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Power Ranking NFL Defensive-Line Depth Charts

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 2, 2014

Power Ranking NFL Defensive-Line Depth Charts

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Which NFL team has the best defensive line? That's a good way to start a serious argument—on the Internet or in your favorite sports bar. But in this slideshow you can get a definitive answer and know once and for all which team truly has the best talent and upside along the defensive line.

    Looking at past success, injuries, scheme fit, predraft rankings for rookies and then projecting the upside for the starters and top backups on each roster, here is a ranking of the top 32 defensive lines in football.

    Please note: All depth charts are courtesy of Ourlads.com 

32. Washington

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Starters: Jarvis Jenkins, Barry Cofield, Jason Hatcher

    Key Reserves: Kedric Golston, Stephen Bowen, Clifton Geathers

    In Washington's 3-4 defense, the pass rush comes from outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. But the men upfront are tasked with getting penetration, locking up blockers and stopping the run. When looking at past production, scheme fit, projected upside and potential, this group comes in last.

    Remember, we're not just talking about starters here; we're talking about the entire unit. Jason Hatcher is a good one, but Jarvis Jenkins and Barry Cofield are lower-level starters at their positions. And the depth here isn't good, thanks to a loss of draft picks and salary-cap room over the last two seasons.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Starters: Tyson Alualu, Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Red Bryant

    Key Reserves: Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood, Andre Branch, DeAndre Coleman (rookie)

    The Jacksonville Jaguars continue to try and build their own version of the Seattle Seahawks' defense since hiring away former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as their head coach. And while the defensive line continues to improve, this is an older unit, relying heavily on players the Seahawks no longer wanted.

    The big defensive end position, held down by Alualu and Bryant, is intriguing, but it will ask for much of the pass rush to come from power and bull moves. Their new OTTO position could bring some speed and heat to the field, but that will likely be in sub-packages. As of now, there's not one player on the line you have to scheme against if you're an offensive coordinator. 

    The Jaguars are on their way up the NFL's ladder, but the defensive line lacks a go-to stud.

30. Indianapolis Colts

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Starters: Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Ricky Jean-Francois

    Key Reserves: Arthur Jones, Cam Johnson, Zach Kerr (rookie)

    Since hiring Ryan Grigson as general manager, the Indianapolis Colts have been active and aggressive in free agency as they try to rebuild the defense. When looking at the defensive line in the team's 3-4 defense, you can see there is still work to be done.

    The addition of Arthur Jones will be good for the Colts, but starters Redding, Chapman and Jean-Francois are mid- and lower-level players as starters. Redding can be a very good run defender, but this front three needs an athletic pass-rusher opponents will fear.

29. Dallas Cowboys

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Starters: George Selvie, Henry Melton, Nick Hayden, Jeremy Mincey

    Key Reserves: Demarcus Lawrence (rookie), Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Anthony Spencer

    The Dallas Cowboys lost DeMarcus Ware due to salary-cap problems this offseason—and their best-laid plans to replace him haven't exactly inspired confidence in what this historically bad defense from 2013 can do better.

    The pass rush has potential with rookie Lawrence, upstart Selvie and Mincey as the rotation. In the middle the Cowboys really need a healthy Henry Melton in the 3-technique position if they have any hopes of being able to crash A- and B-gaps this year.

    There's big potential here but a very low floor too. The Cowboys could exceed expectations, but they could also have one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

28. Atlanta Falcons

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Starters: Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, Jonathan Babineaux

    Key Reserves: Ra'Shede Hageman (rookie), Corey Peters, Malliciah Goodman, Peria Jerry

    Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seems intent on running a base 3-4 defense in Atlanta this year, which is why the Falcons invested in Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai in free agency. By adding athletic freak Ra'Shede Hageman in the draft, the Falcons have the blueprint laid for a 30 front, but this isn't a group that will scare anyone.

    Jackson was a bust in Kansas City and is only in Atlanta because the man responsible for drafting him too soon (Scott Pioli) is an assistant with the Falcons now. Soliai is a good nose tackle, but he's a run-stopper only and won't be an effective three-down player.

