The 10 best defensive linemen in the history of the Cleveland Browns

Who are the best 10 defensive linemen to play for the Cleveland Browns?
Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Football in northeast Ohio has a certain prestige about it. Despite the NFL becoming a pass-happy league, there's still a blue collar feel about the Cleveland Browns. Their best seasons have historically been led by a strong ground game and a defense that leaves opposing teams longing for a return home.

In 2023, the defense was one of the more dominant units in the league. Cleveland went 11-6 despite losing several star players, and that was thanks to a defense led by defensive end Myles Garrett. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz helped him and everyone else reach another level, which is how he took home the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

As much praise as Garrett gets, he's far from the only defensive lineman to win this fan base over. With that in mind, let's look over Cleveland's history and identify the 10 best D-linemen to wear the orange and brown.

Criteria for selection

  • Statistical achievements/team records
  • Impact on success
  • Longevity
  • Individual awards

The top 10 defensive linemen in Cleveland Browns history

10. Reggie Camp

Tenure with the Browns: 1983-87
Key stats in Cleveland: 35 sacks, previous single-season record-holder (14.0)

Reggie Camp had a quick start to his career but then saw it end just as quickly as injuries started to pile up.

Standing 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds, Camp was a third-round pick out of Cal in 1983 and started from the moment he arrived in Cleveland. He recorded 4.5 sacks as a rookie, but then the light bulb went off during his second season.

That year, he recorded a career-high 14 sacks, which was also a franchise record that stood until Myles Garrett racked up 16 in 2021. Hopes were high that he could build upon that success, and while he remained a starter for the next few seasons, he never replicated his sophomore campaign.

That doesn't mean he wasn't good, but rather that he just never hit double-digit sacks again. Camp had 8.5 sacks in 1985 followed by seven in 1986. Then in 1987, injuries forced him out of 10 games. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 1988 and played just four more games before calling it a career. Despite his short tenure, his 35 sacks still have him 11th in franchise history.

9. Anthony Pleasant

Tenure with the Browns: 1990-95
Key stats in Cleveland: 297 tackles, 33.5 sacks

Taken at No. 73 overall in 1990, Anthony Pleasant developed into a long-term starter in the NFL. Coming out of Tennessee State, he began as a rotational pass-rusher for the Browns before moving into the starting lineup in 1992 and never looking back.

In six seasons, he had 33.5 sacks with his best campaign coming in 1993. That year, he had 66 tackles and 11 sacks, which were both career highs. He moved with the franchise when it broke the hearts of Browns fans everywhere and became the Baltimore Ravens.

Pleasant spent just one season with the Ravens and then played for several franchises over the next seven seasons. He ended his career with the New England Patriots, playing for Bill Belichick, who was his coach in Cleveland from 1991 through 1995. Pleasant won a Super Bowl in 2001 while playing with the Patriots.

8. Bob Gain

Tenure with the Browns: 1952-64
Key stats in Cleveland: 3-time NFL Champion, 5-time Pro Bowler

Though uncommon today, players used to line up on both sides of the line of scrimmage more frequently. Travis Hunter, who played cornerback and wide receiver for Colorado, is an anomaly in the modern era (as was his head coach, Deion Sanders, who did the same thing in the NFL), but players in the 1950s did this often.

Bob Gain is one example as he played on the on the offensive and defensive line for the Kentucky Wildcats. He was then selected fifth overall by the Browns in 1951 but headed to the CFL for one season. After a year with the Ottawa Rough Riders, Gain played one year in the NFL before heading to the Korean War with the U.S. Air Force.

He returned to the Browns and played primarily on the defensive line until 1964. Gain had spot duty on the O-line but was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-time All-Pro as a defender.

7. Paul Wiggin

Tenure with the Browns: 1956-67
Key stats in Cleveland: 60.5 sacks (unofficial stats), 19 fumble recoveries

Paul Wiggin was a 6-foot-3, 242-pound defensive end from Stanford, the 73rd overall selection in the 1956 NFL Draft. He didn't play in his rookie season but was a fixture on the Cleveland defensive line for the following 11 years. The Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship, and Wiggin was a key member of the victory. He helped lead the way as the Baltimore Colts were held scoreless in a 27-0 contest.

While sacks weren't an official stat until over a decade after he retired, he unofficially had 60.5 from 1960 through 1967. The most he was credited with during a single season was nine, which he recorded in 1960. Three other times he had at least eight and never put up fewer than six during the seasons in which the number is available.

Wiggin was named to the Pro Bowl twice during his playing career and then turned to coaching as soon as he retired. He was the defensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 1968 through 1974 and then took a head coaching job with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1975 through 1977. He also returned to Stanford as the head coach for four seasons (1980-1983).

6. Len Ford

Tenure with the Browns: 1950-57
Key stats in Cleveland: 4-Time First-Team All-Pro

Another two-way player, Len Ford played wide receiver for the Los Angeles Dons of the AAFC and had 595 yards and seven touchdowns in 1948. He then put up another 577 yards in 1949 while scoring one touchdown.

In 1950, the AAFC was disbanded, and while the Cleveland Browns were brought into the NFL, the Dons ceased to exist. Players from their roster — as well as the other AAFC teams that weren't retained — went into the AAFC Dispersal Draft. Ford was selected by Cleveland, and head coach Paul Brown converted him to a defensive lineman.

Known for his technical ability, Ford kept offensive linemen off-guard with a multitude of pass-rush moves. His leadership helped the Cleveland defense lead the way to three NFL Championships. A four-time All-Pro, Ford was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

5. Walter Johnson

Tenure with the Browns: 1965-76
Key stats in Cleveland: 66 career sacks (unofficial stat), 11 fumble recoveries

A professional wrestler in addition to a football star, Walter Johnson was a second-round pick in 1965 after playing collegiately at New Mexico State and Los Angeles State.

He played for the Browns for 12 seasons and made the Pro Bowl three times in that span. His best campaign came in 1972 when he recorded a career-high eight sacks and finished ninth in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.

In 168 games in Cleveland (152 starts), Johnson had an unofficial total of 68 sacks with 11 fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. His final season in the league was in 1977, which he spent with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Johnson continued to wrestle until 1984 and was a one-time NWA Americas Heavyweight Champion. He spent time with New Japan Pro Wrestling, as well. His athleticism continued through the generations as he had a son, Josh Johnson, who played collegiate football, and a grandson, Isaiah Johnson, who played basketball at Akron.

4. Jerry Sherk

Tenure with the Browns: 1970-81
Key stats in Cleveland: 70.5 sacks (*unofficial stat), 10 fumble recoveries, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1976)

The Kardiac Kids gave the Browns their best chance at winning a Lombardi Trophy. They were known for their ability to come from behind to win, and while Brian Sipe was the one who won a league MVP Award and often gets recognized, it was the defense that kept them in games.

One of the biggest stars during the late 1970s was Jerry Sherk. A second-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 1970, Sherk spent 12 years in Cleveland. At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, he wasn't the biggest defensive tackle but still wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.

Sherk finished with 70.5 sacks (an unofficial total) and topped double digits four times. He was named to the Pro Bowl in four consecutive seasons, from 1973 through 1976. He was even named to the All-Pro First Team in 1976.

In 1979, Sherk suffered a freak accident when bacteria from the field in Philadelphia led to a staph infection. He missed six games that year and 15 in 1980 after nearly dying from the infection. He returned for one final season and served as a designated pass-rusher. He ended his tenure with 864 tackles, 70.5 sacks, three interceptions, and six blocked kicks.

3. Bill Glass

Tenure with the Browns: 1962-68
Key stats in Cleveland: 77.5 sacks (unofficial stat)

Bill Glass had a reach that went far beyond the football field. Borin in Texarkana, Texas, he was a star at Baylor and was selected 12th overall in the 1957 NFL Draft. Before taking the field for the NFL, however, he went north to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After one season in the CFL, he joined the Detroit Lions for four seasons (from 1958 through 1961).

Glass was traded to the Browns along with quarterback Jim Ninowski and running back Howard "Hopalong" Cassady in 1962. Quarterback Milt Plum was the main piece for Detroit, but it also landed running back Tom Watkins and linebacker Dave Lloyd.

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound defensive end spent the following seven seasons playing for Cleveland and made the Pro Bowl four times during that span. He also helped lead the Browns to a title following the 1964 season.

While unofficial, he has 77.5 sacks in 94 games with Cleveland. He was said to have recorded 16.5 in 1965, which would be the team record if official.

Must Read: Myles Garrett is still chasing down the Browns' unofficial sack record-holder

After his playing days were done, Glass worked with Reverend Billy Graham and began a prison ministry. He's also a published author with several works, including Get in the Game!, which is his life story.

2. Michael Dean Perry

Tenure with the Browns: 1988-94
Key stats in Cleveland: 51.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 1 McDonald's burger named in his honor

The younger brother of William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Michael Dean Perry was a second-round pick out of Clemsion in 1988. He didn't have as cool a nickname as his brother and never got to run for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, but MDP was a star in his own right.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, he was a pass-rushing interior lineman who recorded six sacks as a rookie and another seven in 1989. He posted a career-high 11.5 sacks in 1990 while also recording an incredible 107 tackles. During that span, he was named to the Pro Bowl three times in a row and wound up making it five times during his seven seasons in Cleveland.

He was also on of the more popular players on the team during the early '90s, something McDonald's was able to cash in on. They named a burger after him, calling it the "MDP." Available only in the metro Cleveland area, it was basically a triple cheeseburger with bacon. What was most impressive, however, was that you could get such a burger for just $1.99.

Following his time with the Browns, Perry signed with the Denver Broncos, playing 38 games with them. His final season came in 1997 when he split time with the Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.

1. Myles Garrett

Tenure with the Browns: 2017-present
Key stats in Cleveland: Franchise career sack leader (88.5), single-season franchise sack record (16.0, twice), 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

No one who has ever suited up for the Cleveland Browns defense has been as good as Myles Garrett. In fact, he's been so productive that he could find his name mentioned among the best to ever wear the uniform on either side of the ball.

Selected first overall out of Texas A&M in 2017, Garrett joined a team that was 1-15 the year prior. Its struggles continued during his rookie campaign as it went 0-16. Despite all the woes, Garrett remained optimistic the franchise could turn things around, and it's done exactly that.

Cleveland has made the postseason twice over the past four seasons, and the defense has been a key reason for that. That was especially true in 2023 as the Browns started five different quarterbacks but still won 11 games thanks to the No. 1 defense in terms of yardage. The Browns surrendered just 4,593 yards and had one shutout and two games in which the offense was held to three points.

Garrett led the way and was named the 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. That was yet another impressive accolade for the defensive end who already has the Browns' official record for the most sacks in a single season, as well as all time. He enters his eighth season in the league with 305 tackles, 88.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, and 16 pass defenses.

At 28 years old, Garrett is still in his prime and could wind up putting up some career numbers that no one will ever be able to catch.

The 5 best defensive linemen in Cleveland Browns history by sacks


Years with Browns


Myles Garrett



Bill Glass



Clay Matthews, Jr.



Jerry Sherk



Walter Johnson



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