10 Best Chicago Bears Defensive Players of All Time

Eric Dockett

best-chicago-bears-defensive-players-all-time
Richard Dent, Dick Butkus and Dan Hampton are Hall of Famers and three of the greatest Bears defensive players of all time.© Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

If you love football, it is tough not to love the Chicago Bears. They are a storied franchise packed with legendary players and personalities who have made pro football what it is today. The organization dates back to 1920 and the dawn of the NFL. NFL players have done some incredible things in the past 100 years, and many of them did so while wearing a Bears jersey.

This is a team with a history of toughness. During their best years, the Bears dominated and bullied opponents with powerful defenses. Names like Butkus, Singletary and Atkins are highly revered in the football world. They were all Bears, and they are all in the Hall of Fame.

For many football fans, the Bears symbolize what football is all about. Although, if you are a Lions, Vikings or Packers fan, it is forgivable if you feel differently.

In this article, I will attempt to choose the top defensive players of all time, but it is unlikely that you will agree with all of my choices10 spots just arent enough.

When evaluating a player I will consider:

  • All-Pro nominations
  • Pro Bowls
  • Super Bowl and NFL championships
  • Dominance in the era when they played
  • Overall value to the Bears organization during their playing time
  • Hall of Fame credentials

Here are the 10 greatest defensive players in the history of the Chicago Bears.

10. Ed Sprinkle (19441955)

At only 206 pounds, Sprinkle wasnt the kind of player modern fans would think of as a dangerous edge rusher. But as a defensive end, he was among the most feared players of his generation and is known as one of the NFLs hardest hitters.

Chicago only had three losing records during Sprinkles 12 years with the team, and they even won an NFL championship in 1946. He intercepted four passes and recovered 12 fumbles on defense, but he played when the NFL didnt keep official numbers on quarterback sacks. On the offensive side of the ball, he caught 32 passes for 451 yards and seven touchdowns.

Sprinkle made four Pro Bowls during his career. The NFL posthumously welcomed him into the Hall of Fame with the expanded class of 2020.

Position: Defensive End

Jersey Number: 7

Years With Bears: 12

Accolades With Bears

  • Four Pro Bowls
  • NFL champion, 1946
  • Hall of Fame, 2020

Stats With Bears

  • 132 games
  • Four interceptions for 55 yards
  • 12 fumbles recovered, two touchdowns

9. Dan Hampton (19791990)

Hampton was a powerful defensive end who helped Chicago win a Super Bowl after the 1985 season. Along with fellow defensive linemen Richard Dent, Steve McMichael and William Perry, he formed the core of Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryans famed 46 Defense.

The Bears' 85 defensive unit ranked first in the league while giving up only 12.4 points per game. It has gone down in history as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

In 12 seasons, Hampton made four Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. His 57 sacks rank him third all-time in Bears history. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2002.

Position: Defensive End

Jersey Number: 99

Years With Bears: 12

Accolades With Bears

  • One All-Pro Team
  • Four Pro Bowls
  • Super Bowl champion, 1985
  • Hall of Fame, 2002

Stats With Bears

  • 157 games
  • 57 sacks
  • 10 fumbles recovered, one touchdown

8. George Connor (19481955)

Connor made All-NFL at offensive tackle, defensive tackle and linebacker during his eight-year career. Connor was already formidable at both offensive and defensive tackle when the Bears tried him at linebacker in a game against the Eagles.

Philadelphia had been killing Chicago with the same sweep all game, and Chicago's coaching staff reasoned that a big, agile player like Connor might be able to disrupt the play. The move worked, and the Bears won the game.

Connor made All-NFL at offensive tackle, defensive tackle and linebacker during his eight-year career. He made both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters four straight years, from 1950 to 1953. Connor was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the class of 1975.

Position: Linebacker, Defensive Tackle

Jersey Numbers: 81, 71

Years With Bears: Eight

Accolades With Bears

  • Four All-Pro Teams
  • Four Pro Bowls
  • Hall of Fame, 1975

Stats With Bears

  • 91 games
  • Seven interceptions for 66 yards
  • 10 fumbles recovered, one touchdown

7. Richard Dent (19831993, 1995)

Dent played alongside defensive linemen Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael for most of his career, and all three are Bears legends. They were ferocious pass rushers, and in 1985, they were key players on one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

Dent is the all-time franchise leader for sacks, with 124.5. He made four Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team and won the Super Bowl as part of the 85 Bears.

