NFL: Ranking the 10 Best Defensive Ends

Brandon WhalenCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2011

NFL: Ranking the 10 Best Defensive Ends

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    I've already gone through the 10 best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, now it's time for the league's best defensive ends.

    In most cases, a good defensive end can be one of the most valuable players on a team. His job is to contain the run and wreak havoc on a quarterback when he goes back to pass. Good defensive ends can turn a first-down pass play into a third-and-long with a sack.

    Tomorrow, I will count down the league's top defensive tackles.

10. Jason Babin

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    Jason Babin has played for five different teams in his seven years in the NFL. He had never really been a full-time starter until last year with the Titans. This upcoming season, he's back with the Eagles (for whom he played in 2009)

    In his first six years, Babin started only 26 games, had 17.5 sacks and only two forced fumbles.

    Last season, he started all 16 games with the Titans and proved he's a great pass-rusher. Babin had a career-high 12.5 sacks along with two forced fumbles and 58 tackles. He made his first career Pro Bowl and was one of the league's top free agents this offseason.

    Playing opposite of Trent Cole could benefit Babin greatly. Don't be surprised if he has another year like the last.

9. Osi Umenyiora

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    It seems like Osi Umenyiora has been the Giants' second-best defensive end for a long time. He played alongside Michael Strahan for four seasons and once he retired, Justin Tuck took over the top spot on that line. 

    Umenyiora may not be the best defensive end on his own team (spoiler alert), but he's still one of the league's best.

    After missing the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, he's come back strong the past two seasons. Last season, he had 11.5 sacks and an NFL-leading 10 forced fumbles. He was selected as a second-team All-Pro player, but for some reason did not make the Pro Bowl.

    If Umenyiora has another season like last, don't expect him to be snubbed again.

8. Trent Cole

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    Trent Cole has been one of the league's premier pass-rushers over the past four seasons.

    Here are his season averages over the past four years: 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 67 tackles. He's also started every game but one during that span. He's made the Pro Bowl twice (2007 and 2009) and had double-digit sack totals in three seasons.

    With the addition of Jason Babin, Cole is only going to get better. Teams won't be able to double-team him as much so don't be surprised if he puts up big numbers this coming season.

    At only 28 years old, Cole has the ability to be one of the league's best for many more seasons.

7. Robert Mathis

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    Robert Mathis has spent much of his career in Dwight Freeney's shadow. While Freeney may be the better player, Mathis isn't too bad himself.

    He's made three consecutive Pro Bowls and has 32 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in that span. One of the strongest parts of his game is forcing fumbles—he has 36 of them in his career.

    Last season, Mathis had 11 sacks, 60 tackles and made his third straight Pro Bowl. Expect him to be back there again this season.

6. Mario Williams

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    He was picked ahead of Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft, which to most people was a head-scratcher. Well, it seems as though the Texans made the right pick.

    Williams is a 6'6", 290-pound quarterback-killing machine. He struggled a bit in his rookie season, but the next year, he came out and recorded 14 sacks. The next season, he had 12 sacks and 53 tackles on his way to his first Pro Bowl. The next season, he was again selected to the Pro Bowl.

    Last season, Williams missed three games, had 8.5 sacks and missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2007.

    If he stays healthy, I expect Williams to have a big year with the Texans and a double-digit sack total.

5. John Abraham

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    At 33 years old, John Abraham is coming off one of the best seasons of his career.

    He played in 15 games and recorded 13 sacks. He made his first Pro Bowl since 2004 when he was on the Jets, and was selected a first-team All-Pro player for the first time since 2001.

    In his five years with the Falcons, Abraham has 49 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and 148 tackles. In 2008, he had 16.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, but was snubbed from the Pro Bowl.

    Abraham is one of the best pass-rushers in the league and I expect him to have another big year this season.

4. Justin Tuck

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    Justin Tuck took over for Michael Strahan when he retired after the 2007 season and picked up right where Strahan left off.

    In his first season as a starter, Tuck had 12 sacks, three forced fumbles was selected to the Pro Bowl and named a first-team All-Pro player. He missed the Pro Bowl the next year, but has since regained his 2008 form.

    Last season, Tuck recorded 11.5 sacks, had five forced fumbles and 68 tackles. He was once again named a Pro Bowler and was a second-team All-Pro player.

3. Jared Allen

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    Jared Allen had an off year, but I don't believe he went from the best defensive end to not in the top five in just one season.

    Last season, Allen had a below average year by his standards, recording 11 sacks and 60 tackles. He missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2006.

    The three seasons before last (2007-2009), Allen was the premier defensive end in the NFL. His combined stats in those years are: 44.5 sacks, 169 tackles, 11 forced fumbles and three safeties. In each of those three seasons, Allen made the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro defensive end.

2. Dwight Freeney

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    Dwight Freeney is going to be 31 years old and has suffered some recent injuries, but he's still one of the best defensive ends in the league.

    After injuries in 2007 and 2009, he played every game last season and showed he still has it. He had 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and made his sixth Pro Bowl. The season before, he missed some action but still managed to record 13.5 sacks and was named a first-team All-Pro defensive end.

    Freeney has been one of the most (if not the most) consistent pass-rusher over the past nine seasons.

1. Julius Peppers

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    Julius Peppers is an absolute monster on the D-line. He's 6'6" and 285 pounds of a quarterback's worst nightmare.

    Peppers is going into his 10th season and he's as good as ever. After giving up his title of best defensive end in the league to Jared Allen for a few years, Peppers is back in the top spot.

    Last season, he had eight sacks, 54 tackles and three forced fumbles. That stat line isn't the most impressive of his career, but the stats don't tell the whole story. He commanded double-teams all year long, opening opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

    He made his sixth Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro defensive end for the third time in his career.

    Peppers' Approximate Value (AV) last season was the highest of his career at 19. That shows he was extremely valuable to his team and did much more than the stats show.