    Babineaux and Hageman may be the saviors of this unit, but asking three new faces to play major minutes on the line begs the question of chemistry and familiarity.

27. Cleveland Browns

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Starters: Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant

    Key Reserves: Billy Winn, John Hughes, Calvin Barnett (rookie)

    The Cleveland Browns have an interesting group fronting their 3-4 defense, and in a rare occurrence, I actually like the backup defensive ends more than the starters.

    At left end, Rubin is a below-average starter and was outplayed in 2013 by both Winn and Hughes. On the right side, Desmond Bryant is a good end, and a nice athlete, but he could be replaced down the road too.

    I'm a bigger Phil Taylor fan than most, but he needs a good bounce-back year. 

    On the whole, there is a good group here to be optimistic about, but the performance has to be more consistent, and the development of Winn and Hughes must be big under yet another new regime.

26. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Starters: Allen Bailey, Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito

    Key Reserves: Mike Catapano, Vance Walker, Jay Howard

    The Kansas City Chiefs have a legitimate superstar in nose tackle Dontari Poe, but the rest of the defensive line corps is a mystery and/or question mark.

    Allen Bailey will move into the starting lineup this year after being a third-round pick in 2011, and he has nice potential as an athlete there, but he's a mystery candidate. On the other side, Mike DeVito is a cagey veteran, but he didn't live up to the play we saw in New York when he was with Rex Ryan.

    The guy to keep an eye on is Mike Catapano, but from the starting ends all the way to the depth of this group, the defensive line looks to be a weakness for the Kansas City defense.

25. San Diego Chargers

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Starters: Kendall Reyes, Sean Lissemore, Corey Liuget

    Key Reserves: Lawrence Guy, Ryan Carrethers (rookie), Kwame Geathers

    The San Diego Chargers have two well-known starters at defensive end, but both Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget took big steps back in performance during the 2013 season. How the two will play with a new starter beside them at nose tackle is a big question mark.

    The depth here is a concern, especially with a depth-level player like Sean Lissemore as the starting nose tackle. The Chargers are betting on a host of young players to get the job done on a defense that needs to step up.

24. Oakland Raiders

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Starters: Lamarr Woodley, Pat Sims, Antonio Smith, Justin Tuck

    Key Reserves: Jack Crawford, Justin Ellis (rookie), Stacy McGee

    The Oakland Raiders have a ton of recognizable names, but are those names still viable options as pass- rushers and run defenders?

    Lamarr Woodley and Justin Tuck haven't been the big-time players many expected the past few seasons, but in Oakland they'll be playing in a defense designed to utilize their strengths as pass-rushers. With big defenders Pat Sims and Antonio Smith in the middle, the Raiders' starting four could be much better than people expect.

    The depth here isn't great, but Justin Ellis was one of my favorite defenders in the entire 2014 draft class.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Starters: Cam Thomas, Steve McLendon, Cam Heyward

    Key Reserves: Stephon Tuitt (rookie), Daniel McCullers (rookie), Josh Mauro (rookie)

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are going through a rebuild on defense, but that's especially true for the front three. In their base 3-4 defense this year, we could see two rookie starters flanking fourth-year man Cam Heyward. Or we could see two veterans with little projected upside holding down jobs.

    The Steelers invested in Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McClullers and have to see both as potential starters—but especially Tuitt at the left defensive-end job. If he can play more like he did in 2012 and less like he did through rough patches in 2013, the Steelers will have a steal and a young defensive line on the way up this ranking.

22. Green Bay Packers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Starters: Datone Jones, B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels

    Key Reserves: Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, Letroy Guion, Khyri Thornton (rookie)

    The Green Bay Packers have invested a ton of draft picks into making their defensive line a strength—and to date it hasn't been. It's now or never for the Packers' big men. 

    B.J. Raji, a former top-10 pick, is back and on a prove-it deal with the team. He needs to find his groove at nose tackle and get back to making big plays. He'll be flanked by a lot of youth and athleticism. Starters Datone Jones and Mike Daniels are two of the most athletic 3-4 defensive ends in the league, and even backups Jerel Worthy and Mike Neal can move well. 

    The depth here is very good, but the problem is that so few players have emerged as viable playmakers. The Packers could be ranked much higher postseason than they are now.

