B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 40 4-3 Defensive Ends from 2015

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 23, 2016

B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 40 4-3 Defensive Ends from 2015

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    At the end of the 2015 NFL season, who was the best 4-3 defensive end in the game? We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly the best? Forget reputation and how much money each player makes. We want cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players. 

    That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year. 

    The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100.

    Potential and career accomplishments are not taken into consideration.

    We judged 4-3 defensive ends on pass rush (50 points), run defense (40) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (10 points). The maximum score for this position is 100.

    In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.

    Subjective? Yes, but ties are no fun.

    A team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Adam Heisler, Duke Manyweather, Matt Miller and Marshal Miller) scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team. 

     

    Players' heights, weights, seasons played and sack totals from NFL.comAll other statistics from Pro Football Focus. All stats reflect regular-season performance only.

40. Bobby Richardson, New Orleans Saints

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    32/50

    An undrafted free agent out of Indiana, Bobby Richardson played a big role in his first season with the New Orleans Saints. Richardson, who made his first start in Week 4 and held onto the job for the rest of the season, has a power move and a bull rush as a pass-rusher but doesn’t have the speed to be a true 4-3 defensive end. Even after the Saints fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in mid-November, Richardson maintained his grasp on a starting job due to his potential and the consistent quarterback hurries he produced (nine), but don’t be surprised if he’s playing defensive tackle in 2016.

    Run Defense

    31/40

    Richardson is stout at the point of attack and can get free to beat tackles with his hands, but his leverage and footwork to truly anchor were poor. With good coaching, he could become a bigger factor here, because his upfield push and awareness were encouraging. He just needs reps playing outside in an unfamiliar role.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    73/100

39. Jared Allen, Carolina Panthers

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    One of the most feared and dominant pass-rushers of his generation, Jared Allen wound up with two sacks and his first Super Bowl appearance in his final NFL season. He wasn't nearly as predominant of a pass-rusher since leaving the Minnesota Vikings after the 2013 season, but he still played with an amazing amount of effort and heart. Allen retires tied with Julius Peppers for ninth all-time in career sacks with 136.

    Run Defense

    25/40

    Age and a declining skill set made it difficult for Allen to be adequate against the run this past season. He was used primarily in pass-rushing situations but is a superb tackler who wraps up, dragging guys to the ground. His 25 combined tackles were exceptional for a part-time defender against the run.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    73/100

38. Chris Long, St. Louis Rams

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    Injuries have plagued Chris Long over the last two years, and they not only contributed to his diminished numbers but forced the Rams to part ways with him after eight seasons. Long doesn’t have the same burst as he did before his body started deteriorating, which prevents him from being an effective outside rusher. With only three sacks this past season and one the season before, Long will need to take extra time to get healthy in order to return to his 2011 and 2012 form.

    Run Defense

    28/40

    Long hasn’t ever been known for his ability to stop the run, and he has been even less productive in that regard recently due to his nagging injuries. A lack of lateral quickness hampers him in the run game and turns him into a one-dimensional defender. He only managed 13 combined tackles in 12 games played this past season.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    73/100

37. Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    A hamstring injury forced Charles Johnson to miss seven games in the middle of the season, which led to a drop in his production. He recorded his one and only sack in the very first game of the year and then had to fight for playing time after returning from his injury in Week 11. Upon his return, Johnson wasn’t able to be the physical presence we have come to expect from him over the past several seasons. His inability to explode off the snap made it difficult for him to get pressure on the quarterback. With an entire offseason to heal and get his body right, he should be able to have a bounce-back season next year.

    Run Defense

    27/40

    Johnson has always concentrated more on rushing the passer than stopping the run, and this past season was no exception. At times, he is so focused on getting to the quarterback that he takes himself out of position to stop the run. When he plays with discipline, he has the power to hold his ground and the quick hands to release from getting blocked. Even though he was injured for part of the season, his nine tackles are far too few for a player of his caliber.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    74/100

36. Andre Branch, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Pass Rush

    36/50

    In his fourth season out of Clemson, Andre Branch played his most significant NFL role yet. The Jaguars used him as a swing defensive end, as he played both the left and right side while starting nine games and appearing in 13. In turn, Branch logged four sacks and 22 hurries while showing the quickness that made him a second-round pick back in 2012. He still needs to develop secondary pass-rushing moves, but he flashed potential right in time to hit free agency, landing with the Miami Dolphins.

