1. Miami Dolphins
Projected Starters: Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling/Jared Odrick
With the move of the best defensive end in the division, Randy Starks, to nose tackle, one would think the Dolphins would be hurting at defensive end. However, behind Starks, the Dolphins are still solid enough in my opinion to get their first No. 1 ranking in this series. Langford’s 43 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 2.5 sacks doesn’t jump off the page at you, but according to Pro Football Focus he was the seventh best 3-4 end in the entire league last season, and was second only to Starks in the entire division. The absence of Starks may be felt opposite Langford though, but both Phillip Merling and Jared Odrick have the potential to prevent a huge drop off. Merling gets some heat from the fan base, because he hasn’t produced at the level you expect a second round pick to. But in all fairness to him, it’s not the easiest getting on the field, when the starters in front of you are two of the better 3-4 DE’s in the league. When Merling has rotated in though, he has been surprisingly productive. His 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks aren’t bad for a backup, and PFF gave him the the 15th best rating in the league, which was good enough for 4th best in the division (1. Starks, 2. Langford, 3. Ty Warren, 4. Phillip Merling). Competing with Merling will be first-round pick Jared Odrick, who was considered by many draft experts to be the best 3-4 end in this year’s class. Odrick’s high motor and pass rush abilities should push Merling all camp, and if he doesn’t win the job, he will at least provide an excellent trio, rotating in frequently.
2. New York Jets
Projected Starters: Shaun Ellis and Mike Devito
When it comes to pass rushing, there is no better defensive end in the AFC East than Shaun Ellis. Ellis followed up his 8 sack 08′ campaign with 6.5 in 09′, and has racked up as many as 12.5 way back in 2003. Ellis will be 33 this month though, so it’s unclear how much longer he is going to be able to produce at a high level. On the other side, Mike Devito could develop into a solid end, but is unproven as a full-time starter. In three seasons, Devito has only started one game but has been in on the rotation. Over those three seasons, he has managed 57 total tackles and 0.5 sacks.
3. New England Patriots
Projected Starters: Ty Warren and Mike Wright
Ty Warren, who has been one of the best 3-4 ends in the league in the past, had a little bit of a down year in 09′. He did miss three games to injury, but you would probably guess he had more than 46 tackles and 1 sack in 13 games. In fact, he has been on a downward slope ever since his phenomenal 84 tackle, 7. 5 sack 2006 season. Nonetheless, he is still one of the better ends in the AFC East, which can be seen on PFF’s rankings, he just may not be his pro-bowl caliber self anymore. Mike Wright’s 5.0 sacks last year, likely means he will be a full-time starter in 2010. It should be interesting to see if he can match that production this year though, because he only combined for 4.0 sacks in his previous four seasons.
4. Buffalo Bills
Projected Starters: Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards/Alex Carrington
With the Bills switching to the 3-4 scheme, Marcus Stroud will be forced to play defensive end for the first time in his career. He has been a solid 4-3 defensive tackle in the past, most notably with the Jaguars, but his play has been on the decline in Buffalo. According to Pro Football Focus, Stroud was the 84th best defensive tackle in the league last season. The Bills drafted Alex Carrington in the third-round in hopes of building a prototypical 3-4 defensive line. Carrington may end up being one of the more athletic 3-4 ends in football, but he will have to beat out Dwan Edwards if he wants to start this season. Edwards comes over from Baltimore, where he totalled 119 tackles and 2.0 sacks in five seasons.