News pertaining to the St. Louis Rams is few and far between at this point in this season, with most of the attention around the league being focused primarily on those teams still in the “hunt” for a playoff birth. However, this is also prime time for way-too-early looks into the upcoming NFL Draft, gossip about head coaching and player decisions, and arbitrary ranks of players based on their performance this season.
While there will be plenty of debate surrounding the St. Louis Rams multiple Top 15 picks, it was not a mock draft that sparked some outrage among members of Rams Nation. NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling recently published his tiered “ranking” of all the major positions in the NFL. Included among those, obviously, was defensive ends; a category that was divided into five tiers: Top Shelf, Next Level, Pro Bowl Potential, Solid Starters, Best of the Rest. Aside from Sam Bradford, there is no player (or position) that St. Louis Rams fans are more “defensive” about than defensive end… so how did we fair?
Robert Quinn has been the most dominating pass rusher in the NFL this season, supported by his position-leading sack numbers, as well as his nearly league-leading quarterback pressures and forced fumbles. So, naturally, he is ranked in the… “Next Level” tier? Remarkably, only six players reside in Wesseling’s highest tier: J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, DeMarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Justin Smith. While some are deserving of that honor (i.e. J.J Watt), other have obviously been placed on a pedestal due to name recognition, reputation, or some combination of the two. So, how would Ramblin’ Fan rank out the defensive ends, based on their performance this season?
Top Shelf: J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Calais Campbell, Muhammad Wilkerson, Chandler Jones
Watt and Quinn do not need any supporting evidence to be placed in the top tier of defensive ends. Watt is ranked as the top run stuffer and pass rusher among 3-4 defensive ends, while Quinn tops the 4-3 ends as a pass rusher, and ranks third against the run… Campbell plays for the Cardinals, so he gets little-to-no spotlight, but is one of the most consistent players against both the run and pass in the NFL; thus, he currently has the third highest overall grade among defensive ends… Wilkerson ranked Top 5 in nearly every major statistical category, including defensive stops and sacks… Jones is ranked Top 3 in tackles, defensive stops, and sacks among 4-3 defensive ends.
The “1a” Shelf: Cameron Wake, Michael Johnson (CIN), Cameron Jordan, LaMarr Houston, Greg Hardy, Rob Ninkovich (NE)
Wake has been a pass rushing specialist this season, with a minimal effect versus the run… Johnson an under-appreciated, all-around defensive end, ranks Top 10 in most significant categories… Jordan is the shining star in the Saints defense and has been arguably the most dominating 3-4 pass rushing defensive end in the league; however, he is average, at best, against the run… Houston leads all 4-3 defensive ends in tackles and defensive stops… Hardy is arguably the best all-around player in the Carolina front-four, ranked Top 10 in most categories… Ninkovich might be the best “stuffer” among the 4-3 defensive ends, topping the position in defensive stops, as well as sporting the highest “against the run” grade.
Next Level: Sheldon Richardson, Justin Tuck, Charles Johnson (CAR), Mario Williams, DeMarcus Ware, Chris Long, Fletcher Cox
Richardson is about as close to “1a” as you can get, and should be in strong consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year… Tuck has silently effective this season, both against run and pass, and ranks Top 10 among 4-3 DE in pressures and defensive stops… Johnson is second only to Hardy on the Carolina defensive line, and has been the better pass rusher of the two… Williams is somehow still reaping the benefits of being a former No. 1 overall pick, and has been an above-average pass rusher… the oft-injured Ware is the only semi-bright spot on the Dallas defensive, but has seen his pass rushing numbers drop off a cliff since moving to the 4-3… Long has been stout, as usual, ranking Top 10 with his “pass rushing” grade, and ranking near the top in both defensive stops and quarterback pressures… Cox has been nearly as effective and efficient as any 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, just nothing “eye popping.”
Best of the Rest: Michael Bennett, Olivier Vernon, Carlos Dunlap, Justin Smith, Cedric Thorton, Brian Robison (MIN)
Bennett is too much of a rotational player to garner the numbers, but has been the best pass rusher on the Seahawks defensive line… Vernon has the sacks, tackles, and defensive stops to be a borderline “Next Level” player this season… Dunlap is the lesser half of the Bengals’ defensive end duo, but still ranks Top 15 in most major categories… Smith has struggled coming off injury this season, and has been surprising more effective as a pass rusher than as a run stuffer… Thorton is nearly second to none versus the run this season from the 3-4 defensive end position… Robison leads all defensive lineman in quarterback “hurries,” including both Quinn and Watt.
Surprisingly Average: Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, B.J. Raji, Darnell Dockett, Antonio Smith
Obviously, there are plenty of players that will seem out of place due to “down” years of production this season. Jared Allen is still a Top 10 players at his position, but, based solely off his performance from this season, does not deserve to be ranked among the top defensive ends. Likewise, “one-trick” players (i.e. Cedric Thorton vs. the run), “glory stat” players (i.e. Mario Williams), and players with “name recognition,” do not get moved ahead of defensive ends that have been dominant in all phases of the game this season. Maybe, Mr. Wesseling should take some notes…