A Look at NFL Defensive Linemen and Linebackers
Report; Posted on: 2007-05-24 07:50:51 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
Pictured: Matt Wilhelm is the Chargers new starting middle linebacker
by Kevin Roberts
Unless you live in Indianapolis or your name is Peyton Manning, you should be willing to admit that in the NFL, defense is what usually makes or breaks a team. Just look at some recent Super Bowl champions: Tampa, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England. Sure, points and gaudy stats get the headlines, but stopping the ball and forcing turnovers is what wins the big games. With that said, here is a breakdown of the defensive side of the ball. This first segment will cover defensive linemen and linebackers, followed by the concluding article of my analysis on the positions in the NFL.
1. Buffalo Bills:
Aaron Schobel (DE)- A renegade on the outside ever since being drafted out of TCU. Schobel is a threat to get to the quarterback every down he's in the game, and adds very good support against the run.
Chris Kelsay (DE)- Has made solid progress during his four years with Buffalo. He registered 5 sacks for the second time in three seasons, which isn't too shabby considering he's paired with a guy in Schobel who has had at least 12 sacks each of the past two seasons.
Ryan Denney (DE)- He isn't starting and probably won't ever be, but is a very solid role player who is reaching his full potential after a 6 sack season last year.
Kyle Williams (DT)- Second year man backs up Larry Tripplett.
Paul Posluszny (MLB)- Excellent talent drafted in April in the second round by Buffalo, "Puz" will rule the middle of the field as a slightly less mobile Brian Urlacher.
The Bills have a great defense on their hands if Posluszny can make the instant impact the team thinks he can. Any defense with a pass rusher like Schobel on their line must be feared.
2. Miami Dolphins:
Matt Roth (DE)- A beast in every sense of the word. Roth hasn't developed yet after being drafted in the second round out of Iowa, but what do you expect? He's been backing up Jason Taylor and Kevin Carter for the past two years. Redemption is Roth's, though, as he is the expected starter opposite Taylor after Carter's release.
Zach Thomas (MLB)- The consummate "overachiever," Thomas doesn't get enough credit for his athleticism and nose for the ball.
The Dolphins have a very strong defense anchored by Thomas, and will only get stronger once Matt Roth is a full time starter.
3. New York Jets:
The New York Knicks of football, everybody. However, the Jets defense is actually pretty solid.
4. New England Patriots:
Tedy Bruschi (MLB)- Injuries and age will soon catch up with Bruschi, but not until he gets the Patriots another Super Bowl trophy.
Mike Vrabel (MLB/OLB)- Vrabel is so talented he can be a pass rusher, a coverage man, or switch over to offense and block or play tight end. If concussions weren't a growing concern, Vrabel would be looking at another 4-5 years of dominance.
5. Baltimore Ravens:
Jarret Johnson (OLB/DE)- Converted defensive end is set to take over for the departed Adalius Thomas. I'm not nearly as high on him as Baltimore is. I thought the far more athletic Dan Cody would be stepping up into this slot, but he's been switched to defensive end instead.
Dan Cody (DE/OLB)- Injuries have kept Cody off the field for far too long. He is too unproven to garner any certain playing time immediately, but should be used a good amount rotating at defensive end and outside linebacker.
The Ravens defense isn't as sexy as it used to be, and it isn't getting any hotter with the injury prone Cody and the loss of Adalius Thomas.
6. Cincinnati Bengals:
Justin Smith (DE)- A constant force for the Bengals. Smith is the reason why Cincy has a real chance at becoming a great defense.
Caleb Miller (OLB/MLB)- With Odell Thurman's suspension not yet quite through, the improving Miller could see a lot more time. He recorded a solid 65 tackles last season in a decent amount of action.
David Pollack (OLB/DE)- Pollack appears to be hell bent at getting back on a football field, pending clearance from doctors. He is probably better suited to play an end spot, a position with less of a chance for a neck injury reoccurrence.
It is really hard not to get excited about this defense, with the emergence of Miller, the stellar play of Smith, and the good fortunes a healthy Pollack could bring to an improving squad. This team has me all giddy.
7. Cleveland Browns:
No white starters or role players on defense after having a league-high five white starters just two seasons ago. No wonder why this is one of the most spotty defenses in the league.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers:
Aaron Smith (DE)- A Pro Bowler, Smith is very productive against the run in addition to a better than average effort in rushing the passer. Recently signed a four year deal; Smith will be a Steeler for some time.
Brett Keisel (DE)- Will be freed in a number of ways in coach Tomlin's new schemes. Keisel will be tried in an Adalius Thomas type role.
The Steelers have two starting white ends, a rarity in today's game. However, most of the team's sacks come from the linebackers, so don't expect much in that department from these two.
9. Houston Texans:
The Mario Williams led defense has zero white players starting on defense.
10. Indianapolis Colts:
Rob Morris (OLB)- He's always been good, but never great. He probably will begin the season as the starter, but eventually be demoted to a reserve role. His new contract guarantees he will end his career as a Colt. A reserve Colt, but a Colt nonetheless.
If Rob Morris is all we have to look forward to, then that's just damned depressing.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars:
Nick Griesen (MLB/OLB)- Griesen is very mobile, but can be a little stiff at times. He showed a lot of potential with New York.
Griesen and DT Rob Meier are the lone white players on this defense along with safety/special teams demon Nick Sorensen. Feel good about that. The Jaguars are the blackest team in the league.
12. Tennessee Titans:
Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE)- Dropped to 7 sacks after a break out season the year before. Vanden Bosch endured a tough season with no help at the other end position.
Travis La Boy (DE)- Very solid lineman who should look to unseat the underachieving and overrated Antwan Odom.
Ryan Fowler (MLB)- Hasn't done much yet, but is poised to be the starting middle linebacker. Faces heated competition with incumbent Stephen Tulloch.
The line could and should improve if La Boy can win the other starting spot. The addition of Fowler adds athleticism and hope to a young defense trying to keep up with the likes of Jacksonville and Indy.
13. Oakland Raiders:
Tyler Brayton (DT/DE)- After failing as a starting defensive end, Brayton will take his hand inside at defensive tackle. He never was a great pass rusher, so this position will better utilize his skills. He has an uphill battle through the depth chart, though.
The Raiders aren't getting any younger, and with a slowing down Warren Sapp at defensive tackle, Brayton might see some playing time sooner than we all think.
14. Kansas City Chiefs:
Jared Allen (DE)- Highly underrated. As disrespected as high profile defensive players can be at this level. Allen is what keeps the Chief's defense running. With at least 8 sacks in each of his first three seasons, Allen is very much deserving of the long term deal he was denied.
Kansas City has let talented linebackers such as Scot Fujita and Monty Beisel go in the past, leaving this defense with only one great white player on D.
15. Denver Broncos:
John Engelberger (DE) Solid player who is part of the mix of the club's line rotation.
16. San Diego Chargers:
Luis Castillo (DE/DT)- Probably better suited to play inside, but is still a very effective pass rusher. He will team with the mighty Igor Olshansky.
Igor Olshansky (DE/DT)- Again, an end better suited on the inside, Igor needs to really work on his moves in order to jump to the next level. I don't doubt his talent, though.
Matt Wilhem (MLB)- Wilhem has patiently waited his turn and is now replacing the aging Donnie Edwards. He finally gets his chance, manning the middle along side Stephen Cooper.
An already stout defense, the line could be all that more imposing if Castillo and Olshansky can produce like I know they can. Wilhelm is a sleeper to break out this year.
1. Dallas Cowboys:
Bobby Carpenter (OLB/MLB)- I just don't understand the logic in Dallas. They draft this kid in the first round last year and hardly play him, then move him to middle linebacker where there are two guys cemented in ahead of him. Carpenter faces an uphill battle to prove himself.
As if you actually expected more white starters on a Dallas squad. Give Jerry Jones more credit than that.
2. Philadelphia Eagles:
Matt McCoy (MLB/OLB)- McCoy is oozing potential. He simply needs more time on the field to develop. He registered 57 tackles last season in a good amount of playing time, but unfortunately will be sharing the outside slot with Omar Gaither.
Stewart Bradley (OLB)- What a steal the Eagles got here with Bradley. He's slated behind Chris Gocong to begin the season, but it's very possible he's the starter mid-way through.
A usually black line-backer corps is beginning to get a little lighter. With the departures over the years of Dhani Jones, Shawn Barber, and Nate Wayne, there is room for McCoy and Bradley to make a name for themselves.
3. Washington Redskins:
They haven't had a white linebacker since Derek Smith.
4. New York Giants:
No real performers on defense other than backup linebacker Chase Blackburn. Also drafted Ivy League OLB Zak DeOssie last month.
5. Chicago Bears:
Brian Urlacher (MLB)- Arguably the best linebacker in the game, Urlacher never takes a play off, constantly harassing the quarterback and rusher. Is still very good in coverage, as well.
Hunter Hillenmeyer- (OLB/MLB)- He isn't flashy, but boy is he good. He can flat out tackle. If Urlacher were to ever go down, this would be the guy to move to the middle and take his place.
The Bears have had one of the best defenses for years now, and for good reason. His name is Brian Urlacher.
6. Detroit Lions:
Jared DeVries (DE)- The Iowa product has always been used as a backup.
Teddy Lehman (MLB)- Missing significant portions of the past two years doesn't help his case of overtaking Paris Lenon for the starting job. Lenon is being compared to Urlacher, which is both ridiculous and depressing. My vote is for Lehman.
The Lions have a defense on the rise if Lehman can ever get back on the field and start. I remember when Lenon was with Green Bay. He is no Brian Urlacher.
7. Minnesota Vikings:
Chad Greenway (OLB)- After missing his entire rookie season with an ACL injury, Greenway enters the season with the starting weak-side spot to lose. Expect good contributions from this guy. He has something to prove.
Ben Leber (OLB)- He isn't anything special, and it's just a matter of time until Childress gives Dontarrious Thomas another shot at starting.
I don't have much hope in Leber, but a healthy Greenway is an exciting prospect.
