To try to combine all defensive positions into just a top-five list would have been impossible. It would have done a disservice to far too many franchise greats by unceremoniously leaving them outside the rankings. Therefore, we are expanding to a top-ten list for this ranking only.
We attempted to fairly weigh All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl appearances, longevity/tenure, impact on the field, and legacy for this ranking. Even with a full ten spots to work with, many great players just missed the cut.
For example, cornerback Lito Sheppard and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter were both First-Team All-Pro selections and Pro Bowlers during their time in Philly. However, their overall impact fell just short of the list.
Defensive end Trent Cole made two Pro Bowls during his decade in Philadelphia. He also ranks second in franchise history with 85.5 total sacks. However, his lack of First-Team All-Pro selections knocked him off the list behind even more dominant Eagles’ pass rushers.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in and count down the top-10 greatest Eagles defenders of All-Time:
#10. Hugh Douglas, Defensive End
Hugh Douglas spent six years as an Eagle during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over that span, he was a genuinely dominant pass rusher.
Douglas was a First-Team All-Pro selection during the 2000 season. During that campaign, he recorded 15.0 sacks and led the league with 21 tackles for loss. He again led the league in tackles for loss in 2002 with 20. He was a Pro Bowl selection during each season between 2000 and 2002. His 54.5 total sacks rank fourth in franchise history.
#9. Jerome Brown, Defensive Tackle
Jerome Brown is perhaps the biggest “what if” in team history. Brown was the Eagles’ first-round pick in the 1987 NFL Draft and would spend his entire (shockingly short) career as an Eagle. He was genuinely dominant during his half-decade in the league. He was a two-time First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection during this span. Brown teamed up with Reggie White in the early 1990s on one of the most dominant defensive lines of the era.
Brown was tragically killed following a car accident, along with his 12-year-old nephew. He was just 27 years old. He is remembered by his teammates, coaches, and fans as a great teammate and one of the most physically dominant and dedicated players in the game. Had Brown been able to continue his career, there is a great chance he would be in the top three on this list.
#8. Fletcher Cox, Defensive Tackle
Fletcher Cox is the only active player and current Eagle on this list. His productivity has decreased this year, his tenth in the league. However, he has been a dominant stalwart of Philly’s defense for the past decade.
Since being drafted by the Eagles with the 12th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Cox has been a First-Team All-Pro selection, a three-time Second-Team All-Pro selection, a six-time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl Champion. He recorded a career-high 71 combined tackles in 2015 and 9.5 sacks. He recorded a career-high 10.5 sacks in 2018, his First-Team All-Pro season. His 58.0 career sacks place him at fifth all-time in Eagles franchise history.
#7. Clyde Simmons, Defensive End
Simmons’ had humble beginnings in the league as a ninth-round draft pick of the Eagles in 1986 out of Western Carolina University. Over the next eight seasons as an Eagle, Simmons would become one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL.
Simmons was a two-time First-Team All-Pro and two-time Second-Team All-Pro selection in Philly. He appeared in two Pro Bowls. He led the NFL with an incredible 19.0 sacks in 1992, one of three double-digit sack seasons he recorded in Philly (along with 15.5 in 1989 and 13.0 in 1991). Simmons currently ranks third in franchise history with 76.0 sacks.
#6. Troy Vincent, Cornerback
Troy Vincent signed with the Eagles before the 1996 season and spent eight outstanding seasons in Philadelphia. Vincent was selected to five straight Pro Bowls from 1999 to 2003. He led the league in interceptions with seven in 1999. He ended his Eagles career ranked seventh in franchise history in interceptions.
Vincent was a First-Team All-Pro selection during a dominant 2002 campaign. That season he also won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Vincent is an Eagles legend and a Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee (though he has yet to be selected). He is probably the second greatest cornerback in franchise history, just behind the man at number five…
#5. Eric Allen, Cornerback
Eric Allen was a second-round draft pick by the Eagles in 1988. He spent the first seven seasons of his career in Philly. Over that span, he was a five-time Pro Bowler and one-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He led the league in defensive yards with 201 in 1993 and four defensive touchdowns. He recorded a career-high eight interceptions during his All-Pro sophomore season in 1989.
