Experts and analysts can certainly be heard talking about pressuring the quarterback, but the true importance of a strong presence off the edge can be the deciding factor between missing the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl. The New York Giants were a clear example of that this season.
The Giants utilized their strength off the edge, especially toward the end of the season. Jason Pierre-Paul, who is ranked second on Bleacher Report's list of the NFL's 64 best defensive ends, dominated offensive lines throughout the playoffs and during the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI victory.
Pierre-Paul headlines a list that includes fellow sack masters Terrell Suggs (No. 3), the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen (No. 4) and Philadelphia Eagles' Trent Cole (No. 5). Yet even in such impressive company, the man who leads the list was somewhat of a mystery to many before the 2011 season.
Jason Smith of the San Francisco 49ers tops the list at No. 1, recording 58 tackles and 7.5 sacks during his third straight Pro Bowl season in 2011. Smith is clearly the class of the defensive line in the league and surely will rank highly on Bleacher Report's NFL 1,000, a list of the 1,000 best players in football.
The New England Patriots, widely known for their lack of pass rush, did make an appearance on the list in the way of Andre Carter, who locked down the No. 15 spot with 10 sacks in an injury-shortened season.
More NFL 1,000 Rankings: Quarterbacks I Fullbacks I Left Tackles I Right Tackles I Centers I Right Guards I Tight Ends I Left Guards I Punters I Kickers I Strong Safeties I Free Safeties I Cornerbacks