Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

24 Jul 2007

FO Ranks All 32 Teams for 2007: Defensive Lines

As you will learn over the next couple days, it can be hard to separate the performance of the defensive line from the performance of the linebackers. If you think we've ranked a defensive line too high, that's probably a team where the linebackers will rank lower than you expect, and vice versa.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 24 Jul 2007

42 comments, Last at 25 Jul 2007, 7:04pm by oro


by Adam Gretz (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:56am

Can you really call Brett Kiesel a journeyman when he's only played for one NFL team?

by sam (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:04pm

Some of us knew the depth of the Jaguars' defensive line. But we all live in Jax and nobody believed us ;)

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:10pm

I think Carolina a far too high, they're just Peppers and some guys now, Kemoeatu and Jenkins are big but they weren't great last year and Rucker is rapidly approaching being done.

Are Miami a 3-4 or a 4-3? Their Defensive Coordinator is Capers, who always runs a 3-4 and I'm pretty sure Jason Taylor was playing linebacker when he picked off Grossman for a TD. They have signed Porter to play opposite Taylor, all of which makes me think they're a 3-4. I must admit I didn't see that much of Miami last year, so maybe someone could clarify what scheme they use. But if they're a 3-4 then their DL will go down and their LBs will go up as Taylor switches position.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:13pm

A couple thoughts:

1) I was surprised at just how easily SD shut down NE's run game in the playoffs. SD fans said all week that the team that allowed a high ypc wasn't the same one that NE was going up against and it appeared as if they were right. If that is the type of play that they have in them when healthy, I would defintitely jump them over Carolina at the very least.

2) I am surprised at how well Minny's DL pass rush charted. Admittedly, I didn't see too many games last season, but they didn't mount much of a rush at all in the two games that I saw. Ridiculous run D that was even better than the amazing stats indicated, though.

3) I don't think Indy's DL belongs in the top half, but that is me.

by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:18pm

It seems to me that 3-4 defensive lines are overrated, or maybe just most 3-4 defenses have the best lines in football, and I haven't realized it.

Also, the link to second half the article doesn't load for me.

by sam (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:35pm


Dom Capers does not always run a 3-4. At least, he didn't run a 3-4 in Jax when he was the D-Coordinator here under Coughlin before taking the Texans gig.

by Mike W (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:45pm

Go to the More by Ned Macey list, and you'll get a working link to 17-32.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 12:45pm

I don't think a Trevor Pryce injury would hurt the Ravens that badly, they have plenty of "edge" players who could come in and do a good job. They would loose flexibility, they would be confined to play more 4-3 (i.e. they have more DEs who can play in a 4-3 but not 3-4), but the drop in talent would be too great.

Terrell Suggs should be considered a DL too, he played DE in their 4-3 schemes (which they employed frequently).

by rageon (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 1:03pm

A description of Denver's line without mentioning Dummerville?

by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 1:06pm

Next year, around the release date of PFP 2008, just post articles that didn't make the book or little previews and make people wonder about how awesome the book then must be.

Don't post any 'lists' that no one will ever agree about. Those things aren't mandatory, are they?

by James C (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 1:42pm

I for one would rather have a list I disagreed with than no list at all. Other people's views can be enlightening. Please don't listen to Theo.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 1:46pm

"If the Patriots ever wanted to show a four-man front, either Roosevelt Colvin or Adalius Thomas could torture quarterbacks from a three-point stance on the outside."

FWIW, the patriots often DO show a 4 man front, but its Jarvis Green Torturing QBs, and hes pretty good at that.

by whitey (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 2:13pm

Carolina will be a lot lower on the list when Kris Jenkins shows up at training camp 400lb+.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 2:16pm

It's hard to say 3-4 lines are overrated over 4-3 lines, because the DL is asked to do different things. In a 4-3 alignment, the linemen are supposed to get penetration and stop runs in the backfield, or sack the QB on passes, while the LB's plug any holes and stop runs that get by the DL for short gains, and cover the short zones on passes. In a 3-4, the linemen aren't really supposed to get penetration--they're supposed to occupy blockers and prevent, or at least slow down, the RB's from passing the LOS, while the LB's make the tackle or get the sack. Hence a 3-4 line will always have less flashy tackle and sack stats than a 4-3 line, and you just have to judge by watching line play.

