NFL

Positional Power Rankings: D-lines

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When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that defensive linemen have historically been the biggest stars (literally and figuratively) on defense. Some of them had killer nicknames — the Fearsome Foursome, the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtain. After all, the guys attacking and clobbering opposing quarterbacks are easy to spot, especially when they chop down the heart of the offense. Anyone doubting the game-changing importance of the attacking front four should pop in a DVD of Super Bowl XLII, the game that altered NFL history — both stunning the then-18-0 Patriots' bid for ultimate perfection and launching the Giants to among the NFL's elite. Which units are super-sized in 2009? Quality depth is of utmost importance to our top units in a position that can be awfully tough on the guys duking it out in the trenches. Also, keep in mind that teams employing 3-4 defenses need fewer bodies down low and scheme-wise aren't prioritizing monster-sack numbers by the DEs. *Note: This list is for the 2009 season only.
RANKING THE NFL'S DL PACKAGES
No.
Team
Depth chart
Breakdown
1.
GIANTS
Starters:
LE Justin Tuck
LT Barry Cofield
RT Fred Robbins
RE Osi Umenyiora
Backups:
DE Mathias Kiwanuka
DE/DT Chris Canty
DT Rocky Bernard
DT Jay Alford
DE Dave Tollefson
DE Maurice Evans
DT Anthony Bryant
DT Jeremy Clark
DT Leger Douzable
DE Robert Henderson
DE Tommie Hill
The collection of ends and tackles may well represent the best and deepest D-line in the NFL this season. What new D-coordinator Bill Sheridan must do now is establish a rotation and cull some of the players, many of whom will find homes elsewhere, to get down to the eight or nine he'll keep. Tuck was a Pro Bowl selection and Umenyiora was the year before (he missed all of 2008 due to knee surgery). Robbins is somewhat injured and could be replaced, while Cofield appears solid. Free agent products Canty (from Dallas) and Bernard (from Seattle) will vie for playing time. Alford starts his third season and has shown great progress. Tollefson has performed when asked while Evans, a free agent rookie, impressed in minicamp. The rest have almost no chance unless injury strikes. More from Sports Xchange ...
2.
VIKINGS
Starters:
LDE Ray Edwards
NT Pat Williams
DT Kevin Williams
RDE Jared Allen
Backups:
DE Martail Burnett
DT Fred Evans
DT Letroy Guion
DE Otis Grigsby
DT Antoine Holmes
DT Tremaine Johnson
DT Jimmy Kennedy
DE Jayme Mitchell
DE Brian Robison
DE Kenechi Udeze
The biggest concern here is whether the Williamses will have to eventually serve four-game suspensions for taking the banned diuretic that was contained in StarCaps. Their case against the NFL continues to work its way through the court system so for the time being they remain eligible. That gives the Vikings Pro Bowl players at three of the four positions on the line. Allen cost the Vikings both in terms of compensation that was sent to Kansas City to obtain his rights and the subsequent six-year, $74.5 million contract he got from Minnesota after being obtained. But he quickly proved to be worth the investment, finishing with 14.5 sacks in his first season with the Vikings despite playing injured much of the time. The Vikings had lacked this type of edge rusher for many seasons and adding him to a unit that already was outstanding against the run makes their defense potentially one of the best in the NFL. The fact the Vikings are so good against the run is due in large part of the presence of the Williams Wall in the middle. Pat Williams is a gigantic force and the ultra-athletic Kevin Williams is one of the league's best 3-technique tackles. Edwards is the only unproven member of this foursome and it wouldn't be surprising to see Robison push him for the job at left end. More from Sports Xchange ...
3.
RAVENS
Starters:
LDE Trevor Pryce
NT Kelly Gregg
RDE Haloti Ngata
Backups:
DT Justin Bannan
DE Dwan Edwards
DT Brandon McKinney
This group was a major reason why the Ravens were among the NFL's best in stopping the run. It's a unit that should get stronger with the return of Gregg, who missed the entire 2008 season with a knee injury. With his rare blend of power and quickness, Ngata is primed for a Pro Bowl season. Pryce rebounded from an injury-marred season and provides great push inside. Bannan goes back to being a backup, but he proved he could be a full-time starter when he filled in for Gregg last season. More from Sports Xchange ...
4.
STEELERS
Starters:
LDE Aaron Smith
RDE Brett Keisel
NT Casey Hampton
Backups:
NT Chris Hoke
DE Ziggy Hood
DE Travis Kirschke
DE Nick Eason
After ignoring the position for many years, the Steelers finally drafted Hood in the first round. The line was ignored in the draft because it was so well-stocked. Their starting three are excellent and backups Hoke and Kirschke played well in 2008. However, their top five defensive linemen are all over 30 and will not keep playing at such a high level for long. Hampton has had weight issues and coach Mike Tomlin has not been patient about it. Smith, 33, has been their best defensive linemen for years and continues to play at a high pace. The success of the Steelers linebackers — and the many Pro Bowls they've made — is due in part to the play of the three-man line. More from Sports Xchange ...
5.
PATRIOTS
Starters:
DE Richard Seymour
NT Vince Wilfork
DE Ty Warren
Backups:
DL Titus Adams
DE Jarvis Green
DL Le Kevin Smith
NT Mike Wright
The Big Three of Seymour, Wilfork and Warren return, though Wilfork's situation remains tenuous given that he's unhappy with the slowed progress of his contract negotiations. Nonetheless, this is a solid starting group that feasts on penetrating opposing lines and setting up its linebackers for big plays. Green remains an all-purpose backup capable of stepping in during an emergency while Smith emerged last year as an equally viable fill-in depending on the down and distance. Wright recently signed an extension so he'll be in the fold for quite some time and, much like Green and Smith, will do the dirty work all backups are expected to do. More from Sports Xchange ...
6.
REDSKINS
Starters:
LDE Phillip Daniels
LDT Cornelius Griffin
RDT Albert Haynesworth
RDE Andre Carter
Backups:
DT Kedric Golston
DT Anthony Montgomery
DE Renaldo Wynn
DT-DE Lorenzo Alexander
DE Rob Jackson
DE Alex Buzbee
DT Vaka Manupana
DT Antonio Dixon
DE J.D. Skolnitsky
The Redskins ranked eighth against the run in 2008 thanks in part to the line, which did a nice job of occupying blockers and allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball. However, they teamed for just 19 sacks with Carter leading the way for a third straight year but with just four, the fewest to ever lead the Redskins. The signing of All-Pro Haynesworth to a record seven-year, $100 million deal in the first hours of free agency changed that entire dynamic. He's expected to both make noise on his own and occupy blockers so others can do damage so even though Carter, Griffin and Daniels (who missed all of 2008 with a knee injury at 35) are in their 30s, the line has been upgraded. Former starters Golston and Montgomery are reliable backups. The versatile Alexander and former starter Wynn could also join the rotation although the latter will be 35 in September and doesn't play special teams. More from Sports Xchange ...
7.
PANTHERS
Starters:
LDE Tyler Brayton
LDT Maake Kemoeatu
RDT Damione Lewis, RDE Julius Peppers
Backups:
DE Everette Brown
DE Charles Johnson
DE Hilee Taylor
DT Corvey Irvin
DT Nick Hayden
DT Marlon Favorite
DT Lonnie Harvey
DE Casper Brinkley
DT Justin Kershaw
DT Lorenzo Williams
The Panthers registered 37 sacks last year, 14.5 by Peppers so you can bet the team is thrilled to have him back under contract — even though they couldn't convince him to sign a long-term deal. Peppers will make more than $1 million per game. Brayton turned out to be a solid free-agent acquisition last year for the Panthers but isn't a top-notch pass rusher, which is one of the reasons the Panthers traded a first-round pick in 2010 for the right to draft Florida State's Brown. Brown figures to challenge Brayton and Charles Johnson, who had six sacks last year, for playing time. The Panthers also like Taylor as a third-round pass rusher. Carolina drafted Irvin in the third round to give them some needed depth at defensive tackle. Kemoeatu and Lewis both went down with injuries late last season and the Panthers' run defense fell apart. The Giants, in fact, put up 301 yards against them on the ground in Week 16. More from Sports Xchange ...
8.
EAGLES
Starters:
LE Victor Abiamiri
LT Mike Patterson
RT Brodrick Bunkley
RE Trent Cole
Backups:
Trevor Laws
Darren Howard
Chris Clemons
Juqua Parker
Bryan Smith
Dan Klecko
Josh Gaines
The Eagles rotated eight players up front last season and will do the same thing this year, assuming everyone stays fairly healthy. Patterson and Bunkley were basically used as first- and second-down tackles. While they only combined for 2.5 sacks, they were keys to the team's fourth-ranked run defense. Howard was used primarily as an inside rusher on passing downs and had a team-high 10 sacks. Cole is a high-motor player who would benefit greatly from a consistent pass-rushing threat on the left side. Parker, who started all 16 games at LE last season and had five sacks, is more of a situational pass rusher. Third-year man Abiamiri, who has the size that Parker lacks, will open the season as the starting left end and move inside next to Howard on passing downs. More from Sports Xchange ...
9.
JETS
Starters:
LDE Shaun Ellis
NT Kris Jenkins
RDE Marques Douglas
Backups:
DE Mike DeVito
NT Howard Green
NT Sione Pouha
DE Ropati Pitoitua
Jenkins, a 4-3 tackle most of his career, was the run-stuffing nose the Jets' 3-4 desperately needed and made the Pro Bowl in that role. But he wore down in the final five weeks as a hip injury and herniated disc in his back took its toll, so the coaching staff wants to rest him a little more this year, both in practice and in games. Ellis started fast with seven sacks in the first eight games but had only one the rest of the way and is still facing a possible suspension by the league for being arrested for possession of marijuana on Nov. 29, 2008. Douglas was a very underrated playmaker in Baltimore and fits Ryan's attacking 3-4 much better than former starter Kenyon Coleman, who went to Cleveland in the trade that brought the Jets the right to select Mark Sanchez. Green is a very solid performer who should get plenty of time in the rotation. DeVito had his moments in 2008 in his second NFL season but may need to prove himself to the new staff. The run defense often fell off when Pouha came on to give Jenkins a rest, and Pouha must improve in 2009. More from Sports Xchange ...
10.
FALCONS
Starters:
RDE John Abraham
RT Peria Jerry
LT Jonathan Babineaux
LDE Jamaal Anderson
Backups:
Chauncey Davis
Trey Lewis
Kroy Biermann
Lawrence Sidbury
Vance Walker
Willie Evans
Jason Jefferson
Thomas Johnson
The defensive tackle position will be watched closely after DT Grady Jackson was not re-signed. There are several options including Jerry, the first-round pick. Lewis is battling back from two knee surgeries. He showed some promise in 2007 before going down. Also, Anderson could move down inside in passing situations with Davis taking over his spot. Position coach Ray Hamilton will spend a great deal of his time trying to fabricate some kind of pass rush on the opposite side of Abraham, whom he flip-flopped last season. It's time for Anderson, the No. 8 pick in the 2007 draft, to step up or be slapped with the bust tag. More from Sports Xchange ...
11.
COLTS
Starters:
LE Raheem Brock
LT Eric Foster
RT Keyunta Dawson
RE Dwight Freeney
Backups:
DT Adrian Grady
DE Marcus Howard
DT Antonio Johnson
DE Curtis Johnson,
DT Ed Johnson
DT Pat Kuntz
DE Robert Mathis
DT Fili Moala
DT Daniel Muir,
DT Terrance Taylor
The Colts could be as deep as they've been in recent memory along the defensive line. Indianapolis officials made a concerted effort to get a bit bigger along the front with the addition of draft picks Moala and Taylor along with the addition of Grady, an undrafted free agent. A veteran group of linemen return with Freeney, Brock, Mathis, Foster, Dawson and Ed Johnson. Ed Johnson was released by the team last year due to his arrest for speeding and possession of marijuana. While getting another chance to show the Colts that he belongs in the NFL, he will added much more bulk and athleticism to the team's defensive front. Howard is due for a breakout year as a situational pass rusher. His speed and quickness off the line of scrimmage has drawn favorable comparisons to Freeney and Mathis. More from Sports Xchange ...
12.
TEXANS
Starters:
DLE Antonio Smith
DT Amobi Okoye
NT Travis Johnson
DRE Mario Williams
Backups:
DT DelJuan Robinson
DE Tim Bulman
DE Connor Barwin
DE Jesse Nading
DT Frank Okam
Three No. 1 draft picks, mostly underachieving collective result. With Smith replacing Anthony Weaver and the drafting of Barwin, a pass-rusher, the Texans hope the defense can make up where they've lacked in recent seasons. They have struggled to create chaos for opposing quarterbacks, despite their plethora of talent. Johnson has injury issues he dealt with for another offseason, but he is expected to regain his starting job. It's a contract year for Johnson, who has had a disappointing career with the Texans. Okoye struggled through a sophomore slump, partly because of a high ankle sprain. But he showed his potential in the final few weeks when he played his best football since his rookie season. Williams is coming off his first Pro Bowl and will be the focal point of the defensive line. If Barwin can develop into a situational pass-rusher, the Texans will move Williams to the left side in passing situations and have Barwin on the right side. Bulman and Robinson have had the best offseasons of their career and they will look to get playing time in the rotation. More from Sports Xchange ...
13.
TITANS
Starters:
LDE Dave Ball
LDT Jason Jones
RDT Tony Brown
RDE Kyle Vanden Bosch
Backups:
DE Jevon Kearse
DE Jacob Ford
DT Jovan Haye
DT Sen'Derrick Marks
DE William Hayes
DT Kevin Vickerson
DT Mitch King
DE Larry Birdine
DT LaJuan Ramsey
DT Derrick Jones
Kyle Vanden Bosch returns healthy from a groin injury and likely will have Tony Brown slide over from the left side to replace departed Defensive Player of the Year Albert Haynesworth. The Titans rotate their D-linemen, which means that even though Ball might have nosed ahead of Kearse, who missed offseason time with a knee problem, both will see action along with Ford. At tackle, Jones, Haye and Marks will vie to see who gets the opening created by Haynesworth's departure. More from Sports Xchange ...
14.
COWBOYS
Starters:
LE Marcus Spears
NT Jay Ratliff
RE Igor Olshansky
Backups:
DE Marcus Dixon
DE Jason Hatcher
NT Tim Anderson
NT Jonas Seawright
DL Junior Siavii
Ratliff is the bell cow on the defensive line. The former seventh-round pick notched 7.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last season. The Cowboys are expecting even more this season. The question is at backup nose tackle after the Cowboys let Tank Johnson walk in free agency. Siavii will get the first shot at becoming Ratliff's primary backup. The Cowboys also let starting right end Chris Canty walk in free agency and signed Olshansky to replace him. Olshansky is familiar with Phillips' defense from their days in San Diego. He is solid but is not much of a playmaker. The same is true for left end Marcus Spears in the final year of his contract and needing a big season. Keep an eye on Dixon to make a push for playing time at defensive end after a redshirt season. More from Sports Xchange ...
15.
SAINTS
Starters:
LDE Charles Grant
DT Sedrick Ellis
NT Kendrick Clancy
RDE Will Smith
Backups:
DE Bobby McCray
DE Jeff Charleston
D Paul Spicer
DT Rod Coleman
DE Anthony Hargrove
DT DeMario Pressley
NT Remi Ayodele
DE Rob Ninkovich
DT Earl Heyman
DE Jeremy Parnell
Grant and Smith, the $63 million bookends for the Saints' defensive line, were hampered by injuries last season. Grant was lost at midseason with a torn triceps muscle and Smith played with a sports hernia injury all season, which all but neutralized their pass-rushing ability and resulted in just three sacks each. They could be sidelined for four games each this season for their part in the StarCaps saga, but the Saints are prepared with McCray, who had six sacks a year ago, and Spicer and Hargrove, a pair of veterans who were brought in as free agents. Clancy has been solid in the middle — especially against the run — and Ellis, an All-Rookie team pick last season, has a rare combination of strength and quickness. Coleman could also help a porous run defense. More from Sports Xchange ...
16.
DOLPHINS
Starters:
LDE Phillip Merling
NT Jason Ferguson
RDE Kendall Langford
Backups:
NT Paul Soliai
DT/DE Tony McDaniel
DT Joe Cohen
DE Lionel Dotson
DE/DT Randy Starks
DT/DE Rod Wright
Langford started from Day One in 2008 and was outstanding with 31 tackles and two sacks. Fellow rookie Merling hit the rookie wall but had a huge interception/TD in the season finale win over the Jets. Their potential allowed Miami to save cap money by releasing veteran leader Vonnie Holliday. Starks provided experience and big-play ability, coming up with timely sacks (3.0) and pass deflections. His offseason arrest has clouded his status. Anchoring the 3-4 is massive nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who often occupied two linemen and helped improve the run defense from 32nd to 10th. However, the Dolphins did allow opponents to gain 100 or more rushing yards in nine games. The Dolphins are hoping the late-blooming Soliai gets his act together this season and is able to eventually succeed Ferguson, who turns 35 this season. Cohen, the former Gator, could pass him by. Rookies Orion Martin and Louis Ellis are practice squad candidates. More from Sports Xchange ...
17.
CARDINALS
Starters:
LE Darnell Dockett
NT Gabe Watson
RE Calais Campbell
Backups:
NT/DE Bryan Robinson
NT Alan Branch
NT Rodney Leisle
DE Kenny Iwebema
DE Jason Banks
DE/DT Keilen Dykes
Dockett can be an elite player. He's at his best in big games but doesn't play as well against lesser opponents. Campbell takes over for Antonio Smith, who left via free agency. A second-year player, Campbell is taking a step up. He has talent and at 6-foot-8 can cause problems at the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle is the biggest concern. Watson has dealt with injuries the past two years and Branch is lazy and overweight. Robinson is a savvy vet who can play inside or out and could return as the starting nose tackle. Iwebema is the top backup end but he's coming off surgery that removed a tumor in his chest. He hopes to be ready for the start of camp. More from Sports Xchange ...
18.
CHARGERS
Starters:
LE Ryon Bingham
DT Jamal Williams
RE Luis Castillo
Backups:
LE Jacques Cesaire
DT Vaughn Martin
DT Ian Scott
Bingham is being asked to replace Igor Olshansky as he exited for Dallas as a free agent. Bingham has played well in spurts but most prove he can do it as a starter. Williams returns for his 12th year and — his knees willing — remains the key force in the 3-4 alignment. Castillo was decent last year and not much more — he certainly didn't play to the rich contract he was given about a year ago as he had no sacks and was neutralized too often on running plays. The key here is Williams, as his play sets the tone and sends ballcarriers into the direction of eager linebackers. More from Sports Xchange ...
19.
BILLS
Starters:
LDE Chris Kelsay
RDE Aaron Schobel
LDT Marcus Stroud
RDT Kyle Williams
Backups:
Aaron Maybin
Ryan Denney
Copeland Bryan
Chris Ellis
John McCargo
Spencer Johnson
Moves to shore up its leaky run defense with the additions of Stroud and Johnson paid off a year ago as Buffalo improved against the run, particularly on third down (29th to ninth). There is room for more improvement. As for the pass rush, this unit has a lot of improving to do. Buffalo combined for just 46 sacks and takeaways a year ago, tying for the 28th lowest total in the NFL. Buffalo is hoping the return to form of Schobel and the addition of Maybin will make a difference. Schobel, the team's No. 2 all-time sack leader, missed the season's final 11 games with a foot injury. Maybin led the Big Ten with 12 sacks but must prove he can be effective in the pros at 249 pounds. Kelsay and Denney combined for just six sacks last year and one of them may not make the final roster. More from Sports Xchange ...
20.
BENGALS
Starters:
LDE Robert Geathers
LDT Tank Johnson
RDE Antwan Odom
RDT Domata Peko
Backups:
Michael Johnson
Jonathan Fanene
Pat Sims
Jason Shirley
Frostee Rucker
Chris Harrington
Clinton McDonald
Pernell Phillips
While the Bengals did a better job in stopping the run last year, they haven't been able to generate any pressure on the pass rush. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is hoping that the addition of Tank Johnson will provide that. Johnson is a three-technique player who has a good first step off the line and can get to the quarterback or collapse the pocket. Geathers, who had offseason microfracture surgery, has struggled the last two years after recording 10.5 sacks in 2006 while Odom was plagued by injuries last year in his first season with the team. Third-round pick Michael Johnson could be the quickest and most athletic of the linemen and should see action in third-down situations as a pass rusher. More from Sports Xchange ...
21.
BEARS
Starters:
LE Adewale Ogunleye
LT Tommie Harris
NT Dusty Dvoracek
RE Alex Brown
Backups:
DE Israel Idonije
DT Marcus Harrison
DT Anthony Adams
DE Mark Anderson
DT Jarron Gilbert
DE Henry Melton
The defense needs someone in this group to step up and become a pass rusher that the opposing offense must account for on every dropback. New D-line coach and assistant head coach Rod Marinelli should help this unit improve with his 24/7 enthusiasm and attention to detail. Ogunleye has had four seasons of nine or more sacks, the last as recently as 2007, but he'll turn 32 during training camp. Harris has 18 sacks over the past three seasons despite a nagging, chronic knee problem. If he can stay healthy for a full 16 games, he's a double-digit sack threat. Dvoracek has played well in spurts on the nose, but he has a lengthy injury history and faces stiff competition from Adams and Harrison, who can play both tackle spots. Brown is a solid player vs. the run and the pass. He led the team last year with six sacks but has never had more than seven in any of his seven seasons. More from Sports Xchange ...
22.
SEAHAWKS
Starters:
LDE Patrick Kerney
LDT Brandon Mebane
RDT Colin Cole
RDE Cory Redding
Backups:
Darryl Tapp
Lawrence Jackson
Red Bryant
Baraka Atkins
Craig Terrill
Kevin Brown
Brandon Miller
Nick Reed
Michael Bennett
Although they haven't practiced yet in pads, Mebane appears to have made a nice transition to the 3-technique role. Mora has made glowing comments on the progress of defensive ends Jackson and Tapp. If both continue to show improvement, and Patrick Kerney can come back healthy, this unit should be much better in 2009. Mebane also has been complimentary of new teammate Cole's play inside. And Bryant has been a disruptive force in camp during offseason workouts. More from Sports Xchange ...
23.
PACKERS
Starters:
LDE B.J. Raji
NT Ryan Pickett
RDE Cullen Jenkins
Backups:
DE Johnny Jolly
DE Justin Harrell
DE Michael Montgomery
DE Jarius Wynn
DE Alfred Malone
DE Ronald Talley
NT Anthony Toribio
NT Dean Muhtadi
Big things are expected out of the gate from the mammoth Raji (6-2, 337). The Packers drafted the former Boston College standout ninth overall this year as a nose tackle, but the combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability convinced new defensive coordinator Dom Capers to get Raji on the field at the same time as incumbent nose tackle Pickett. Raji will spell Pickett at times on the inside and probably will work in tandem with Jenkins when the Packers go out of their 3-4 front with just two down linemen in nickel situations. Pickett continues to hold up after eight years in the league and is being counted on to anchor a refurbished line whose main responsibility is to hold up the blockers. The return of Jenkins to the lineup will be worth monitoring after he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral in Week 4 last year. He also had ankle surgery after the season and was held out the entire offseason. The wild card on the line will be Harrell, the team's 2007 first-round draft pick whose pro career thus far has been derailed by an assortment of injuries. More from Sports Xchange ...
24.
49ERS
Starters:
LE Isaac Sopoaga
NT Aubrayo Franklin
RE Justin Smith
Backups:
Demetric Evans
Kentwan Balmer
Ricky Jean-Francois
Ray McDonald
Khalif Mitchell
Pannel Egboh
This unit was a lot more effective when the club went to a straight 3-4 in the second half of the season. Smith had a stellar first season with the 49ers as he was a force in the run game and also recorded seven sacks. Franklin is not a prototypical nose tackle. Lacking the size of some other tackles in the league, Franklin was at his best later in the season when he was asked to move with greater frequency. Sopoaga and Balmer are both expected to see time at nose tackle, in addition to their duties at left end. Evans is a versatile rookie who can play a number of different techniques on the line. More from Sports Xchange ...
25.
BROWNS
Starters:
LE Corey Williams
RE Kenyon Coleman
NT Shaun Rogers
Backups:
DE/NT Shaun Smith
RDE Robaire Smith
NT Ahtyba Rubin
DE C.J. Mosley
DE Santonio Thomas
NT Louis Leonard
DE Melila Purcell
DE Adam Hoppel
Eleven defensive linemen will be in camp, another indication practices will be grueling. The Browns would take another year like 2008 from Rogers, who was stout against the run and led the Browns with a modest 4.5 sacks. The Browns are counting on Coleman to be a run stopper. The key player on the defensive line is Williams. Shoulder problems bothered him all last season, plus he adjusted poorly to playing in a 3-4 defense. Mosley could replace him if Williams doesn't prove himself. Shaun Smith is a better talker than a tackler. Mosley is a comfortable fit because he played for Mangini with the Jets last year. Last season the Browns posted 17 sacks, the second fewest in the league. Linebackers are supposed to get most of the sacks in a 3-4, but Mangini would like more than the five the line turned in last year. Mangini will likely keep six or seven defensive linemen. Competition will be fierce for backup spots. More from Sports Xchange ...
26.
CHIEFS
Starters:
LDE Tyson Jackson
NT Ron Edwards
RDE Glenn Dorsey
Backups:
Alfonso Boone
Dion Gales
Wallace Gilberry
Bobby Greenwood
Derek Lokey
Alex Magee
Tank Tyler
The switch to a 3-4 front will be a big transition for the entire group of linemen. Jackson played in a 4-3 at LSU. Dorsey played in that same LSU scheme, as well as a four-man line in his rookie season last year. Edwards has not played nose tackle in the pros. Neither has Tyler, the only real competition for the tackle spot. Magee will see plenty of playing time at end, and can move inside to tackle in "sub" defenses. Boone was the group's best performer in the offseason, but over his career he's been inconsistent in his production. More from Sports Xchange ...
27.
LIONS
Starters:
LDE Dewayne White
DT Grady Jackson
DT Chuck Darby
RDE Cliff Avril
Backups:
DE Ikaika Alama-Francis
DE Jared DeVries
DE Rudolph Hardie
DE Eric Hicks
DE Jason Hunter
DE Ryan Kees
DT Landon Cohen
DT Andre Fluellen
DT John Gill
DT Orien Harris
DT Sammie Hill
Avril has the most upside in the group. He has the speed and versatility to be an impact player and the Lions plan to move him around to take advantage of his skills. White and DeVries are solid veterans. Jackson can still plug the middle, but he missed the offseason with a knee injury. Several others were brought in by the previous regime to fit the Tampa Two: Alama-Francis, Cohen, Darby, Fluellen, Harris. Hill has the size the Lions want in the middle at 6-foot-4, 329 pounds, but he's raw, coming out of Stillman College. More from Sports Xchange ...
28.
RAIDERS
Starters:
LE Jay Richardson
NT Gerard Warren
DT Tommy Kelly
RE Greg Ellis
Backups:
DT Terdell Sands
DT Ryan Boschetti
DT William Joseph
DE Desmond Bryant
DE Derrick Burgess
DE Derrick Gray
DE Greyson Gunheim
DE Matt Shaughnessy
DE Trevor Scott
Ellis joins an existing unit that has lots of room for improvement across the board and will be counted on to provide leadership as well as another pass rush threat. Kelly's play did not justify his $18.125 million guaranteed bonus, and the company line is that Year 2 following ACL surgery will bring much improvement. Warren continues to run hot-and-cold, Sands hasn't been the run defender the Raiders expected and Boschetti was brought in at Cable's urging to bring a jump-start to practices and games. Burgess' sack totals have dwindled from 16 to 11 to 8 to 4. He's in the last year of his contract and a role as a nickel rusher could suit him. Scott was a rookie success story with five sacks. Gunheim closed with a strong effort against Tampa Bay in the finale and the hope is Shaughnessy is a stout presence as a base end as a rookie. More from Sports Xchange ...
29.
