NFC South: defensive linemen

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We're resuming our NFC South position rankings with defensive linemen.

I'm combining defensive ends and tackles into one big group, and as I'm looking at the rosters, I'm mildly surprised that this group isn't stronger. That's especially true at defensive tackle, but there's hope here because I think young players like Atlanta's Peria Jerry and New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis can be very good, very soon.

The overall quality of defensive linemen in the division is a little down right now because Carolina and Tampa Bay don't have the outstanding lines they once did. The ends are a little stronger than the tackles and can become even more so if some young players like Atlanta's Jamaal Anderson, Carolina's Everette Brown and Tampa Bay's Gaines Adams emerge this year.

Anyway, here's the list:

  1. John Abraham, DE, Atlanta. Sure, go ahead and call him one-dimensional. But aren't dominant pass-rush skills the dimension you want most from a defensive end?
  2. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina. Easily the division's most-talented defensive lineman. But there are questions about his motivation and intensity with Peppers wanting out of Carolina. Those questions aren't really new.
  3. Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Atlanta. Very quietly, he's become the most solid interior lineman in the division.
  4. Will Smith, DE, New Orleans. No, he didn't play to his potential last year and he's facing a four-game suspension at the start of this season. But this guy plays the run well and has shown pass-rush skills in the past.
  5. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans. Has the ability to unseat Babineaux as division's top tackle and could do that very soon.
  6. Gaines Adams, DE, Tampa Bay. You can argue that this ranking is way too high. But look at the rest of the division. Adams had 6.5 sacks last season. If he adds a couple of moves, he easily can reach double-digit sacks.
  7. Peria Jerry, DT, Atlanta. He's only a rookie, but there's little bust factor with this guy. He should be a force right away.
  8. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina. We're going to rank him ahead of the rookie Brown based on the promise Johnson showed last year. He had six sacks in a part-time role and has the potential to do big things.
  9. Ma'ake Kemoeatu, DT, Carolina. He doesn't do anything except take up space. But that's his job.
  10. Charles Grant, DE, New Orleans. Exact same story as his teammate Smith. But the guy does have a couple of double-digit sack years in his background and you never know what new coordinator Gregg Williams might be able to pull out of him.

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