made for some difficult decisions, but I do believe it will start off a great discussion while we wait for football to return in Week 6. Let’s take a look.

Next: Defensive End

Oct 2, 2015; Sunbury-on-Thames, United Kingdom; New York Jets defensive tackle Leger Douzable (78) and defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson (96) and Damon Harrison (94) at practice at the Hazelwood in advance of the NFL International Series game against the Miami Dolphins. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive End

The Jets have a rich history of excellent defensive ends in their organization. It was hard to make these choices, but below you will find my two starters and two back ups.

Mark Gastineau gets my nod as the Jets’ all time starter at defensive end. It was an obvious choice as Gastineau is the all-time sack leader for the Jets with 107.5 sacks for his career. There isn’t anyone even close to those totals! Gastineau played his college ball at East Central Oklahoma State University and came to the Jets in the form of a second round pick in the 1979 NFL Draft.

He played for the Jets from 1979 to 1988 and dominated offensive lineman throughout the eighties as a member of the “New York Sack Exchange” with ease and precision. Standing 6’6″ tall and weighing 266 pounds, Gastineau was a beast on the football field. His accolades include being chosen twice as the defensive player of the year, and he led the league twice in sacks.

If that weren’t enough, he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and holds the record of the most sacks in a Pro Bowl Game with 4. Gastineau was as athletic as they come, having a nose for the quarterback and the speed and skills to get there, he played havoc for offenses throughout his career.

Shaun Ellis gets my second starting spot on this unit. Ellis was drafted by the Jets in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft and went on to play eleven seasons for our team. Ellis stood 6’5″ and weighed in as 290 pounds of pure aggression. Ellis led the Jets’ defense to the post season in 2009 for the first time in eleven years. The following year, the Jets made it to the AFC Championship, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ellis was a sight to behold coming off the edge, strong and fast as he was a tough player to defend. He had multiple pass rushing moves that kept opposing offensive linemen off balance waiting for what was coming next. Ellis finished his career with the Jets after the 2010 season, in the process he posted 388 tackles, one interception, 14 pass defenses and 13 forced fumbles for his Jet career. He was a two time All Pro, and finished his Jet career with 72.5 sacks. Ellis holds the third spot in sacks for the Jets, closely following Joe Klecko.

Dec 14, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; New York Jets logo prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The backup defensive ends were tough to pick as well. Many could be slotted here, but these are the players I’d like to have in case of injury to the starters.

My pick for the first back up position is Gerry Philbin. Now I know a few a you are probably saying “Jerry Who?”, but that is because he predates many Jet fans today. Philbin played defensive end for the Jets from 1964 until 1972. Philbin was chosen in the third round of the 1964 AFL Draft before the two leagues merged.

Philbin measured out at 6’2″/245 and was also selected in the third round of the NFL Draft in 1964 by the Detroit Lions. Philbin decided to sign with the young franchise and quickly became a perennial starter for the Jets. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Philbin is credited with helping the Jets get to and win their only Super Bowl in their history.

Philbin started sacking QB’s before the NFL really counted the stat, but ended his Jet career fourth on the Jets all-time sack leader board with 64.5 sacks to his credit. He ended his career after playing a single season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Muhammad Wilkerson is my final back up at defensive end. Many modern fans might think I’m crazy to list Wilkerson as a back up, but just being selected for this unit should be high enough honor for Wilkerson at this stage of his career. Wilkerson is more of an inside pass rusher than the others, but has definitely put his mark on this franchise.

Chosen in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Wilkerson has been a beast stopping the run and pressuring the passer for the Jets. Measuring out at 6’4″ and weighing in at a hefty 315 pounds, Wilkerson has been selected twice as a first string player to the Pro Bowl and earned a second string selection as well.

As of last week, Wilkerson has posted 28 sacks, 13 pass defenses, 8 forced fumbles, an interception and a safety to his credit in his young career. Those are impressive stats themselves, but consider that Wilkerson is credited with 257 tackles, 68 of which were for a loss of yardage in the run game proves how consistent he can be. Wilkerson becomes a free agent next season, and the Jets would like to keep him around long term if they can work out his next big contract.

Next: Defensive Tackle

Oct 4, 2015; London, United Kingdom; General view of NFL golden shield logo at midfield at Wembley Stadium to commemorate Super Bowl 50 before Game 12 of the NFL International Series between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Tackle

The first starting defensive tackle I will include on this list is Joe Klecko. The versatile Klecko played all along the Jets’ defensive line in his career, spending time at NT, DT and DE at times. For the purpose of this article, I listed him at defensive tackle. Klecko was a fan favorite and defensive stand out for the Jets through the 1980’s.

Arriving at the Jets after playing his college ball at Temple University, Klecko quickly had an impact on the roster. Drafted by the Jets in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL Draft, Klecko measured out as 6’3″/263 pounds. Klecko wasted no time after joining the Jets as he posted 8 sacks in his rookie season.

For his career, Klecko stands second only to Gastineau in career sacks. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and won the AFC Defensive Player of the year in 1981. If that wasn’t enough, Klecko also holds the record for consecutive games with a full sack as he set the mark at ten, when he posted a sack in each of the final six games of 1977 and followed that up by sacking quarterbacks in the first four games of 1978. He is a member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor and has been nominated for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though to date he hasn’t been inducted.

Marty Lyons is my next starter at defensive tackle and I’m sure few will disagree with this selection. Lyons came to the Jets as a first round pick in the 1979 NFL Draft. Standing 6’5″ and tipping the scales at 270 pounds, Lyons put fear in opposing offensive linemen throughout his career.

