3-4 defense end is not exactly the most glamourous position in the NFL.
This season, the often overlooked, in-the-trenches 3-4 DE spot has gotten some attention thanks to the play of Houston Texans standout J.J. Watt, who’s been the runaway frontrunner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Watt has been outstanding, with 11 sacks at a position that is not known for rushing the passer, 10 batted passes, and 31 defensive stops, a stat by Pro Football Focus that accumulates all plays that cause an offensive failure.
By comparison, no 3-4 DE other than Watt has more than 5 sacks, 5 batted passes, or 27 defensive stops.
While he may not be on Watt’s level, and right now, few at any position are even in that stratosphere, New York Jets lineman Muhammad Wilkerson (#96, above ) has been making a major impact himself.
The Jets selected Wilkerson with their 1st round pick, 30th overall, in the 2011 NFL Draft, just 19 picks after the Texans nabbed Watt. While Wilkerson doesn’t have the sack numbers that Watt does, he’s been outstanding nonetheless.
Wilkerson is second only to Watt with 27 stops. In fact, PFF has Wilkerson ranked ahead of Watt and everybody else for run defending. Wilkerson is the top-ranked 3-4 DE against the run, and he leads all 3-4 DE with 32 total tackles.
Last year as a rookie, Wilkerson got a crash course in Rex Ryan‘s hybrid defense, and he ended up finishing in the top 10 in PFF’s run defense ratings for 3-4 defense ends.
The big 6’4, 315 lb 23-year-old steadied himself and had a strong second half, and after a scary auto accident this offseason which he was thankful to walk away from, he’s been a breakout star for the Jets defense in 2012.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum has come under fire lately for shaky draft classes the last few seasons, but he deserves a ton of credit for the 2011 draft class, which has already given the Jets solid production so far.
The Jets have struck gold with Wilkerson, 3rd-rounder Kenrick Ellis, 4th-rounder Bilal Powell and 5th-rounder Jeremy Kerley have all made an impact already in their young careers, with bright futures on the horizon.
Muhammad Wilkerson is not a household name, but you better believe opposing offenses are well aware of the former Temple Owl who’s been wreaking havoc in offensive backfields all season long.
Wilkerson may go under the radar because of the position he plays, but don’t let that fool you.
This is a young standout who will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.