Breaking Down the NFL's Top Talent at Defensive End

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Breaking Down the NFL's Top Talent at Defensive End
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The defensive end position remains one of those cornerstone spots on your roster, where generally, how much talent and production you get from this spot dictates how good your defense is and can be. Here's a closer look at the top defensive tandems—in this case, the top three defensive ends—in the NFL.

Quick reminder that 3-4 and 4-3 defenses are mixed in here. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald may not generate the sacks of Jared Allen and Brian Robison, but they may do their jobs in the San Francisco defense better. Being a good defensive end is about more than rushing the passer.

All depth chart and positional information provided by with all stats courtesy of ProFootballFocus.

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10. Atlanta Falcons: John Abraham and Ray Edwards

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 14 sacks, 46 solo tackles, 13 quarterback hits

The play of Ray Edwards in 2011 didn't quite match up to the payday the Falcons gave him in free agency, but the Falcons' outside duo at end was still Top-10 worthy. Even as John Abraham ages, he's still one of the top pass-rushers in the game. If Edwards can take the next step in '12, the Falcons will be on the move up.

9. St. Louis Rams: Chris Long and Robert Quinn

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 19 sacks, 33 solo tackles, 21 quarterback hits

The Rams have one of the more underrated ends in Chris Long and an up-and-comer with Robert Quinn flanking him. Long's a solid all-around player who shows up on passing and run downs. Quinn has unlimited potential and athleticism as a pass-rusher off the edge. He's expected to make a major impact with a full offseason under his belt.

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8. Seattle Seahawks: Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 14 sacks, solo tackles, 66 solo tackles, 13 quarterback hits

The Seahawks have a great mix of proven playmakers and potential in their trio of ends. Red Bryant is built more like a defensive tackle, but his play on the edge sets the tempo for Seattle's front seven. Clemons and Irvin will be counted on to provide a pass-rush this season, and if they live up to their potential, that won't be a problem.

7. Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 17 sacks, 85 solo tackles, 13 quarterback hits

Everyone knows just how dominant Julius Peppers has been over the years; now he gets help on the opposite side courtesy of first-rounder Shea McClellin. The two should give Chicago a fast, powerful pass-rush in a division full of quarterbacks who love to sling the ball around. With Idonije providing depth, the Bears have a trio of ends to watch out for.

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6. Arizona Cardinals: Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell

Base Defense: 3-4 hybrid

2011 combined stats: 13 sacks, 64 solo tackles, 24 quarterback hits

The Cardinals get overlooked sometimes, but there's no looking past the talent they have at defensive end. Dockett and Campbell shift around a lot in their hybrid defense, but no matter where they are on the field, pressure is sure to be applied on the offense. Both excel at getting to the quarterback and anchoring against the run. There are few 3-4 defensive ends better than this duo.

5. Minnesota Vikings: Jared Allen and Brian Robison

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 33 sacks, 42 solo tackles, 11 quarterback hits

Jared Allen is the best pass-rushing defensive end in football, at least based on 2011 numbers. Allen's presence as a nonstop wrecking ball off the edge allows the team great flexibility on defense. Having a freakish athlete like Robison on the other side doesn't hurt either. If Robison continues to improve, Minnesota has the talent to feature a top starting duo at the position.

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4. Baltimore Ravens: Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata

Base Defense: 3-4 hybrid

2011 combined stats: 11 sacks, 34 solo tackles, 13 quarterback hits

Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger get some mention at defensive end, but we're listing them at outside linebacker due to the Ourlads and ProFootballFocus listings. That said, the Ravens are still in great shape with Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee on the outside. Ngata's versatility and all-around excellence is a perfect complement to the athletic McPhee. Both are able to move around on the defensive line, something that is a priority in the Ravens' ever-shifting defense.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith and Ray McDonald

Base Defense: 3-4

2011 combined stats: 13 sacks, 67 solo tackles, 19 quarterback hits

They don't build 3-4 defensive ends better than Justin Smith. An All-Pro at two positions (defensive end and defensive tackle) in 2011, Smith is the mold from which today's five-technique end is measured. Ray McDonald continues to fly under the radar, but he's a top five 3-4 defensive end in his own right. The two combined for an unheard of 80 quarterback hurries.

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2. Philadelphia Eagles: Jason Babin, Trent Cole and Darryl Tapp

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 32 sacks, 94 solo tackles, 30 quarterback hits

When looking at total depth across the board at defensive end, the Philadelphia Eagles just might be the best in the land. But judging their key contributors, coming in second place shouldn't be a bad thing. The Eagles have a dynamic pass-rush from Babin and Cole, who made the wide-nine defense famous this season. Both are explosive off the edge as pass-rushers, but they are also underrated run defenders who are able to stay on the field all three downs.

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1. New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora

Base Defense: 4-3

2011 combined stats: 31 sacks, 67 solo tackles, 24 quarterback hits

This should be no surprise. The Giants feature a threesome at defensive end that no one in the NFL can compete with. Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the most dominant physical specimens on the defensive side of the ball in quite some time. If he develops any further, we'll be looking at a defensive version of Calvin Johnson. Tuck and Osi are good enough to start for 20 NFL teams on their own, which makes the Giants front almost impossible to block when all three are on the field together. 

Just missed: Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders

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