In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?
With the NFL evolving into a pass-happy league, a disruptive defensive line is becoming even more important. Look no further than this past Super Bowl when Seattle relied primarily on its defensive line, instead of blitzes, to put pressure on Denver’s Peyton Manning. Even though the Seahawks finished with just one sack, the pressure was effective. Michael Bennett and company held the record-setting MVP to 280 yards passing and one touchdown, while picking him off twice in their dominating 43-8 victory.
So whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, one of the keys to success in today’s NFL is a strong first line of defense. Just ask the Seahawks.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services
2014 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Defensive Ends
1. J.J. Watt, Houston
A dominant defensive lineman who had another stellar year. Explodes off the snap and plays the game with great passion and emotion. A relentless competitor.
2. Calais Campbell, Arizona
Has become a welcomed star on the Cardinals’ defensive line and a disruptive high-effort player. Chases the ball down effectively from the backside.
3. Sheldon Richardson, NY Jets
Was voted the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Instinctive with lightning-quick reactions and the ability to change direction. An explosive high-effort talent.
4. Kyle Williams, Buffalo
Is an explosive up-the-field penetrator who battles every down. Has inside pass-rush ability. Keeps his hands and feet moving with an upfield burst.
5. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans
Blossomed at the 5-technique position under Rob Ryan and turned in a big year that included 12.5 sacks.
6. Muhammad Wilkerson, NY Jets
Like his running mate Sheldon Richardson, he shuts down the run. He also added 10.5 sacks, showing his quickness, athletic ability and field awareness.
7. Justin Smith, San Francisco
Is shedding age and time like the blockers he regularly defeats. Still has an explosive first step and takes on blockers aggressively. Active hands and body control.
8. Arthur Jones, Indianapolis
Left the Ravens in free agency after a big year and landed in Indianapolis. A blue-collar worker who is an ascending player with the ability to stop and stack in the run game.
9. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
Played as a 5-technique in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme and demonstrated strong pass-rush skills along with lateral quickness and run-stuffing ability.
10. Mike Daniels, Green Bay
Is a quick and resourceful defender who had his best year since the Packers drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.
11. Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia
12. Vinny Curry, Philadelphia
13. Antonio Smith, Oakland
14. Akiem Hicks, New Orleans
15. Allen Bailey, Kansas City
16. Mike DeVito, Kansas City
17. Cory Redding, Indianapolis
18. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh
19. Alan Branch, Buffalo
20. Ray McDonald, San Francisco
2014 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends
1. Robert Quinn, St. Louis
An explosive right end who recorded a team-record 19 sacks in 2013. Possesses natural hand, foot and lateral quickness. Tough to block, exhibiting outstanding flexibility.
2. Greg Hardy, Carolina
Was awarded the franchise tag tender after recording 15 sacks in 2013 and 11 in 2012. Explosive edge speed. Can bend the corner and turn speed to power.
3. Cameron Wake, Miami
A natural 4-3 end who draws protection and frees up guys like Olivier Vernon, who corralled 11.5 sacks in 2013. Has the strength, quickness and leverage to control the blocker and stack the run.
4. DeMarcus Ware, Denver
Signed with the Broncos after his Cowboy release and will team with productive Von Miller to form a formidable defensive duo.
5. Michael Bennett, Seattle
Led the Super Bowl champions with 8.5 sacks and was re-signed during the offseason. Versatile enough to play end and tackle. A good athlete who plays with strength and leverage.
6. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati
Signed a contract extension last year and overcame chronic injuries to elevate his overall game and pass-rushing abilities.
7. Lamarr Houston, Chicago
A versatile inside or outside competitor whose motor is always running hot. Explosive first-step quickness to split blockers. A disruptive pass-rusher who bats balls down or pressures throws.
8. Michael Johnson, Tampa Bay
Was signed in the offseason to pressure the quarterback in Lovie Smith’s Tampa-2. Rare athletic ability with explosive initial quickness.
9. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee
Has developed into a solid pro. Demonstrates jolt and explosion to shock the blocker. Relentless player. Could struggle in move 3-4.
10. Chandler Jones, New England
Athletic pass-rusher with a long and rangy build. Has elusive first-step quickness and can close laterally on inside runs. Finishes long crossfield pursuit. Flies around the field looking to make plays.
11. Chris Long, St. Louis
12. Charles Johnson, Carolina
13. Willie Young, Chicago
14. Robert Ayers, NY Giants
15. Rob Ninkovich, New England
16. Justin Tuck, Oakland
17. Cliff Avril, Seattle
18. Brian Robison, Minnesota
19. Shaun Phillips, Tennessee
20. Everson Griffen, Minnesota
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Tackles
1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit
Is the league’s most dominant interior lineman, with explosive strength and top-level athletic ability. A disruptive player who is generally double-teamed and makes big-time plays because of extra effort. Must eliminate untimely penalties.
2. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay
Finally came into his own in 2013 after avoiding injury. He emerged as a one-gap disruptor and made his second Pro Bowl.
3. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
Collected 20 sacks from the interior in 2011 and ’12, the most in the NFL. He was on his way to another banner season with six sacks when he suffered an ACL injury against Miami in early November.
4. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo
Provides quickness and strength to anchor the inside gaps. Long-armed power player becoming more consistent with his hands and technique.
5. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee
Led the Titans in sacks with 10.5 last season. He must now make a scheme change to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. A high-effort competitor who is quick and explosive.
6. Randy Starks, Miami
Was re-signed and the big-framed tackle is a solid run-defender and explosive as a leverage player. A good effort competitor who finishes pursuit.
7. Jason Hatcher, Washington
Signed in the offseason and is expected to hold down one of the end spots for the Redskins. With the Cowboys, he moved inside to a 4-3 tackle.
8. Dontari Poe, Kansas City
Started his career slowly but went from lamb to lion in 2013. He proved that he is an immovable anchor against the run and gets explosive push in the pass game.
9. Jared Odrick, Miami
Is physical at defensive end on run downs and is versatile enough to move down inside on pass downs. A disruptive athlete who gets upfield pressure.
10. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore
He’s 30 now, but had another productive year at nose tackle. A dominant force when healthy.
11. Pat Sims, Oakland
12. Terrance Knighton, Denver
13. Brandon Mebane, Seattle
14. Damon Harrison, NY Jets
15. Star Lotulelei, Carolina
16. Malik Jackson, Denver
17. Kawann Short, Carolina
18. Linval Joseph, Minnesota
19. Paul Soliai, Atlanta
20. Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco
21. Barry Cofield, Washington
22. Kevin Williams, Free agent
23. Cullen Jenkins, NY Giants
24. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta
25. Phil Taylor, Cleveland
26. Tony McDaniel, Seattle
27. Karl Klug, Tennessee
28. Corey Peters, Atlanta
29. Nick Fairley, Detroit
30. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay