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The NFL: A Defensive Linemen-Driven League?

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The NFL: A Defensive Linemen-Driven League?
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Ndamukong Suh walks of the field as a LIon

These days in the National Football League, there's so much emphasis placed on the performance of the quarterback that you wonder if he's the only player on the field.

And while the offense may be the main focus for many fans these days, a team is not going very far without a solid defense.

So here's the fifth of many looks at the other positions on the field and their importance. In this instance, we'll be focusing on the top defensive linemen in the league. For as many quarterbacks as there are in the league, there are more defenders looking to stop them from doing what they do.

Here are a few.

DE Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings: The relentless defender has been at it for a long time with the Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, totaling 117.0 sacks in nine NFL seasons. In 80 games with the Purple Gang, Allen has totaled 74.0 sacks, 11.0 or more sacks all five years in Minnesota.

DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Yes, it's been only two NFL seasons. But if you want to know what it takes to be Defensive Player of the Year, look at the former first-round pick's 2012 season. Watt totaled 20.5 sacks, knocked down 16 passes and also forced four fumbles.

DT Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals: It's been steady progress for the former fourth-round pick from Georgia (2010) and it really came together in 2012 for Atkins, who totaled 12.5 sacks and anchored a defensive unit that has emerged as one of the best in the league.

DE DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys: In eight seasons, the former Troy product has been imposing. Ware has been named to the last seven Pro Bowls, has 111.0 career sacks and hasn't missed a game. He makes the move to defensive end in a Dallas 4-3 defense.

DT Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots: The Patriots' defense has been less than fearsome for far too long, but don't blame Wilfork. The former Miami Hurricane enters his 10th season and has gotten better with age. The five-time Pro Bowler has eight takeaways the last two years.

DT Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers: The longtime veteran recently signed a two-year extension with the 49ers. And if you doubt the impact the one-time Cincinnati Bengals standout makes, take a look at the end of the Niners' 2012 season in terms of their defensive play.

DT Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens: One of the steadiest forces on the defending Super Bowl champion's defensive unit, he and linebacker Terrell Suggs are now the veteran leaders of a rebuilt unit. Ngata has been named to the last four Pro Bowls.

DE Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears: After eight pretty successful seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Peppers has become arguably a better football player with the Bears. An enormous talent, the athletic defender has started all 48 of his games with Chicago and totaled 30.5 sacks.

DE Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers: He's been the main man for the Panthers the last three seasons since Julius Peppers signed with the Bears. He's responded with 33.0 sacks since 2010, including a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2012. Keep an eye on teammate Greg Hardy as well.

DE Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins: After three solid seasons at outside linebacker, the former undrafted free agent and CFL standout totaled a career-high 15.0 sacks from the defensive end spot a year ago. And what will rookie Dion Jordan mean to Wake's production in 2013?

DT Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions: The former second-overall pick (2010) rebounded from an off-year and has now been named to two of the last three Pro Bowls. The Lions will be featuring some new faces at defensive end but Suh and Nick Fairley will anchor the inside.

There are numerous standout defensive linemen we haven't mentioned so feel free to add to the list. And who would you say has the league's best defensive front? In any case, as we continue to try and point out, football is a team game that requires many components to win a championship.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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