Best of the NFC West: Defensive Ends


The NFC West bloggers from the FanSided Sports Network are working together to create a team featuring the best players from the division.

Two defensive ends will be selected to represent the NFC West. Feel free to share your opinion, and don’t forget to vote!

Defensive Ends:

Arizona Cardinals: Calais Campbell

At 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, Campbell is a big defensive end, but a perfect fit in Arizona’s unique 3-4 defense. Campbell, a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, tallied 7 sacks last year. Cardinals fans will tell you, however, he could have collected much more, possibly a double-digit total – Campbell frequently let the quarterback out of his grasp and failed to finish in the backfield. With stronger linemen around him, Campbell could be looking at a break-out year in 2010.

Arizona Cardinals: Darnell Dockett

Dockett is probably best suited for a 4-3 defense, but he has made the transition to defensive end in Arizona’s 3-4 defense nicely. The defense allows him to remain a one-gap penetrator and really plays to his strengths. Dockett is disruptive and quick, able to quickly attack opposing backfields. Last season, Dockett had 7 sacks and was selected to the 2009 Pro Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers: Justin Smith

Smith, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2001 NFL Draft, played his first seven NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is entering his third year with the 49ers and has become a very good defensive end in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense. A very durable player, Smith has not missed a start since his rookie season. Like most 3-4 ends, Smiths sack totals in San Francisco haven’t been high – only 13 in two seasons – but he is a tireless worker, contributes a lot on the field, and is capable of applying consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Smith was selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl as an alternate.

San Francisco 49ers: Isaac Sopoaga

Sopoaga, a 6-foot-2, 330 pound defensive lineman, is a perfect fit in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense as a five-technique end. Responsible for two gaps and occupying space, Sopoaga will never record big sack totals. But his strength is very impressive – he bench pressed 225 pounds 42 times at the 2004 NFL Combine – and he has the quickness of a man who weighs over fifty pounds less. Sopoaga started all 16 games last season for the 49ers.

Seattle Seahawks: Lawrence Jackson

Jackson has been mostly disappointing since Seattle drafted him in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, but the young defensive end still has tons of potential. In two seasons, he has collected only 6.5 sacks. But minor injuries, coaching changes, and unspecified roles have likely slowed his development at the professional level. With Patrick Kerney’s retirement, Lawrence Jackson has a great opportunity to step up and become the premier pass rusher the Seahawks envisioned when they drafted him two years ago.

St. Louis Rams: Chris Long

Chris Long, the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has mostly been a disappointment in his first two seasons in the NFL. But like Jackson, Long is still young with tons of potential, and the consensus is he’ll develop into a good defensive end. Having only collected nine sacks in two seasons, however, Long has progressed slower than some people have expected. Long is very versatile and surprisingly athletic for his size (6-3, 276 pounds).

My take:

This is a difficult selection, because different defensive schemes are used around the NFC West. Ironically, however, even if we’re implementing a 4-3 base defense for this all-star team, the two starters I would choose play defensive end in 3-4 schemes.

In my opinion, Darnell Dockett and Justin Smith are the two best defensive ends in the NFC West right now. Their production is somewhat limited as ends in 3-4 defenses, but they still have impressive statistics and respectable sack totals.

Calais Campbell is a good candidate to have a break-out season, but Dockett is probably a better player and Campbell benefits from playing on his opposite end. Sopoaga is consistent and dependable, but his skills don’t compare with Smith’s.

Chris Long and Lawrence Jackson are still developing and I don’t think they deserve a spot on the team yet. It is definitely too early to label either player a bust, but they have not outperformed other defensive ends within the division.

Shaun Dolence:
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