Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.
When it comes to the NFL's top defenders, the list starts with Houston Texans All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. Now a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year honoree, Watt's jaw-dropping athleticism and big-play ability was on full display last season, as he not only terrorized quarterbacks, he also helped his own put points on the board thanks to his three touchdown catches as a situational tight end. While Watt is clearly the cream of the crop right now, he's not the only defensive linemen that is getting paid handsomely for his efforts either. Ndamukong Suh, the No. 1 defensive tackle, inked a record-breaking six-year contract with the Miami Dolphins this offseason that could be worth more than $114 million and is guaranteed to play the former Lion nearly $60 million.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services
2015 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Defensive Ends
1. J.J. Watt, Houston
A unanimous All-Pro, Watt has never missed a game in his four-year career, recording 51.5 sacks in the past three years.
2. Sheldon Richardson, N.Y. Jets
The 2013 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year built on his first season by registering 67 tackles and eight sacks.
3. Muhammad Wilkerson, N.Y. Jets
Wilkerson has played in 61 games since he was drafted four years ago and has collected 237 career tackles and 24.5 sacks.
4. Calais Campbell, Arizona
Campbell is a wiry and strong player at the point of attack and has the speed to run a play down from behind.
5. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia
A battler from snap to whistle, Cox takes good angles in both long and short pursuit and has good use of hands at the point of attack.
6. Justin Smith, San Francisco
This relentless and tenacious warrior announced his retirement in May, so his inclusion on this list is more a tip of the cap for Smith's impressive 14-year career.
7. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh
An explosive player with innate strength, the fifth-year pro has put together back-to-back solid seasons.
8. Haloti Ngata, Detroit
Detroit acquired Ngata, a nine-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler, this offseason to offset the loss of Ndamukong Suh.
9. Mike Daniels, Green Bay
One of the top disruptors in the league, Daniels is undersized for a 3-4 defensive end, but he’s quick and resourceful in his play.
10. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee
The four-year veteran is a productive, quick and high-effort competitor. Casey refuses to stay blocked and has the burst to close and finish a play.
11. Jason Hatcher, Washington
12. Ray McDonald, Free Agent
13. Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore
14. Corey Liuget, San Diego
15. Tommy Kelly, Free Agent
16. Cory Redding, Arizona
17. Cedric Thornton, Philadelphia
18. Jared Crick, Houston
19. Vinny Curry, Philadelphia
20. Desmond Bryant, Cleveland
2015 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends
1. Cameron Wake, Miami
The 2014 Pro Bowl selection has the hand strength and leverage to control the blocker and stack the run. Wake finished 2014 with 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
2. Michael Bennett, Seattle
Bennett plays with strength and leverage and sets the edge of the defense with good lateral quickness. He has elevated his total game over the past five years.
3. Junior Galette, New Orleans
The long-armed edge pass rusher has an explosive first step. A good athlete with exceptional change-of-direction ability, Galette has 22 sacks the past two years.
4. Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit
A talented and disruptive high-effort athlete, Ansah controls the blocker with his long arms and big hands. He elevated his overall game his second season.
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, N.Y. Giants
The speed rusher takes advantage of his long arms and huge hands. He finished the season with 77 tackles and 12.5 sacks.
6. Everson Griffen, Minnesota
Griffen has outstanding lateral quickness with a relentless burst to the quarterback. An explosive leverage player, Griffen had 12 sacks last season.
7. Charles Johnson, Carolina
A productive pass rusher with the ability to stop the run, Johnson has quick feet with his outside rush or inside charge. Has 52.5 sacks in the last five years.
8. Cliff Avril, Seattle
Avril has explosive first-step quickness and uses his long arms to set the edge in the run game. Avril has recorded 13 sacks the past two years.
9. Mario Williams, Buffalo
A Pro Bowl pass rusher who can turn speed to power on a rush. He has sudden first-step quickness and covers a lot of ground quickly.
10. Robert Quinn, St. Louis
The 2014 Pro Bowler possesses natural hand, foot and lateral quickness. He refuses to stay blocked and can slip and accelerate off a block.
11. Chris Long, St. Louis
12. Robert Ayers, N.Y. Giants
13. William Hayes, St. Louis
14. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo
15. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati
16. Jeremy Mincey, Dallas
17. Justin Tuck, Oakland
18. Olivier Vernon, Miami
19. Jared Allen, Chicago
20. DeMarcus Ware, Denver
21. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans
22. Anthony Spencer, New Orleans
23. George Johnson, Tampa Bay
24. Jonathan Massaquoi, Tennessee
25. Lamarr Houston, Chicago
26. O’Brien Schofield, Atlanta
27. Derek Wolfe, Denver
28. C.J. Wilson, Oakland
29. Jarius Wynn, Buffalo
30. Greg Hardy, Dallas
2015 NFL Player Rankings: Defensive Tackles
1. Ndamukong Suh, Miami
A new arrival with the Dolphins, Suh has recorded 239 tackles including 36 sacks from the inside at defensive tackle.
2. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo
A Pro Bowl selection after a 10-sack season, Dareus is a long-armed power player who doesn’t stay blocked.
3. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay
The five-year veteran has catlike quickness, good agility and body control to work his way through traffic. He excels as a one-gap penetrator.
4. Aaron Donald, St. Louis
The relentless, slippery leverage player has good flexibility to dip and bend. The 2014 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year had nine sacks and 48 total tackles.
5. Kyle Williams, Buffalo
He missed 11 games due to injury in 2011, but other than that, he has been a tireless blue-collar worker Bills fans appreciate.
6. Johnathan Hankins, N.Y. Giants
Hankins plays hard inside out to the perimeter and has good lateral quickness and change of direction.
7. Kawann Short, Carolina
Playing in front of NFL tackling leader Luke Kuechly, Short absorbs blocks and gets upfield push in the pass game.
8. Stephen Paea, Washington
With his strength and leverage, Paea is tough to block one-on-one. He gains an advantage with his first-step quickness.
9. Terrance Knighton, Washington
This wide-bodied pocket presser was just what the doctor ordered for Washington to stop the inside running game.
10. Jared Odrick, Jacksonville
A free-agent signee, Odrick is projected to play inside in a four-man front. He’s a disruptive player who gets upfield pressure.
11. Vince Wilfork, Houston
12. Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota
13. Brandon Williams, Baltimore
14. Jay Ratliff, Chicago
15. Tyrone Crawford, Dallas
16. Sen’Derrick Marks, Jacksonville
17. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati
18. Star Lotulelei, Carolina
19. Damon Harrison, N.Y. Jets
20. Henry Melton, Tampa Bay
21. Dan Williams, Oakland
22. Nick Fairley, St. Louis
23. Tyrunn Walker, Detroit
24. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta
25. Linval Joseph, Minnesota
26. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay
27. Michael Brockers, St. Louis
28. Kevin Williams, Free Agent
29. Bennie Logan, Philadelphia
30. Tom Johnson, Minnesota