Minnesota Vikings: Greatest All-Time Defense

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

From the Purple People Eaters to Purple Reign, the Minnesota Vikings have struck fear into opposing offenses for over 50 years. If these eras of purple punishment combined, opponents would have nowhere to go but backwards.

Part two of the Greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time focuses on the defense. The goal: assemble the scariest, most talented roster from Vikings history–a group that promises to make the crowd roar without allowing a score. Just like part one, this roster will be both awesome and arguable, and I await your comments (@eddiechisham).

Defensive line: Carl Eller, Alan Page, John Randle and Chris Doleman

This was by far the most difficult position group to select. Not going with the Purple People Eaters as a whole felt wrong. Not including a player from the modern era felt painful. Yet, here stands perhaps the best collection of defensive linemen the NFL will ever know.

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Carl Eller, one of the Purple People Eaters, simply out manned opposing left tackles for 15 seasons as a Viking. He tallied 130 career sacks in purple and was All-Pro five times. Eller led the charge in four Minnesota Vikings campaigns that led to Super Bowl appearances, and hardly ever missed a start throughout his career.

Little known fact about Alan Page: he blocked 28 punts and kicks in his career–as an interior lineman. Forget just making this list, Page ought to be considered for the greatest Minnesota Vikings player of all time. With 148 career sacks (as an interior lineman–I can’t stress that enough), four Super Bowl appearances, and four defensive player of the year honors, Page was one of the most impactful players of the era. Page’s most ridiculous accomplishment was earning MVP in 1971 as a defensive player.

John Randle came into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent from a small Division II school. All he did from there was become the emotional leader of the Vikings, and a fierce pass rusher from the inside of the line. Randle led the Vikings in sacks in nine of his 11 seasons, and strung together eight seasons in a row with over 10 sacks. By the time Randle was finished, he had 114 career sacks, made six straight pro bowls as a starter and made the NFL team of the decade in the ’90s.

Chris Doleman tallied 45 forced fumbles in his career. Doleman’s 150 career sacks gave him All-Pro honors three times, earning his place on the ’90s team of the decade. Doleman is the perfect cap stone of this four-piece pass rushing nightmare. This group all brings individual strengths that mesh perfectly together for an unstoppable force that extends to special teams as well.

Honorable mentions: Jim Marshall, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams 

Linebackers: Matt Blair, Scott Studwell and Anthony Barr

Matt Blair leads all Minnesota Vikings linebackers with 16 career interceptions from the outside linebacker spot. Blair played his entire career with the Vikings and helped earn trips to two Super Bowls. Blair had a hot streak in his career from 1977 to 1982, making six consecutive pro bowls. Blair’s most valuable trait was his ability to cover tight ends and running backs in passing situations.

Scott Studwell was a ninth round draft choice in 1977, and dominated throughout his career, playing all of it in Minnesota. Studwell didn’t receive many accolades for his play, but the tape suggests that was a mistake. Studwell showed an elite football mind, dissecting offenses by diagnosing plays early. In the run, Studwell was the first body to the hole. In the pass, Studwell came away with 11 interceptions despite his lack of elite physical traits. Studwell was often in the right place at the right time, and that was no accident.

Here’s where it gets arguable. It’s early, but I am creating the best team possible, and Anthony Barr’s traits fit perfectly with this defense. Of course there was a number of other players considered, but no one popped on the film quite like Barr. Anthony Barr converted to linebacker late in his college career from running back, and has quickly become a top-tier 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. He is an elite football mind, he is elite in pass protection and he has a tendency to knock players into their seats. I couldn’t justify keeping Barr off the list just due to the rich history of other players.

This linebacker corps covers all the bases: they are elite in coverage and stopping the run. Most of all, these three linebackers work well together because of their game intelligence. If anyone can get past that nasty defensive line, they won’t get much farther.

Honorable mentions: Roy Winston, Wally Hilgenberg and Chad Greenway

Secondary: Antoine Winfield, Joey Browner, Paul Krause and Bobby Bryant

In his athletic prime, Antoine Winfield was an excellent corner in coverage and had a keen ability to press wide receivers at the line. As he got older, Winfield became the best tackling corner back in the NFL, and was stout against the run. In this defense, based heavily off pass rush, intelligent corners with good press ability will wipe out quick passes and stop outside runs–Winfield fits that description.

Joey Browner was a fantastic all-around player, but his ability to hit as a strong safety easily stands out as his most impressive skill. Browner forced 18 fumbles over his career and recovered 16 of them. To shed light on his all-around game, Browner led the Vikings in nine defensive categories during his career. Browner made quick reads and accelerated downfield quickly. Few players wanted to continue playing after taking a Browner hit.

Paul Krause was the original ball hawk of the Minnesota Vikings. He isn’t just an all-time Vikings player, he is an all-time NFL player. Krause still holds the all time interceptions record in the NFL with 81. That record has lasted over 37 years. Krause was named All-NFL four times, started in four Super Bowls and has a Minnesota Vikings record with 10 interceptions in a year. When the opposing quarterback inevitably has to get the ball out early, Krause will be there for the interception.

Next: Minnesota Vikings: Greatest All-Time Offense

Bobby Bryant played corner back in all four Super Bowls for the Minnesota Vikings. He had 51 interceptions in 13 years and had four defensive touchdowns. Need I say more? Bryant was also an excellent special teams player, making him even more of a threat after an interception. Bryant always excelled in coverage, and his tape shows his incredible knack for reading the eyes of the quarterback, even while matching receivers step for step.

Honorable mention: Carl Lee