NFL1000: Ranking the Top 3-4 Defensive Ends of the 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top 3-4 Defensive Ends of the 2017 Season

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    As is true with every offensive and defensive skill position in the NFL, the roles and relative values of the 3-4 defensive end has changed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years. Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills is the gold standard of the position—getting 200 career sacks in your career when you are, for the most part, stuck between the nose tackle and the outside linebacker play after play over your career is a singularly impressive feat. 

    The modern 3-4 end doesn't have the challenge of a static gap position. The NFL has become a hybrid league in which nickel and dime defenses have become base concepts. Your average 3-4 end might spend less than half his time in that actual position. In nickel fronts, he'll likely kick inside to pass-rushing tackle as the outside linebackers become gap ends, and the nose tackle may be off the field entirely.

    In more creative defenses, like the ones crafted by Wade Phillips, Bill Belichick and Dick LeBeau, 3-4 ends are far more varied weapons. In such defenses, you'll see an end like Tennessee's Jurrell Casey line up in just about any gap. Same with Green Bay's Mike Daniels and Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward, who have been wreaking havoc along the defensive line for years.

    For the purpose of our season-end positional rankings, we designated 3-4 ends as those players who play that position in base 3-4 fronts, as rare as they may be these days, as well as official team position designations.

    No matter which gap the player may be in, and what role he's playing, the following attributes are crucial to the success of any 3-4 end. NFL1000 Defensive Line scout Justis Mosqueda has been watching every end in the league regardless of designation, and he's ranked the league's 3-4 ends based on these attributes:

           

    Snap Quickness: 15 points. How well does this player time the snap? How quickly does he get out of his stance and engage his blocker, or move through any gaps open to him? Can he create an advantage by being quick enough off the snap that he can get through the line before his blockers can get their hands up?

              

    Pass Rush: 25 points. How well does this player move through blockers as an inside rusher or around the edge as an outside rusher? How well does he time stunts? Can he move through multiple gaps to find openings? When he gets to the pocket, does he have the speed and agility to chase down the quarterback?

                

    Run Defense: 30 points. How well does this player move blockers back with a bull rush? Can he create loss plays with both power and speed? Does he have the quickness and change-of-direction ability to chase a running back to the sideline?

             

    Tackling: 20 points. When he gets to the ball-carrier, does this player use correct form to wrap up and stop a play? Is he efficient when closing to the ball-carrier—enough to avoid needless extra yards after first contact?

               

    Position Value: 10 points. This takes into account positional importance when comparing scores to other spots on the gridiron. 3-4 defensive ends are given 7/10 points across the board, leaving them with a maximum score of 97/100.

    Note: In cases of tie scores between players, the order of the players goes to the scout's discretion.

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Nos. 40-36

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    40. Jihad Ward, Oakland Raiders

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    13/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Despite being drafted 44th overall in 2016, defensive end Jihad Ward was only able to start one game in 2017. There were times last season when he was a healthy scratch, an injury inactive or an active player who made little to no impact. Coming into the league, he was a long player who didn't fair well in terms of backfield penetration. Two years into the NFL, a league in which you live and die on the defensive line based on your penetration skills, he's plateaued.         

                    

    39. Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Kansas City Chiefs

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    15/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    As a pass-rusher, Rakeem Nunez-Roches doesn't often beat guards or tackles in a timely fashion. With Kansas City's starting defensive line of Chris Jones, Allen Bailey and Bennie Logan, you can understand why Nunez-Roches isn't one of their premier players on run downs either. A 2018 restricted free agent, his best hopes moving forward would be to land with a team that needs situational run support.


    38. Jarvis Jenkins, Kansas City Chiefs      

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    15/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    A journeyman as of late, Jarvis Jenkins has been on four teams in the last four years, though he's spent the last year-and-a-half in Kansas City. In terms of the big bodies on the Chiefs' line of scrimmage, he ranks behind Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Tanoh Kpassagnon in the pecking order. He spent time as both a healthy inactive and as someone who battled through a knee injury at the end of the season, but he's still talented enough to lock up a reserve role moving forward. Best as a two-gapping run defender, Jenkins could continue to find work, though it won't be as a shoo-in starter.   

