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NFL Power Rankings: The Best Defensive Lines in the League

Eric FelkeyAnalyst INovember 15, 2016

NFL Power Rankings: The Best Defensive Lines in the League

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    In order to win consistently and become perennial Super Bowl contenders in the National Football League (cue Mark Schlereth voice), everything is built around one thing: defense.

    Sure, points are great. Everyone loves highlight reel runs, passes, and catches. But at the end of the game, if you're not getting stops, you're not winning games.

    The list of Super Bowl champions backs this up. Look at our recent winners:

    —New Orleans: known for their offense, but held Peyton Manning & Co. to 17 points and used a late-game INT for TD to seal the deal.

    —Pittsburgh: ever since the '70s they've been known for phenomenal defense.

    —Indianapolis: like the Saints, more recognized for their offense, but it was the play of Dwight Freeney and the defense that put them over the top.

    —New England: always made big defensive plays and got stops when necessary.

    —Tampa Bay: one of the best defensive units in the league in '02.

    —Baltimore: the Ravens offense could have sat on the sidelines during the entire '01 Super Bowl and they still probably would have won.

    You get the picture. And every great defense is anchored with a three or four lineman up front that stuff the run gaps, put pressure on the quarterback, and force turnovers at the most opportune times. Not surprisingly, a team like the Chicago Bears is back in the playoff mix this year because they've gotten renewed play from their front four.

    So which defensive lines are playing the best right now and which are woefully inadequate? Let's do a quick run through of all 32 units...

32. Cincinnati Bengals

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    Last year Cincinnati's defense propelled them to a surprise playoff run. This year ... not so much.

    The front four is getting no pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Bengals have just 10 sacks this season, and only six of those are from the defensive line.

    Expect Cincinnati to address this need in next year's draft.

31. Denver Broncos

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Broncos' front line, much like the rest of their defense, has been MIA for a majority of this season.

    Denver is No. 27 in total yards allowed and dead last in points. It doesn't help that their line has forced just one fumble and opposing quarterbacks have all day to pick apart their secondary.

29. Buffalo Bills

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    Karl Walter/Getty Images

    Buffalo's defense has gotten a bit better as the year has progressed, but outside of Kyle Williams they're not getting a whole lot from the line.

    A guy like Marcel Dareus or Nick Fairley would definitely help shore up the front line heading into 2011, which doesn't look as gloomy for the Bills as it did a few months ago.

30. Seattle Seahawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Seahawks were thought to have one of the weaker defensive lines heading into 2010 and that prophecy appears to be self-fulfilling.

    Most of Seattle's pressure has come from linebacker Chris Clemons and safety Lawyer Milloy. Other than Raheem Brock, no lineman has more than one sack this year.

28. Carolina Panthers

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    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Gone are the days when Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins dominated opposing offensive lines for Carolina and in come guys like Charles Johnson and Derek Landri.

    Johnson is having a decent year with 5.5 sacks but other than him the Panthers defense has been unable to consistently get pressure on the quarterback or slow down the other team's running game, as evidenced by Peyton Hillis' breakout performance yesterday.

27. Arizona Cardinals

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Cardinals hoped to cure some of their woes in last year's draft by selecting Dan Williams, but weight issues have forced him to miss some time.

    A shoulder injury for Darnell Dockett has also caused problems for their front unit and they simply haven't gotten enough out of their defense (No. 30 against the run) to offset their offensive problems.

26. Cleveland Browns

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Cleveland's defense has shown signs of improvement throughout this year and looks like it bodes well for the future.

    Unfortunately, constant injuries have kept the unit from being on the field as a whole, especially the D-line, where Marcus Benard, Kenyon Coleman, Jason Trusnik, and Shaun Rogers have all missed multiple games.

25. New England Patriots

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    This is no knock against the Patriots defense—they've stepped up repeatedly this year and made play after play in the biggest moments.

    But their defensive line just hasn't had the impact it had in year's past. Instead, it's corners like Devin McCourty and linebackers like Jerod Mayo that are leading this unit.

24. Washington Redskins

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The Redskins are placed here based solely on what could have been.

    Brian Orakpo is having a terrific year but he's not getting much help. The Albert Haynesworth situation was just a complete debacle and it had to have a lingering effect in the locker room.

    As a result, the Redskins defense has been horrendous (last in the league in yards allowed).

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Statistically, the Bucs' front unit hasn't been anything spectacular, although Stylez G. White definitely has the best name of any lineman in the NFL.

    But like Raheem Morris says, stats are for losers. On paper, the Bucs don't make much sense. But they're 7-4, and that's all that counts.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Many were shocked when the Jaguars announced they had selected Tyson Alualu with the No. 10 pick in last year's draft, but the rookie hasn't been too shabby in his first year out of California.

    Between him, Terrance Knighton, and Aaron Kampan, the Jags have a decent core of lineman to build around.

21. Houston Texans

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    Mario Williams raises Houston's spot on this list at least five spots. He's that good.

20. Dallas Cowboys

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    And like Mario Williams, DeMarcus Ware is pretty much single-handedly the reason that Dallas is rated this high.

    The unit hasn't had a great year but Ware, with 40 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery, is picking up the slack.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The surprise team of the AFC West, the Chiefs are paced in the middle by Tamba Hali, Wallace Gilberry, and Glenn Dorsey.

    While they're just a middle of the pack team in terms of overall defense, they've really carried their weight in run stoppage. Kansas City has the seventh ranked rush defense and have only given up six rushing TDs this season.

18. San Francisco 49ers

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    San Francisco has been a let down in almost every category this year but the defensive line has been somewhat reliable.

    Justin Smith, who has only missed one game in his entire career, has helped anchor a pretty average defense.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    The Dolphins have one of the top overall defenses in the league and part of the reason is because of the impressive play of Cameron Wake.

    The line hasn't put up great numbers but they've tightened up on third down when they needed to.

16. New Orleans Saints

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    Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

    Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis have done a nice job putting pressure on the opposition's QB in passing situations, but overall the Saints' defense is still just average.

    Of course, with that offense, average might be good enough.

15. Green Bay Packers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Packers defense is having a pretty decent season but they're just not getting a lot of statistical production from the D-line.

    You can almost count Clay Matthews as a defensive end sometimes the way he relentlessly attacks and puts opposing QBs in uncomfortable situations. Throwing him in the mix and it's no wonder Green Bay has the fifth-most sacks in the league (31). 

14. Minnesota Vikings

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    On paper, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are having strong seasons and just aren't getting that much support.

    But in key moments and drives, the Vikings aren't getting enough pressure on the QB and the line isn't making enough plays to spark the team. Because of raised expectations from last year, they suffer in this year's rankings.

13. St. Louis Rams

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    The first-place Rams (that's right, the first-place Rams) have gotten great play from their defensive line and it's kept them in games.

    Chris Long, who had nine sacks and two forced fumbles in his first two seasons, has 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles through 11 games this year. And veteran James Hall is having his best campaign since '04 with the Lions.

    The Rams have a surprisingly fiesty defense and continued production from the D-line going forward is a must if they want to make a run at the NFC West.

12. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Trent Cole is having another Pro Bowl campaign and is leading Philly to a top-10 ranking in overall defense.

    While they don't have a lot of household names with their front four, they typically get solid production from whoever they plug in.

11. Indianapolis Colts

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    Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Yes please.

10. Atlanta Falcons

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Atlanta has a prototypical "bend but don't break" defense. They're ranked No. 20 in the league in terms of total yards allowed but just No. 7 in opponent's points and No. 6 in rush defense.

    They're led up front by John Abraham, who had a bit of a down year in 2009. But he's bounced back big time with nine sacks and a forced fumble.

9. Oakland Raiders

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Oakland is second in the league in sacks and most of that production comes from the balanced rushing attack of their defensive line.

    Kamerion Wimbler, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, and Matt Shaugnessy all have 4.5 sacks or more and the Raiders defense has helped key them to five wins.

    Plus, Seymour gets bonus points for doing to Ben Roethlisberger what we all want to do.

8. Tennessee Titans

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    A lot of turmoil and inconsistency has surrounded the Titans this year, but one constant has been the play of Jason Babin and Dave Ball, who have combined for 49 tackles, 16 sacks, and nine pass knock-downs.

7. Detroit Lions

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The Lions have incredibly balance on their line, headlined by Ndamukong Suh. But Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, and Corey Williams have all had strong seasons as well.

    While Detroit's pass defense is still questionable, they have a strong nucleus up front. If the entire team can ever get healthy for a year, they have a solid fundation brewing.

6. Baltimore Ravens

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Ravens have a top-five defense and while the defensive line doesn't have as impressive stats as some other teams, they set the tone. And that's good enough to be a top-10 line.

5. New York Jets

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Very similar to Baltimore. Not great stats across the board but the key to their dominant defense starts up front.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers linebackers get a lot of credit and glory, but it's guys like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel that take up space and occupy the offensive line, allowing James Harrison and Lamar Woodley to roam free and wreak havoc.

3. Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Julius Peppers has been an amazing addition to Chicago's front line, and the Bears now have a shut-down defense that can single-handedly win games.

    They did it against Green Bay, Carolina, Minnesota, Miami, and most recently against Michael Vick and the Eagles. It was one of the most impressive defensive performances of the year, as they got pressure on the elusive lefty and showed how dangerous the front four could be.

2. San Diego Chargers

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Shaun Phillips is the leader of a defense that is in the top five in opponents rushing yards, passing yards, total yards, and sacks.

    Looking at those numbers it's almost unfathomable that the Chargers have lost five games. But they appear to be rolling at the right time, and Phillips' play has a lot to do with it.

1. New York Giants

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    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Barry Cofield have combined for 104 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 13 pass knock-downs, and five fumble recoveries, all while anchoring a top-five defense.

    Not too many people wouldn't take that kind of production.

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