NFL: Top 10 Defensive Ends Heading Into 2011
Some guys may get pinched, particularly those in 3-4 defenses, but I do consider them as well — particularly those who “hold the point” against both the run and pass. 3-4 DEs don’t get huge sack numbers unless you’re Dick Seymour, so sacks alone cannot be used as a barometer of a 3-4 DE’s worth. You have to have actually watched the guy play consistently over a period of years.
Just remember a lot of the guys who accumulate big sack numbers (especially in the past 3-4 years) are LBs, not DEs.
1. JUSTIN TUCK, New York Football Giants.
Tuck plays every facet of the DE position greatly, and then some. Because Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell used multiple exotic looks, there were times (much to the chagrin of Giants fans) where Tuck was at the second level in coverage and even playing centerfield. While he can run with most TEs, he is best served stuffing the run (excellent) and rushing the passer (excellent as well). Despite being double teamed every game since Michael Strahan’s retirement, Tuck still puts up double-digit sack seasons. With both Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul on the other side and guys who throw linemen out of the way in the middle at DT, Tuck should continue to rack up 12+ sack seasons. To have had 76 tackles as a DE is also a testament to his ability to make stops for loss and tracking down RBs and WRs adeptly.
2. RICHARD SEYMOUR, Oakland Raiders.
Dick Seymour is a MAYNE. Very few 3-4 DEs can put up the numbers he’s put up since the first day he stepped foot on an NFL field, but he consistently does it. He’s like the Bryant Young of this generation. You take him for granted until he’s no longer there. And trust me, the Patriots miss him.
3. JARED ALLEN, Minnesota Vikings.
Ol’ Jared Allen, the wild man. He started off slowly in 2010, but he is a fixture amongst DEs. He plays the run and rushes the passer. His motor is nonstop, which is also what sets these top three guys apart from guys who are mostly pass-rush specialists alone.
4. DWIGHT FREENEY, Indianapolis Colts.
Time to start knocking him down the list. He was a fixture in the Top 3 for years, but he sells out completely to the pass rush nowadays. And while he is still superb at that, his spin move takes him out of the play on rushing situations far too frequently when he guesses wrongly run vs. pass. Off his sheer know-how, variety of moves and execution does he remain this high.
5. TRENT COLE, Philadelphia Eagles.
Cole is a monster and has taken over games despite being double-teamed. However, he tends to disappear a bit and almost altogether disappears in playoff games (1.5 sacks in 7 games). He commands double teams during the regular season, however, and he does play the run much better than he did earlier in his career.
6. JULIUS PEPPERS, Chicago Bears.
You always wonder if he will ever be as motivated to play up to his potential as he did his first 2-3 years in the NFL. He sold out in 2009 in order to garner the large contract, and followed it up with a decent, but not GREAT 2010 season. While meriting a (dubious, given that Osi Umenyiora had a better year) Pro Bowl spot, Peppers should AVERAGE 15 sacks per season off sheer ability alone. Double-teamed or not.
7. JOHN ABRAHAM, Atlanta Falcons.
Give Abraham credit. No one ever doubted his pass rushing skills, which are still as sharp as ever, at age 33. But it is his impact on run defense that has gotten much better in the past 3 seasons; something that minimized his overall effectiveness in his years with the Jets.
8. MARIO WILLIAMS, Houston Texans.
What’s this I hear about the Texans moving him to LB? Hogwash. He has long arms and speed. And now that his technique is on point, LOOK OUT.
9. ROBERT MATHIS, Indianapolis Colts.
Another guy who has been a career pass-rush specialist, but in the past couple of seasons has done a better job holding the point against the run. He can still be run on, and that often plagues the Colts when they play tough rushing opponents.
10. OSI UMENYIORA, New York Football Giants.
One thing I hate about studio analysts, game analysts who obviously don’t watch teams more than once or twice a year and a few highlights, along with people who are influenced by what they hear more than what they actually see is that “Osi does not play the run well”. And he had an awful 2009 at it, no doubt about it. However, in his other years, including 2010, he has held up well against the run, accumulating more impact plays versus the run, pass and turnover category than most others in his category (11.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles in 2010 — the FF’s were a record. BTW).
Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers.
Chris Long, St. Louis Rams.
James Hall, St. Louis Rams.
Chris Clemons, Seattle Seahawks.
Ray Edwards, Atlanta Falcons.