           

    37. Jonathan Bullard, Chicago Bears

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    18/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Jonathan Bullard, a former top-100 pick, has a little more juice in his game than Mitch Unrein, whom he competes with for playing time opposite of Akiem Hicks. Bullard's playing time was adjusted when pass-rushing specialist Cornelius Washington signed with the division rival Detroit Lions, but he hasn't taken over as a starter in Year 2 of his development. His pad level leads to up-and-down play, which is the major difference between his share of snaps and Unrein's at this point.

            

    36. Mitch Unrein, Chicago Bears

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Mitch Unrein is a bit of a feel-good story. The former undrafted player from Wyoming finally started more than half of a season as a 29-year-old in 2016. In 2017, he started eight times despite missing four games entirely. He's a serviceable defensive end who can work in any rotation. With that being said, he was better in 2016, when he was used as a base end, Washington came off the bench as a pass-rusher and Bullard was a top-100 rookie developing behind him. With just he and Bullard in 2017, the unit, outside of Hicks, took a bit of a step back.

Nos. 35-31

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    35. Karl Klug, Tennessee Titans

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    15/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    With so many big bodies on Tennessee's roster, Karl Klug's influence at the end of the season came as a wide end in nickel situations. Based on his athleticism, that's not his ideal fit. With the Titans likely to add pass-rushers soon, one can assume that will cut into those reps for Klug. He's a non-liability at the point of attack, but Klug doesn't bring much to the field as a pass-rusher.

         

    34. Xavier Cooper, New York Jets

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Despite being selected as a top-100 pick just three years ago, Xavier Cooper has bounced around on the rosters of the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets this season. The Browns and 49ers quietly have some of the most competitive interior defensive line depth charts in the league, at least in terms of the back end of the roster. It makes sense that he's stuck with the Jets, though the restricted free agent will need to work on his strength and anchor to make the roster in 2018. He has the first-step ability to translate to a starting 3-technique type of lineman, but he hasn't yet put it all together for a full season.

         

    33. Margus Hunt, Indianapolis Colts

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Margus Hunt has never put up production in his career. As a 30-year-old former No. 53 overall pick, he's recorded just 2.5 sacks in his NFL career. By any stretch of the imagination, that's a disappointment. Still, Hunt saw more playing time with the Indianapolis Colts this season than he ever saw with the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that drafted him. He's still a raw player who lives and dies on his strength and power, but the fact that he's cracking a significant rotation means the arrow is pointing up on a player who had nowhere to go but up.

         

    32. Frostee Rucker, Arizona Cardinals

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Frostee Rucker saw a lot of his playing time as an even front under tackle instead of a true 5-technique 3-4 defensive end. There, he usually lined up next to nose tackle Corey Peters. At this point in his career, he's best suited as part of a rotation. Rucker has enough left in the tank to keep finding depth work in the league.

              

    31. Terrell McClain, Washington Redskins

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    This offseason, Terrell McClain signed a four-year, $21 million deal, which some felt was too rich. After he started just two games for the team, one can assume he hasn't met the expectations the Redskins had for him. The 3-4 right end can also flex to 3-technique, but it's very clear second-year player Matt Ioannidis and rookie Jonathan Allen are the team's priority at the position moving forward. If McClain can't be more influential as a penetrator, the 2019 offseason—when his salary is finally larger than the dead cap it would take for Washington to release him—could be a pivot point in his career.

Nos. 30-26

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    30. Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    22/30
    Tackling: 
    9/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Since Albert Haynesworth's stint in Washington in 2009 and 2010, there might not have been a lower-effort defensive lineman in the NFL than second-contract Muhammad Wilkerson. Prior to signing the deal in July 2016, the 6'4", 315-pound Wilkerson was a big, twitchy lineman who slotted in anywhere on the line. He still has the potential to do so, but he gives up on plays more than anyone in the league. There are games when his effort is there, like against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football. On national television, he took over the Week 9 contest. Then he went back to his old ways. Likely a cap casualty, Wilkerson can be a boom-bust player.

