Who Are the NFL's Most Dominant Defensive Linemen?
In the NFL, games are frequently won and lost in the trenches. Because of this, a truly dominant defensive lineman can make a huge impact.
There are many good defensive linemen in the NFL, but only a few are true impact players capable of taking over a game.
The criteria for this list is simple. One, the player must actually be a defensive lineman—that means no DeMarcus Ware or Aldon Smith. Secondly, we'll analyze how much a player dominates (duh).
Some of these players are obvious choices, a few aren't.
However, they are all dominant.
15. Jason Babin, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
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With 30.5 sacks over the past two years, Jason Babin has established himself as a premier pass-rusher. However, he isn't a truly elite defensive end.
Sure, Babin can get after the quarterback, but he is somewhat reliant on scheme and struggles against the run. A talented player? Yes. An elite player? No.
Babin isn't among the NFL's most feared pass-rushers, and he never will be. That doesn't mean he can't take over a game, though.
14. Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots
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Still a good run defender, Vince Wilfork has lost some explosiveness. He is no longer the dynamic player he once was, though he is still an elite nose tackle.
Wilfork can still move around the defensive line and make plays, but he isn't in the backfield as often and is almost useless as a pass-rusher. The lack of third-down impact hurts Wilfork's ranking.
Against the run, few are better than Wilfork. The passing game reigns supreme in the NFL, though, and Wilfork falls a bit short there.
13. Cullen Jenkins, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
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A penetrating defensive tackle, Cullen Jenkins makes plays. He'll occasionally be overpowered or allow a big play, but Jenkins is dynamic.
The defensive tackle is also capable of playing defensive end, and he picked up 5.5 sacks in 2011. Jenkins is a weapon on all downs.
He's rarely been praised as an elite player, but Jenkins is better than all but a few defensive tackles. He offers a rare complete game along the interior defensive line.
12. Ahtyba Rubin, DT, Cleveland Browns
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Ahtyba Rubin is rarely praised as an elite player, but he is. In his first year in a 4-3 defense, Rubin racked up 83 tackles and five sacks while dominating against the run.
Rubin's incredible motor leads to him making many tackles downfield, but his strength allows him to break double-teams. Few defensive tackles clog up the run game like Rubin does.
Though he may not be the most dynamic defensive tackle, Rubin is rock-solid in every aspect of the game. He rarely makes mistakes and always makes the rest of the defense look better.
11. Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears
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Now 32 years old, Julius Peppers is still a terror at defensive end. The physical freak can rush the passer, defend the run or even drop back in coverage. There's nothing he can't do.
At this point, Peppers isn't the same player he once was, but he's still better than all but a few defensive ends. Defenses still fear the former No. 2 overall pick.
With 11 sacks in 2011, Peppers made an impact. He will continue to do so in ways on and off the stat sheet.
10. Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills
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When healthy, Mario Williams is an absolute force. He is as athletic a defensive end as there is in the NFL, and he can beat any offensive tackle.
Super Mario can play a variety of roles, and he's truly fearsome off the edge. With his length, athleticism and pass-rush repertoire, Williams is nearly unstoppable.
If he is healthy, Williams should prove a monster for the Bills. He just needs to stay on the field for his impact to be felt.
9. Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
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Few elite defensive ends receive less attention than Trent Cole. The former Cincinnati Bearcat is unbelievably consistent, picking up at least nine sacks in each of the past five years.
Cole isn't just a pass-rusher, though. He can also defend the run, despite what his small stature may indicate.
The Philadelphia star rarely racks up elite numbers, but he is always making an impact. Cole doesn't go away, as any quarterback is all too aware.
8. Chris Long, DE, St. Louis Rams
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Few defensive ends are better run-stoppers than Chris Long. The former No. 2 overall pick can also rush the passer, though, as his 13 sacks in 2011 indicate.
Long is just now being recognized as the force he is, but he is constantly hurting defenses. There isn't really a way to neutralize Long, either.
The St. Louis defensive end is effective in any situation and seemingly always around the ball. Long's run defense separates him from others, but his pass-rushing ability is often underrated. He is always making plays.
7. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
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An unusually explosive defensive tackle, Geno Atkins is the ultimate playmaking defensive tackle. Atkins' 7.5 sacks in 2011 were almost defensive-end-like.
It's seemingly impossible for a defensive tackle to penetrate the backfield as Atkins routinely does. He pressures quarterbacks and stops running backs in the backfield with ease.
The 24-year-old is capable of simply holding strong against the run, but his penetration ability makes him special. He can get by interior offensive linemen like few in the history of the NFL have been able to.
6. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona Cardinals
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A 3-4 defensive end, Calais Campbell picked up eight sacks in 2011. That's incredible for someone whose primary job is stopping the run and taking up blockers.
The 6'8", 300-pounder is an insane athlete with great run-stopping ability as well. Campbell dominates in both aspects of the game.
Campbell's pass-rushing ability allows Arizona to drop more men back in coverage, as Campbell will provide more of a rush than the typical player at his position. There is no overstating his impact.
5. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings
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Jared Allen had 22 sacks in 2011 and at least 11 in each of the previous four seasons. That is a pass-rusher if there ever was one.
The NFL is a pass-oriented game, and there is perhaps one better pass-rusher in the NFL than Allen. The stats show how dominant Allen has been.
Though he isn't a great run defender, Allen's pass-rushing ability more than makes up for it. He pressures quarterbacks, forcing mistakes. Oh, and he sacks the quarterback at a ridiculous rate.
4. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
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After a tremendous rookie season, J.J. Watt is establishing himself as an elite player in his second year. Just two games deep, Watt has three sacks and five deflections.
An explosive 3-4 defensive end, Watt makes plays in the backfield, but he really dominates at the line of scrimmage. The former Wisconsin star is difficult to move and routinely bats down otherwise-completed passes.
Though he is still developing, Watt is already elite. His type of play is almost unheard of at the demanding "5-technique" position.
3. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants
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Jason Pierre-Paul's dominance isn't exactly unknown. The third-year pro had 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks in 2011. That's making an impact.
JPP uses his elite physical ability to dominate offensive tackles. Pierre-Paul doesn't simply win battles, he wins them in landslide victories. Few offensive tackles can come close to containing him.
Pierre-Paul's play goes beyond the stats. It's about how much attention he demands and how feared he is. And, of course, it's about how much he takes over a game, and how little anyone can do about it.
2. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens
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One of the NFL's most freakish big men, Haloti Ngata is simply incredible. He can play any interior line position and dominate at any of them. Ngata is without limitations.
Rarely a huge sack-earner, Ngata can rush the passer but really excels at stopping the run. Whether he's in the backfield or refusing to move from the line of scrimmage, Ngata single-handedly stops rushing attacks.
The 6'4", 340-pounder is too powerful and athletic to contain. He is a force at all times and capable of making a huge play at any moment.
1. Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers
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There may not be a more complete player in the game than Justin Smith. The 285-pounder has 16 sacks over the past two years but is completely immovable in the run game.
Smith uses an incredible combination of burst, power and quickness to dominate interior linemen. He does it penetrating against the run, rushing the passer and clogging up his gap. He's a freak.
Smith plays both larger and smaller than his size, depending on the situation. It's hard to say how much worse the 49ers' elite defense would be without Smith, but it would certainly not be the same.
The 32-year-old seemingly makes a huge impact on every single play. He's impossible to avoid, and he can destroy an offense by himself.