The NFL’s 10 Greatest Players of All ­Time

4. Lawrence Taylor, linebacker

Lawrence Taylor sacking an opponent

Lawrence Taylor mid-sack | Mark D. Phillips/AFP/Getty Images

At linebacker, Lawrence Taylor (pictured above, center) was the maddest of all mad men. Because of his pure explosiveness, Taylor was the game’s foremost defensive weapon. In the 3­-4 scheme, Taylor lined up all over the field to sell out his body, force turnovers, and destroy careers. Taylor was too fast for plodding tackles and too powerful for blocking backs to contain coming off the edge at the line of scrimmage. Within two counts, the quarterback would get decked and stripped of the football in one fell swoop. As a sack artist, Taylor compiled 132.5 quarterback sacks over his 13­-year career, which is still good for tenth all-time.

In coverage, Taylor could also drop back to man up against running backs into the flat. Playing with reckless abandon, Taylor appeared to hate all comers who wore opposing jerseys. Through pure intensity, L.T. altered offensive schemes. Today, we can actually credit a linebacker for the evolution of the H­-Back, single­back formations, double tight ends, and unbalanced lines. These offensive packages largely trace their roots back to Joe Gibbs and his gimmick formations, designed to contain No. 56.

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