Although Reggie White might be the best and most complete defensive end in the history of the NFL, choosing between him and Willie Davis to top the list of best-ever Packers defensive ends is no easy call.
White played six of his 17 pro seasons in Green Bay, whereas Davis played 10 of his 12.
Davis was a five-time Associated Press All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowl pick. White was selected to the Pro Bowl following each of his six seasons with the Packers, but was named AP All-Pro just twice.
White joined the Packers when he was 32 years old. Davis was 26 and in the prime of his career after two years in Cleveland, where Paul Brown couldn’t decide if he was an offensive tackle or a defensive end.
Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981; White in 2006.
Current players were not considered for the list.
1. Reggie White (1993-98) – In truth, White might have played his best football during his two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League and eight years with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was still a dominating player in his 30s, even if he did pick his spots at times. Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams, perhaps among others, might have been a better pass rusher. Other great defensive ends have perhaps played the run just as well. But, arguably, no defensive end ever matched White’s combination of size and strength vs. the run and explosiveness as a pass rusher. He was the anchor of a Super Bowl-winning defense and one that finished in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed five times in his six seasons.
2. Willie Davis (1960-69) – Davis played before sacks were officially recorded as a statistic, but John Turney of the Pro Football Researchers Association credits him with somewhere between 99 and 140 during his decade in Green Bay based on available game film and incomplete play-by-plays. Davis also unofficially had five sacks in the first two Super Bowls, including three in Super Bowl II. The five would still be the Super Bowl career record and the three would tie him with White and two others for most in one Super Bowl. Davis and tackle Henry Jordan were essentially the designated pass rushers on the Vince Lombardi teams that won five NFL championships during the 1960s, including an unprecedented three straight under the NFL’s playoff system. Like White, Davis played on the left side, had a strong upper body and was stout against the run.
3. Lavvie Dilweg (1927-34) – Some pro football historians believe Dilweg’s exclusion is one of the biggest injustices in the history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting. Dilweg was a two-way end on seven-man lines, but stood out more on defense. Before the NFL kept almost any stats, Dilweg was unofficially credited with 27 interceptions, second most of any player in the league’s first 20 years. But the strongest part of his game was his sure tackling against the run and on punt coverage, which was one of the most important phases of the game back then. Dilweg played eight seasons in Green Bay and was a consensus all-pro five times and a second-team choice in two other seasons. When the Packers won three straight NFL titles from 1929-31, only Mike Michalske was named to as many all-pro teams as Dilweg. “Give (Dilweg) today’s Super Bowl hype and they’d chisel his face on Mt. Rushmore,” Bob Carroll, late founder of the PFRA, once wrote.
4. Larry Craig (1939-49) – Craig is another player from the Curly Lambeau era that one could make a case for as a senior candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s what legendary quarterback Sammy Baugh said some 20 years after he retired: “Any time anybody asks me who gave me the most trouble when I was attempting to pass, I always say Larry Craig. We could never handle him consistently. We tried to keep our best blocker on him, but he still rushed me harder than anyone I ever played against.” That’s high praise coming from a player who was rated the 14th best of all NFL players in a poll conducted on behalf of the league in 2011. Nicknamed “Superman,” Craig was a chiseled 6-foot-1, 211-pounder who played before defensive stats were kept and had no niche on the 11-man all-pro teams of the day because he doubled as a blocking quarterback on offense who almost never passed or ran with the ball. But old-timers claimed he was one of the toughest Packers ever.
5. Ezra Johnson (1977-87) – He gets the nod over two more contemporary defensive ends, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman. Johnson played five seasons before sacks were tabulated or he’d have the most career sacks and most single-season sacks of any Packers defender since the Lombardi Era, which ended 49 years ago. Combining official and unofficial stats, Johnson had 85 career sacks, 10½ more than Gbaja-Biamilia, the record holder. Johnson also had 20½ sacks in 1978, his second season, one more than record-holder Tim Harris. Johnson wasn’t as stout against the run as Kampman, but not even White or Davis could run as fast. It also might have helped Johnson if the Packers had been in the vanguard of situation substitution in the late 1970s and early ‘80s instead of behind the eight-ball.