21. Minnesota Vikings

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Starters: Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen

    Key Reserves: Scott Crichton (rookie), Fred Evans, Corey Wootton

    Of any team ranked outside the top 20, the Minnesota Vikings have the most potential to move way up during the season. The only reason they aren't higher now is that they are betting on big developments and contributors after letting Jared Allen and Kevin Williams walk.

    Sharrif Floyd was a top-10 player for me before the 2013 draft, and he'll get his chance to shine with Williams now in Seattle. He'll need to if this line expects to be a strength overall in 2014. 

    Floyd will be helped by solid pass-rushers Robison, Griffen and rookie Crichton. That's a solid three-man rotation at end and enough to keep NFC North quarterbacks uneasy.

20. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Starters: Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox

    Key Reserves: Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart (rookie), Beau Allen (rookie), Brandon Bair

    The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive line overachieved in 2013, but now the pressure will be on, as opposing offenses are ready for them. That's where continued development from their young starters and rotational players will be so important.

    Fletcher Cox has the goods to be one of the game's best 3-4 defensive ends. The 2012 first-rounder should continue to take a big step in his third season. If he can keep improving, look for more big plays from Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton as offenses focus on Cox.

    The depth here was better than expected, but the Eagles will ask two rookies to sit and learn this year as long as injuries don't force them onto the field.

19. Tennessee Titans

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Starters: Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey, Al Woods

    Key Reserves: Karl Klug, Mike Martin, DaQuan Jones (rookie), Ropati Pitoitua, Sammie Hill

    A new-look defense in Tennessee will be worth watching, especially if the Titans unleash Jurrell Casey in the middle of their hybrid defense.

    Casey is the star of this group, and he's emerging as one of the top nose tackles in the game. Alongside him you can easily fall in love with Karl Klug's nastiness and Derrick Morgan's versatility, but the team needs Morgan to become more reliable over a 16-game season.

    The depth here helps the Titans' ranking overall and is why the team could be ranked much higher in February's postseason look.

18. New Orleans Saints

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Starters: Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley, Cameron Jordan 

    Key Reserves: Glenn Foster, John Jenkins, George Uko (rookie)

    The New Orleans Saints have a defensive line led by a superstar-in-the-making—Cameron Jordan—and a good (but not great) supporting cast. That's why it comes in ranked near the middle of the list.

    The upside here comes with Akiem Hicks and potentially John Jenkins. If Jenkins can compete and take the nose-tackle job, you'd have to like the long-term potential of this front three. As it stands now, the Saints are relying more on an over-the-hill vet (Bunkley) and a lot of question marks waiting in the wings.

    George Uko is a name to remember. The USC junior went undrafted, but he has nice upside.

17. New England Patriots

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Starters: Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones

    Key Reserves: Dominique Easley (rookie), Jake Bequette, Armond Armstead, Will Smith, Zach Moore (rookie)

    The New England Patriots struggled to attack the quarterback in previous seasons, so they went out and added athletic defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round. He'll play alongside Chandler Jones to give the Patriots a very good one-two punch on the line, but how good can the rest of this unit be?

    Vince Wilfork is still a massive, immovable man, but his penetration skills have dropped off. Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich are solid, but both would be ideal sub-package players and not starters. And as of today, it's too soon to ask Jake Bequette or Armond Armstead to be ready to contribute in 2014.

    The potential here is good, and the Patriots could surprise, but the front four is not the team's strength on defense.

16. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Starters: Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Wallace Gilberry

    Key Reserves: Margus Hunt, Devon Still, Robert Geathers, Will Clarke (rookie)

    The Cincinnati Bengals built a dynamic defensive line with Mike Zimmer as coordinator on defense. But with Zimmer headed to Minnesota and Michael Johnson in Tampa Bay, the defensive line is no sure thing in Cincinnati.

    The strength of the line will once again be Geno Atkins—if he's healthy he can be the NFL's best defensive tackle. Atkins will be asked to anchor the line with Johnson gone, and young guns Margus Hunt and Will Clarke will have to step up too.