    Run Defense

    29/40

    Branch is a good athlete, and the explosion that powers his pass rush shows up against the run. However, he struggles to win the leverage game and too often makes himself a big target for the hands of pass-blockers when he’s trying to stack up against the run.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

35. Kerry Wynn, New York Giants

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    Pass Rush

    33/50

    Injuries along the Giants defensive line forced second-year player Kerry Wynn into starting action for seven games in 2015. In that time, he struggled to shake off blockers and get into the backfield when pressuring quarterbacks, showing that he’s still a bit of a project. Wynn didn’t record a single sack in his 15 appearances and while playing 53 percent of the team’s snaps. He did notch three hits and 10 hurries, but he rarely showed up in this area in the final box score.

    Run Defense

    32/40

    Wynn has the size and athleticism at 6’5” and 264 pounds to be a threat against the run, but he first has to learn to use his hands and length to keep blockers out of his face. He wasn’t able to master firing out of his stance with speed while keeping leverage and using his length to lock out blockers.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

34. Ryan Delaire, Carolina Panthers

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Ryan Delaire is the kind of no-nonsense player every NFL team needs rotating along its defensive line. In his nine appearances in 2015, he was a solid reserve on a defensive line that loves to rotate defensive ends. And at 6’4” and 254 pounds, he’s one of Carolina’s smaller rushers, which allows him to kick outside the tackle and use his speed to blow past offensive tackles who have been beaten into submission all game by the 275-pounders the Panthers like to use at end.

    Run Defense

    25/40

    Delaire routinely subbed in on passing downs; in fact, he only saw 68 snaps against the run throughout the regular season. With his sleek frame and first-step quickness, he’s better suited to playing fast and loose on the edge and not working one-on-one against tackles when the run is coming his way.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

33. Ryan Davis, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Ryan Davis’ fourth season in the NFL was a bit of a step back in terms of production from what he did in 2014. His sack production plunged from 6.5 to 3.5, and his role decreased as a member of the Jaguars’ rotation at end. He is a solid power-rusher at 270 pounds, but he doesn’t bring the quickness or agility to get tackles to turn and give up their shoulders to his pass-rushing moves.

    Run Defense

    25/40

    You’d expect a 6’2”, 270-pound defensive end to be stout against the run, but Davis rarely plays in those spots in the Jaguars’ defensive scheme. He logged just 38 snaps on rushing plays all season—compared to 208 against the pass—and when he was on the field, he simply didn't make much of an impact in the backfield. Davis too quickly and too easily surrendered his body to blockers.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

32. Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    A technically sound defensive end, Rob Ninkovich uses a powerful punch and release to get by opposing linemen. While he isn’t the most athletically gifted player at his position, his willingness to do anything it takes to get to the quarterback makes him effective on passing downs. He finished the season with a respectable 6.5 sacks and 31 hurries.

    Run Defense

    29/40

    Ninkovich’s lack of size (6'2", 260 lbs) and deteriorating strength have played a major role in his inability to be as effective a run-stuffer as he was early in his career. He is still one of the league’s best at setting the edge and forcing runners back to the inside. However, he will struggle when teams run to his inside shoulder and offensive linemen are able to drive him back off his spot. He is an excellent tackler and finished the season with 43 combined tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    76/100

31. Jeremy Mincey, Dallas Cowboys

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    Pass Rush

    35/50

    Jeremy Mincey arguably had the worst season of his career this past season, and he was completely ineffective as a pass-rusher. He is a powerfully built player who has adequate athleticism and should be more productive on the field. He plays too tall at times and is stiff around the edge, which makes it difficult for him to get to the quarterback from the outside. His 2015 season ended with zero sacks and only 14 hurries.

