As we get ready for Super Bowl 56, who would you take? Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey, or Trey Hendrickson, Logan Wilson, and Chidobe Awuzie? What if you had the best players and units in Super Bowl history to choose from? Well, that’s exactly what the challenge is here.
The goal is to create the ultimate Super Bowl defensive unit with a $15 budget. Your team must consist of an edge rusher, defensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback, and safety. Check out the tiers below ($5, $4, $3, $2, $1) and mix and match to make the best offense possible without going over budget. Good luck!
And don’t forget to check out the Build Your Ultimate Super Bowl Offense here.
EDGE Lawrence Taylor — New York Giants
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, two wins
Lawrence Taylor was the most feared pass rusher in the NFL possibly ever. He didn’t compile a whole lot of flashy stats in the Super Bowl. But the fact that the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills had to spend so much time and energy scheming to stop LT was a big part of the New York Giants two Lombardi Trophy wins.
DL “Mean” Joe Greene — Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, four wins, two tackles, one INT, one fumble recovery
Steel Curtain linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham racked up the tackles in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four Super Bowl wins. And that was because “Mean” Joe Greene caused so much havoc up front. During the 16-6 slogfest of Super Bowl 9, Greene was a major difference-maker. He picked off Fran Tarkenton in the third quarter and recovered a fumble in the fourth to help secure the W.
LB Ray Lewis — Baltimore Ravens
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, two wins, 12 tackles, four passes defended
In 2001, Ray Lewis was the explosive young rookie who helped his Baltimore Ravens dominate the New York Giants 34-7. In 2012, he was the crafty veteran in his last game who helped steady his team’s nerves in a 34-31 nail-biter vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Either version of Lewis is one you’d be lucky to have in the middle of your Super Bowl defense.
CB Deion Sanders — San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, two wins, one catch, 47 yards, three tackles, one INT
The most amazing thing about Deion Sanders’ Super Bowl career is that the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys were the biggest rivals in the NFL in the ’90s, and “Prime Time” won a Lombardi Trophy with both. Each of his Big Games were cakewalks. Although to add to his resume, he did catch a huge pass on offense in 1995 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
S Ronnie Lott — San Francisco 49ers
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, four wins, nine tackles
Ronnie Lott was the enforcer on the San Francisco 49ers defense in the 80s and made WRs think twice about coming over the middle. In four Super Bowl wins, the Niners outscored their opponents 139-63. Lott was as big a factor on D in those Ws as Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were on the other side of the ball.
EDGE Charles Haley — San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
Stats: five Super Bowl appearances, five wins, 4.5 sacks, seven tackles
Like Deion Sanders, Haley switched sides in the defining NFC rivalry of the ’90s and seemed to swing the balance of power between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. He won two titles in the Bay Area before helping Troy Aikman and the crew in three in Big D. He made an impact in these games, too, sacking Boomer Esiason (twice), Jim Kelly (1.5 times), and Neil O’Donnell on his way to the second-most Super Bowl rings of all time.
DL Vince Wilfork — New England Patriots
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, two wins, 11 tackles
At 6-foot-2, 325-pounds with shocking athleticism, few DTs ever controlled the middle of the line like Vince Wilfork. In his first Super Bowl win over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, he helped hold the opposing team to just 45 yards rushing. Against the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, Wilfork lined up at Right End on the Malcolm Butler interception play and may have been part of the reason Pete Carroll decided to pass and not run.
LB Mike Singletary — Chicago Bears
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, one win, one tackle, two fumble recoveries
Mike Singletary was the tactical and emotional leader of the best defense of all time, the ’85 Bears D. That mid-80s unit only played in one Super Bowl, but it was a doozy. Mike Ditka’s squad completely dominated the New England Patriots, and Singletary recovering fumbles by Craig James and Derrick Ramsey is a big reason why. Plus, those wild eyes!