Sep 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A general view prior to a game between the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports

He was a member of the famous “New York Sack Exchange” as well, and helped the unit become one of the most productive and feared defenses in NFL history. Lyons played his college ball at the University of Alabama before joining the Jets for his professional career.

He played his entire career for the Jets, playing from 1979 until the end of 1989. He stands ninth on the Jets all-time sack leader board with 43 sacks to his credit. An avid pass rusher and a prolific run stopper, Lyons belongs among the franchise greats regardless of position.

The Jets historically have played a lot of 3-4 defenses over they years, which would only require one starter and one back up, for the sake of this segment however, we’ll include two starters and two back ups. My first back up undoubtedly will come as no surprise to savvy Jets fans as my choice here is Abdul Salaam.

Salaam came to the Jets as a seventh round pick in the 1977 NFL Draft. He also played in the famous “New York Sack Exchange” of the 1980’s along with Klecko. Gastineau and Lyons. Salaam never did get the credit he deserved, often being overlooked by the media, in favor of Gastineau and Klecko.

My next selection will come as no surprise to many Jet fans as my nod goes to Jason Ferguson. Ferguson came to the Jets as a seventh round pick out of Ge0rgia University in the 1997 NFL Draft. Ferguson stood at 6’3″ and weighed out as a 310 pound monster.

Ferguson went on to play seven seasons for the Jets from 1977 until 2004, before finishing out his 13-year NFL career. Ferguson also played nose tackle for the Jets, but spent a majority of his career at defensive tackle where he played havoc on offensive lineman of every size. He finished out his Jet career playing in 101 games, 83 in which he started, putting up career stats of 20.5 sacks, 5 pass defenses, 6 forced fumbles and 252 tackles. Ferguson was another fan favorite among Jet fans as he won them over with his hard work and tough play along the defensive line.

Next: Nose Tackle

Sep 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A young fan looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New York Jets 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Steven Ryan-USA TODAY Sports

Nose Tackle

Nose tackles as a rule, don’t get the celebrity that defensive ends receive in the NFL, but fortunately for the Jets they have a long history of top nose tackles. Likely, the most physically demanding position on any NFL roster, true nose tackles are a group of their own. Predominantly a 3-4 defensive position, they are the run stuffers, true brutes in the middle tasked with stopping the big running backs that dominate the NFL.

First up on my list of the “big men” is Sione Po’uha. He joined the Jets as third round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and played with the team from 2005 until the conclusion of the 2o12 season. Considered a project when the Jets drafted him, Po’uha was called to duty to step in for an injured Kris Jenkins during his rookie season.

As a result Po’uha was forced into service, playing in 14 games as a rookie, posting 10 tackles and a pass defense. Po’uha battled injuries early in his career after tearing an ACL in his knee, but came back stronger and played in all 16 games for the Jets from 2006 through 2011.

Po’uha stood 6’3″ and weighed in at a formidable 325 pounds. He ended his career after the 2012 season having posted 263 tackles in 106 game appearances for the team. He had a knack for getting his hands up in the air and tipping passes as he ended his career credited with 10 pass defenses, 1 forced fumble, 5 fumble recoveries and 9 tackles for loss.

In a move that may surprise some, I’m naming Damon “Snacks” Harrison as my second starter at nose tackle. Harrison is just one of those stories life long Jet fans love. Harrison went from an undrafted free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft, to being signed by the Jets, to one of the top defensive nose tackles in the NFL today.

As some have said about Harrison, he went from “water boy” to an NFL star overnight. Since arriving in 2012, Harrison has become a dominant force for the Jets in the middle. Harrison played his college football at William Penn where he became a tackling machine, leading his team in tackles in both his junior and season seasons.

To that end, he’s done the same thing here with the Jets, clogging the middle in the run game and pushing centers back up into opposing offenses backfield. In just 33 games, Harrison has amassed 133 combined tackles and is credited with one sack, 2 pass defenses and 23 tackles for loss or at the line of scrimmage. Harrison is only 26 years old and has a bright future in the middle for the Jets.

Backing up my two starters, I have Jenkins as my No. 1 back up. Jenkins was originally taken by the Carolina Panthers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and played seven years for the Panthers before being traded to the Jets in return for a third and fifth round pick in the 2008 season.

He was a three-time All Pro with the Panthers and made his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl while with the Jets. A big man in the middle, Jenkins stood 6’4″ and clogged the middle with his 360 pounds. Always a fierce competitor, Jenkins struggled to stay on the field during his Jet career and ended his tenure after the 2010 season.

While undoubtedly being among one of the most prolific nose tackles in NFL history, he put up meager numbers for the Jets. In his three seasons with the Jets, he only managed to play in 23 games, posting 103 combined tackles, eight pass defenses and a forced fumble to his credit. It wasn’t a brilliant Jet career by any means, but his play throughout the years places him on this list.

My final player to be included in this all-time list is none other then Ernie Logan. A ten-year veteran of the NFL, Logan joined the league as a ninth round pick of the Atlanta Falcons back in the 1991 NFL Draft. Logan played for the Falcons, Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars before heading to the Jets in 1997.

He anchored the Jets’ defensive line for the next 4 years, making one Pro Bowl appearance and playing in 61 games. His Jet totals are 164 tackles of which 148 were of the solo variety, 6.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

That is my list if I had to pick an all-time defensive line with back ups for the Jets. Did I miss anyone you would include? Is there anyone here you believe doesn’t belong? Let’s discuss it! As always I’d ask you to please leave us a comment below and Let’s Talk Jet Football!!

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