           

    29. DaQuan Jones, Tennessee Titans

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Prior to his biceps injury in Week 12, DaQuan Jones had started every game of the season. Over the last three years, he's started 44 contests total. He's not a high-end starter, but he has been a consistent one. Now a free agent coming off an injury, the true big end could have to take a short-term contract from the highest bidder. Any team that needs a run-first starter who can be spelled on passing downs could be in the market for the 6'4", 322-pound Jones.

              

    28. Morgan Fox, Los Angeles Rams

    Snap Quickness: 9/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    For the most part, you can find the 6'3", 275-pound Morgan Fox between the tight end and guard on the strong side of the field. The 23-year-old defensive end played all 16 games in 2017, bringing his career total to 20. He also registered 2.5 sacks in the first six weeks of the season before production dropped off. At this point, he's a bit of an undersized (light) base end who has a defined role in the Rams' front. Wade Phillips gets the most out of what he's got.

              

    27. Brent Urban, Baltimore Ravens

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Entering the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens had so many bodies on their defensive line that they traded Timmy Jernigan, a former second-round pick who is now playing on a contract worth north of $40 million with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the grand scheme of things, Brent Urban was supposed to be a 3-4 defensive end in base looks who was rarely seen in nickel. That worked, up until he was placed on injured reserve for a Lisfranc injury in the first month of the season. In four years with Baltimore, Urban has only played in 25 games, though his first three starts did come in 2017. One would assume that with the Ravens' defensive line depth, Urban would be of better use somewhere else in 2018.

             

    26. Josh Mauro, Arizona Cardinals

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Josh Mauro had a bit of a breakout season last year. It was good enough to earn him a two-year contract worth $5.8 million. He's come back down to earth a bit, as some of his production may have come from cleaning up Calais Campbell's plays, but he's nothing close to a liability. He's not doing much as a pass-rusher, but the high-effort player continues to work his blocker until the whistle blows. The question now is if that's worth a $2.8 million salary.

Nos. 25-21

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    25. Joel Heath, Houston Texans

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Joel Heath locked in starter-level reps early in the season. The Houston Texans, who added virtually nothing this offseason after skipping free agency and trading up for quarterback Deshaun Watson, needed Heath to keep taking steps after his flashy 2016 season. For the most part, he met expectations. He was a versatile left end who lined up inside and outside of tackles. The main issue is that he didn't finish in the backfield relative to his snaps played. Despite logging over 300 snaps on defense, he made just four tackles at the line all season. He can make plays in a limited role based on 2016. He can shoulder a starter's reps based on 2017. The question is if he can ever do either at an NFL level.

             

    24. Zach Kerr, Denver Broncos

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Zach Kerr really didn't start seeing the field until injuries mounted up for the Denver Broncos. According to Pro Football Reference, Kerr only played over 27 percent of the defensive snaps one time in the Broncos' first 10 games. In their final six, Kerr cracked over 40 percent of the defensive snaps in all five games he was healthy for. Kerr, a former undrafted free agent, has the basic mold of an NFL journeyman. After spending three years with the Colts, he signed a two-year deal with the Broncos. He'll probably enter the offseason as the fourth or fifth end for the team and then sign another short-term contract with another team in 2019. There is nothing definitively great or poor about his game.

                

    23. Carlos Watkins, Houston Texans

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    The fourth-round rookie—and the second-most expensive defender added to the team this offseason—was able to record six starts. His role was mostly defined as a 3-4 right end, but he did see playing time as a nickel nose tackle. He has a bit more juice than some of Houston's base nose tackles, plus he has the frame to hold up between the center and guard. When J.J. Watt returns to the lineup in 2018, Watkins will likely have to battle Heath for a starting role on the team. It could be a very tight race next summer.