by Eric (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 2:43pm

Curious - there's a vote on the right of your article. Who do you think is the best DT in football. Tommie Harris is currently leading the polling.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 3:39pm

What a weird team the Vikings have become; upper echelon offensive and defensive lines and only a very slim chance to make the playoffs.

by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 4:17pm

I don't think the Giants STARTING DTs are mediocre at all. Fred Robbins had a resurgent 2006 and Barry Cofield was 1st team NFL All-Rookie at DT. When you add in the backups, then it becomes mediorce. William Joseph is a complete bust and will probably be passed on the depth chart by rookie Jay Alford and Marcus Bell. The depth behind the DEs is a bit suspect too. Kiwanuka is moving to LB (on 1st two downs anyway) and Justin Tuck is recovering from Lisfranc surgery.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 4:19pm

16: Well, in a way that's really good. They only have a handful of positions to fill, and they'll turn around dramatically when they do.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 5:01pm

Oh, definitely, Yaguar. If Tavaris Jackson shocks the non-Vikings-fan world, and achieves replacement level status, and Adrian Peterson has a good rookie year, the Vikings will have an extremely good chance to make the playoffs in the NFC. I don't see much reason to think Jackson will reach that level, unfortunately. On the other hand, if Peterson can stay on the field, I expect that he will be quite productive.

by Jimmy (formerly James C) (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 5:57pm

Will Allen

I read a few places that Childress is unhappy with the progress being made by Jackson, as a Vikes fan have you heard anything different?

Just wondering. Then again it would make it easier for him if the front office had paid more attention to his passing targets.

by The Danbom (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 6:01pm

When oh when will this FO partnership with fox going to end? Reading those comments tells me they are not appealing to their target audience at all. The Fox readers would probably enjoy Peter King a lot more.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 6:18pm


To be fair, I still think the Fox Commentors are more literate, and more polite than the CBS sportsline commentors.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 6:39pm

jimmy, I doubt anybody has much idea of what Childress' thoughts are regarding the matter; he seems to play it very close to the vest. My expectations regarding Jackson are simply a matter of there not being much reason to think that Jackson will do much. He's an end of the 2nd round pick who easily could've fell much further, who really didn't do much in college, and really didn't do anything against quality competition. Sure, he appears to be a first-rate athlete, but being a first rate athlete just gets you in the door of the NFL quarterbacking lodge. To be fair, by all accounts, he is an extreme workaholic, even by NFL standards, so if he doesn't make it, it won't be due to a lack of effort.

by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 6:54pm

15: Harris's injury gave everyone a chance to see just how important he was to the Bears D. They were not an elite defense after his injury. They definitely were before it.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 10:11pm

I don't mind these lists, rankings, whatever you call them. What bugs me is what seems to be incomplete analysis or shoddy research.

As #9 said, I'm not sure how you talk about Denver's 2006 defensive line without mentioning the rookie Elvis Dumervil, who had 8.5 sacks in 13 games. Also:

Gerard Warren spent last season proving that 2005 was an aberration.

His two dislocated big toes may have had something to do with his play last season.

Ekuban had 61 solo tackles and 7 sacks in 2006. He's no star, but he's certainly as good as many ends in the league.

Besides Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder, Denver also drafted DT Marcus Thomas who was regarded as top ten talent but for his off-the-field issues.

Still, I'm not really surprised that the Broncos D line is so poorly regarded (30th! Wow, okay, maybe that is a surprise). I don't think that the changes this year are being given enough consideration though.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 10:30pm

Will Allen, I've been wondering about this. FO has ranked the Viking RBs 6th, the OL 5th, and the DL 5th. Now, obviously we know the problems at QB and WR, but top-6 RBs, OL, and DL sounds like a team that can compete. Some people are predicting the Vikes as one of the worst teams in the league, and I have trouble seeing how a team with such strength in those spots isn't going to be able to compete.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 10:32pm

Excuse me, DL 6th. Doesn't alter the point, though.

by Drunkmonkey (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:18pm

#3, #6: The only time that Capers ever ran a 3-4 is in Houston, w/ the Texans. Back when Capers was the head coach of Carolina, the 4-3 was the only scheme he ran, and then in Jacksonville, he only ran the 3-4 when the team only had Marcus Stroud. Then John Henderson came in and the team pretty much exclusively went 4-3.

