- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2011 season. Here's how the defensive ends stacked up.
The typical fan sees defensive ends as edge pass-rushers. Look at the Colts, who have Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis screaming off the edges. But discounting the role of a 3-4 defensive end is a mistake.
Justin Smith, a great one, ripped off 8.5 sacks from the "inside" last year. While many 3-4 ends are asked to just hold the point and eat space as glorified defensive tackles, more and more we are seeing penetrating 3-4 schemes that use their ends as disruptive forces.
We've said it before: This is a passing league, and the best way to slow down the passing game is to get after the quarterback. Defensive ends have a value that's as high as it has ever been, but the position has also become more nuanced because of schemes, and thus tougher to grade.
Tuck had another excellent season for the Giants in 2010. Tuck has an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism for the position. He is a versatile player who can play inside at defensive tackle or outside at end.
He plays bigger than his size and is a physical player. He is explosive with excellent initial quickness to get into blockers quickly. He has an excellent motor and does not quit on plays in the run game or as a pass-rusher.
He has excellent range in the run game to make plays outside the tackle box. He is a good tackler who wraps and finishes. He has 11 forced five fumbles over the past two seasons and does an excellent job of trying to separate the player from the football.
Tuck is a tough matchup for many offensive tackles and should continue to be a force coming off the edge in 2011.
Peppers is an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism for the position. He has impressive quickness and range for his size, and is explosive coming off the edge to chase ball carriers down from the backside.
He has natural power to collapse the pocket from the outside. He reads and reacts well and utilizes active hands to separate quickly to stay alive to the pile.
He doesn't lack effort but is not a physically dominating player who plays with an attitude. He is a good knee-bender and shows great lateral agility and balance to redirect in space.
Cole is explosive off the edge as a pass-rusher and shows great burst to close to the ball. He is an instinctive player who reacts well as plays unfold and understands how to leverage blockers as well.
He has strong hands to control blockers and get separation from his opponent. He is athletic enough to drop into coverage in zone-blitz packages.
Cole lacks great size but possesses explosive power and quickness that has made him one of the most productive defensive ends in the NFL since 2005.
Freeney has rare acceleration coming off the edge and has the ability to bend, at the corner, to close on the pocket with a good burst of speed. He does tend to rely on his back under spin move a bit too often but is still able to gain ground as he makes the move, even though it is pretty predictable.
He plays with a non-stop motor and makes his share of moves through second effort as well as his physical tools. He is quick to read blocking schemes and quick to locate the ball and takes good angles to get to the play.
Williams is an elite athlete with excellent length, speed and long arms that allow him to control and defeat blockers. He has been equally effective as a pass rusher and defending the run as a 4-3 defensive end.
He will be asked to be a bit more of a run stopper in Houston's new 3-4 scheme. He keeps his pad level down to leverage blocks and squeeze the play down and is quick to locate the ball and takes good angles.
He has come a long way in reading blocking schemes and fighting through pressure.
Scouts Inc. ranks the top defensive ends in the NFL. Justin Tuck leads pass rushers.