I wouldn’t say any of the AFC West teams have a dominant interior defensive line duo. Most seem to have one guy who you can point to, but no second guy to make the unit truly fearsome. That wasn’t always the case. Holding onto great defensive linemen can be tough.
1. Broncos -- Derek Wolfe, Jared Crick
When the Broncos lost Malik Jackson prior to last season, it was huge. His replacement was Jared Crick, who wasn’t as good but he wasn’t terrible either. He had 53 tackles which was more than Jackson had in 2015, and his sack (3.0) and hurries (13.0) numbers weren’t far off either.
Where this unit really takes the top spot is Derek Wolfe. The sixth year defensive lineman has been a steadily outstanding performer for the Broncos since they chose him in the second round out of Cincinnati in 2012. Last season he had some good looking numbers for an interior lineman with 5.5 sacks, 19 hurries, 51 tackles, and 4 tackles for loss.
Getting 104 tackles from your two interior defensive ends is great production.
2. Chiefs — Chris Jones, Allen Bailey
Thus far Chris Jones is living up to and perhaps outplaying any potential he had coming into the draft last year. I liked him a lot coming out in the draft, but alas he was off the board when the Raiders made their selection at 44 (more on that later). Though the numbers may not bear it out – 2.0 sacks, 10 hurries, 28 tackles, 5 tackles for loss -- Jones may have been the best defensive lineman the Chiefs had last season, anchoring a stout Chiefs defense.
Losing Jaye Howard is going to hurt the Chiefs. He was a force on the inside both against the pass and the run, leading the team in 2015 with 11 tackles for loss. But Bailey is no slouch. Both he and Howard’s seasons were cut short by injury last year, but side by side in 2015, they were impressive. Bailey added 4.5 sacks 8 hurries, 38 tackles (26 solo), and 7 tackles for loss. Last season Rakeem Nunez-Roches filled in admirably and offers some depth.
3. Chargers — Corey Liuget, Damion Square
Last season was arguably the worst of Liuget’s career. He had no sacks for the first time in his career, and his lowest tackle totals of his career for a full season (36 combined). But he has had some very good seasons in the NFL and is just 27, so I’m no going to let one down season dictate where he lands in these rankings. Liuget is joined by Square, who won’t set the world on fire. He had just 13 combined tackles last season with 2.5 sacks, 4 hurries nad 4 tackles for loss.
4. Raiders — Mario Edwards Jr, Denico Autry/Jihad Ward
Where else did you think the league’s worst interior pass rushing team’s defensive linemen would land? Jihad Ward was horrendous as a rookie while the entire Raider Nation waited week after week to see if/when Mario Edwards would return from his hip injury. He came back for the final couple games and was ineffective. We must use the latter half of Edwards’ 2015 rookie season to judge his potential. By most standards, it was an impressive few games. But I gotta see more. And we all have to see him stay healthy.
Autry has had his moments over the past two seasons. Most notably, he has a penchant for knocking down passes at the line. He hasn’t shown the Raiders enough for them to make him a regular starter. He is probably an above average second interior defensive end. This team desperately needs Edwards to show up.