The 2012 NFL season is getting closer by the day, and there is a ton of defensive talent just waiting to break out.
The past three drafts have produced a ton of impact players on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at linebacker and along the defensive line.
Here is a look at the seven players I think are poised to have breakout seasons in 2012.
Melvin Ingram somehow fell to the San Diego Chargers at No. 18 in the 2012 NFL draft, and it may be a perfect fit. Ingram was one of the most athletic players in this year's draft class and all he did at South Carolina was make plays.
This year, his job will be specifically to get to the quarterback. In 2011 the Bolts totaled just 32 sacks, which ranked 23rd in the NFL.
Ingram will be put on the outside of the team's 3-4 defense and instructed to go get the quarterback. He should excel in that role. I expect him to be one of the breakout defensive stars of the 2012 season and be the best pass-rusher San Diego has had since Shawne Merriman.
The Bills made Dareus the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and of the first five selections he was the only player not to reach the Pro Bowl as a rookie. At 6'3" and 340 pounds, Dareus is a mammoth defensive tackle in the team's 4-3 defense.
The Alabama product played in all 16 games in 2011, compiling 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks. This season Dareus and fellow defensive tackle Kyle Williams will be flanked by defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. That defensive front should be one of the NFL's best.
Defenses won't be able to commit as many blockers to stopping Dareus' penetration inside and he will have a huge season as a result. Don't be surprised if you see him reach the Pro Bowl after his second NFL season.
When Mario Williams was lost for the season in Week 5 thanks to a torn pectoral muscle, rookie Brooks Reed stepped in to provide some help. He racked up six sacks, then added 3.5 more in two playoff games.
Reed was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft, and proved to be worth that selection as a rookie. The Arizona product is now part of a young trio of 3-4 outside pass-rushers with Connor Barwin and incoming rookie Whitney Mercilus.
At 6'3" and 260 pounds with a relentless motor, Reed could be a stud for years to come as he is perfectly suited to be an edge rusher in Houston's system. With Williams now in Buffalo, the 25-year-old should start in 2012.
Quinn was the 14th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and as a rookie he recorded five sacks, three blocked punts and 23 total tackles.
At 6'4" and 264 pounds, Quinn has the size, speed and instincts to be an outstanding 4-3 defensive end. He should be lining up across from Chris Long in 2012 and that will only increase his ability to rush the passer. Long will draw plenty of attention from opposing offenses and Quinn's pure pass-rushing ability should create a fantastic duo on the edge of St. Louis' defensive line.
The Rams need to put Quinn on the field and let him make plays in 2012. If they do, he'll have a breakout season.
As a second-round pick in 2010, Carlos Dunlap set a Bengals' rookie record with 9.5 sacks. At 6'6" and 289 pounds, he is a prototypical 4-3 pass-rusher and looked poised for another big season in 2011.
Dunlap missed four games with a hamstring injury last season, but even when he played the Florida product looked hampered. As a result, his sack total dropped to 4.5.
If he's healthy this year Dunlap should earn a starting spot at defensive end and will reassert himself as a rising star in the NFL.
Brandon Spikes missed seven games in 2011 thanks to a sprained knee, but when he returned to the lineup he was outstanding for the Patriots.
After finishing the regular season with just 47 tackles, the 2010 second-round pick was a beast in the playoffs. He had 26 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in New England's three postseason games, including 11 tackles in Super Bowl XLVI.
If he can stay healthy this year, Spikes could develop into a leader for the Pats, now that the team has fortified its defense by drafting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower.
Expect big things from the Florida product has he enters his third professional season.
Morgan was the No. 16 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft but he tore his ACL as a rookie after compiling just five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Last season he was slowly getting back to himself, but wound up starting the final 10 games of the season. He finished the year with 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The Titans went out and got some pass-rushing help this offseason by signing Kamerion Wimbley. His presence should take a lot of pressure off Morgan, and hopefully the Georgia Tech product can relax and just do what he does best: get after the quarterback.
I think Morgan is in a perfect situation to enjoy a breakout season. He has the size (6'3" and 278 pounds) and quickness to be a stud defensive end in Tennessee's 4-3 defense.