August 22, 2012

Best Defensive Ends in the NFL Entering 2012: The Top 15

#94 Justin Smith, DE, 49ers


The 2012 Preseason is on going, meaning the regular season is fast approaching. I've decided to rank the top 15 defensive ends entering the 2012 NFL based on a combination of factors such as production, talent, and overall skill set. 3-4 Outside Linebackers can line up as defensive ends at times, but only 4-3 and 3-4 Defensive Ends are included. In order to be considered a great defensive end, not only do you have to be a great pass rusher, but you have to be strong against the run.

Top 15 Entering the 2012 Season: Quarterbacks / Running Backs / Wide Receivers / Tight Ends / Defensive Ends / Defensive Tackles / Outside Linebackers



1. Justin Smith, San Fransisco 49ers
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 285 lbs.
Age: 32 | Experience: 12 Years


2011 Season Stats:
58 Tackles, 2 STF, 7.5 Sacks, 2 PBU, 3 Fumbles Forced, Fumble Recovered

Career Stats:
722 Tackles, 40 STF, 72.5 Sacks, 3 INT, 28 PBU, 13 Fumbles Forced, 8 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
14 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
3-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time First Team All-Pro Selection
1-Time Second Team All-Pro Selection












Analysis: Justin Smith is the most complete defensive end in the NFL. He usually never gets the credit and praise he deserves, but he is definitely one of the best defensive players in the league.

With one of the best motors you will see from a player, Smith is a disruptive force in the backfield. The ideal 3-4 defensive end, Smith can get up field, is excellent against the run, and is a complete pass rusher.

His combination of size, speed, strength, and versatility are what make him the best in the game today in my opinion. Feel free to disagree, but just look at the stats as well. The production is there, and he has been very consistent.

While he has never recorded double-digit sacks in a season, that isn't what a five technique defensive end is supposed to do; And the fact that he can still average about 7 sacks a game while creating opportunities for pass rushers like Aldon Smith, is a testament to his ability.





2. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 287 lbs.
Age: 32 | Experience: 11 Years


2011 Season Stats:
37 Tackles, 6 STF, 11.0 Sacks, 4 PBU, 3 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Career Stats:
473 Tackles, 42 STF, 100.0 Sacks, 8 INT, 57 PBU, 36 Fumbles Forced, 9 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
26 Tackles, 4 STF, 2.0 Sacks, INT, 4 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
2 Tackles

Career Accomplishments:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2002)
1-Time NFL Rookie of the Month (2002)
7-Time Pro Bowl Selection
5-Time All-Pro Selection
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Year
1-Time NFC Champion
4-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Month
4-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Week
NFL All-Decade Team (2000s)






Analysis: Still the prototypical defensive end by NFL standards, there aren't many players at his position better than Julius Peppers. The past few seasons, Peppers has picked up where he left off in Carolina.

Peppers has only recorded single-digit sacks in three out of his ten seasons. The 6'7", 287 lbs. Peppers is one of the most complete defensive ends in the game. He is a top notch pass rusher, very good run defender, and uses his length to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage.

The former basketball player is one of the elite athletes in the league, combined with his already impressive overall skill set, Peppers can be nearly unstoppable at times. His ability to draw double teams and still impact the stat sheets make him arguably the best in the game.





3. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 270 lbs.
Age: 30 | Experience: 9 Years


2011 Season Stats:
66 Tackles, 4 STF, 22.0 Sacks, INT, 3 PBU, 4 Fumbles Forced, 4 Fumbles Recovered

Career Stats:
457 Tackles, 53 STF, 105.0 Sacks, 5 INT, 42 PBU, 26 Fumbles Forced, 16 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
16 Tackles, 3 STF, 3.0 Sacks, 2 PBU, 2 Fumbles Forced

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
4-Time Pro Bowl Selection
4-Time All-Pro Selection
2-Time NFL Sacks Leader
2-Time NFC Sacks Leader
1-Time AFC Sacks Leader
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Year









Analysis: Jared Allen is coming off a monster 2011 season, which was arguably the best in NFL history. His 22 sacks last seasons is second all-time (.5 sack) behind Michael Strahan.

