10). Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard,Allen Bailey, Chris Jones
This comprises the most unheralded defensive line in football. Rookie second-rounder Chris Jones will fit right in because of his toughness and forgettable name.
Poe is the closest player to a star here, but Bailey is one of the strongest men in the NFL. Howard is a similarly great value with a great motor who nearly stopped the Broncos’ run game by himself last year. This should be one of the best run-stopping units in football again.
9). Seattle Seahawks: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Ahtyba Rubin,Jordan Hill
General manager John Schneider stole Avril and Bennett during free agency in 2013. They have improbably improved as pass rushers every season since. They have been the unsung heroes of a great Seahawk defense. They are this low because tackle play has not been great. The addition of Frank Clark last year and Jarran Reed this year should help greatly.
8). Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack,Dan Williams, Mario Edwards,Justin Ellis
Mack is the franchise cornerstone, a top-15 NFL player taken with the No. 5 overall pick in 2014. Williams was a low-cost, space-eating free agency bargain. The question with Williams will be can he be consistently healthy and productive. Ellis has uncommon versatility for a human who weighs 330 pounds. Edwards proved the draft experts wrong with a great rookie season as Mack’s bookend and was cleared to play this offseason after a scary neck injury. This group can grow up together while McKenzie looks for some needed depth.
7). New York Giants: Olivier Vernon,Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins, Damon Harrison, Kerry Wynn
Harrison is a known commodity as a run-stuffer and Hankins is a sleeper to be the best player of the group. The Giants should have four above-average starters, something that is difficult to find elsewhere. They need JPP to return to his 2011 self to get this group to another level. Vernon was a great pass rusher in Miami, and while it is true together they have proven nothing, this group could be top three if everything pans out.
6). Minnesota Vikings: Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison, Danielle Hunter
This team lacks a true superstar on the defensive line, but Griffen is one of the steadiest, most underrated pass rushers of the past five years. Joseph packed as much run-stuffing power per-snap last season as any NFL player. Floyd offers more pass rush skills from the interior line, while Hunter showed incredible potential last year for a third-round pick who entered the league as a 20-year-old. Look for Hunter to steal snaps from Robison this year. Mike Zimmer is excellent at putting the right guys in the right spot and that’s why this unit ranks this high.
5). Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin,Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham
Curry, Barwin, and Graham form an excellent pass rush trio at end. Logan’s run-stuffing complements Cox’s everything-stuffing. Jim Schwartz is in prime position to make himself a head coaching candidate again, that’s how good this unit could be.
4). Carolina Panthers: Kawann Short, Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kony Ealy, Vernon Butler
The Panthers build the entire defense around the front four getting to the passer. In Santa Clara last year at Super Bowl XL they were the best unit the Panthers had on the field. Look for more of the same this year,
3). Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, William Hayes, Michael Brockers,Dominique Easley, Eugene Sims
The presence of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and terrific depth puts the Rams in the top 3. Williams often helps his linemen get advantageous matchups because opposing offenses are so worried about cornerback and safety blitzes. William Hayes has been one of the best rotational defensive ends for years. Even Easley showed great potential when on the field in New England last year. Donald and Quinn are two of the fastest defensive lineman in the NFL.
2). New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Jarvis Jenkins, Steve McLendon
Wilkerson is one of the smartest, most complete lineman on any football field. He is the rare pass rusher that often picks up his sacks by reading the play in front of him and reacting. Williams should soon be part of the top starting trio in football, while Jenkins could be a sneaky steal for depth. This line forms Todd Bowles’ best defense against a sophomore slump.
1). Cincinnati Bengals: Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Domata Peko, Pat Sims
You know your good when you have the number 1 defensive tackle in the league(Atkins) and a top 3 defensive end(Dunlap). The addition of Andrew Billings in the draft will boost DT depth were the ageless Peko and stout Simms start. If Michael Johnson returns to the form of a couple years ago this defense could finally help lead the Bengals on a deep January run.