Last year, defensive linemen such as Ray Edwards and Aubrayo Franklin burst onto the scene and made big impacts against both the pass and the run. With so many teams playing in a 3-4 defense, it is usually outside linebackers who come out of nowhere to put up double digit sacks. Here are some defensive linemen who should have big impacts on their team this upcoming season.
B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers: As a top ten pick last year, Raji will be looked at to play a large part in the Packers defense this upcoming year at nose tackle. He played well in limited action recording 25 tackles and a sack even though he only started one game. In a division where you play Adrian Peterson twice, it is important to have a nose tackle that can stop the run and Raji has shown the ability to do just that.
Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville Jaguars: Outside of Jacksonville, few casual fans know who “Pot Roast” is. What they are missing out on is one of the best young defensive tackles in the league. Knighton started all 16 games for the Jaguars as a rookie last year and was a bright spot on an otherwise weak defensive line. With the signing of Aaron Kampman and the selection of Tyson Alualu in the draft, Knighton now has some quality pieces around him. Regardless of if fans come to know he is, you can be sure that offensive coordinators already do.
Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals: At 6’8 300 pounds, Campbell fits the prototype of what you would want a pass rusher to look like. While he was viewed by many as a top five pick entering the 2007 season, Campbell ended up falling to the second round in 2008 where early indications are that the Cardinals got a steal. Starting 15 games last year, Campbell recorded seven sacks and has just begun to tap into his potential. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had double digit sacks in his third year.
Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers: With the departure of Julius Peppers via free agency, Johnson will be looked at to fill his shoes as a pass rusher. Last year even though he only started two games and played in 13, he recorded four sacks. That is also with a Panthers defensive line that struggled with injuries throughout the year. Johnson has the opportunity to put up big numbers for the Panthers in his fourth year.
Jacob Ford, Tennessee Titans: Even though he has only started in three games the past two seasons, Ford has been a passing down specialist recording 12.5 sacks in that span. If Ford becomes a starter, he could become a very effective player in a division where he plays the passing oriented Colts and Texans a combined four times.
Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs: Considering he is a defensive end in a 3-4, many thought Jackson was a reach with the third pick last year. However, he enters his second year in a very good situation. The Chiefs new defensive coordinator is Romeo Crennel who was with the Patriots where Richard Seymour, another 3-4 end developed into one of the NFL’s elite players. While Crennel won’t be of much help when it comes to conditioning, he knows what it takes for a player to be successful in this situation.
With an underrated pass rusher in Tamba Hali around him along with a young and improved secondary, this could be the year where Jackson begins to take his game to a level worthy of a top five pick.