    The line here will produce pressures, but the Bengals are going to rely on a lot of blitzing to get the job done too. If Atkins is back to his 2012 form, this line will be ranked higher after the season.

15. Denver Broncos

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    Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

    Starters: Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, DeMarcus Ware

    Key Reserves: Malik Jackson, Kevin Vickerson, Quanterus Smith

    John Elway was serious about improving his pass rush this offseason, and the addition of DeMarcus Ware could be gigantic if the future Hall of Famer can stay healthy. Ware wasn't at his usual level in 2013, but has unreal pass-rushing ability and can be a one-man wrecking crew off the edge.

    The Broncos got huge production from Terrance Knighton last year, and they're hoping Pot Roast can produce at those same levels this year. If he does, Sylvester Williams may see more one-on-one action and start showing the goods that made him a high draft pick. 

    Derek Wolfe isn't your ideal pass-rushing end, but he's a force against the run and will surrender reps to Malik Jackson (the better pass-rusher of the two). The Broncos' ranking hinges on Ware, and if he's back, they'll soar up the board.

14. Chicago Bears

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Starters: Lamarr Houston, Jay Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Jared Allen

    Key Reserves: Willie Young, Will Sutton (rookie), Ego Ferguson (rookie), Cornelius Washington

    The defensive line in Chicago has a lot of new faces on it—and that's why they're poised to go from one of the worst lines in football to one of the best. Perhaps Phil Emery can pull off the same reclamation job he did for his offensive line last season?

    Adding Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen and Willie Young will completely remake the pass rush in Chicago while giving them a legitimate threat (Allen) offenses must plan for. The depth is very good, too, if rookies Sutton and Ferguson pan out as expected.

    The Bears are an underrated group along the defensive line, so don't be surprised if they become a higher-ranked crew over the next two seasons if the youngsters pan out.

13. Houston Texans

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Starters: J.J. Watt, Jerrell Powe, Tim Jamison

    Key Reserves: Louis Nix III (rookie), Jared Crick, Jeoffrey Pagan (rookie)

    The Houston Texans have J.J. Watt, and no one else can really compete with that. Watt ranks as the NFL's best defensive lineman over the last two seasons and looks to be in great shape for a third straight season ranked as the best down lineman. Add in Louis Nix III as the team's starting nose tackle and the athleticism on the front three could be a huge asset.

    Watt, Nix and Jamison will be an active group—and if you count Jadeveon Clowney as a defensive end (he'll play there about 50 percent of the time in sub-packages), this is a group you must account for on both ends of the line.

12. New York Giants

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Starters: Damontre Moore, Johnathan Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Pierre-Paul

    Key Reserves: Jay Bromley (rookie), Robert Ayers, Mathias Kiwanuka, Mike Patterson

    It wasn't that long ago when the New York Giants had a defensive line that every NFL offense feared. Today, that's not as much the case, but this group has a chance to silence the critics. To do that, it'll have to stay healthy.

    Jason Pierre-Paul must be the anchor of this group, and he has that potential if he can stay on the field for 16 games. The pickup of Robert Ayers is very underrated, and he can be the third pass-rusher this defense needs.

    At tackle, the team needs Johnathan Hankins to live up to his potential, and many eyes will be on him as he steps into the starting role.

11. Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Starters: Brandon Williams, Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty

    Key Reserves: Timmy Jernigan (rookie), Terrence Cody, DeAngelo Tyson

    The Baltimore Ravens have a good mix of veterans and youngsters, and once again general manager Ozzie Newsome has built a strong first and second wave.

    Haloti Ngata is still one of the best, and most disruptive, at the defensive tackle position. Flanking him will be athletic second-year man Brandon Williams and veteran Chris Canty. The team should see a lot of Timmy Jernigan—their second-round pick—at end as well. 

    Terrence Cody has been a bit of a bust, but he can be a solid sub-package nose tackle. Also, DeAngelo Tyson is an underrated athlete at end.

10. San Francisco 49ers

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Starters: Ray McDonald, Glenn Dorsey, Justin Smith

    Key Reserves: Tank Carradine, Ian Williams, Demarcus Dobbs, Lawrence Okoye, Tony Jerod-Eddie

    The San Francisco 49ers have been built by general manager Trent Baalke to make another Super Bowl run in 2014. If they do, the strength of the defense upfront will once again play a key role.