After 11 years in Chicago, he signed with the 49ers for the 1994 season. Even though injuries kept him off the field for most of the year, he collected another Super Bowl ring with San Francisco before returning to Chicago for the 1995 season.
Dent was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2011.

Position: Defensive End

Jersey Number: 95

Years With Bears: 12

Accolades With Bears

  • One All-Pro Team
  • Four Pro Bowls
  • Super Bowl champion, 1985
  • Hall of Fame, 2011

Stats With Bears

  • 170 games
  • 124.5 sacks
  • Eight interceptions for 89 yards and one touchdown
  • 13 fumbles recovered, one touchdown
best-chicago-bears-defensive-players-all-time
Brain Urlacher is one of the greatest Bears linebackers of all time.© Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

6. Brian Urlacher (20002012)

With his incredible combination of size and speed, Urlacher was the prototypical middle linebacker for the new millennium. He made an immediate impact as a rookie when he not only earned a starting spot, but he also made his first Pro Bowl and garnered the Defensive Rookie of the Year honor.

Urlacher made eight All-Pro teams and eight Pro Bowls during his career, and he earned Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He helped lead the team to an NFC championship in 2006, though they lost Super Bowl XLI to the high-powered Colts team.

Urlacher followed Bears middle linebackers Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, to the Hall of Fame. He was inducted with the Class of 2018 and is now considered one of the greatest linebackers in Bears history.

Position: Linebacker

Jersey Number: 54

Years With Bears: 13

Accolades With Bears

  • Four All-Pro Teams
  • Eight Pro Bowls
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2000
  • Defensive Player of the Year, 2005
  • Hall of Fame, 2018

Stats With Bears

  • 182 games
  • 41.5 sacks
  • 22 interceptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns
  • 15 fumbles recovered

5. Clyde Turner (19401952)

Bulldog Turner was a two-way player and an outstanding center on the offensive side of the ball. On defense, he served as an intimidating linebacker.

He played during a time when the Bears routinely demolished whatever hapless team the NFL schedule had lined up for them. Chicago appeared in five NFL championship games during his 13-year career and won four of them.

Turner made four Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro rosters during his 138 games as a Bear. He intercepted 17 passes, recovered five fumbles and scored three defensive touchdowns.

He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the Class of 1966.

Position: Linebacker

Jersey Number: 66

Years With Bears: 13

Accolades With Bears

  • Four All-Pro Teams
  • Seven Pro Bowls
  • Four-Time NFL champion (1940, 1941, 1943, 1946)
  • Hall of Fame, 1966

Stats With Bears

  • 138 games
  • 17 interceptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns
  • Five fumbles recovered, one touchdown

4. Bill George (19521965)

George was one of the first great middle linebackers in the NFL. He began his career as a middle guard in a 5-2 defense, but made the shift to linebacker after realizing he could get back into pass coverage faster if he started the play on his feet. This led to the evolution of the modern 4-3 defense.

He made the Pro Bowl every season from 1954 to 1961 and was named All-Pro eight times. Over 14 seasons as a Bear, he appeared in 159 games. George and the Bears won an NFL championship in 1963.

Interestingly, the Bears occasionally called George into duty as a kicker. In 1954, he kicked four field goals and converted on 13 of 14 extra-point attempts.

George entered the Hall of Fame with the Class of 1974.

Position: Linebacker, Middle Guard

Jersey Number: 61

Years With Bears: 14

Accolades With Bears

  • Eight All-Pro Teams
  • Eight Pro Bowls
  • Hall of Fame, 1974

Stats With Bears

  • 119 games
  • 22 interceptions for 166 yards

3. Mike Singletary (19811992)

Singletary was among the best middle linebackers ever to play the game. In 1985, he helped lead the Bears to a 151 record and crush the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

In many ways, the smart, intense and calculating Singletary marks the delineation between the blood-and-guts linebackers of the past and the cerebral players of today. But make no mistake; he was also one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, and he held down the middle of the field with tremendous tenacity.

Singletary spent 12 years as a Bear. He earned the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award twice, made 10 Pro Bowls and was voted to seven All-Pro rosters. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with the Class of 1988.