    Run Defense

    31/40

    Mincey has all of the physical tools to be a stout and effective run-stopper. He has enough strength to hold his ground and not get pushed off his spot, as well as enough quickness to break free from his opponent and pull down runners from behind. Mincey uses his quick first step to get to the outside and set the edge, forcing running backs to cut back and take plays inside. However, five missed tackles were too many for someone who played as few snaps as Mincey did this past season.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    76/100

30. Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    Robert Quinn was having another stellar year before going down with a season-ending back injury. He is one of the league's premier pass-rushers and was living up to those expectations before his injury. He can beat his opponent in a multitude of ways and isn’t going to give up if his initial rush is thwarted. His ability to react and set up countermoves is what makes him so special. In only eight games this past season, Quinn registered five sacks and three forced fumbles.

    Run Defense

    28/40

    While Quinn has all of the skills to be an elite run-stopper, his primary role is to rush the passer, which sometimes hinders his ability to be dominant against the run. He has the power and quickness to hold his ground or disengage and chase down running backs. Quinn is a solid tackler who will wrap up ball-carriers and drive them into the ground.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    76/100

29. Derrick Shelby, Miami Dolphins

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    Pass Rush

    35/50

    Derrick Shelby was the beneficiary of playing along the front line with players such as Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Shelby was always matched up in one-on-one situations but still wasn’t able to put up sufficient numbers. He doesn’t explode out of his stance and lacks the straight-line speed to chase down quarterbacks from behind. He plays high and stiff, which makes him nearly ineffective around the edge and forces him to try to beat offensive linemen to the inside. He finished the season with only 3.5 sacks.

    Run Defense

    32/40

    Powerful and sturdy against the run, Shelby saw his playing time increase this past season because of his ability to hold up in rush defense. He uses his thick frame to anchor and hold his ground, not allowing running backs to create big plays on his side of the field. Shelby does need to become a more consistent tackler, though, as he missed nine tackles throughout the year.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    77/100

28. Kroy Biermann, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    34/50

    As an edge-rusher, Kroy Biermann relies heavily on great coverage downfield to get to the quarterback. He lacks the quick twitch to be a threat to beat offensive tackles to the outside, which allows them to protect against the inside rush. He finished this past season with a mediocre 2.5 sacks and only nine hurries.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Biermann makes his living as a run-stuffing defensive end. His ability to diagnose running plays and shed blocks allows him to pull down ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage. Since he lacks an elite pass-rushing skill set, he is able to focus on containing the pocket, which permits him to set the edge against the run routinely. His 47 tackles ranked near the top of all 4-3 defensive ends.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    77/100

27. Devin Taylor, Detroit Lions

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    39/50

    The Lions unleashed Devin Taylor in his third NFL season, and he responded by producing the kinds of numbers that put him into consideration as a future starter. Playing just over 56 percent of the team’s snaps, Taylor notched seven sacks, four quarterback hits and 23 hurries while showcasing great use of length and agility. His 6’7”, 275-pound frame also allows him to kick inside on sub-packages and use his quickness to split blockers.

    Run Defense

    29/40

    For Taylor to become more effective in the run game, he has to get better at keeping his pads low. That 6’7” height is impressive when he’s batting down passes, but it's an issue when he’s trying to win the leverage game against a guard or tackle. Taylor has the quickness to chase down running backs and shows up well in pursuit on plays away from his spot at right end.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    78/100

26. O'Brien Schofield, Atlanta Falcons

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    36/50

    O’Brien Schofield’s first year in Atlanta wasn’t as successful as he had hoped when he signed with the Falcons during free agency. On the plus side, he is versatile and even played some outside linebacker, but his inability to put pressure on the quarterback set back the Falcons' entire pass-rush unit. His two sacks and 14 hurries were far too few for an everyday starter in this league.

    Run Defense

    32/40

    Weighing only 242 pounds, Schofield lacks the size to stand his ground against the run. He has to depend on his athletic ability and agility to make plays in the running game. He is better suited playing the weak side against the run and chasing plays down from behind. In 16 games, he managed only 23 combined tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    78/100

25. Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    After making a negligible impact as a rookie in 2014, DeMarcus Lawrence broke out in a big way this past season. He is an outstanding athlete who has a quick first step and is flexible enough to bend the edge to get to the quarterback. The Boise State product is still developing some countermoves, and if he can add a little weight to his frame, he will have a much more effective bull rush. Lawrence became more productive as the season went on and he was able to get more reps under his belt. He has a chance, if he continues to develop, to be one of the league's most feared pass-rushers.