    Right defensive end Justin Smith is one of the most disruptive players at that position, even as he ages. We may see more Tank Carradine there this year in a rotation to keep Smith fresh, but he's the leader of the line and will be the guy called on to make plays there.

    Glenn Dorsey played very well for his first season as a nose tackle after coming from a defensive end position in Kansas City and should be better with more experience there this fall. Ray McDonald is as solid as they come at left end and a bit underrated nationally.

    The depth here is unproven but exciting. Carradine is a future starter, and Okoye is an athletic marvel with nice skills.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Starters: Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Michael Johnson

    Key Reserves: William Gholston, Clinton McDonald, Da'Quan Bowers, Steven Means

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gone through a nearly complete rebuild in one offseason now that general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith are running the show. The changes on the defensive line were subtle, but they were big enough to create visible adjustments in 2014.

    Gerald McCoy is back, and he's quickly become one of the game's premier 3-technique pass-rushers. Adding in Michael Johnson at right defensive end will open up rushing lanes for McCoy, Akeem Spence and even Adrian Clayborn as offensive lines slide their protection. The expectation here is that McCoy and Johnson will create opportunities for their linemates.

    The secondary talent is good, too, and Clinton McDonald might even start ahead of Spence. Da'Quan Bowers hasn't lived up to expectations, but he could be a solid rotational end.

8. Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Starters: Jason Jones, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah

    Key Reserves: Larry Webster (rookie), Andre Fluellen, C.J. Mosley, Devin Taylor, Caraun Reid (rookie)

    The Detroit Lions have one of the NFL's most popular defensive lines. Whether or not that will equal production remains to be seen, but on paper, this is one of the league's best lines.

    It all starts in the middle for Detroit, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, both high-level starters—and Suh is in the running for one of the game's best. The talent there gets even better when you add in C.J. Mosley as a rotational tackle and rookie Caraun Reid bringing up the rear.

    At end the talent is good, but there is no dominant player here...yet. Ziggy Ansah showed flashes in 2013, but he was still learning the position. This could be a breakout year for him in a new defense. Jason Jones is very solid, but no offensive coordinators are scheming around him.

7. Miami Dolphins

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Starters: Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon

    Key Reserves: Dion Jordan, Anthony Johnson (rookie), Derrick Shelby, Earl Mitchell

    The Miami Dolphins have a defensive line built to attack an offense in multiple ways and from multiple angles. That's why it comes in at No. 7 overall.

    Cameron Wake is one of the NFL's best edge-rushers, and his ability to dip and drive past tackles from the left side of the line is the catalyst for all the Dolphins do upfront. What makes them even more dangerous is the development of Olivier Vernon at right end. Now offenses must worry about both edges simultaneously.

    That doesn't even include the sub-package role of Dion Jordan—the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Jordan has rare abilities, but he hasn't yet been released to make plays by this coaching staff. That could come this year.

    The inside is stout, and Randy Starks is an underrated pass-rusher at tackle. The depth is good, too, as rookie Anthony Johnson and veteran Earl Mitchell are a nice second wave.

6. Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Starters: Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett

    Key Reserves: Kareem Martin (rookie), Alameda Ta'amu, Frostee Rucker, Ed Stinson (rookie)

    The Arizona Cardinals have a tried-and-true philosophy along the defensive line—and it works. Through the years, the play of Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell has been a constant, and while the pieces around them have changed, the results stay the same.

    The Cardinals' hybrid defense works because of Campbell's athleticism and Dockett's stubborn persistence along the line. Add in big Dan Williams at nose and you can start attacking an offensive line. 

    The team will ease in rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, but the first- and second-wave talent here is both talented and ideal for the scheme.

5. Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Starters: Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Brandon Mebane, Cliff Avril

    Key Reserves: Kevin Williams, Cassius Marsh (rookie), Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams

    The Seattle Seahawks built one heck of a defense en route to a Super Bowl title. The meat and potatoes of the unit is back, and this front four looks fierce.