Allen is tied for the all-time franchise record with 34 career interceptions. He also ranks first all-time in franchise history with five defensive touchdowns. His 94-yard interception return for a score off of Boomer Esiason is considered by many to be the greatest interception of all time. Allen is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which defines a “snub.”
#4. Bill Bergey, Linebacker
Bill Bergey was one of the most dominant defenders in the league throughout the 1970s. Bergey came to Philadelphia in 1974 and would be selected to five Pro Bowls as an Eagle. He was a two-time First-Team All-Pro during his seven seasons in Philly. He helped lead a resurgence for the franchise in the late 1970s, including a trip to the team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 1980.
Bergey recorded an incredible 233 totals in a season. He recorded 18 interceptions during his career as an Eagle, including a career-high five during his All-Pro 1974 season. His 27 career interceptions rank tenth all-time as a linebacker. Bergey is, of course, an Eagles Hall of Famer but never quite made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
#3. Brian Dawkins, Free Safety
As we dig into the top three, this is where things become challenging and downright controversial. Many fans consider Brian Dawkins to be the greatest Eagle of All-Time, let alone the greatest defender. There is undoubtedly a strong argument for that, considering his Eagle tenure and consistent dominance.
After joining the squad as a second-round draft pick, Dawkins had an incredible 13-year career in Philly. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection. He was selected to the 2000s All-Decade Team. Dawkins is also the first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee on this list (inducted in 2018).
He was a vital member of the Eagles 2004 Super Bowl squad, recording an interception in the team’s NFC Championship victory over the Falcons and five tackles in the team’s 24-21 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Dawkins is one of the greatest, hardest-hitting safeties in the history of the game and is tied for the Eagles’ franchise record in interceptions with 34.
#2. Chuck Bednarik, Linebacker
Chuck Bednarik is the elder statesman on this list. Bednarik is the only player from the pre-Super Bowl era. He is the only (and last) player who played both sides of the ball as a legendary center and linebacker.
Bednarik also has the most impressive military resume. Bednarik joined the United States Army Air Forces immediately after high school, where he flew 30 combat missions over Germany in the second world war. He won several awards for his bravery and service before returning home and enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Bednarik spent his entire 14-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a six-time First-Team All-Pro selection and an eight-time Pro Bowl selection over that time. Bednarik helped lead the franchise to two NFL Championship victories in 1949 and 1960.
“Concrete Charlie” became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1967. He was ranked number 35 on the NFL Network’s “The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players” in 2010.
#1. Reggie White, Defensive End
Reggie White is not only the greatest defensive player in Eagles’ history. He is not only the greatest Eagle of All-Time. He is one of the greatest football players in NFL history.
White joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985 after the USFL folded and his Memphis Showboats (where he spent two seasons) ceased to exist. In his first game as an Eagle, he recorded ten tackles and 2.5 sacks.
He would go on to spend eight years in Philly, where he would become a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, three-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year, a seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection, and a seven-time Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in sacks twice with a franchise record of 21.0 in 1987 (in just 12 games) and 18.0 in 1988. White is the Eagles’ all-time leader in sacks with 124.0. He ultimately ended his career second all-time in NFL history with 198.0 sacks, behind only Bruce Smith’s 200.0.
White tragically passed away in 2004. He became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2006, where his wife delivered his acceptance speech. White is one of the greatest Eagles, football players, and athletes of all time.
Several current Eagles could one day find themselves on this list if they stay healthy and stay in Philly.
Darius Slay, though he spent the first seven seasons of his career trapped in Detroit, has hit the ground running during his first two years in Philly. This season, he was a Pro Bowl selection (the fourth of his career). He led the league in defensive yards with 116 and tied for the lead in defensive touchdowns with two. Slay is 31 but still seems to be in his prime. If he can stay healthy into his mid-30’s, he could crack the top 10.
Brandon Graham has quietly put together a highly productive 12-year career in Philadelphia. He was a vital member of the 2017 season Super Bowl-winning squad. He made a Pro Bowl in 2020, but his 2021 season was tragically cut short due to injuries. At 33 years old, does he have enough left in the tank to bounce back, have a few more productive seasons, and work his way into the top 10?
More to come from Philly.