8. Green Bay Packers:
Aaron Kampman (DE)- The man with an "endless motor" is back to prove last season wasn't a fluke. If you ask me, he has nothing to prove. He put up 16 sacks while getting virtually no help from Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on the other side. Fortunately, Cullen Jenkins will be moving to the opposite end for this coming season.
A.J Hawk (OLB/MLB)- Judging on what we saw out of him last season, Hawk will control what opponents do against the Packers for years to come. He is currently their top outside linebacker, but is probably better suited to man the middle. A change is possible in the future.
Brady Poppinga (OLB)- The guy loves to hit people. He's only decent in pass coverage, but is a fantastic blitzer and medium range cover guy. Doesn't get many sacks, but does an excellent job disrupting the quarterback. He is an exciting player to watch.
The Packers have three possible stars in their defense that are white. And they're all relatively young, as well as signed for a good deal of time.
9. New Orleans Saints:
Brian Young (DT)- Very solid defensive tackle who registered 6 sacks after a zero sack performance the year before. Young is another one of those guys who isn't always fun to watch, but gets the job done.
Mark Simoneau (MLB)- He'll be playing alongside and/or backing up Brian Simmons, and at age 30, that's about what you'd expect. However, Simoneau is a fairly polished linebacker after playing in Philadelphia's system for most of his career. He showed last season with his 62 tackles he can still get it done.
Scott Shanle (OLB)- Part of a so-called "overachieving" linebacker corps last season, Shanle was signed to a big contract in the off-season. I wouldn't call 98 tackles and 4 sacks in helping a former 3-13 team into the playoffs overachieving. I call that damn good.
Scott Fujita (OLB)- Fujita is vastly underrated. Does a terrific job covering tight ends, and can be used very effectively rushing the quarterback. Knows how to wrap up ball carriers, as well, registering 96 tackles last season in that "overachieving" unit.
The Saints are looking good now with three white linebackers and a guy in the middle of the line. That's as good a ratio as you'll get in this league. Enjoy it while you can.
10. Atlanta Falcons:
Keith Brooking (MLB)- Six straight 100 tackle seasons. He is what keeps a poor Atlanta defense even remotely competitive.
I didn't even have to look at the rest of this roster. I knew it ended with Brooking. The offense is the same way. I don't even want to look at the percentages, but I'd guess this is one of the blackest teams in the NFL.
11. Carolina Panthers:
Dan Morgan (MLB)- He was once thought of as an Urlacher clone; someone you could build your defense around. It now seems he's just a piece in the puzzle, and one that may become expendable. He's a star when healthy, but has suffered from repeated concussions, including one that caused him to miss almost all of the '06 season.
Jordan Carstens (DT) Has started at times and is very effective.
Dave Ball (DE) Led the country in sacks his senior year at UCLA, hopes to see the field often in '07.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Chris Hovan (DT)- He was known more for his pass rushing than his run stopping in the beginning of his career, but hasn't had more than 2 sacks in a season in the past 4 years. Still a very effective force in the middle.
Barret Ruud (MLB)- Ruud is the guy, for now, to take over for Shelton Quarles in the middle. Was a tackling machine at Nebraska and a second round draft pick of the Bucs.
13. Seattle Seahawks:
Patrick Kerney (DE)- Kerney is an improvement over the declining Grant Wistrom, who retired after last season, but Kerney is more than that. An elite pass rusher, Kerney should help out immediately. Sure, he's getting older and might be slowing down a bit, but he's got a good 3-4 years left in him. Hey, if Bruce Smith and Reggie White can play until they're 40...
Niko Koutouvides (MLB)- Mostly a back-up and special teamer. I wouldn't expect much out of him behind Lofa Tatupu.
Craig Terrill (DT) — Lots of talent but is given a lot of opportunity to play.
14. Arizona Cardinals:
Dennis Green leaves behind one of the blackest units in all of football. And after a draft with zero white players, the complete transformation to an all black team is nearly complete.
15. San Francisco 49ers:
Derek Smith (MLB)- A great force in the middle. Smith makes up for what he is losing through age with his tenacity.
Jeff Ulbrich (MLB)- At one time he and Derek Smith teamed as a formidable inside duo. Those days are now gone, however, as Ulbrich is the third guy on the depth chart at middle linebacker.
Colby Bockwoldt (OLB)- I only mention Colby because he is so far down on the depth chart that it's depressing. Just two years removed from a productive stint with New Orleans, and he finds himself relegated to special teams duties.
As I mentioned, the Niners had, at one time, quite a group of linebackers. Still, with Smith in the middle, the defense has a lot of potential for the coming season.
16. St. Louis Rams:
Adam Carriker (DT/DE)- Quite a shame. Carriker, an imposing and quick defensive end, has been moved to the inside in St. Louis.
Brandon Chillar (OLB)- Has been down talked a bit for not being the "long term solution", but I think he's been doing just fine. If Paris Lenon can start for Detroit, there is no reason Chillar should be ousted.
The Rams make bizarre move after bizarre move. As if drafting Brian Leonard when they have Steven Jackson wasn't enough. Then they move Carriker to the inside. That's just taking sacks away from your defense. And that's a guarantee.
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