    Run Defense

    27/40

    At this stage of his career, Lawrence is purely a pass-rush specialist. His lean frame makes it easy for offensive linemen to push him around, and he doesn’t have the strength in his legs to sink his heels into the ground and anchor. He has to rely on this athletic ability to keep offensive linemen from getting locked into his pads. Lawrence is most effective on running plays that go away from him where he has a chance to chase the running back down from behind. He is a solid tackler once he is able to get to the ball-carrier, as evidenced by his 36 total tackles last season.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    78/100

24. Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    If we only took into account the playoffs for the NFL 1000 series, Kony Ealy would be a top-10 defensive end. As for the regular season, he had an up-and-down year. He has all of the physical tools you look for in a dominant pass-rusher: a quick first step, speed around the edge and the ability to convert that speed into power. He had a stretch during the middle of the season where he recorded a sack in five straight games. On the downside, those were the only sacks he recorded until the playoffs.

    Run Defense

    31/40

    This is an area where Ealy needs to improve if he wants to be recognized as one of the league's best. He lacks the overall awareness to diagnose plays on a consistent basis and will overrun plays that will take him out of position. When he is focused on stopping the run, he does a nice job of setting the edge and forcing runners back to the inside. Twenty-five tackles is not nearly enough for someone who played as many snaps as he did this past year.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

23. Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks

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    Pass Rush

    39/50

    The Seahawks used their pick in the late second round to grab Frank Clark, and he produced immediately. Clark played in 15 games as a rotational defensive end on the right side, logging three sacks, 19 hurries and four quarterback hits on the season while flashing the power and burst that made him unstoppable at Michigan. He has unreal potential, and as he gets more reps and gains experience at setting up pass-blockers, he could become a top-10 player here.

    Run Defense

    30/40

    Playing the run is something Clark has to adjust to as a defensive end. He has power and burst, but he needs to learn to use his hands to keep free from blockers. The other big thing he needs to work on is learning to read his keys and get to the ball with his eyes as well as his athletic traits.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

22. Brian Robison, Minnesota Vikings

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    Pass Rush

    39/50

    Brian Robison hasn’t been quite as effective of a pass-rusher the last two seasons as he had been in prior years. He doesn’t have the quickness or speed to explode around the edge and make quarterbacks nervous. Most of his sacks come from effort plays or good coverage downfield. Robison finished this past season with only five sacks in 962 snaps.

    Run Defense

    30/40

    Robison was much better against the run in 2015. He was able to use his lateral agility to sidestep around blockers to clog running lanes and was an efficient tackler when given the opportunity. He has a willingness to set the edge and does not have tunnel vision for the quarterback. Robison still struggles when offensive linemen are able to lock on and drive him back. He lacks leg power to anchor down and hold his ground.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

21. Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    One of the most explosive defensive ends in the league, Vic Beasley uses his lightning-quick first step to blow past tackles. He is flexible enough to bend around the edge and then accelerate to the quarterback. While he had his ups and downs during his rookie season, Beasley proved he has the ability to be one of the most feared pass-rushers of the future. His four sacks might be a little low, but his 33 hurries were tied for 12th among all 4-3 ends.

    Run Defense

    29/40

    Extremely light and thin for a defensive end, Beasley (246 lbs) has to win with athletic ability. He doesn’t have the frame or strength to plant his feet and hold his ground against the run. What he lacks in strength, though, he makes up in agility and quickness. Running backs have to know where he is even when they're running away from his side of the field. He has the speed to chase them down from behind and is always looking to make a play by causing a turnover. He will need to be more productive on rushing plays if he wants to be an every-down player and not just a pass-rush specialist.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    81/100

20. George Selvie, New York Giants

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    Pass Rush

    35/50

    After a breakout season in 2013, George Selvie has had two subpar years in a row. He is a flexible edge-rusher who has the ability to bend around the outside of offensive tackles but lacks the speed to put pressure on the quarterback during exterior rushes. He is versatile enough to play both end positions and doesn’t seem to be better at one side or the other. Selvie’s inability to get pressure on the quarterback caused the Giants to pay a lot of money for front-line help during free agency this year.