             

    22. Henry Anderson, Indianapolis Colts

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    16/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Henry Anderson was one of the 2015 draft class' most popular sleepers. Unfortunately, injuries have set him back. In 2015, he ended his season with a torn ACL. He battled through multiple knee issues in 2016. In 2017, a neck injury landed him on injured reserve. He's not far from where Green Bay's Dean Lowry is in terms of talent, but the fact that he's only played 29 games out of a possible 48 is a concern. Heading into a contract year with the Indianapolis Colts, under a different coaching staff and front office than the one that drafted him, he needs to stay on the field for more than 11 games, the career high he set in 2016.

              

    21. Adam Gotsis, Denver Broncos

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    22/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Adam Gotsis is a second-year lineman from Australia via Georgia Tech. Gotsis was one of Denver's starting 3-4 defensive ends, but he kicked inside to defensive tackle in nickel looks. Think of him as basically the replacement in Malik Jackson's role. He's the third end in Denver when Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe are both healthy, but the team elected to roll with the more experienced Gotsis over Harris early in the season. By the time Harris was able to find near full-time work, Wolfe was on injured reserve. Gotsis might be a trade piece in a year if Harris continues to develop and Wolfe recovers completely. A solid one at that.

Nos. 20-16

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    20. Tyson Alualu, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    On a defensive line with Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave (not including first-round outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree), it's easy to become "the other guy." That's who Tyson Alualu is right now. The former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick never peaked with the team after injuries derailed his career, but he's more than a functional body at 30 years old. Starting five games off and on, the stout end has the savvy to stick around the league as a rotational player. Pro Bowls aren't in his future, but every team in the league could use him.

               

    19. Carl Davis, Baltimore Ravens

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    The Baltimore Ravens have two larger defensive linemen they like a lot in Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, so Carl Davis doesn't get many chances to flash outside of true 3-4 looks. In sub-packages, it's rare to spot him. Still, he has a defined role on the team as a big end, and he's fluid enough to both slip into the backfield and keep his outside shoulder clean in space. The Ravens have spent so much on defensive linemen in recent drafts, in addition to re-signing Williams and finding Pierce as an undrafted player, that they can make clear roles for their linemen.

           

    18. Anthony Lanier II, Washington Redskins

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    If Washington had a better season, everyone would be talking about the work Jim Tomsula has done with the team's young defensive linemen. Not only has he polished Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen, but he has another starting-quality end in the 24-year-old Anthony Lanier. The former undrafted player from Alabama A&M somehow finished with five sacks on the year, a better make than most starters, despite the fact he was only a starter twice. He's lean, like Allen, and plays with an incredibly high motor. If you want to check it for yourself, Week 17 against the New York Giants was a great example. After sprinting over 70 yards to the end zone in an attempt to stop a touchdown, Lanier immediately blocked a point-after attempt. Effort like that is going to keep him around the league.

              

    17. Robert Nkemdiche, Arizona Cardinals

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    20/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    When Robert Nkemdiche is on the field, he's clearly an explosive wonder. He can get off the ball better than almost anyone, especially on his own team. That can go one of two ways, though. He either times everything perfectly, like when he tackled Russell Wilson before he could even hand the ball off in Week 17, or he can end up in the backfield with no plan and take himself out of a play. This is likely one reason why the former first-round pick was in Bruce Arians' doghouse, the only excuse for his only playing 17 games (with no starts) in the first two years of his career. The arrow is pointing up on Nkemdiche, but a move to a 4-3 defense, where he'd play 3-technique defensive tackle, could help him earn a starting role.

             

    16. Matt Ioannidis, Washington Redskins

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    22/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    After beginning his career floating on and off the Washington Redskins' active roster, second-year fifth-round pick Matt Ioannidis caught on in 2017. After playing just 10 games as a rookie, Ioannidis started 10 this year, recording 4.5 sacks as a 3-4 defensive end. Moving forward, he projects as a full-time starter. With an all-around game, he should be able to stay on the field as much as any 3-4 end in the league. Quietly, he's one of the bright stars at the position.

