The NFL's Top 10 Defensive Linemen

James WilliamsonSenior Writer IJanuary 10, 2009

To me, the cornerstone of a great defense is a defensive line. I would rather have a team with a great defensive line, and average defensive backs, than a defensive line that can't do anything, and a great linebacking corp or secondary.

Just last year in the Super Bowl, quarterback Tom Brady was a victim of assault and battery by the New York Giants great defensive line featuring Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and others. The line contributed five sacks, and even more knockdowns to the point where people wondered if Tom Brady was going to ever get up.

Lucky for him he did.

That Super Bowl proves that a great defensive line is key to winning the big games, and if you want to know which players would be on the most wanted list for defensive linemen, look no further.

No. 10 Defensive Linemen: John Abraham

Falcon fans are definitely not going to like me for ranking their top defensive player at only No. 10 on this list. However, I'm here to tell the honest truth, and the truth is that John Abraham is the most one dimensional lineman in the NFL right now in the top ten.

He may have 16.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, but that is all he really does.

A defensive lineman, to be truly elite, has to stop the run as well as knock that quarterback out. Abraham had only 38 tackles this year with 36 being solo and two being assists.

An average of two tackles and one sack per game is good, but not nearly good enough for me to consider putting him high on this list.

No. 9 Defensive Linemen: Robert Mathis

He is one of the key players to the Indianapolis Colts defense. Under Tony Dungy's excellent coaching, Robert Mathis has been able to wreck terror on opposing quarterbacks—11.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 1 recovery. That recovery was taken back 37 yards for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns, which turned out to be the winning score.

When you become a guy who wins games, you are definitely ranked on the list. Then why is he only No. 9?

A defensive lineman's job is to create pressure and stop the run. Robert Mathis was like John Abraham, he didn't play the run well enough. He has 36 solo tackles, and 12 assists especially when he has six rival games against teams that use the running game severely.

Tennessee is all about the run as is Jacksonville, and Houston has always been focused on making run and pass distribution balanced. Mathis had multiple opportunities to star but didn't, so he ranks at only No. 9 on this list.

No. 8 Defensive Lineman: Mario Williams

He's the infamous 1st overall pick in 2006 for the Houston Texans. Many felt that to pick a defensive end over running back Reggie Bush, or Houston native Vince Young, was just ludicrous.

It looks like Williams is having the last laugh. From day one, he has been successful, and this season is no different. In terms of productivity, Mario Williams is better than the other two right now. No question about it.

44 solo tackles, 9 assists, 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles; how can you argue against that stat line?

But, he's still learning, and since the NFL is the best of the best, there is always someone better. At least this year there was.

No. 7 Defensive Lineman: Albert Haynesworth

He may have been an MVP candidate at one time for the Titans, but Albert Haynesworth ranks only seventh on this list.

His stat line reads: 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 41 solo tackles and 10 assists as a defensive tackle. But his numbers, to me, are not only middling, but misleading.

Those are decent numbers for a guy like Albert Haynesworth, but take a look at his individual games. He was far from consistent.

One of his best games came against the NFC North's Minnesota Viking where he deflected a pass, had two sacks, and six tackles, but its the Vikings with Adrian Peterson, the star running back, of course he'll get six tackles.

Then he plays the Bears, who are a running team first, and he gets only three tackles. He is very inconsistent. His worst game came against the worst team, the Detroit Lions.

The Lions, who are reputed to be poor at nearly position keep Haynesworth from crushing them. He had only one tackle.

That is not a mark of the best defensive lineman, I'm sorry. Try again next year Albert.

No. 6 Defensive Lineman: Jay Ratliff

This guy is a jewel. A 7th round pick out of Auburn, Jay Ratliff became an undersized nose tackle for the Dallas Cowboys.

I have been watching the Dallas defense with a pair of sniper scopes turned into binoculars, and I still didn't see this coming.

Jay Ratliff just came out of nowhere. I thought Tank Johnson would become the starter and Ratliff would be the backup, and boy did I eat my words, and believe me, I was happy to eat them.

Before this year, he had eight career sacks and 52 tackles. He adds 33 solo tackles and 18 assists to make his career total 103, and 7.5 sacks to make his sack total 15.5.