CB Mel Blount — Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, four wins, 10 tackles, two INTs, three kick returns, 64 yards
The Steel Curtain defense won four Super Bowls in the ‘70s thanks to contributions on all levels of the defense. Holding down the outside was Hall of Fame CB Mel Blount. He picked off Fran Tarkenton in ’74 and Roger Staubach in ’78. He even helped the offense out in ’75, averaging 21 yards on three kick returns.
S Rodney Harrison — San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, two wins, 34 tackles, two sacks, two INTs
The leading tackler in Super Bowl history isn’t a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker or a Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman. It’s San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. His second Big Game win vs. the Philadelphia Eagles was his best game. He chipped in 12 of his 34 career Super Bowl tackles, picked off Donovan McNabb twice, and sacked him once to help preserve a 24-21 Pats win.
EDGE L.C. Greenwood — Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: four Super Bowl appearances, four wins, 11 tackles, five sacks
The man on the left side of the Steel Curtain line next to “Mean” Joe Greene was 6-foot-6, 245-pound pass-rusher L.C. Greenwood. His four sacks of Roger Staubach in Super Bowl 10 is still the single-game record, and his five in total is the most in the history of the NFL. Lynn Swann was the MVP of that ’75 final game, but you can make an argument that Greenwood was co-MVP at least.
DL William “Refrigerator” Perry — Chicago Bears
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, one win, one tackle, one rush, one yard, one TD
William “Refrigerator” Perry is possibly the most famous member of the vaunted ’85 Chicago Bears defense and had one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever. He helped hold the New England Patriots to just seven total rushing yards and cleared the way for his teammates to get seven sacks on Steve Grogan and Tony Eason. He also put the cherry on top of the sundae, playing fullback and diving in for a one-yard score on the Bears’ final TD drive.
LB Rod Martin — Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, two wins, 10 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, three INTs
The Oakland/LA Raiders LB isn’t the most well-known name on this list, but he showed up huge in the Big Game. He had five tackles in each of his Super Bowl appearances. Martin also sacked and picked up a Joe Theismann fumble against Washington in ‘84. His biggest Big Game, though, was in ‘80 when he intercepted Ron Jaworski of the Philadelphia Eagles three times as the Raiders cruised to a 27-10 victory.
CB Darrell Green — Washington
Stats: three Super Bowl appearances, two wins, four tackles, one INT, two punt returns, 34 yards
The Washington Super Bowl offenses get most of the credit for the franchise’s trophies, but the defense was solid in the ‘80s and early ‘90s too. The D featured stars like Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Wilber Marshall, and, of course, Hall of Fame CB Darrell Green. In his two Big Game victories, Green helped hold John Elway and Jim Kelly under 300 yards passing and picked Kelly off in a decisive 37-24 Washington victory.
S Ed Reed — Baltimore Ravens
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, one win, five tackles, one INT, one pass defended
Baltimore Ravens defensive back Ed Reed only played in one Super Bowl, but as one of the best safeties of all time, he deserves inclusion on this list. He also had an excellent Super Bowl stat line in his sole appearance. He picked off Colin Kaepernick and stopped Randy Moss and Ted Ginn Jr. from getting over the top for a big TD. Along with Ray Lewis, Reed also steadied the defense to stop the 49ers on their final drive.
EDGE Justin Tuck — New York Giants
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, two wins, nine tackles, four sacks, five QB hits, one forced fumble
The two New York Giants teams that upset the New England Patriots in the ’07 and ’11 Super Bowls had two things in common. They both had Eli Manning to lead late, game-winning drives, and they both put tremendous heat on Tom Brady. The man who got to Brady the most was DE Justin Tuck. He had two sacks in each of his Big Game appearances and continuously made the greatest QB of all time uncomfortable, which was a huge key to victory. Tuck’s four sacks put him fourth on the all-time list after L.C. Greenwood, Charles Haley, and Willie Davis.