Nos. 15-11

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    15. Dean Lowry, Green Bay Packers

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    21/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Historically, Dom Capers' scheme in Green Bay hadn't had much use for a "big end." That changed a bit with Dean Lowry, who was clearly one of the staples on Green Bay's defensive line along with Mike Daniels and nose tackle Kenny Clark. He's a fluid, not necessarily explosive, defensive end who if nothing else is a great depth piece. With Green Bay mostly cleaning house on the defensive side of the coaching staff, it's hard to project Lowry moving forward. Anything from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 defensive end to 4-3 defensive tackle is in the realm of possibility.

             

    14. Ethan Westbrooks, Los Angeles Rams

    Snap Quickness: 10/15
    Pass Rush: 
    17/25
    Run Defense: 
    23/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Ethan Westbrooks has versatility in his game. Last year, he was a 4-3 defensive end. If you watch the Los Angeles Rams' final game against the Atlanta Falcons, you would have thought he was a 3-4 nose tackle. The truth of the matter is that the 27-year-old is a little bit of everything. Under contract for one more season, it bears watching where the 6'4", 283-pounder settles with the team long-term.

             

    13. Allen Bailey, Kansas City Chiefs

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    22/30
    Tackling: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    According to Pro Football Reference, no 3-4 defensive end in the NFL had more tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2017 than Allen Bailey. When you watch the film, though, you notice an interesting trend. Bailey, who no doubt is athletic, plays with inconsistent pad level. There are plenty of times when he comes out of his stance low and makes a play in the backfield, but there are also many times when he comes out high and gets taken three yards off the ball. There's no stat for that. Bailey is a high-upside but inconsistent player at the moment.

            

    12. Olsen Pierre, Arizona Cardinals

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 
    18/25
    Run Defense: 
    23/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Olsen Pierre is this year's player who didn't play that much but flashed a ton when he did see the field. Despite not seeing the field in his first two years with the Arizona Cardinals, the former University of Miami defensive lineman was able to notch seven starts for a team that was trying to replace Calais Campbell and lost Markus Golden to injury early on in the year. According to Football Outsiders, he only played 352 snaps, but he made 11.5 tackles at the line according to Pro Football Reference. Only two other interior defensive linemen, Dallas' David Irving and Cleveland's Larry Ogunjobi, made more tackles at the line on fewer snaps in 2017. Pierre can win one-on-one matchups, which could translate to his development into the next Mike Daniels or Jurrell Casey.

              

    11. Derek Wolfe, Denver Broncos

    Snap Quickness: 12/15
    Pass Rush: 
    19/25
    Run Defense: 
    23/30
    Tackling: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    While Shelby Harris was the big 3-4 defensive end breakout of 2017, Derek Wolfe, his Denver Broncos teammate, was once again at the top of this list. Wolfe battled through a neck injury before landing on injured reserve in December. Prior to that, he began the year with an ankle issue. All things considered, Wolfe played par for the course in terms of what he's done his whole career.

10. Jonathan Allen, Washington Redskins

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 18/25
    Run Defense: 24/30
    Tackling: 14/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 74/100

    3-4 defensive ends have to be judged by more than sacks. On film, rookie Jonathan Allen looked like a veteran. The former All-American is light and lean for an interior defensive lineman, and that translates with his feet, which help him win inside hands. Unfortunately, a Lisfranc injury cut his season cut, so we only got about a quarter-season's worth of reps from Allen compared to most starting defensive linemen.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                   

    Unlike many rookie defensive linemen, Allen came into the NFL with a full palette of hand moves. He wasn't just running around blockers in college, and that level of technique helped him immensely in his rookie season. When he was available, Allen proved to be a strong defender everywhere from the 5-tech spot to offset nose tackle, combining speed to the pocket with estimable strength and a really nice rip move. The arrow is pointing up for Allen in the future.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

9. Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 12/15
    Pass Rush: 19/25
    Run Defense: 23/30
    Tackling: 13/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 74/100

    There is no defensive end pairing in the NFL like Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. While many talk about the triplets of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown, or even the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line, their defensive line-of-scrimmage players were as important to their success in 2017. The 6'6" 24-year-old dominated the point of attack, while still making plays in the backfield, outside of a stretch when he missed time due to a back injury.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                 

