2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: Top 5 Defensive Ends

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Dec 7, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) celebrates a tackle against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Great defenses start up front. Reggie McKenzie, Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton, all former NFL linebackers, know this well: Del Rio played with great linemen like John Randle and Chris Doleman, Norton won Super Bowls with Charles Haley and Russell Maryland, and McKenzie played with Howie Long and Greg Townsend. Yesterday, we looked at the five (in my opinion) best defensive tackles who look to be headed to the open market, today we will look at their partners in crime – defensive ends.

After cutting LaMarr Woodley, with CJ Wilson still not re-signed and with Justin Tuck entering the final year of his contract, the Raiders are going to definitely look to upgrade at defensive end. Benson Mayowa, who played well as a LEO end in Woodley’s place, will return, but right now the Raiders entire pass rush is reliant on Khalil Mack, who could play the LEO spot but is more comfortable as a Sam outside linebacker. The Raiders want to get more talented and deeper at this position, and free agency may be the place to do it.

More from Las Vegas Raiders Free Agency

Defining a defensive end in the modern NFL is a tricky thing to define. Teams who run 3-4 defensive fronts line defense ends up in a 4 or 5 technique over or just outside the offensive tackles. Those 3-4 ends are often 300 pounds or more, big players like the 49ers Justin Smith, even the Ravens Haloti Ngata, or the Raiders Antonio Smith, players who are defensive tackles in a 4-3 front. Then you have your traditional 4-3 ends, players like Justin Tuck and Greg Hardy and Jason Pierre-Paul who rush the passer from the edge but are generally large and strong enough to command a run responsibility as well. And finally you have your “tweener” ends, players who are built more like 3-4 outside linebackers but are used in wide 9 alignments as speed rushers in 4-man fronts.

For the purposes of this list I will be talking about 5 or 7 technique defensive ends, players who play most of the time with their hand in the ground and translate to either a 3-4 or 4-3 front as ends. Outside linebackers who might become ends in a 4-3 system, like Justin Houston (Editor’s Note: Houston was franchise tagged by Kansas City) or Jason Worilds, will be the subject of a later entry on linebackers.

Here are my five best available defensive ends on the 2015 open market:

Next: 2015 Free Agent DE Rankings: #1 Jerry Hughes