    Run Defense

    37/40

    A stout run defender, Selvie uses his size (6'4", 270 lbs) to hold his ground against even the stiffest of rushing attacks, and he has enough quickness to break away from blockers who are making stops down the line. His long arms allow him to keep offensive linemen at bay while giving him an opportunity to diagnose and read the play. He was a consistent tackler this past season, only missing three tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    82/100

19. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    39/50

    As an undersized speed-rusher, Jerry Hughes (6'2", 254 lbs) makes his living by beating offensive tackles around the edge and creating havoc in the backfield. He has an innate ability to time the snap, which, combined with his speed, means his opponents have to be on their toes every play. He also uses his speed move to the outside to set up his inside move where he crosses back to the inside. He finished the year with an outstanding 49 hurries, which ranked third among 4-3 defensive ends.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Hughes' size can make him a liability against the run at times, as more powerful offensive linemen can push him around. He has to rely on his short-area quickness to stay away from an opponent's grip and squeeze through small gaps to chase down running backs. His 51 combined tackles are impressive for a defensive lineman of his size and show exactly how athletic he can be.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    82/100

18. Jason Jones, Detroit Lions

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    Pass Rush

    40/50

    A 15-game starter, Jason Jones is a versatile 6’5”, 275-pound defensive end. He played both left and right end for the Lions in 2015 and offers a strong-side presence opposite a dynamic athlete like Ezekiel Ansah. On the season, Jones logged 4.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and 29 hurries while getting comfortable in a new defensive scheme. He offers a strong bull rush and enough burst in his first step to be a problem for both powerful and finesse tackles.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Given his size, you would expect Jones to be better against the run. His issues are in maintaining leverage throughout the play and doing that for 50 snaps per game. He uses his hands well and understands the timing to swat away a punch, but when engaging a blocker, he’s routinely too tall to win the battle.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    83/100

17. Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Pass Rush

    36/50

    Wallace Gilberry is an energy player who relies on technique more than athletic ability. He lacks the quick twitch to get off on the snap and accelerate past offensive tackles. He uses his legs to drive back linemen and his active hands to break free. Most of the sacks he earns are due to good coverage downfield. Playing on a dominant front line in Cincinnati that has a lot of depth helps him play hard on every down whenever he is in the game. Finishing with only two sacks this past season was disappointing, but a lot of what Gilberry brings to the table doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

    Run Defense

    38/40

    Gilberry is a reliable run-stuffer who can hold his ground against the best and most powerful offensive linemen in the game. His ability to beat his man or take on a double-team helped the Bengals have one of the league's best defenses this past season. He is quicker in spurts than he is fast and isn’t going to chase down many backs from behind, but his ability to escape from his block and pull down runners in his tackle radius is exceptional.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    84/100

16. William Gholston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Pass Rush

    40/50

    A brutal and fierce pass-rusher, William Gholston blows other teams away with an elite outside pass-rush move. He lines up, punches you in the mouth and then tosses you aside to pursue your quarterback. Gholston hasn’t quite developed a secondary move, but if he does, he will be a force to be reckoned with. His three sacks were a bit disappointing, but they were a career high nonetheless.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    A high-volume tackler who can make plays at the line of scrimmage or even a few yards downfield. He uses his length to keep offensive linemen at bay and to bring down ball-carriers. Of course for a player of his height (6’6”), he is most effective when he is able to stay low and not lose his leverage. His 47 combined tackles show just how reliable he can be at shutting down an opposing team’s running game.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    84/100

15. Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

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    Pass Rush

    44/50

    A third-round selection from LSU in the 2015 draft, Danielle Hunter entered the NFL as a work in progress. He’s long (6’5”) and quick but needed to learn hand technique and how to counter offensive tackles. As the year progressed, you could see the coaching that Hunter received sticking with him on the field. Hunter notched six sacks in his rookie season, but the arrow is pointing way up on his potential. And if you watched him dominate in the NFC Wild Card Round—where he had five hurries against Russell Wilson—then you have to be excited about 2016.