He nearly doubled his career stats! That is unbelivable, and as a nose tackle. Nose tackles do not get sacks, they function as a barricade mostly to stop a run. He beats most defensive ends in sacks, and he's not supposed to be getting the sacks.

This guy is hungry. He hates being a 7th round draft pick, and is not afraid to attack. His best game came against the Redskins, where he was a living nightmare to Jason Campbell, sacking him twice.

Why is it so important to name Jason Campbell? Well, look at them. They're college teammates, but while Campbell gets picked in the first round, Ratliff falls down to the seventh, and he gets to sack his old friend and teammate while wearing the silver and blue.

For this breakout season, Ratliff was named to the Pro Bowl easily, and I think he has a bright future with the Dallas Cowboys. He's in the right place since the Cowboys have made the best defensive linemen from Bob Lilly to Jim Jeffcoat.

No. 5 Defensive Lineman: Shaun Rogers

When the Detroit Lions let Shaun Rogers go, I knew they were in really big trouble, and I knew Cleveland was in for some good defensive stops.

The reason Cleveland had a horrible season is because the offense refused to click. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards should be a cornerback instead since he can only deflect the ball instead of catching it.

OK, that was mean even for me.

None of the failure can be attributed to Shaun Rogers, who has been outstanding this years. He is the best nose tackle in the game right now. No one is a better nose tackle.

This Cleveland Browns defensive line had many injuries to it and yet, Shaun Rogers not only stays healthy, but steps up and succeeds.

4.5 sacks, 61 solo tackles, 15 assists for a total of 76 tackles. This man is an inhuman beast to centers.

What also got him on this list so high was also one play I will never forget.

Monday Night Football: Its a game, and even though I have to listen to the easily excited trio of Ron Jaworski, Mike Tirico, and Tony Kornheiser. (Note I have listed them in order of who I know the most)

Now while sometimes Jaws and Korny jabber worse than those flocks of gull in "Finding Nemo" that say nothing but, "Mine." They can actually be good commentators.

The game was expected to be a blow out and heck, look who it was: New York Giant at Cleveland Browns. Forget it, Eli Manning is going to humiliate the Browns and Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards will start a streak of consecutive incompletes together.

But, something told me to watch the game. Something was saying, "Upset ladies and gentlemen, place your bets." and it is football, so I watched.

Man, I wish I was a gambling man. The Browns not only beat the Giants, but knocked off their perfect record and humiliated them.

One man made a play to clinch it. That man was Shaun Rogers.

The Giants are driving, Eli calls the play and Shaun Rogers just comes barreling down on Eli like a rabid dog is really released from the Dawg Pound, and Eli just throws it in the air to avoid a sack, and Eric Wright intercepts it, taking it back to the house. Touchdown Cleveland!

That was it. All because of Shaun Rogers. The pressure he gave Eli was nothing less than amazing. Even though Eli threw the ball away, he still landed flat on his back with a hurt body.

All I can say to a guy like Shaun Rogers is, "Please don't hit me!"

No. 4 Defensive Linemen: Trent Cole

Trent Cole is the best lineman against the run, and the tackles speak for themselves, 59 solo tackles with 18 assists. That is the most of any defensive linemen this year.

Add that to nine sacks and two forced fumbles, and you got a very good player.

People look at the Eagles, and think: Brian Westbrook, Terrell Owens and his stint there, DeSean Jackson, and Donovan McNabb. But the defense for the Eagles is huge, and all you have to do is look at the victories over the Cowboys and Steelers.

The pressure they put on those teams combined with the ruthlessness of the defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, and that team is arguably the best defensive team in the league, and Trent Cole's success is a great point to bring up in that sort of debate.

So why isn't he No. 1?

The answer is simply because he was not as good at pass rushing. Nine sacks is good, but I have to contribute his success to the linebacker blitzes. When they blitz, the halfback runs to the side and right into Trent Cole.

That could explain a good amount of his tackles, but I just don't think he was that dominant. He just wasn't that good to me to crack the top three.

No. 3 Defensive Lineman: Julius Peppers

The Carolina Panthers are without a doubt in my mind, the most underrated team in football. They are never in the news except DeAngelo Williams, and they are passed over by teams located in Drama Square like the Cowboys or Jets. They have been talked about the least of all the playoff teams.

