The NFL is an ever-changing game. The 3-4 defensive scheme seemed to go extinct for a decade or more after heavy use in the 1970s and ‘80s. Now, after a resurgence, more teams than not are using that as their base defensive set.
However, it’s a bit more complicated than simply saying the defensive ends in the 3-4 are asked to stop the run more than rush the passer. Teams are mixing their alignments more and finding ways to get their best pass rushers in advantageous matchups, whether they are classified as defensive tackles or ends, or in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
Officially, J.J. Watt is listed as a defensive end, but there are times the Houston Texans will use him at tackle, too, in their 3-4 defense. But no matter what the scheme or where he’s playing, Watt has established himself as the most dominant defensive lineman in the game and deservedly won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award twice, including last year.
Watt leads the list of top 3-4 defensive ends, but there are plenty of good ones entering 2015.
Indianapolis Colts, Hughes adjusted well to the Bills’ system in 2013, when he started only one game but had 10 sacks. Last year, he started every game and produced 10 sacks again, along with 53 tackles. The Bills signed him to a lucrative five-year contract and new Bills coach Rex Ryan said he is happy to have him back, even after having to pull him from an offseason practice because the offense couldn’t work with all the pressure he was applying.
Honorable mention: Muhammad Wilkerson, Mario Williams (moving to OLB but will play some DE in sub packages), DeMarcus Ware, Fletcher Cox, Cameron Heyward.
NFL’s top 5 defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme
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