    Run Defense

    30/40

    For Hunter to become an every-down defensive end, he has to continue adding strength and pure bulk to play the run off the edge. He came into the league with the ability to sidestep blockers in the run game and attack the ball with his speed and length. That doesn’t work by itself in the NFL, though, and Hunter has to learn to stack up blockers and then use his hands to shed them.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    84/100

14. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

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    Pass Rush

    42/50

    We all know why Jason Pierre-Paul had a down year, but even without all of his fingers, he excelled at putting pressure on the quarterback. While he was still learning to play with his missing right index finger, Pierre-Paul struggled to be as effective with his bull rush and power moves due to his inability to use his hands. The good news for JPP is that his legs are healthy, and he still has an elite ability to bend the edge. In only eight games, he managed to rack up 34 hurries.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Pierre-Paul’s understanding of opposing teams' game plans allows him to be a superb run-stuffer. His alertness and attention help him keep an eye on the ball-carrier at all times, allowing him to react to the play and make the stop. While he isn’t able to shed blocks as well as he could in the past, he still has the athleticism to dodge blocks and chase down running backs. Pierre-Paul finished the year with a respectable 22 tackles in half a season of work.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    85/100

13. Mario Addison, Carolina Panthers

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    Pass Rush

    45/50

    With Charles Johnson trailing off and Kony Ealy struggling with consistency, Mario Addison became the Panthers most productive outside rusher in 2015. The 6’3”, 260-pounder didn’t start a game in 2015, but he provided a huge boost as a rotational end. With six sacks and 30 hurries on the year, Addison used his first-step quickness and leverage skills to beat blockers off the line and to get underneath their pads and jack-knife them as he pushed into the backfield.

    Run Defense

    30/40

    Addison played on fewer than 40 percent of the Panthers’ snaps in 2015, and many of the snaps he missed were on rushing downs. He doesn’t have the strength to hold up as a strong-side defensive end against the run and is much better off playing on the left side of the line. Addison’s quickness is impressive, but he lacks the strength to anchor at the point of attack.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    85/100

12. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Pass Rush

    43/50

    The length and size of Carlos Dunlap (6'6", 280 lbs) caused problems all year for opposing offensive linemen. He is a technician with his hands and has enough bend in his big frame to get around the edge. Dunlap shows great athletic ability for a player of his size and has the speed to chase down quarterbacks who escape the pocket. Not only were his 13.5 sacks a career best, but they placed him fourth in the league.

    Run Defense

    32/40

    A well-rounded run-stuffer, Dunlap combines his strength and quickness to make plays all over the field. His ability to swipe away linemen’s hands and not let them get locked on allows him to get away and chase down running backs. When linemen are able to get under his pads, Dunlap can be pushed around a little, but he is skilled enough to break free if at any point his opponent lets up. For the fourth straight season, he finished with more than 30 solo tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    85/100

11. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

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    Pass Rush

    42/50

    Cameron Jordan was one of the few bright spots on a defense that gave up the second-most yards per game in 2015. He gives the Saints versatility and can play inside or outside on their defensive line. While Jordan doesn’t possess top-tier speed to beat offensive tackles to the outside consistently, he has exceptional lower-body strength to perform a powerful bull rush. His quick, violent hands allow him to easily shed blocks and begin his pursuit of the quarterback. He led New Orleans with 10 sacks this past season.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    One of the skills that make Jordan so versatile is his ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer. His 287-pound frame allows him to hold up against a power running attack. He is also able to fire off the snap, using his leg drive to get penetration into the backfield and blowing up running plays to his side of the field. Jordan is able to use his lateral agility to hunt running backs down from behind, which helped him record 35 tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    85/100

