Ranking the AFC East: Defensive Lines

Alain Poupart

With the major phase of free agency and the 2020 draft behind us, it's a good time to revisit every team's roster and see where everybody stands.

When it comes to the defensive line, the Miami Dolphins made some moves in the offseason, though the alterations weren't quite as drastic as they were at other positions.

The Dolphins' biggest moves in the offseason were the signings of edge rushers Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, and those were complemented by the draft selections of Raekwon Davis, Jason Strowbridge and Curtis Weaver.

The Buffalo Bills also were active in the offseason when it comes to the defensive line, as they built up even more depth on what already was a good group.

Let's examine each team's situation before we proceed with our AFC East ranking of the defensive line position.


On the roster: DE Mario Addison, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DE A.J. Epenesa, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Darryl Johnson, DE Mike Love, DE Trent Murphy, DE Jonathan Woodard, DL Quinton Jefferson, DT Vernon Butler, DT Star Lotulelei, DT Ed Oliver, DT Harrison Phillips, DT Vincent Taylor

Key offseason moves: Signed DE Mario Addison as an unrestricted free agent (CAR) ... signed DT Vernon Butler as a UFA (CAR) ... signed DL Quinton Jefferson as a UFA (SEA) ... selected DE A.J. Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft ... lost DT Jordan Phillips as a UFA ... lost DE Shaq Lawson as a UFA

Projected opening-day starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DT Star Lotulelei, DT Ed Oliver, DE Trent Murphy

Outlook: The Bills got a lot of production out of its defensive line in 2019, but that unit looks more talented this year even after the departure of former Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. The Bills added veterans Mario Addison and Vernon Butler, who both played under head coach Sean McDermott when he was defensive coordinator with the Panthers, as well as Quinton Jefferson. For good measure, the Bills selected Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa with their first pick of the 2020 NFL draft in the second round.


On the roster: DE Shaq Lawson, DE Avery Moss, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Tyshun Render, DE Jason Strowbridge, DE Curtis Weaver, DT Raekwon Davis, DT Davon Godchaux, DT Benito Jones, DT Ray Lima, DT Durval Queiroz Neto, DT Zach Sieler, DT Christian Wilkins

Key offseason moves: Signed DE Shaq Lawson as an unrestricted free agent (BUF) ... signed DE Emmanuel Ogbah as a UFA (KC) ... selected DT Raekwon Davis in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft ... lost DT John Jenkins as an unrestricted free agent

Projected opening-day starters: DE Shaq Lawson, DT Christian Wilkins, DT Davon Godchaux, DE Emmanuel Ogbah

Outlook: The Dolphins really needed to address the defensive line this offseason, and it's possible that Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins will end up being the only players on the roster who were there at the start of 2019. In particular, the Dolphins needed to address their pass rush and the hope is that Shaq Lawson and/or Emmanuel Ogbah can make a difference in that area. There is no question this should be a most productive group, but by how much remains to be seen. We listed four starters along the defensive line, though the Dolphins will just as often — if not more often — line up with three defensive linemen.


On the roster: DE Nick Coe, DE Derek Rivers, DE John Simon, DL Beau Allen, DL Tashawn Bower, DL Adam Butler, DL Byron Cowart, DL Lawrence Guy, DL Bill Murray, DL Nick Thurman, DL Courtney Wallace, DL Chase Winovich, DL Deatrich Wise Jr.

Key offseason moves: Signed DL Beau Allen as an unrestricted free agent (TB) ... re-signed DL Adam Butler as a restricted free agent ... lost DT Danny Shelton as an unrestricted free agent

Projected opening-day starters: DE John Simon, NT Beau Allen, DE Lawrence Guy

Outlook: When it comes to their three-man front line, the only change of note for the Patriots was swapping Beau Allen for Danny Shelton at nose tackle after Shelton signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions. The strength of the New England defense clearly is the secondary, but the guys up front generally get the job done. This clearly is a group that's better than the sum of its parts.


On the roster: DE Jordan Willis, DE/OLB Bryce Huff, DL Henry Anderson, DL Domenique Davis, DL Folorunso Fatukasi, DL John Franklin-Myers, DL Sterling Johnson, DL Bronson Kaufusi, DL Steve McLendon, DL Kyle Phillips, DL Nathan Shepherd, DL Wyatt Ray, DL Quinnen Williams, DE Jabari Zuniga

Key offseason moves: Selected DE Jabari Zuniga in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft

Projected opening-day starters: DE Henry Anderson, NT Steve McLendon, DE Quinnen Williams

Outlook: The Jets have a very solid starting threesome up front, and it's only going to get better if Quinnen Williams takes a step in his second season after being the third overall pick in the 2019 draft. McLendon isn't necessarily a well-known player, but he's a very effective nose tackle. What's lacking in this group is some depth, though the Jets are hoping that third-round pick Jabari Zuniga from the University of Florida can provide some pass-rushing help.


This type of ranking isn't always easy to do because teams use different defensive alignments and players are asked to do different things depending on whether they play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.

It's not a coincidence that the sack leaders are either defensive linemen in a 4-3 schemes or outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes.

That said, it's pretty clear that the unit that looks the most impressive on paper in this division resides in the state of New York. And the second isn't that far away geographically.

The call: 1. Buffalo; 2. N.Y. Jets; 3. New England; 4. Miami


Don't agree with the ranking? Feel free to post a comment.

Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

You said it yourself each unit hard to dissect given schemes. The Jets front doesn't possess great pass rushers to speak of for you to place that group 2nd. If your going to rank talent simply on paper Miami is the only group that can come close to the group Beane assembled for McDermott. Lawson & Ogbah get the nod but rookies Strowbridge & Weaver will get on field & combined should make as much of an impact as Zuniga in NY while Van Noy, Van Ginkel & Beigel will provide something out of 3/4 along with well timed Butler coming from all angles. If you factor in the complete D line ups the Jets are far behind the rest of the Div on paper. All this without mention of Coaching were entire AFC East now a D Coaches whose who with McDermott & Flores gunning for Belichik with NY and their bounty DC (along with Gase) faaaaaar behind