22 Sacks last season is just a confirmed example of why Allen is so good. He is one of the top 3 pass rushers in football. He is a complete pass rusher who can beat tackles with his speed, elite quickness, or pure strength.

Six out of his eight NFL seasons, Allen has recorded at least 11.0 sacks. In 2006, he "only" recorded 7.5 sacks, which shows how much off a monster he is coming off the edge.

A complete defensive end, was one of the only bright spots for a very bad Vikings team in 2011. His 2011 season will be difficult to match in terms of production, but expect him to have another very productive season.





4. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 278 lbs.
Age: 23 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
86 Tackles, 8 STF, 16.5 Sacks, 7 PBU, 2 Fumbles Forced

Career Stats:
116 Tackles, 10 STF, 21.0 Sacks, 13 PBU, 4 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
18 Tackles, 4 STF, 0.5 Sack, 4 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
2 Tackles, 1 STF, 2 PBU

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time First Team All-Pro Selection
1-Time Super Bowl Champion
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Month
2-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Week










Analysis: With just two NFL seasons under his belt, Jason Pierre-Paul proved to be the best defensive lineman for the New York Giants. It doesn't end there, and JPP could be the best defensive end in the league, and he will be if he isn't already.

To say the least, Jason Pierre-Paul is a physical freak. He has the ideal frame for a 4-3 defensive end, coupled with elite athleticism and length. With his limited football experience, expect him to continue to work on and polish his technique.

JPP has already established himself as a top pass rusher, standing out with 16.5 sacks last season. As more of a rotational player in 2010, he had 4.5 sacks as a rookie. Plus, he can impact the game in various ways.

As mentioned above, once his technique improves and he gains more valuable experience, JPP if not already, will be considered the best in the game.





5. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 300 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
72 Tackles, 7 STF, 8.0 Sacks, INT, 10 PBU, 2 Fumbles Forced, Fumble Recovered

Career Stats:
208 Tackles, 19 STF, 21.0 Sacks, INT, 18 PBU, 4 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
13 Tackles, 1 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
2 Tackles

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Many people don't know who Calais Campbell is. If this is the case, where have you been the last three seasons?

"Flying under the radar" in Arizona, Campbell is one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in football. His size, strength, quickness, and versatility make him such a threat on the defensive line.

After a pretty solid rookie season, The 6'8", 300 lbs. has recorded 17 Stuffs, 21 sacks, and has broken up 17 passes. The production is there, and at just 25 years old? Calais Campbell is arguably their best player on defense and is only going to get better.





6. Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 292 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 7 Years


2011 Season Stats:
11 Tackles, 0 STF, 5.0 Sacks, 1 PBU, Fumble Forced

Career Stats:
241 Tackles, 26 STF, 53.0 Sacks, 10 PBU, 11 Fumbles Forced, 3 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
Texans Single Season Sack Record (2007)












Analysis: "Super Mario" was off to a Pro Bowl type of start for the Texans in 2011. In his first and last season playing the 3-4 outside linebacker position, Williams had 5 sacks in five games before going down with injury.

Now back from injury and moving back to his natural 4-3 defensive end position for the Bills, expect Mario Williams to come back strong. The 2-Time Pro Bowler was a premier pass rusher in Houston, and was very productive.

This year, he should lead the Bills in sacks and should still be the disruptive force everyone expects him to be. He could easily be in the top five of this list.





7. Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 270 lbs.
Age: 29 | Experience: 8 Years


2011 Season Stats:
44 Tackles, 4 STF, 11.0 Sacks, 1 PBU, Fumble Forced

Career Stats:
421 Tackles, 42 STF, 68.0 Sacks, INT, 14 PBU, 12 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
42 Tackles, 5 STF, 1.5 Sacks, 1 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection
NFL All Rookie Team (2005)
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Week











Analysis: If you watched the Eagles last season, you may have noticed the 18 sack season by Jason Babin. That's great, but on the other side of him is a better player.

