When it comes to the best defensive lineman in the game today, do you want the dominant interior defender? How about the game-changing pass rusher? We asked our analysts to pick their top defensive lineman.
Michael Lombardi: You have to scheme for this guy
Tuesdays are for game planning during the season, and when an opposing player creates a specific game plan, they must be the best at their position. The Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware is that player as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. No team can run its normal protection schemes to handle Ware. There must be a special plan for him, or he will disrupt the offense and take over the game. He is a great rusher, able to apply pressure and make a quarterback release the ball early and increase the potential for turnovers. He is the best in the league.
Vic Carucci: One stands above the rest
No defensive lineman can take control of a game the way Julius Peppers does. At his best, Peppers is downright unblockable. He is just as capable of overwhelming blockers with sheer power as he is of blowing past them with his incredible speed and quickness. Dwight Freeney and Jared Allen merit strong consideration, but it's mainly because of their pass-rushing prowess. Peppers is the epitome of a complete defensive end. He can prevent backs from turning the corner with the same ease that he snuffs out a running play before it gets started. Besides doing an excellent job of pressuring the quarterback, Peppers also is a constant threat to force mistakes and turnovers.
Pat Kirwan: Youngster deserves top nod
Over the last four years, Jared Allen leads the defensive ends with 55.5 sacks, followed by John Abraham (45) and Mario Williams (43.5). All are candidates for the honor. When it comes to inside players, I really like Haloti Ngata, but it took him four years to generate 11 sacks. Conversely, my top defensive lineman, Ndamukong Suh, had 10 sacks, 66 tackles, one interception, and a forced fumble as a rookie. The 24-year-old defensive tackle has the power, athletic ability and technique to dominate inside. He played his rookie season like a guy who was in the league for five years.
Steve Wyche: Stats don't tell the whole story
There's not much debate on this to me: Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. He proved himself to be worth every cent the Bears paid him in free agency. He flipped between right and left end, held his own against the run, garnered eight sacks, 54 tackles, forced three fumbles, and had two picks. His impact isn't necessarily reflected on the stat sheet, though. Teams have to scheme and account for him. That doesn't happen much. Neither does finding a defensive end who does everything Peppers does on every down.
Charles Davis: More than a big body
Here's one vote for Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. He came into the league viewed as a wide body and a run stuffer. Now, his agility and versatility are on display weekly. Five-technique defensive end? Check. Three-technique defensive tackle? Check. Nose tackle? Check. Stop the run? Check. Rush the passer? Check. Zone-blitz dropper who can make plays on his feet in a short area? Check. Add up all the checks, and then ask offensive linemen how to block him.
Jason La Canfora: Freak of nature
Haloti Ngata is the prototype for anything a team could look for in a defensive lineman: unreal size, tremendous speed, dexterity, and athleticism. Doesn't need to take plays off. Requires constant double teams. Can rush the passer from the inside or off the edge. Can stuff the run like no one else. There's a reason why the Ravens made him their offseason priority and why they are prepared to make him the highest paid at his position. He is tremendously disruptive and simply makes that defense go. Watch him back track in coverage sometime or sky to tip a pass and then pick off a ball. It ain't normal.
Solomon Wilcots: Huge impact in short period
Before Ndamukong Suh burst onto the scene, only the late Reggie White could do the things Suh has done in his one year in the leage. He is the complete package: power, speed, finesse, and a sheer explosive force few offensive linemen dare to block. Suh is capable of wrecking the opponent's running game, but he is equally as devastating when pursuing the quarterback. The Lions' newfound swagger can be directly traced to the Suh's presence in the line up. His impact has been, and will be, critical to building a champion in Detroit.