Unit by unit: Ranking the defensive lines

July, 9, 2013
7/09/13
11:11
AM ET
We pick up our series in which ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, ranks the AFC South position-by-position.

Today, we examine defensive lines.

Williamson’s AFC South defensive line rankings:
1) Texans (J.J. Watt, Earl Mitchell, Antonio Smith, Jared Crick, Chris Jones)
2) Titans (Ropati Pitoitua, Sammie Hill, Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley, Mike Martin, Lavar Edwards, Antonio Johnson)
3) Jaguars (Jason Babin, Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Tyson Alualu, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Andre Branch, Jeremy Mincey)
4) Colts (Cory Redding, Josh Chapman, Ricky Jean-Francois, Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, Aubrayo Franklin, Montori Hughes, Brandon McKinney)

I struggled a bit as I sort through that and consider how my own list should look. Ultimately I co-sign what Williamson has done here, and will explain it a bit after we talk with him.

SportsNation

Matt Williamson's ranking of AFC South defensive line units is:

  •  
    60%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 616)

My questions for Williamson based off of his list:

Your overall assessment of the AFC South defensive lines:

“Overall, I wouldn't say this is a fantastic division for defensive line, but I think the Jags' defensive line is a little underrated since they produced so few sacks. With Watt in the picture, Houston is pretty strong with their 3-man front.”

Does judging a couple 3-4s vs. a couple 4-3s complicate things here?

“Judging varying schemes isn't difficult, but it is hard to overlook that teams that run a 4-3 have more starting caliber linemen and of course the opposite is true when evaluating linebackers in a 3-4, but I just look at it as to how well these players do their respective jobs”

Can you rank them in order of depth?

“Just in terms of depth, I would go: Tennessee, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston.”

Can you name a potential breakout player?

“Morgan could break out, he pressured the quarterback well last year but didn't get home quite enough. I also think Babin is still a very good player and while he has already ‘broken out,’ he could be perfect in this new Jacksonville D.”

How big a gap do you see between Houston and Tennessee?

“As I noted, I see Tennessee as deeper than Houston, but the Texans have the star power. Watt just might be the best defensive player in football and Smith is no slouch either. Like the entire Titans' D, their defensive line is solid, but they lack a true star or difference maker.”

Are you not a believer in the Colts new additions and newfound health with Chapman and McKinney?

“It’s hard to say on the Colts. They have a lot of bodies, but who will step up? Better health of course is important, but I have a tough time handicapping their defensive line overall right now.”

As for me…

The Texans should get the biggest production and have the best player in Watt and a candidate for the second-best player in Smith. The Titans and Colts seem certain to be equipped to slow the run far better. With the change of scheme and personnel additions in Jacksonville things will improve against the run and pass.

It’s difficult for me to put the Colts last as they’ve added a lot and get Chapman and McKinney back healthy. Their crop of defensive linemen are now all 3-4 guys.

I want to bump the Titans down as I like their depth but not their lack of proven sack guys, but look behind them and it’s not as if the Jaguars or Colts do, either.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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