Last year was a very nice one for defensive linemen breakouts. J.J. Watt had a historic season at defensive end while Geno Atkins emerged as one of the best young defensive tackles in the game. Along with those two were Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy and Muhammad Wilkerson. Quinn and Hardy both showed their pass rushing ability by recording double digit sack totals. Wilkerson however brokeout by showing he had the skills to be an elite end in a 3-4 scheme for years to come.
With so many passing attempts, the chance for a defensive lineman to breakout are higher than ever as a pass rusher. Not all of the players mentioned are used just to rush the passer, but all of them have the talent to take their games to the next level in 2013.
Chandler Jones, Patriots: Jones started off his rookie season on a great pace with six sacks in his first eight games. Unfortunately those were the last sacks he would record for the year as an ankle injury slowed him down. Jones at 6’5 260 pounds is a freak athlete who is already a three down player.
The Patriots defense should be much improved this year and the continued development of Jones will be a major reason why.
Nick Fairley, Lions: Fairley started to show in 2012 why he and Ndamukong Suh have the ability to become the best defensive tackle tandem in the league. Fairley showed last year he can get to the passer recording 5.5 sacks and get into the backfield to stop the run. If the Lions want to get back to the playoffs like they did in 2011, Fairley needs to continue to grow as a player as the defensive line that has been highly talked about could be the best one Jim Schwartz has had during his time with the Lions.
Da’Quan Bowers, Buccaneers: Even though he’s entering his third year at 23 years old, this could be a make-or-break year for Bowers. Once considered one of the better prospects in his draft class, through two years he has only recorded 4.5 sacks. After losing Michael Bennett in free agency, the Buccaneers are going to need a pass rusher to step up and talent wise, Bowers should be the guy.
There have been questions about his conditioning and that he could be in Greg Schiano’s doghouse entering the year. If he does figure everything out, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bowers looks like everything he was hyped up to be just a few years ago.
Everson Griffen, Vikings: Griffen moved back to defensive end from linebacker this past season and the results showed. For the year, he recorded eight sacks, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown. The scary thing is he did this only starting one game last season. He’s now entering a contract year and with that incentive lining up opposite Jared Allen, some very big numbers could be in store.