DL Chris Jones — Kansas City Chiefs
Stats: two Super Bowl appearances, one win, six tackles, three passes defended
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Chris Jones is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the game today. At just 27-years-old, he’s already played in two Super Bowls and has a Lombardi Trophy on his resume. Like many DTs, his stats don’t jump off the page. However, Jones controlling the line of scrimmage against the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 was a key to the game.
LB Bill Romanowski — San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders
Stats: five Super Bowl appearances, four wins, 14 tackles, one sack, one INT
It almost seems like teams that wanted to make the Super Bowl in the late ‘80s to early ‘00s only had to do one thing: Sign LB Bill Romanowski. His Big Game stats might not blow you away, but the fact that he competed for the Lombardi Trophy with three different organizations in his 16-year career is remarkable and speaks to both his talent and his leadership.
CB Chris McAlister — Baltimore Ravens
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, one win, one tackle, one pass defended, one INT
Technically, Chris McAlister has two Super Bowl rings. However, he didn’t suit up in the 2009 Big Game due to injury during his one season with the New Orleans Saints. So we won’t count that. When he got on the field in 2000 with the Baltimore Ravens, McAlister helped limit New York Giants QB Kerry Collins to just 112 yards passing and picked him off once.
S Rod Woodson — Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders
Stats: three Super Bowl appearances, one win, 14 tackles, one pass defended
Much like Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson’s leadership seemed to make the difference everywhere he went and, in Woodson’s case, whatever DB position he played. There is an interesting Woodson-related debate as to what the second-best defense in Super Bowl history is (after the ’85 Chicago Bears). Is it Woodson’s ‘00 Baltimore Ravens or the team Woodson’s Oakland Raiders lost to, the ’02 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
EDGE Von Miller — Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams*
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, one win, six tackles, two QB hits, 2.5 sacks, one pass defended, two forced fumbles*
Von Miller gave Cam Newton nightmares that he probably still has to this day in Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos. Now, he’s poised to possibly add more wins and more stats to his Big Game resume as the LA Rams face-off against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday (hence the asterisks). If Miller has another monster game and lifts another Lombardi Trophy, this might be the steal of the list.
DL Grady Jarrett — Atlanta Falcons
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, zero wins, five tackles, for QB hits, three sacks
At 28-3 in Super Bowl 51, it looked like the Atlanta Falcons were on their way to the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. If that had happened, DT Grady Jarrett was in the mix for the game’s MVP award. His three sacks on Tom Brady are (tied for) the second-highest total in Big Game history behind L.C. Greenwood. However, Brady had a different idea, and Jarrett will go down in history as a loser who played a great individual game.
LB Dan Morgan — Carolina Panthers
Stats: one Super Bowl appearance, zero wins, 18 tackles, for QB hits, three sacks
Let’s keep the great game but still lost to Tom Brady train going! Next up is Carolina Panthers LB Dan Morgan. The former Miami Hurricane had an incredible game in 2003. He was a one-man wrecking crew, racking up the most tackles in a single Super Bowl with 18. However, — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — Brady had a different idea, and Morgan will go down in history as a loser who played a great individual game.
CB Larry Brown — Dallas Cowboys
Stats: three Super Bowl appearances, three wins, one Super Bowl MVP, two tackles, three INTs
Many consider Larry Brown the worst Super Bowl MVP of all time. But guess what? Even if that’s true, that only makes him worse than a small handful of guys and better than the thousands of NFL players who’ve never won the award. His two INTs against the Steelers in ’95 was a fantastic performance, but it’s not like he was a dog in his other Big Game action. He picked off Jim Kelly in ’92, so Brown is officially a big-time player in big spots.
S Steve Atwater — Denver Broncos
Stats: three Super Bowl appearances, two wins, 10 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble
Steve Atwater was the most feared (dirty?) safety of his era. Going over the middle with Atwater at the back was a bad idea for WRs in the ‘90s, and that led the Denver Broncos to reach three Super Bowls and win two. Atwater’s sack/fumble on Brett Favre in Super Bowl 32 helped give his team the lead going into halftime, and they never looked back.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference