When we think of the great defensive ends in the NFL—past and present—we think of the great pass-rushers. Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan. They all knew how to get to the quarterback.
The primary job for most defensive ends is to sack the quarterback, but let's not forget there is a run game that must be shut down too.
As the NFL moves to a more offensively dominant league, the defensive end position is quickly becoming the most important position to fill on defense. But what makes up a great defensive end?
We've set out to find the best defensive ends in the NFL—based on how well they tackle, stop the run and rush the passer. Each starter has been assessed as to how well he exemplified those traits in 2011. The quest comes as part of the B/R NFL 1,000. The series offers an in-depth look at every position in the NFL, breaking down players' skills in a way never before seen on the Internet.
B/R 1,000 rankings don't assess who had the best year, or even who has the most potential. Rather, players—in this case, defensive ends—are judged on their current skills and mechanics, based on film study of the 2011 NFL preseason and regular season only.
After hours spent scouting every starter and every potential starter, the top 64 defensive ends have been scored on 10 criteria (more on the criteria here). In the slides that follow, we'll explain each player's strengths and weaknesses as the final ranking is revealed.
One quick note: Where is Mario Williams? We added this note to remind folks that Williams was moved to outside linebacker before the 2011 season.
One more quick note: A defensive end is classified as such if on the majority of plays there is no other player covering the tackle/tight end on his side of the line. Terrell Suggs is often over the tackle/end (in a two or three-point stance), while outside linebackers like Von Miller are pass rushers, but they have a defensive end covering the end-man on the offensive line.