    While Heyward justifiably gets credit as one of the best linemen in the NFL, Tuitt is no slouch either. Most interior linemen standing 6'6" can't match Tuitt's initial strength against blocks, and Tuitt is able to slough off any leverage issue due to his height because he comes off the ball with a low, wide base and uses his legs to drive through single- and double-teams with authority. While he's a fine pass-rusher, Tuitt's primary role is as Pittsburgh's best run defender.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

8. Leonard Williams, New York Jets

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 11/15
    Pass Rush: 18/25
    Run Defense: 25/30
    Tackling: 13/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 74/100

    Leonard Williams is one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL. A known star since his college days at USC, he's never had an off year. He may not be a premier pass-rusher like some of the players on this list, but his "old man game" has already developed to the point where it's almost impossible to imagine his strength and length won't translate to success for the next decade, barring injury. With the loss of Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Sheldon Richardson over the year, along with the pending release of Muhammad Wilkerson, Williams quickly went from the young buck to "the guy" on New York's defensive line.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

               

    A multi-gap rock star at USC, Williams has taken that versatility to the NFL and become the face of the Jets' multiple defensive fronts. While he's quick and strong off the snap, perhaps his best attribute is his ability to use lateral agility to crash through the pocket between blockers and chase running backs and quarterbacks past the numbers to the sideline.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

7. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Snap Quickness: 12/15
    Pass Rush: 19/25
    Run Defense: 22/30
    Tackling: 14/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 74/100

    As someone who has to play a double-team, Jurrell Casey may not be the best in the sport, but he can get in the backfield. For the Tennessee Titans in 2017, that was a massive need. If not for Casey, teams would have been able to open up that Titans defense even more. Casey mostly played as a 3-technique lineman, and his go-to move last year was a swim after a quick first step. Playing in a small market in a position where you don't record huge numbers, Casey is one of the more slept-on talents in the NFL yearly.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

               

    A third-round pick in 2011 out of USC, Casey spent his first few NFL seasons building his technique in a more traditional tackle role. But when Dick LeBeau became Tennessee's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in 2016, Casey really cut loose and showed his ability to get free and create pressure and tackles for loss from multiple gaps. With 39 career sacks and Pro Bowl berths in his last three seasons, Casey is finally starting to get the recognition he richly deserves.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

6. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 19/25
    Run Defense: 23/30
    Tackling: 14/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 76/100

    We're not going to come close to saying J.J. Watt's prime is over, but he didn't look like a player who was on track to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. After a back injury ended his 2016 season, a fractured leg on Sunday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs cut short his 2017 campaign. Prior to his injury, he had recorded no sacks and only three tackles at the line of scrimmage over five games. That's a massive difference from, say, 2014, when he amassed a staggering 45.5 combined tackles at or behind the line. We haven't seen a 100 percent healthy J.J. Watt over the last two years. Here's hoping we do in 2018.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                  

    We don't yet know if Watt's recent injury history will affect his athletic ability in 2018, but he turns 29 in March, so there's reason for concern. If he's able to return to the field as the every-gap wrecking machine he once was, the Texans defensive line will present all kinds of problems with Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Even if he starts to regress and plays more of a stationary role, Watt has the rare strength and agility to create pressure and potential offensive losses on just about every play.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

5. Mike Daniels, Green Bay Packers

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 19/25
    Run Defense: 25/30
    Tackling: 13/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 77/100

    Mike Daniels is one of those 3-4 defensive ends who is just a 3-4 defensive end on paper. For the most part, he's playing a 3-technique position like under tackles (think Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins) in 4-3 defenses. Unfortunately, in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, Daniels' role on nickel downs was limited. However, only four defensive tackles had more sacks on fewer snaps than Daniels. If allowed to play more third downs, Daniels will finally post the numbers that reflect his talent: Pro Bowl-caliber.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                

    Daniels plays a defensive tackle position in the Packers' two- and four-linemen fronts, but the key to his excellence is his versatility—when he's used all over the line, he can create disruption from just about anywhere. Daniels could be successful as a 3-tech tackle in a four-man front as well—he brings Hall of Famer John Randle to mind with his rare speed/strength combination—but he's best-utilized as a multi-gap end in a hybrid defense creating havoc around ends and linebackers.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

