Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones

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Silverman: Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Aaron Donald Rank Among Best D-Linemen, Edge Rushers

Steve Silverman
August 24, 2018 - 3:00 pm
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The three biggest necessities for winning in the NFL are a quarterback who comes through with big plays on a consistent basis, an offensive line that can keep the quarterback upright and a defense that can pressure the quarterback and terrorize his soul.

This usually comes from the defensive line, and while edge rushers do most of the damage, interior pass rushers may be even more valuable. A defensive tackle who can collapse the pocket will force the quarterback to run right into the arms of a defensive end who is coming around the corner.

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Any team that can bring pressure from the inside and follow up with a speedy outside rush has an excellent chance to record victory after victory.

Here’s are look at the best defensive linemen and edge rushers in the league heading into the 2018 season.

1. Chandler Jones, DE, Arizona Cardinals

Bill Belichick is a brilliant coach who ranks with Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh and Don Shula on the all-time list. But he has made some mistakes, and perhaps his biggest was trading Jones to the Cardinals. Jones has responded with back-to-back brilliant seasons.

Jones had 49 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2016, and he followed that up with 58 tackles, 17 sacks and two forced fumbles last year. He batted down three passes in each season.

Jones led the league in sacks last year, and he is the best pass rusher in the league because of his speed and versatility. He can get the job done from a stand-up position or when he puts his hand on the ground, and he is very accomplished when it comes to stopping the run. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Jones has the length to dominate as a pass rusher and the strength to win the physical battle.

Opposing offensive tackles who are playing their best game can hope to keep him in check for a series or two, but it is almost impossible to shut him down for a full game.

2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

If Miller smells blood in the water, he will attack relentlessly and he won’t stop until he has earned a complete surrender from the opposing offense. Miller is at his best when the Broncos have a lead and opponents have to go to the air to catch up. His speed is his primary tool, but he is smart enough to use a variety of moves to frustrate opposing blockers.

Broncos linebacker Von Miller chases after Jets quarterback Josh McCown on Dec. 10, 2017, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
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Miller is capable of dominating the chess match since he has so many tools at his disposal. Wear and tear may be starting to become a factor that impacts Miller’s game. The 29-year-old had 57 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles last year after recording 78 tackles, 13 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles the year before.

The belief here is that if the Broncos have a competitive season and get off to a good start, Miller will be one of the most dominant defensive players in the league.

3. Aaron Donald, DT/DE, Los Angeles Rams

Donald is a game-changing player and the key to what the Rams do on defense. He is once again in the middle of a summer holdout, and while I fully expect Donald to report prior to the opener and be effective in that game, he won’t be at his best until weeks 3 or 4. This is an extended game of chicken, and while there was talk that the two sides were close to an agreement in mid-August, talks have stalled since that point.

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Donald is a superquick pass rusher who combines excellent skill with his strength and a devastating first step. Donald has worked hard for everything he has achieved on the football field. He almost always manages to find the ball, and he can throw away blockers even though he is somewhat smaller than many offensive linemen. Donald checks in at 6-1 and 285 pounds, and he can punish opponents with his powerful punch.

Donald won Defensive Player of the Year honors after registering 41 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery last year. There’s no reason the 27-year-old superstar can’t put similar numbers on the board this year – once he finally reports.

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

This is a risky selection based on Watt’s recent injury history, but if he can get off to a good start, there may be no slowing him down this season.

Watt is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, but he has been devastated by injuries each of the past two years. He has endured three surgeries – two on his back and one on his leg – but he is doing well in camp to this point. Coach Bill O’Brien has not used him in preseason games to this point, but Watt has looked sharp, strong and quick in practice, and his teammates have liked what they have seen.

When Watt is on his game, he will pound opponents into submission with his strength and then use his athleticism to close the deal. He can smash the opponent’s game plan, and he is as devastating against the run as he is against the pass.

5. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars were able to break through and become a playoff team in 2017, and much of that was due to the improvement in their defense. Campbell signed a $60 million contract with Jacksonville prior to the 2017 season, and he rewarded his employers with a season that included 47 tackles, 14 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles.

At 6-8, 292 pounds, Campbell is a huge man who can devastate powerful offensive tackles with his power. His strength, huge wingspan and overall skill should allow him to remain one of the top defensive linemen in the league. While he is listed as a defensive end, he can line up from any spot on the line.

Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) is tackled for a loss by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell (93) on Dec. 31, 2017, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
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6. Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers

7. Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

8. Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

9. Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders

10. DT Damon Harrison, DT, New York Giants

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