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The Value of Things: Ranking the AFC South Defensive Lines

Which defensive line is the best in the division?

NFL: NOV 28 Jets at Texans Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Now, we get to the really fun part of the proceedings. Ranking defensive lines and linebacking cores is next to impossible.

Half of the teams in the division employ a 3-4 defense while the other half employ a 4-3. Even comparing 3-4 defenses can be difficult as there are so many different styles and so many different things coaches may want their defensive lines to do.

As you might suspect, we will include the basic stats along with the PFF numbers. In order to be fair, we will try to take the top six defenders on each defense. Simply put, power rankings should include only those guys that are guaranteed to get a lot of snaps. That will prove to be hard in some cases as some teams like to have fresher legs and employ more guys. Obviously we will do the best we can.

Usually, we would look at overall numbers for the defense, but parceling out who is more responsible between linemen and linebackers can be hard. Some teams want their linebackers to be the primary pass rushers. Others want them to be more focused on containing the run and coverage underneath.

Indianapolis Colts

DE Yannick Ngakoue— 28 tackles, 8 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 28.6 Run PFF, 65.0 Pass PFF

DE Kwity Paye— 32 tackles, 3 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 55.4 Run PFF, 71.3 Pass PFF

DE Dayo Odayingbo— 6 tackles, 0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 60.9 Run PFF, 58.2 Pass PFF

DT Deforest Buckner— 68 tackles, 10 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 56.7 Run PFF, 77.1 Pass PFF

DT Grover Stewart— 46 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 70.5 Run PFF, 65.9 Pass PFF

DT Eric Johnson— Rookie (selected 5th Round)

Their overall run grade between these five guys was 54.42 while their pass grade was a combined 67.5. It should be noted that Ngakoue was a free agent signing, so those grades didn’t come as a part of this defense. He did not play against the run much and might be limited to playing end on passing downs. The offense is built around running the ball and the Colts probably played from ahead more often than they played from behind, so having stronger pass rushers is probably preferred. That being said, the Colts have always been weaker against the run.

Tennessee Titans

DE Jeffrey Simmons— 54 tackles, 12 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 61.4 Run PFF, 74.6 Pass PFF

DE Denico Autry— 31 tackles, 10 TFL, 9.0 sacks, 58.1 Run PFF, 70.3 Pass PFF

DE Larrell Murchinson— 8 tackles, 1 TFL, 0,0 sacks, 57.7 Run PFF, 58.9 Pass PFF

DT Naquan Jones— 29 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 42.2 Run PFF, 56.8 Pass PFF

DT Teair Tart— 16 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.0 sacks, 58.3 Run PFF, 56.6 Pass PFF

DE Kevin Strong— 3 tackles, 0 TFL, 0,0 sacks, 55.2 Run PFF, 51.9 Pass PFF

So, the collective run defense for this group would score 55.5 and the pass defense rates at 61.5. If 60 is average then this defensive line is essentially average. Of course, 3-4 defensive lines aren’t necessarily going to be great whether you are looking at conventional numbers or PFF scores. Simmons and Autry make some plays at both end spots, but the Titans appear to be missing that guy in the middle.

Jacksonville Jaguars

DE Roy Robertson-Harris— 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 42.1 Run PFF, 68.0 Pass PFF

DE Arden Key— 22 tackles, 5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 56,5 Run PFF, 75.4 Pass PFF

DE Malcom Brown— 57 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 36.7 Run PFF, 56.5 Pass PFF

DT Foley Fatukasi— 46 tackles, 5 TFL, 0.0 sacks, 57.3 Run, 64.9 Pass PFF

DT Adam Gotsis— 27 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 52.1 Run PFF, 54.0 Pass PFF

DT DaVon Hamilton— 46 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 49.9 Run PFF, 61.8 Pass PFF

The good news is that all of these Jaguars got extensive playing time. That’s impressive depth in terms of experience. The bad news is they graded out at 49.1 against the run. They did grade out as 63.4 against the pass. They are adding Treyvon Walker to a linebacking core that already features Josh Allen. Walker might be better against the run than he is a pass rusher. That can only help the run defense. Of course, we will get to that when we look at linebackers.

Houston Texans

DE Jonathan Greenard— 33 tackles, 9 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 61.5 Run PFF, 89.2 Pass PFF

DE Rasheem Green— 48 tackles, 6 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 55.2 Run PFF, 51.2 Pass PFF

DE Mario Addison— 29 tackles, 8 TFL. 7.0 sacks, 53.3 Run PFF, 64.2 Pass PFF

DT Maliek Collins— 29 tackles, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 61.8 Run PFF, 71.0 Pass PFF

DT Ross Blacklock— 22 tackles, 2 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 39.0 Run PFF, 66.4 Pass PFF

DT Roy Lopez— 31 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 56.3 Run PFF, 53.0 Pass PFF

We follow rules here. So, we listed the guys with the most production and then went from there. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Jerry Hughes graded higher than Green and Addison, but those guys produced more. The Texans obviously have a deeper defensive line than most of the other teams in the division. They scored a collective 54.5 against the run and a robust 65.8 against the pass. Those numbers improve when you substitute Okoronkwo and Hughes.

Final Power Rankings

We could look at basic numbers or PFF numbers. The six Texans listed combined for 39 tackles for a loss and 27 sacks. The Jaguars combined for 26 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. The six Titans combined for 29 tackles for loss and 20 sacks. The Colts came in at 23 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks. If we go according to PFF scores, the Texans were second against the run at 54.5 and second against the pass at 65.8. This is before including two superior defensive ends that probably SHOULD get more playing time than Addison and Green. I’d say we finally found a unit where the Texans have the best unit in the division.