5: Jets DL Muhammad Wilkerson
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was unquestionably the best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL in 2012, but immediately behind Watt in the hierarchy of 3-4 defensive ends, though, is Muhammad Wilkerson. Were it not for Watt's incredible season, Wilkerson would have gotten his share of recognition for solid stats across the board: 70 tackles, five sacks, four pass deflections, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
The position of 3-4 defensive end is typically regarded as less than glamorous. That's because, mostly, they are "space-eaters" whose job it is to occupy as many blockers as possible to free up the linebackers behind them to make plays. With the Jets, however, the onus is on everyone to create pressure in an aggressive one-gap style of defense under Jets head coach Rex Ryan. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilkerson logged 22 pressures, 10 hits and five sacks in 2012, all of which ranked him among the top five 3-4 defensive ends in the league.
His pass-rushing potency was not the only thing that stood out for him last year. Pro Football Focus charted him with 46 "stops" in the running game, the second-most for any 3-4 defensive end. Advanced NFL Stats gave him 71 successes on the season, the second-most for any defensive end. Thus, it seems no matter who you ask, Wilkerson was dominant in 2012.
His talent may not supersede any deficiencies on the Jets roster, but it will certainly go a long way to helping the Jets maximize the pass-rushing potential and overall effectiveness of their 3-4 defense—or any other alignment they choose to run.
Did you know? Wilkerson was the third player in Temple history drafted in the first round, and only the second first-rounder out of Temple to start more than 20 games.