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Plumbing the NFC North Depths: Defensive Line

Well now, isn't that cute... <em>But it's wrong!!</em>
Well now, isn't that cute... But it's wrong!!

Our look around the division rosters and probable depth continues, and after last week's look at the less-than-stellar offensive lines in the division, our focus turns to the defensive lines, which contain some extremely solid talent between reputable veterans (Julius Peppers, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jared Allen), productive youth (Ndamukong Suh, Brian Robison, Henry Melton), and those somewhere in between (Israel Idonije, B.J. Raji).

Let's get right to it - hit the jump, let's look at the lines.

2012 Probable:
Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton, Chauncey Davis / Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina, Stephen Paea, John McCargo

The Bears claimed Peppers as the prize of 2010's free agency period, shifted Henry Melton from end to tackle (as he contributed with 7 sacks), spent a second round pick on Stephen Paea, a fourth on Corey Wootton and a first on Shea McClellin. There's definitely some talent in this unit, but for some reason it was still middle of the pack in sack production last season.

2012 Probable:
Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young / Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Sammie Lee Hill, Nick Fairley

Suh and Fairley are both first-rounders, with Suh having a fantastic rookie campaign and a lot of "dirty" accusations since. And Avril and Vanden Bosch are far from nobodies, combining for 19 of the team's 41 sacks in 2011.

2012 Probable:
Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed, Nick Reed / Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Christian Ballard, Fred Evans, Trevor Guyton

Put bluntly, we know about Allen and Kevin Williams has been a pain in the Bears' side since coming into the league as a solid run-stopper. Robison had a fantastic rookie campaign with eight sacks and Griffen rotated in to pick up four sacks himself.

2012 Probable:
Ryan Pickett, Jarius Wynn, Jerel Worthy, CJ Wilson, Phillip Merling / BJ Raji, Daniel Muir, Mike Daniels

With this being the lone 3-4 base unit, the line typically has different responsibilities than the other three units (namely, the line isn't as depended upon to make the pass-rush themselves - mostly to take up space). That being said, Raji is a solid nose tackle in that responsibility, and Pickett as well. Worthy can provide a little pass rush, but again, that's the linebackers' primary duty.

Even so, I'm putting the Packers at fourth in the division for strictly the defensive line - they play somewhat stout in the red zone, but last year they had the worst defense yardage-wise in the NFL and their 4.7 yards-per-rush allowed tied them for 26th lowest (or, 7th highest). At third, I'm going to put the Vikings. Jared Allen, sure, outstanding season last year and outstanding production in his career. Same with Kevin Williams. Can Robison back up his play last year? How about Ballard at tackle? Guion? Like the Lions receivers, it's one superstar, and a bunch of question marks and unsures.

So that leaves the Bears and Lions. In ranking these units, including the Vikings, I've had every unit in the top 3 at each position, with a case for each. When it comes to pass-rushing, I think the Lions most certainly have the edge at tackle between Suh and Corey Williams. Melton had seven sacks, but I worry about his being able to duplicate that for now, and while Paea graded out positively by PFF against the run, he only had two sacks - he'll have to step up with extra playing time. At end, Peppers is the single greatest talent in both team's ends, but I'd be hard pressed to say that last year, Peppers and Idonije were greater in sum than Vanden Bosch and Avril. Especially in pass rush.

However, while the Lions' strength is in pass rush, the Bears have a much better unit when it comes to stopping the run. Only two Bears' linemen currently on the roster were negative in stopping the run, and those were Matt Toeaina (-1.6) and Corey Wootton (-1.0). On the flip side, the Lions' big contributors - Suh, Avril, Vanden Bosch - all rated lower than negative four (-5.0, -4.3, -7.7 respectively).

The Lions have the pass rush, pressures, and sacks as their line strength. The Bears fall short by about thirty pressures and eleven sacks, but match that with a top ten rush defense, where the Lions have a miserable rushing defense. In total sum, all things considered, I'd say the Bears overall have an edge here.

What do you think of the defensive line units in the division? How would you rank them?