10. Greg Hardy, Dallas Cowboys

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Talent has never been the question for Greg Hardy. When he is on the field, he is a dominant force, but his off-the-field issues make him one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. He has all of the skills you look for in an edge-rusher. He can beat offensive tackles around the outside by utilizing his quick first step, he or can convert that speed to power and bowl over his opponent. His six sacks in only 12 games prove that he still has the ability to be an elite pass-rusher in this league.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Hardy has the size (6'5" 280 lbs) and awareness to hold his own in the rushing game as well. Offenses routinely run away from him because of his ability to shed blocks and bring down ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage. His powerful legs let him anchor down and bide his time, forcing running backs outside to try to pick up yards. Once they are within striking distance, Hardy frees himself from his block and makes the play. He can be an inconsistent tackler at times and will get a little too sack-happy and overrun plays on occasion.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    86/100

9. Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings

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    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    After back-to-back seasons with over 10 sacks, Everson Griffen has proved he is a force to be reckoned with. He has the power to bulldoze offensive linemen, as well as the agility to stop on a dime and change directions. His ability to rush inside and outside keeps tackles on their heels, allowing him to stay in control in passing situations. Playing with a savvy front seven has allowed Griffen to flourish and be more effective than he was early in his career.

    Run Defense

    30/40

    An exceptional athlete, Griffen combines a well-rounded skill set to be a sufficient run-stopper. He has the power to sink his hips and anchor, holding his ground against a power-style running game. He also has the quickness and speed release from blocks to make plays down the line. His ability to play both the run and pass well allows him to be an every-down player, which leads to more tackles and sacks.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    86/100

8. Robert Ayers, New York Giants

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Well-versed in rushing the passer, Robert Ayers is a topflight rush end. He is able to beat offensive tackles in an assortment of ways, whether it's with a speed rush, bull rush or spin move. Ayers knows and uses every trick in the book to get to the quarterback. 2015 ended up being a career year for him, as he finished the year with 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

    Run Defense

    35/40

    Ayers has the strength and patience to seal the edge, not letting running backs outside and forcing them to cut back. He has violent hands and is able to disengage from blocks, allowing him to focus on bringing down the rusher. A reliable tackler, he rarely allows ball-carriers to break free once they are in his grasp. His 31 tackles in 2015 were the most he has recorded in a single season since 2011. 

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    88/100

7. William Hayes, St. Louis Rams

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    One of the unheralded stars of the Rams' defensive front, William Hayes did a lot of the dirty work that allowed the rest of his teammates to be so effective. While he benefited from lining up next to Aaron Donald, who commands a double-team, Hayes was able to capitalize on his opportunities, helping give the Rams one of the league's most dominant front lines. He isn’t going to surprise his opponents with elite speed, but he has a solid all-around skill set that allows him to get to the quarterback in a multitude of ways. His 31 hurries were second only to Donald on the Rams this past season.

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Hayes makes his money by being a formidable run-stuffer. His recognition skills allow him to diagnose the play and pursue the ball-carrier. He is an exceptional tackler who will bring down anyone in his path. It is hard for offensive linemen to move him off his spot once he has settled in, and vicious strikes keep his opponent from getting too close to his frame. His 43 tackles and two forced fumbles were both career highs for the eight-year defensive end out of Winston-Salem State.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    88/100

6. Jabaal Sheard, New England Patriots

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    One of the AFC's most underrated pass-rushers, Jabaal Sheard is a handful for any opposing lineman who has to face him. He is quick off the snap and has the closing speed to chase down even the most athletic quarterbacks in the league. Sheard is one of the league's best at bending around the edge and attacking not only the quarterback but also the football. He was able to force four fumbles to go along with his eight sacks. His 45 hurries placed him in the top five of all 4-3 defensive ends.

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Sheard had arguably his best season against the run this past year. His combination of athleticism and leg strength allows him to get to where he wants to go, and he doesn’t let the offensive tackle take control. Quick and violent strikes with his hands can knock his opponent off balance, allowing him to swoop in for the tackle. Sheard wasn’t as consistent of a tackler as he has been in the past, though, which led to eight missed tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    88/100

5. Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    An athletic and agile pass-rusher, Cliff Avril has superior hands and ball awareness, which allow him to be a perpetual game-changer. He is most effective on an outside speed rush and is not only looking for the sack when he gets to the quarterback but is also looking to knock the ball out. After struggling a little two years ago, his nine sacks showed he still has to be accounted for in passing situations.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    While Avril has improved as a run defender since joining the Seattle Seahawks, he can still be a liability at times. His primary focus is rushing the quarterback, which can lead to some large holes for running backs to run through on draws and delays. He is able to use his athleticism to break away from blocks and chase down running backs on predictable running downs. Avril set a career high this past season with 36 combined tackles.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    89/100

4. Chandler Jones, New England Patriots

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    An extremely lengthy player, Chandler Jones (6'5") uses his outstretched frame to devastate and ravage opposing quarterbacks. His long arms help hold offensive tackles at bay and prevent them from getting into his chest. He has an assortment of pass-rush moves that keep his opponents on their heels, and his ability to wrap up quarterbacks' arms prevents them from any last-second throw-away opportunities. Jones finished the season racking up career highs in sacks (12.5) and forced fumbles (four).

    Run Defense

    35/40

    A valuable run-stuffer, Jones uses great vision and active hands to make plays in the running game. He has the ability to make plays all over the field, whether teams are running at him or away from him. He is a wrap-up tackler, but he will allow backs to break through arm tackles if he isn’t able to get a clean hit. 2015 was a bit of a down year for Jones in the tackle department. He finished with 30 tackles in 15 games, which was the same number he had the previous year where he played in only 10 games.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    89/100

3. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    48/50

    In a short time, Ezekiel Ansah has become one of the NFL's most unblockable defensive ends. His top-notch athleticism helps him create chaos in the backfield on a regular basis and allows him to cover up some of his deficiencies when it comes to reading and diagnosing plays. Ansah also possesses enough power to keep offensive tackles honest, which affords him to not be overly reliant on his outside speed rush. His 14.5 sacks were not only a personal best, but they ranked third overall in the NFL and were the most for his position. He also finished the year with a career-high four forced fumbles.

    Run Defense

    32/40

    Ansah’s all-around athleticism and physicality force opposing offenses to run away from him on a regular basis. He has an innate ability to shed blocks and chase down runners from behind. His 6’5”, 278-pound frame benefits him when trying to anchor down and hold his ground. Ansah has improved each year he has been in the league, and his continued development suggests we may have yet to see his best.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    90/100

2. Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Playing in the final year of his contract, Olivier Vernon picked the perfect time to have one of the best seasons of his career. His ability to cause pressure on the quarterback made him a rich man this offseason. Vernon has an elite first step, as well as the flexibility to bend around the outside of offensive tackles. He also has the strength to drive back linemen with a powerful bull rush, forcing quarterbacks into poor decisions. His 7.5 sacks seem a little low, but when you figure in his 41 hurries, you start to see how much of a disruptive force he really was.

    Run Defense

    35/40

    Stopping the run was an area where Vernon improved tremendously, and it's the main reason why he ranks so high on our list this year. His 58 total tackles are exceptional, and his 50 stops were the most for a 4-3 defensive end by far. Vernon’s improved technique and ability to break away from blocks allowed him to bring down ball-carriers for minimal gains. His sturdy frame and strong lower body helped him set the edge, forcing runners back to the inside where teammates such as Ndamukong Suh were waiting.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    92/100

1. Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    A perfect blend of size and speed, Michael Bennett once again ranks as our top 4-3 defensive end. His ability to beat tackles in a multitude of different ways makes him nearly unstoppable. Unlike pure speed-rushers, Bennett causes most of his quarterback pressures by using inside pass-rush moves instead of relying on beating tackles around the edge. His 10 sacks this past season were a career high, and his 57 hurries led all defensive ends.

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Bennett’s versatility and powerful frame allow him to hold his own against the run. He has the strength to not only hold his ground but to get solid penetration to blow up plays in the backfield. His technique and quickness allow him to shed blocks to pursue ball-carriers and make tackles. Bennett’s 50 combined tackles (playoffs included) were the most of his career, but his 15 missed tackles were far too many for a player of his skill level.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    93/100