In the 2012 NFL season, these defensive linemen look poised to wreak another year of havoc on quarterbacks from around the league.
To be an explosive defensive lineman, you need to have quick feet and be able to able to accelerate well while coming out of the down position, have strong arms and hands to keep the offensive line at bay and create separation—and the durability to play a full season.
The following players are just a small list of defensive linemen who will have another great year hurrying and sacking the quarterback.
This video is just one example of Justin Smith's freakish strength.
As a defensive end, you need a combination of strength and speed to beat the offensive tackles and reach the quarterback.
At 6'4" and weighing in at 285 pounds, Smith has an advantage against most offensive lines because he can blow right past a defender or just go through him.
Smith played all of the regular season and the playoffs in the past five seasons. He has not missed any games.
His superior arm and hand strength allow him to control offensive linemen, creating separation from the blocker so that Smith can hurry the quarterback or make a tackle in the backfield.
Last year, he sacked the quarterback 7.5 times and had 58 tackles.
After having such a standout season with the 49ers, Smith's success at the defensive end position will figure largely in the team's race to the playoffs.
Dunlap is another big guy who lines up as a defensive end.
At 6'6" and 289 pounds, he is as big as a Mack truck but has the speed of a racecar, thanks to his 4.71-second 40-yard dash.
In 24 games, Dunlap has 47 tackles and 14 sacks, though most of his numbers are the result of him being subbed in (he has only started one game in his career).
Because of a hamstring injury last season, Dunlap had 4.5 sacks, five fewer than a year before.
He has played 24 games in two years, which raises questions about of his durability.
This year he will an every-down lineman, so one may wonder how this will impact his durability.
But the good thing is that the extra time he will see on the field will translate into more tackles and more opportunities to get at the quarterback.
Since being drafted in 2004 by the Arizona Cardinals, Darnell Dockett has only missed one game.
He is a fast-playing defensive tackle who can also line up on the end and has been selected to three Pro Bowls in the past four seasons.
At 6'4" and 290 pounds, Dockett is a very big player who crashes the offensive line. He is more of a bull-rusher than a finesse lineman who can rip past players.
Last year, he had 51 tackles but only 3.5 sacks, but Dockett's versatility on the defensive line should allow him more opportunities to pad his stats this season.
Haloti Ngata is one of the premier defensive linemen in the NFL.
He is an athletic beast who plays defensive end and nose tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.
Jarrett Bell of USA Today wrote:
In addition to lining up over guards in the Ravens' 3-4 hybrid scheme, Ngata sometimes lines up over the center like a nose tackle. He has also been stationed so wide on occasion, like an end, that he shadows the tight end. He even has dropped into coverage on zone blitzes.
And his versatility merely accentuates his dominance.
Haloti had 64 tackles and five sacks last year. Lining up anywhere on the defensive line, Ngata needs to be double-teamed. Otherwise, he will get through to the quarterback.
At nose tackle, he plugs up the middle, creating space for the linebackers to penetrate and stop the play in the backfield.
He is the main fixture on the Ravens defensive line and looks poised to continue being a threat this upcoming season.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had a breakout sophomore season, making 84 tackles and sacking the quarterback 16.5 times.
He was ranked fourth for the most sacks last year and was a key figure for the New York Giants and their NASCAR package.
Standing 6'5" and weighing 278 pounds, Pierre-Paul is a large end who is extremely athletic and dynamic (just look at his piece on Sports Science).
With his 81" wingspan and quick acceleration, Pierre-Paul can knock blockers back on their heels and easily maneuver them out of his way.
Pierre-Paul looks to have another big year for the Giants.
At 6'4" and 287 pounds, Jay Ratliff has been one of the main contributors to the Cowboys defense these past seven seasons at nose tackle.
He has not missed a game since 2007 and relies on bull-rushing to get past blockers.
Nothing fancy for Ratliff—he just uses brute force to break up plays.
He lines up over the ball and plugs up the middle but is also versatile enough to cover the flats or even play zone coverage over the middle.
He had 38 tackles last year and only two sacks, but this year, he will improve his numbers.
Ndamukong Suh is one of the big boys of the NFL, coming in at 6'4" and 307 pounds.
Despite having a discipline problem, Suh is still a big threat for offense to cover.
He has a deceiving burst of speed off the line.
His first step toward blockers puts him at an advantage because he is moving much faster and is much stronger than most players on the field.
Once Suh starts moving, nothing can really stop him—once the freight train is moving, you'd better get off the tracks.
Last year, Suh had 36 tackles and four sacks, and he has played 30 games over his two-year career.
His durability isn't offensive—it's his behavior that raises some eyebrows, and if he can avoid more suspensions and clean up his playing style, Suh could be even more of a defensive force in 2012.