    Michael Bennett may not get huge name recognition (yet), but he's one of the NFL's best and most versatile players at defensive end. Throw him into a lineup that can feature big uglies (McDaniel, Mebane, Hill) or speed (Avril, Marsh) and you have serious problems as an offensive coordinator.

    For the scheme they've built, the Seahawks have an idea mixture of talent to work with. And that's why they're ranked No. 5 overall.

4. New York Jets

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Starters: Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson

    Key Reserves: Kenrick Ellis, Leger Douzable, Kerry Hyder (rookie), Zach Thompson (rookie)

    The New York Jets have a scary front three anchoring Rex Ryan's 3-4 defense. If you're playing in the AFC East, this is the type of line you never want to see.

    What works so well for the Jets? The basis of their front three is the athleticism. Sheldon Richardson moves like an outside linebacker and is built like a defensive tackle. His explosion and flexibility are unreal, and they allow him to be a pass-rusher and run-stopper playing a 5-technique role.

    If you slide your protection to stop Richardson, you have to worry about Muhammad Wilkerson on the other side of the line. Wilkerson, like Richardson, is a dynamic and versatile mover with the skills to beat you in a number of ways. And if you manage to stop the two ends, good luck handling Damon "Snacks" Harrison in the middle.

    Harrison emerged as one of the best gap-plugging big men in the game last year, and he'll get after the quarterback too if he's asked to crash the pocket.

    The Jets have good depth, too, but the focal point of the entire defense (and honestly, the entire team) is this front three.

3. Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Starters: Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes

    Key Reserves: Manny Lawson, Jarius Wynn, Alan Branch, Corbin Bryant

    The Buffalo Bills may not be in the minds of many casual fans when thinking of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but anyone turning on the game and closely paying attention has noticed the talent here. 

    The Bills have a group with versatile, but complementing, talents. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are both agile and strong off the edge, with Hughes having the open-field quickness to match Williams' raw strength and length. In the middle, Marcell Dareus' all-around game is a perfect match next to Kyle Williams' leverage, vision and quickness.

    The second level is good, too, with Manny Lawson providing a very good edge rush on passing downs. Even guys like Alan Branch have found success in this scheme. 

    Across the board, it's tough to find four better starters in the NFL today.

2. Carolina Panthers

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Starters: Charles Johnson, Dwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei, Greg Hardy

    Key Reserves: Kawann Short, Kony Ealy (rookie), Frank Alexander, Colin Cole

    Pick your poison if you're trying to stop the Carolina Panthers' front four. 

    The line has legitimate stars (Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy) and big-time up-and-comers in Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Kony Ealy. The front office has built for the present and the future in Carolina, at least on defense, and this line is a testament to that.

    Johnson and Hardy are one of the top pass-rushing duos in the league—and you could make an argument that they are the very best. From a pure numbers standpoint, they're tough to beat. The only thing stopping them might be Hardy's legal troubles, but that's where second-rounder Kony Ealy—a player I ranked in the top 10 overall—comes in.

    Stars, strong veterans and big-time potential. That's why the Panthers are easily one of the NFL's best defensive lines.

1. St. Louis Rams

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Starters: Chris Long, Aaron Donald (rookie), Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn

    Key Reserves: William Hayes, Kendall Langford, Eugene Sims, Michael Sam (rookie)

    Before Bleacher Report, I worked as an offensive coach at the high school and semi-pro levels. It was nothing glamorous and, obviously, different levels of play, but coaching makes you think about what you cannot scheme for—what can't be stopped. On offense, the answer is speed and technique. The St. Louis Rams' defensive line excels in both areas.

    If you're an offensive coordinator, you look at this roster and start working on stopping Robert Quinn. That means sliding your left guard in as protection—but when you do that, Michael Brockers is in a one-on-one situation with the center.

    So you decide to play it straight, but you can't let Chris Long and Quinn go free against your tackles in pass protection. Max protect? Maybe, but then the Rams bring in William Hayes, and it's like a Blitzkrieg attack. 

    Stopping the Rams' pass rush is something few will be able to do—especially with Aaron Donald crashing lines as the 3-technique. Good luck, NFC West. You're going to need it.

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