Trent Cole is one of the best speed rushers in the league, but can also use his strength to get to the quarterback. It isn't just is overall pass rushing ability, but his relentless motor that makes him such a threat in this area.

Compared to some of the players ranked above him, Cole hasn't necessarily had a "monster season," but his consistent production and his overall skill set make him one of the best in the league.





8. Jason Babin, Philadelphia Eagles
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 267 lbs.
Age: 32 | Experience: 9 Years


2011 Season Stats:
40 Tackles, 2 STF, 18.0 Sacks, 1 PBU, 3 Fumbles Forced

Career Stats:
270 Tackles, 21 STF, 48.0 Sacks, 8 PBU, 7 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
1 Tackle

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection













Analysis: Jason Babin caught everyone's attention when he had 18 sacks in 2011. That is no fluke, as he recorded 12.5 sacks the year before with the Titans.

If you added that up correctly, that is 30.5 sacks in the last two seasons for Babin. He is dangerously explosive off the snap and uses his speed to get around the edge.

In 2010, without any other legit pass rushers on the Titans' roster, Babin proved to be an elite pass rusher. His numbers went up, because he is that good, and when Trent Cole is on the other side, you have to account for him as well.

In order to move up the list in 2013, I would like to see Babin improve against the run (though he is definitely not a bad run defender) and put together another Pro Bowl caliber season in Philadelphia.





9. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 288 lbs.
Age: 23 | Experience: 2 Years


2011 Season Stats:
56 Tackles, 9 STF, 5.5 Sacks, 4 PBU, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Career Stats:
56 Tackles, 9 STF, 5.5 Sacks, 4 PBU, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
14 Tackles, 1 STF, 3.5 Sacks, INT, 1 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: J.J. Watt is a top 10 defensive end in the league. He is one of the top 3 3-4 defensive ends already, and will surely improve over time.

In just his first year in the league, the first round pick from Wisconsin made his presence felt. With 9 Stuffs and 5.5 sacks, Watt was exceptional in the regular season, but was even more impactful in last year's postseason.

He uses his strength to his advantage, and the scary part is, he could get even stronger. He is also really quick off the snap, and is a very good pass rusher as well as a great run defender.

As is the case with other players on this list, Watt will likely move into the top 5 in his position if he continues to improve and produce.





10. Justin Tuck, New York Giants
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 268 lbs.
Age: 29 | Experience: 8 Years


2011 Season Stats:
37 Tackles, 2 STF, 5.0 Sacks, 3 PBU, Fumble Forced

Career Stats:
345 Tackles, 38 STF, 45.5 Sacks, INT, 20 PBU, 18 Fumbles Forced, 6 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
32 Tackles, 6 STF, 5.5 Sacks, 1 PBU, Fumble Forced

Super Bowl Stats:
9 Tackles, 3 STF, 4.0 Sacks, Fumble Forced

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
2-Time Super Bowl Champion












Analysis: Another Giants defensive end in the top 10? Of course this won't surprise many, especially if you watched the Giants defense last season. Justin Tuck checks in a #10 on this list, and could definitely be higher.

Tuck missed four games last season, but he was still playing at a reasonably high level despite playing injured. Since 2007, Tuck has recorded 44.5 sacks 5 seasons. So when healthy, he is one of the top pass rushers in the league.

An elite athlete, Tuck is quick off the snap, and can beat opposing tackles with his speed or his strength. He is very versatile, as he can rush the passer from anywhere along the defensive line.

Hopefully Justin Tuck stays healthy this season, so he can prove that he is a top 6-8 defensive end. If he does that, he could move up the list by this time next year.





11. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 263 lbs.
Age: 34 | Experience: 13 Years


2011 Season Stats:
35 Tackles, 4 STF, 9.5 Sacks, 2 PBU, 4 Fumbles Forced, Fumble Recovered

Career Stats:
473 Tackles, 39 STF, 112.0 Sacks, INT, 18 PBU, 38 Fumbles Forced, 6 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
19 Tackles, 4 STF, 4.0 Sacks, 1 PBU

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
4-Time Pro Bowl Selection
3-Time All-Pro Selection
New York Jets All-Time Four Decade Team












Analysis: At 34 years old, John Abraham is still at the top of his game, as well as his position. 28 sacks in the last three seasons, Abraham has been just as good (maybe even better) in Atlanta as he was in New York (Jets)

While he has gotten older, Abraham hasn't noticeably lost a step. He is still a threat as a speed rusher, and might still have another double-digit sack season in him.