RAMS
Starters:
LDE Victor Adeyanju
LDT Adam Carriker
RDT Clifton Ryan
RDE Chris Long
Backups:
DE Leonard Little
DE James Hall
DE Eric Moore
DE C.J. Ah You
DE Ian Campbell
DE Kirston Pittman
DT Darell Scott
DT Gary Gibson
DT Willie Williams
DT Antwon Burton
This will be a challenge for coaches, trying to establish good depth and have a solid rotation, especially inside. It appears the tackles will be designated left and right side, as opposed to 3-technique and nose tackle. At end, Adeyanju and Long will likely start with Little and Hall designated pass rushers. Hall and Long might be called on to play inside in some situations. Carriker and Ryan need to take strong steps forward to improve the run defense. Injuries have slowed Carriker during his first two seasons. The biggest competition will be for backup tackle jobs. Scott, a fourth-round pick, is expected to contribute, but after that is unknown from a group of players that include Gibson, Burton and Williams. More from Sports Xchange ...
30.
BUCCANEERS
Starters:
LDE Jimmy Wilkerson
NT Chris Hovan
DT Ryan Sims
RDE Gaines Adams
Backups:
DE Kyle Moore
DT Roy Miller
DE Stylez G. White
DT Greg Peterson
It might take a few years for new defensive coordinator Jim Bates to get the horses he needs up front. Gone is the Tampa Two scheme, which emphasized penetration from the interior line. Instead of lining up in the gaps, defensive tackles will be more head up on guards and centers. Hovan has beefed up to 310 pounds and will be part of a rotation inside that includes Sims, Moore and Texas rookie Miller, the team's third-round pick. Moore, a rookie from Southern Cal, can play inside or outside and the versatility will be their key. The Bucs know they need to get more pressure on the quarterback. Adams, the first-round pick in 2007, led the team with 6.5 sacks last season. The Bucs have averaged just 30.8 sacks per season since 2004 and need to be closer to the 45 range. For that to happen, they need to get more production from players like Adams and White, who had just five sacks last season. More from Sports Xchange ...
31.
JAGUARS
Starters:
LDE Derrick Harvey
DT John Henderson
DT Derek Landri
RDE Reggie Hayward
Backups:
DT Rob Meier
DT Atiyyah Ellison
DT Terrance Knighton
DT Jonathan Lewis
DE Jeremy Mincey
DE Quentin Groves
DE James Wyche
DT Montavious Stanley
Knighton is the only significant addition to the roster and he's a rookie, albeit a promising one. The Jaguars are so thin at the two tackle spots, Knighton will have a shot at winning a starting job. Henderson wasn't the same player he was when lined up with Marcus Stroud and will need to raise his performance. Landri is a hard-working, blue-collar type but may not be the answer as a starter. He and Meier have proven to be more effective when coming in from the sideline for short stretches in a series. Harvey showed signs of justifying his first-round selection from the year before but will need a hike in the 3.5 sacks that he recorded a year ago. Hayward is two years removed from the 2006 Achilles tendon injury on opening day and he too must pad his 4.5 sacks from 2008. The surprise could be Groves, a second-round draft pick a year ago, who provides solid depth at the end positions. More from Sports Xchange ...
32.
BRONCOS
Starters:
DE Kenny Peterson
NT Ronald Fields
DE Ryan McBean
Backups:
NT Marcus Thomas
DE Nic Clemons
DE Matthias Askew
DE J'Vonne Parker
NT Carlton Powell
DE Rulon Davis
NT Chris Baker
NT Everette Pedescleaux
The Broncos are gambling this group full of unknowns and castoffs takes to the scheme and improves. There is not one standout among them. Among the top four ends, there is only one combined NFL start. Fields didn't start a NFL game either of the last two seasons. Thomas might be the most accomplished of Denver's linemen with 21 starts the last two seasons, but he isn't a natural nose tackle. The good news is the Broncos have big linemen for their 3-4 scheme and they could keep linemen busy and allow the linebackers to make plays. The Broncos wouldn't reach on defensive linemen in the draft so this is a unit that the team will have to address next offseason. For now, they hope a few players emerge to be solid contributors. More from Sports Xchange ...
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