Position: Linebacker

Jersey Number: 50

Years With Bears: 12

Accolades With Bears

  • Seven All-Pro Teams
  • 10 Pro Bowls
  • Super Bowl champion, 1985
  • Defensive Player of the Year, 1985
  • Defensive Player of the Year, 1988
  • Hall of Fame, 1998

Stats With Bears

  • 179 games
  • 19 sacks
  • Seven interceptions for 44 yards
  • 12 fumbles recovered

2. Doug Atkins (19551966)

Atkins was one of the most feared pass rushers in the league during his time with the Bears. He played before quarterback sacks were an official statistic, but Atkins himself estimated he may have had as many as 25 during his best seasons. When watching films of him in action, it is easy to believe that this wasnt an exaggeration. At 6'8", he towered over most opponents and was simply unblockable at times. Some players of his era regarded him as the strongest man in the NFL.

Atkins played for 12 seasons in Chicago, during which he started 129 games while making eight Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the class of 1982.

Position: Defensive End

Jersey Number: 81

Years With Bears: 12

Accolades With Bears

  • One All-Pro Team
  • Eight Pro Bowls
  • Hall of Fame, 1982
  • NFL champion, 1963

Stats With Bears

  • 146 games
  • Three interceptions for three yards
  • Nine fumbles recovered

1. Dick Butkus (19651973)

If there is one man who personifies the ideal Bears defensive player, it is Dick Butkus. He played in an era of great middle linebackers like Ray Nitschke, Mike Curtis and Willie Lanier, but he stood above them all.

He was bigat almost 250 poundsand faster than a man his size should be. For nine seasons, he haunted the dreams of opposing offensive players on Saturday nights and turned their Sunday afternoons into nightmares.

Butkus started in 119 games during his career. He made five All-Pro teams and made the Pro Bowl every year but his last, when he started only nine games because of injury.

Today, many regard him as the greatest middle linebacker of all time. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the Class of 1979.

Position: Linebacker

Jersey Number: 51

Years With Bears: Nine

Accolades With Bears

  • Five All-Pro Teams
  • Eight Pro Bowls
  • Hall of Fame, 1979

Stats With Bears

  • 119 games
  • 22 interceptions for 166 yards
best-chicago-bears-defensive-players-all-time
Bill George (61) and Doug Atkins (81) pursue Packers halfback Paul Hornung.© Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Honorable Mentions

It hurts to keep these guys off the main list. Theyre some of the greatest Bears in the franchise's history, but with only 10 spots, I had to make some tough choices. You can think of them as honorable mentions, or you can think of them as among the top 15 Bears defensive players of all time.

Gary Fencik (19761987)

Fencik was a tough safety who holds the franchise record for career interceptions. He made two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro roster in his 12-year career, and he was a starter on the famed 85 Bears defense that helped bring a Lombardi Trophy to Chicago.

Steve McMichael (19811993)

McMichael was another key player on the 85 Bears. He spent 13 years in Chicago during which he made two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.

Joe Fortunato (19551966)

Many Bears fans consider Fortunato to be one of the franchises biggest Hall of Fame snubs. He played alongside Bill George and Larry Morris in a group of linebackers that helped bring an NFL championship to Chicago in 1963.

Richie Petitbon (1959968)

Petitbon played 10 years in Chicago and his 37 interceptions rank him second in franchise history. He made one All-Pro roster and four Pro Bowls in his career and helped the Bears win a championship in 1963.

Lance Briggs (20032014)

Briggs played 12 seasons in Chicago and made seven straight Pro Bowls and one All-Pro roster. He and the Bears won an NFC championship in 2006.

Who Is the Best Bears Defensive Player of All Time?

Dick Butkus was the greatest Bears defensive player in the franchise's history. He is one of the greatest NFL players of all time as well, and was an absolute force of nature at middle linebacker. Butkus never won a championship, and because he played for fewer seasons, he doesnt have the accolades of some other players on this list. But, its hard to imagine opposing offensive players fearing any other Bear like they did Butkus.

Writing this article required making some tough decisions. I could stare at the names for days and always find reasons to rearrange them. Ultimately, a players dominance during their era factored heavily into my choices.

You may be asking, "What about McMichael, Fencik and Fortunato as honorable mentions?" And in response, I cant say I feel good about not including them in the top 10. They have to be part of any conversation about the greatest Bears defensive players, but if I put them in the top 10, who would I bump?

This is what you call a conundrum. However, if you are a Bears fan, it is a good conundrum to have. Your team has fielded some of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. Over the decades, theyve brought championships to Chicago and helped define pro football.

THANKS FOR READING BEAR DIGEST
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