Of course he is not as high on this list because of his age, but Abraham is still a top pass rusher and will be until he retires. He doesn't have much pass rushing help in Atlanta, so you have to wonder how long he can do it by himself.





12. Chris Long, St. Louis Rams
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 270 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
37 Tackles, 2 STF, 13.0 Sacks, 2 PBU, Fumble Forced

Career Stats:
149 Tackles, 10 STF, 30.5 Sacks, 6 PBU, 6 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Alternate
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Week
NFL All-Rookie Team (2008)












Analysis: Chris Long had his best season in 2011. He followed up an impressive 2010 campaign with 13 sacks last season.

Long isn't a flashy pass rusher, but he just knows how to find the football. Even when he doesn't record sacks, he is still very disruptive in the backfield, which is just as important.

Expect Long's production to increase in the next few seasons, not only because he will continue to get better, but Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers should come along as pass rushers.





13. Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 260 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
36 Tackles, 2 STF, 11.0 Sacks, INT, 4 PBU, 6 Fumbles Forced, 3 Fumbles Recovered

Career Stats:
133 Tackles, 9 STF, 30.0 Sacks, INT, 12 PBU, 14 Fumbles Forced, 5 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
2 Tackles, 0.5 Sack

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
SI All-Rookie Team (2008)














Analysis: When people talk about the Lions' defensive line, Cliff Avril is usually the third guy mentioned. This should not be the case, as he is the best pass rusher on the defensive line.

Avril is a very good edge rusher, using his speed to beat tackles and get around the corner. He is also a very good run defender.

19.5 sacks over the last two seasons, 11 last year. Avril has been very productive since becoming a starter and should continue to produce at a high level.





14. Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 255 lbs.
Age: 30 | Experience: 10 Years


2011 Season Stats:
25 Tackles, 1 STF, 9.0 Sacks, 1 PBU, 2 Fumbles Forced

Career Stats:
333 Tackles, 23 STF, 69.0 Sacks, 12 PBU, 30 Fumbles Forced, 13 Fumbles Recovered

Playoff Stats:
29 Tackles, 4 STF, 5.5 Sacks, 1 PBU, 2 Fumbles Forced

Super Bowl Stats:
5 Tackles, 1 STF

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
2-Time Super Bowl Champion
2005 NFC Sacks Leader
2005 Most Improved Player of the Year
1-Time NFC Defensive Player of the Month
Giants Record 6 Sacks in a Game
NFL Record: 10 Fumbles Forced in a Season







Analysis: People always seem to forget about Osi Umenyiora. Like teammate Justin Tuck, Osi struggled to stay on the field, playing in only nine games in 2011.

In those nine games, he still managed to play pretty well, and recorded 9 sacks. Unlike his teammates, Umenyiora is not an elite athlete, but is still reasonably quick off the snap and a very good pass rusher.

Also like his teammates, Osi isn't quite the complete player that they are, but he is just as good of a pass rusher, and his sack numbers back that up.





15. Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 285 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 6 Years


2011 Season Stats:
40 Tackles, 10 STF, 9.0 Sacks, 4 PBU, Fumble Forced

Career Stats:
154 Tackles, 15 STF, 30.5 Sacks, 15 PBU, 5 Fumbles Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered

Playoff Stats:
2 Tackles

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: Charles Johnson was very good in 2008 and 2009. However, it was in 2010 where he showed potential of an elite pass rusher with 11.5 sacks.

After receiving a new contract with Carolina, Johnson didn't quite match the production of the previous season. But, Johnson was still just as good with 9 sacks in 2011.

Johnson is a very good pass rusher, but needs to work on some things in order to be considered elite. He looked better against the run last year, and I would like to see him improve in that area as well.