#15: I only got the poll for best DE and it shows Peppers running away w/ the lead.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:40pm

#26: If the forward pass was still illegal, you'd be right.

by The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:42pm

Re: 26

It's pretty simple. If you have terrible QBs and WRs, you can't be good. I don't think the Vikes will be the worst team in the league (and neither does PFP, Vikes are projected to have 7.5 wins), but you can't really be competitive with an awful passing game.

On the other hand, it won't take much for them to be good, as others have noted. A QB surprise and Williamson's magic eye surgery could turn them into contenders in the NFC.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:56pm

30: I don't mean that the Vikes are ready to storm the Super Bowl; 7.5 projected wins sort of matches what I mean when I say the team should compete. They're going to be able to match up with teams, play them close, and win some close games and lose some close games. 7.5 seems like a fair projection based on the bad passing game but strength in other areas. With a little improvement/luck, that could be 9-7 (I know, or 6-10).

I'm not trying to make any grand claim; I'm just suggesting the team should be competitive. The FO rankings of RB, OL, and DL gives me some hope, after reading Peter King rank the Vikes 31st and a few other blogs/sites projecting the Vikings as the worst team in the league (because I know the FO projections are based on statistical analysis, not whatever a writer feels like saying based on the team's QB and WR).

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 07/24/2007 - 11:56pm

Oh, I certainly think they'll compete, Pacifist, and like I said above, if their qb is just average they will have an excellent chance to make the playoffs. There is just so little reason to think that they will get such a qb performance, however, that I think threatening eight wins is at the upper range of my expectations, and six wins sounds about right. You just really need to be able to have a credible passing threat in the NFL today, and lacking that, the opponent just has too easy of a time preparing.

Gosh, against a mediocre to bad defense, even Grossman can do some stuff. If T. Jackson could just start there, so some easier wins can be had against lesser teams, instead of having to fight like hell for enough points in every single game (do you also have nightmares, like I still do, about last year's games against the 49ers and Bills?), they'll have a decent chance at eight wins.

I will be thrilled to bow in admiration, in the direction of Childress, for his quarterback guruhood by week 12, and to declare that I will never again question his talent evaluation skills. Few things would make me happier to be proven entirely too pessimistic in this regard, because if they do get any production out the most important position, they will be a damn fun team to watch, and in many ways my favorite kind of team; extremely physical on the line of scrimmage, on offense and defense. My favorite Vikings teams are from way back, when they would just pound opponents into a pulpy mess, and they really haven't been that kind of squad, with perhaps the exception of a brief appearance of that quality in 1987, in more than 30 years.

by andrew a (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:05am

Its easy to think the vikes are in great position save the small problems of no QB (ranked #32) and no WRs (#32).

However, Childress seems unconcerned by these, which seem patently obvious to most outsiders.

So either he knows something we don't (and I'll grant him he's there and we're not), or it is a sign of something worse. If their passing game personnel really are that bad, and he can't see it, or believes that his coaching will produce with such meager players to choose from... then they'll never get any better as long as he's there.

I hope its the former. I really do. But I wouldn't bet on it.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:07am

To strike an optimistic note, I'm really starting to expect that Williamson's eyesight rehab work with the people at Nike is going to resurrect his career in the manner that Jake Reed's was when his vision problems were diagnosed. The guy has very little trouble gaining substantial seperation, so if he develops any ball skills, Tavaris Jackson's career path just became much more smooth, along with Adrian Peterson's. Just keep the other team from putting nine guys in the box, fer cryin' out loud!

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:09am

28: Capers definitely ran a 3-4 as the Head Coach of Carolina, Lamar Lathon and Kevin Greene were his outside linebackers and Sam Mills played inside (I forget who played next to him), I still have depth charts from back then that I never got around to throwing out. He got started in the NFL with the Saints, back in the Dome Patrol days and then preceded LeBeau as the Steeelers defensive coordinator, all 3-4 stuff.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:10am

Here's what I figure has to happen for the Viking passing game to be competent:

--Tarvaris Jackson has to turn out to be between average and good (a prospect based on hope more than reason).

--One of the rookie WRs has to have an immediate impact (another prospect based on hope more than reason).

--Troy Williamson needs to be good (a possibility, given that last season he was capable of getting open, so if he improves his vision/catching, he could actually produce).

I've got no "reason" to believe these things will happen, but the possibility is at least enough to give me hope (and since I'm a fan and not a gambler, that's all I really need, eh?). And the strengths of the team on the OL and DL suggest to me the season won't be an awful experience, but potentially a fun one.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:16am

22: Give the CBS posters some credit, they're better than the degenerate wrecks of men that post on ESPN. As you read their delerious rantings you gain an insight into their existence and you get a vision of mishapen claws, slithering scales and prehensile tails, all caused by generations of inbreeding.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 12:20am

I also, think their tight end addition (whose unusual name I haven't learned to spell yet) could be productive, despite the signing having been widely discounted. A guy playing in New York behind Shockey, and with a somewhat inaccurate qb, may easily get lost in the shuffle.

I just wish I could have more confidence that they'll get something out of the qb position.

by Alex (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 1:54am

I just wish I could have more confidence that they’ll get something out of the qb position.

You know, David Carr was available, after being cut, not traded, cut, from the Texans. (How crazy is this: Matt Millen got a 5th round pick from Miami for Joey Harrington, but Houston got nothing for David Carr.) Anyway, my point is, he was right there waiting for someone to pick him up, and the Vikings had that chance. I guess someone in the Vikings front office decided he wasn't worth the effort.

For that matter, Harrington would've given them an above replacement QB, and they could've gotten him too, for a bargain price.

Instead, Carolina got to make sure an injury to Jake Delhomme wouldn't bring back the Chris Weinke Experience, and Atlanta finally gets a QB who is above replacement as a passer.

by andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 8:54am

That was exactly my point, opportunities abound and at each point Childress says he liked what he had better.

When Carr was cut, reporters asked Childress about maybe bringing him in. Childress went into detail on how bad Carr's throwing motion was suspect. Kelly Holcomb is now probably available, and even mentioned the Vikings as a team that might be a good fit given that he knows the Philly offense and Childress runs the same system. Childress when asked about it immediately went into reasons why it wouldn't work and why he is happy with what he has.

Its as if any attempt to suggest someone else somehow is an insult to his coaching ability.

Its as if everyone in the league has a variety of firearms and he's there with a pointed stick, saying "you don't think I can hurt you with a pointed stick? I know weapons, and with proper technique you can with with any weapon...."

yes, it might be possible. but why would you want to?

Carr, Harrington, Holcomb.. heck even Couch is looking to get back in the league. Each of these guys has more experience, a better track record than Jackson and Bollinger combined. Having someone else on staff doesn't mean you have to give up on Jackson.

by Jimmy (formerly James C) (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 10:26am

It seems that Childress is either falling into that classic coaches' trap of believing that he is the guy who can turn this talented athlete into the player he could be, or is that (rare) great coach who sees the promise and will manage get it out of Jackson. Either way the Vikes season may depend upon it.

by oro (not verified) :: Wed, 07/25/2007 - 7:04pm

In the last few years, Miami has been switching between 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. When Saban first came, he inherited a pure 4-3 (Wannstedt's style). He would mix in some 3-4 with a mostly base 4-3. The next year, when he hired Capers and they drafted/signed more 3-4 personnel they probably played close to ~65% 3-4, with Jason Taylor lining up all over the field, even at ILB and DT at times. This year, after signing Joey Porter I think they will probably a 3-4 a majority if the time and some 4-3 just to mix it up.