4. Shelby Harris, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 20/25
    Run Defense: 24/30
    Tackling: 13/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 77/100

    If you have no idea who Shelby Harris is, do not feel bad. He started his career in 2014 as a seventh-round pick for the Oakland Raiders and bounced around with the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys before landing with the Denver Broncos in January of last year. By all accounts, analysts didn't have high expectations for him heading into the season. Still, at 26 years old, he wound up starting in Week 1 and the final five weeks of the season for the Broncos as a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defensive end who also contributed as a pressure package player.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

               

    Harris was a low pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2014 draft, and you'd think Oakland's porous defense could use him now. Waived by multiple teams, he really found his stride in 2017 with a Broncos defense in need of inside pass rush. He's built more like a tackle than an end at 6'2" and 288 pounds, but he is able to use snap quickness to get around blockers and estimable power to defeat offensive linemen who outweigh him by at least 20 pounds. He had five sacks for the Broncos in 2017; how will they utilize him in 2018?

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

3. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 12/15
    Pass Rush: 20/25
    Run Defense: 24/30
    Tackling: 14/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 77/100

    There are few players who get to be as good as they want to be. Chris Jones is one of those individuals. A former blue-chip recruit, Jones is as long as he is athletic. He understands how to obstruct passing lanes and gets off the ball quickly. When you compare his tackles in the backfield and at the line, there are few who can match up to him. With that being said, there are clear stretches of play when full effort doesn't show on the field, which is one reason he was selected on Day 2 of the 2016 draft.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                

    Jones put up some splash plays in his rookie season of 2016, but he really put it together in 2017 with 6.5 quarterback takedowns and 22 solo tackles. Jones moves off the snap very quickly and knows how to turn on his lower-body power in a hurry. What makes him elite is his speed, both in-line and when he's asked to chase ball-carriers to the boundary and downfield. As his hand movements improve and he's able to better separate from blockers, Jones has nearly limitless athletic potential.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

2. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 21/25
    Run Defense: 25/30
    Tackling: 13/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 79/100

    If we're talking about "big ends," the only defensive end who came close to Arizona's Calais Campbell this season was Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heyward was a down-to-down penetrator, making splash plays in both the ground and passing game. He's always going to have another name ahead of him, either among 3-4 defensive ends or big ends, but he's also breathing down their necks, and the lead isn't long.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

                

    Heyward has been a great player for a long time, but there was something about his 2017 tape that popped off in a different way from the start of the season. First, he can disrupt from any gap—from head-over nose tackle to nickel end. He's especially fast to the backfield, and his combination of strength and technique makes him very tough to block. This season, he seemed to play with a different level of angular certainty and controlled aggression, and the Steelers defense was far better for it.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar

1. Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Snap Quickness: 13/15
    Pass Rush: 21/25
    Run Defense: 26/30
    Tackling: 14/20
    Position Value: 7/10
    Overall Grade: 81/100

    Akiem Hicks had a breakout season in 2016, but there's a good chance you didn't know his name until he signed a four-year extension with the Chicago Bears in September. His response to his first blockbuster contract? An 8.5-sack season, an elite year for an interior defensive lineman. According to Pro Football Reference, Hicks recorded 19.5 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2017. To put that into perspective, Bears defensive linemen Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Mitch Unrein combined for just 17 tackles at the line this past year. Expect Hicks to become a household name soon.

    —NFL1000 DL Scout Justis Mosqueda

               

    Hicks was a good rotational hybrid end for the Saints and the Patriots before the Bears signed him in 2016 and then upped the ante with a four-year, $48 million deal in September. He proved his worth in Vic Fangio's defense immediately. Built like a fireplug with a solid lower body, Hicks comes off the ball with incredible power and the technique required to propel himself past enemy blockers with authority. Hicks can also get elusive and turn on a quick spin move to get to the quarterback. With his bull-like power and surprising speed, he brings to mind Justin Smith, Fangio's star defensive tackle/end for the 49ers in the early 2010s.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar