Sacks are still considered the standard-bearing stat for defensive ends, but we give credit for more than just that in our rankings for 4-3 defensive ends in 2015.
With different responsibilities assigned to defensive ends in a 4-3 defense versus a 3-4 scheme, just like outside linebackers, we’ll separate the two for our rankings.
The 4-3 ends on this list are a mix of elite pass rushers and run stoppers, with the top spot belonging to one that didn’t even make the Pro Bowl but is so good at both rushing the passer and stopping the run we couldn’t ignore him. His sack total doesn’t speak the pressure he gets on the quarterback.
While quarterback sacks are often the measure of a defensive end, Michael Bennett is an all-around end. He had only seven sacks, but he was credited with 53 quarterback hurries by Pro Football Focus, the most among any 4-3 defensive end. He was also a force against the run, one of the best ends in the league at that aspect of the responsibilities. However, his Achilles Heel was penalties – he had 13 of them in 2014. Because of his lack of sacks, he was snubbed from making the Pro Bowl, but we’re giving him credit for his total game here.
Wake wasn’t as strong against the run and in coverage as some of the other 4-3 defensive ends on the list, but he was a force to be reckoned with when it came to pressuring and sacking quarterbacks. He had 11½ sacks, three forced fumbles, and continued his trend of double-digit sacks every other season, which he has done since entering the league in 2009. PFF also credited him with 39 quarterback hurries and gave him the highest overall grade among 4-3 defensive ends because of his pass-rush ability.
Coming off a 19-sack season in 2013, Quinn had “only” 10½ in 2014 for a Rams defense that was surprisingly only middle of the pack in overall defense, run defense and pass defense. Still, Quinn stood out as a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro that had 46 tackles and five forced fumbles, which is becoming a trademark of the 2011 first-round pick.
Pierre-Paul was third among defensive linemen and first among 4-3 defensive ends with 14½ sacks in 2014, but he might be even better against the run than he is rushing the passer, with 54 tackles. He also forced three fumbles and recovered one, but he is also the highest paid 4-3 end, earning an average of $14.8 million per season. Entering a contract year, big things could be in store in his sixth NFL season. A fireworks accident over the Fourth of July weekend caused burns to his hand and three fingers, but they are considered serious enough to alter his outlook for 2015.
Griffen brings incredible athleticism to the position and took full advantage of his first opportunity to be a starter. He had 12 sacks (fourth among NFL defensive linemen) and was one of only a handful of 4-3 defensive ends to play 900 snaps. His 40 quarterback hurries was fifth among 4-3 ends, but his 11 penalties was third, meaning discipline is still something he needs to work on as he tries to get a jump on the snap count. Still, if he can build on his first season as a starter, he should garner serious Pro Bowl consideration in 2015.
Honorable mention: Junior Galette
, Robert Ayers
, Ezekiel Ansah
, Charles Johnson
, Cliff Avril
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