So it is no surprise that its top defensive player is looked over. Julius Peppers is one of the true elite defensive ends. 40 solo tackles, 11 assists, 14.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.

Just an incredible player. He's not number one only because the other two are just better in my opinion.

No. 2 Defensive Lineman: Jared Allen

When Kansas City traded Jared Allen, who had 15.5 sacks in his last year, many questioned the sanity of both teams. Minnesota gave up its first round selection, both of its third round selections and swapped sixth round selections in order to get Jared Allen in purple.

Kansas City is a team that is severely rebuilding, and it needs draft picks to do that, but Jared Allen was a player who, defensively, they could rely on.

Minnesota wanted to put him with its Williams duo, Pat and Kevin at defensive tackle, and see if the Purple People Eaters could come back.

So far, Minnesota got the best deal. Jared Allen had 14.5 sacks this season along with 41 solo tackles and 13 assists. His three forced fumbles add an extra check to his Pro Bowl season.

But what makes him higher is he did something, that to my knowledge has never been done before. He had two safeties. Two! Most players go through their careers and never get one, but Jared gets two in one season.

The first one was one of the best football bloopers of all time. The Vikings were playing Detroit, and Dan Orlovsky is back to pass, but one problem, the Lions inept offensive line has let Jared Allen loose, and he is chasing Orlovsky.

Orlovsky had dropped back to pass in the end zone and Allen is coming to eat him up, and Orlovsky is trying to buy time so he drops back even more until he steps out of his own endzone and Allen is awarded a safety.

That play is a highlight on Allen's career and a lowlight on the entire franchise of Detroit.

The second one came at the most critical of games. Minnesota is battling the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers had already been penalized in the endzone leading to a safety, and you think, "Wow! You don't see those often."

I have said many times that this year was a kooky one, and that game just supports my stand. Rodgers is again pressed up in the endzone, and Allen managed to break into the endzone and grab Rodgers. He went down and Minnesota got its second safety of the game.

The game ended with Minnesota winning 28-27, so in the biggest of ironies, Jared Allen's safety put them over the top, but he's not No. 1.

He's No. 2 because he had two Pro Bowl defensive tackles in Kevin and Pat Williams, so his success could easily be attributed to those two players. They have become the most dominant defensive line in the national football league.

Can I get a drumroll? Hello? Gosh, a writer has to do everything around here doesn't he?

(James Williamson leaves to bring in very large drum.)

(James Williamson is now banging on a drum that very noisy.)

OW! MOM! (James's mother just hit him with a frying pan.)

Ok, ok! I'll just tell them!

No. 1 Defensive Lineman: Justin Tuck

When the Giants old general manager Ernie Accoursi was asked to evaluate Michael Strahan, he said he was, "He's the greatest pass rusher that plays the run that I've ever seen. Normally pass rushers don't play the run, they're interested in sacks. No one plays the run better than he does, that's a great pass rusher."

Why the allusion to Strahan? Because Tuck is following in his shoes.

Tuck was Strahan's backup when he was added to the team. People think that only quarterback benching works and the rest of the rookies need to play to learn, but Strahan is the ultimate tutor, and all you have to do is look at how much Tuck has learned from him.

Justin Tuck is the best pass rusher that plays the run. After I saw him in the Super Bowl, I knew this guy was going to be a star, and he has shined brighter than the sun.

52 solo tackles, 15 assists, 12 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Yet, his best day came in week two with two sacks and an interception of Marc Bulger. He ran 41 yards back for a touchdown while embarrasing the St. Louis Rams.

To me, Tuck is the next Strahan, and Strahan is without a doubt, a Hall of Fame player. Right now, New York is lucky to have him especially since Osi Umenyiora was put on IR during preseason. Tuck has been the main guy, and he can cause havoc, wherever he goes.

That's him in the picture above. His alma mater is probably the proudest of him since Notre Dame has been in a slump when it comes to making great players recently.

With names like Joe Montana and Paul Hornung as fellow alumni, he has a lot to do to make them proud.

The top ten list is complete, but is the debate done?

Many are going to talk about how Trent Cole should be number one or how is John Abraham No. 10?

This is going to be fun. Have a happy playoff weekend.


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