If there was one player that was the embodiment of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s, it would undoubtedly be Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood.
The former Florida Gator was selected with the 20th overall pick by the Rams in the 1971 NFL Draft. His career started slowly after backing Deacon Jones in his first season, but he established himself when Jones suffered a severe sprained ankle in 1972. Youngblood stepped in and produced solid numbers (70 tackles and 6.5 sacks), despite splitting time with Fred Dryer.
The following year, Youngblood became the permanent starting left defensive end after Jones was traded to San Diego Chargers. This led to a breakout season with 16.5 sacks, which helped him earn his first of seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections.
Youngblood continued to be a dominant force for the following three seasons, totaling at least 14.5 sacks in each year. He also became part of the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” that headlined their top-ranked defense that was the team’s identity for nearly a decade.
Youngblood served as opposing quarterbacks’ worst nightmare. He finished with eight seasons of at least 10.5 sacks, including boasting a career-best 18 sacks in 1979. He was a five-time consensus All-Pro, played in five NFC Championship games and still holds the Rams’ record for most career sacks in the playoffs (8.5) and most playoff starts (17).
Although sacks didn’t become an official statistic until the 1982 season, Youngblood finished with 151.5, which would have placed him third all-time in NFL history. He was also a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1975, 1976), 1975 NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year (1975), and a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team.
That said, he was more than anything the definition of the NFL’s iron man as he played in a Rams’ record 201 consecutive games and only missed one game throughout his 14-year career. His only missed game came in his final season (1984), because of a ruptured disc in his lower back.
Youngblood’s toughness was clearly exemplified by his perseverance to play through a broken leg in the 1979 playoffs, during which he helped push the Rams to Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He suffered a broken left fibula in the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys, but he continued to play through the injury. Youngblood never missed a single down in the NFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl, and even the Pro Bowl.
All in all, Youngblood was the epitome of what an NFL defensive player has become today and was one of the greatest to play in the NFL.