While philosophies may differ, the most usual job description of the 3-4 nose tackle is to simply be a space eater.
The nose tackle will usually be the biggest guy on the field, and more often than not, he's not doing anything real flashy. Yes, they will have the occasional sack or big tackle in the backfield, but for the most part, they are there to eat up the double team and keep the linebackers clean so they can make those big plays.
Finding that combination of athleticism to make that sack and go along with that mammoth size is extremely rare. Most of the time you'll have one or the other, but finding both is no easy feat.
Fortunately for the employers of these guys, they've found it.
5. Kris Jenkins (New York Jets)
Career stats: 95 games started, 24 sacks, two forced fumbles, 209 tackles, four-time Pro Bowler, and two-time All-Pro
Jenkins has only been a nose tackle for one year, but during that year he was phenomenal.
He started all 16 games for the Jets last year after being traded from the Panthers, where he played as a 4-3 defensive tackle. In his first season with the Jets, he earned Pro Bowl honors for his astounding play.
The only question for Jenkins is whether or not he can repeat his success.
He found success as a 4-3 defensive tackle playing only one gap, but in the zero technique he may not be able to have such sustained success.
4. Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Career stats: 106 games started, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, 150 tackles, four-time Pro Bowler
Hampton isn't a sack machine, but he doesn't need to be.
He does his job better than most, which is shown by the Steelers' fantastic run defense over the past several years.
He's big, he's strong, and he has a mean streak when he has to. Offensive linemen have a nightmare day with this guy, because he may have the strongest upper body in the entire league. Not just of linemen, but the entire league.
The only knock on Hampton is his conditioning. There are points in games where he will get washed because he's winded, which comes from his poor offseason conditioning. There have been a couple of instances where he has been fined and reprimanded by the team for coming into training camp in poor shape.
3. Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots)
Career stats: 67 games started, 7.5 sacks, 188 tackles, one-time Pro Bowler
While the stats don't exactly scream "Look at me, I'm great," his play on the field does.
The linebackers in Bill Belichick's system get all of the credit for being so good and so smart and everything else. The reality of the situation is that those guys would be nowhere were it not for the big guy up front keeping them clean.
Over the past two seasons, Wilfork has not missed a game and has played at a Pro Bowl level. However, because he plays in Belichick's system, he often gets overlooked come Pro Bowl selection time.
Wilfork is a huge mass who is incredibly tough to move. On the goal line and in short yardage situations, there isn't an offense in the league who would dare try to take the ball up the middle.
With Wilfork there, it's futile.
2. Shaun Rogers (Cleveland Browns)
Career stats: 112 games started, 33.5 sacks, one interception, six forced fumbles, two touchdowns, 317 tackles, three-time Pro Bowler
Like Jenkins, Rogers has only been a nose tackle for one season with his new team after spending seven years as a 4-3 defensive tackle in Detroit.
While playing with such poor teams as Detroit and this past year with Cleveland, he has still been able to rack up over 30 sacks with little talent around him. This speaks to how purely dominating he is on the line and how athletic he can be.
Rogers, however, like Hampton, is unable to stay on the field for very long before needing to come off to catch his breath. His conditioning has always been called into question and is what led to his trade out of Detroit.
Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that when he is on the field, he consistently dominates and is a keystone of that defense.
1. Jamal Williams (San Diego Chargers)
Career stats: 121 games started, 13 sacks, one interception, one touchdown, four forced fumbles, 311 tackles, three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro
To put it quite simply, Jamal Williams is a beast.
He is bigger and stronger than any center in the league, and it shows.
Last season on a Monday night game, he threw a center backwards to make a stop on the goal line. That's the kind of play he makes week in and week out—he's absolutely unstoppable.
Now as he gets older, his production will obviously drop off. However, until that time, he is without question the best nose tackle in the league.
He's not flashy, and a lot of people aren't going to know his name because he plays out West, but the man can simply dominate and change the entire flow of a game with just one play.
Without Williams, the Chargers would not be able to run their 3-4. He's so important that if they do not find a replacement for him upon his retirement, the entire scheme will have to change.
Perhaps it's the "East Coast bias" or simply the fact that overall the Chargers' defense was not very good last year, but Williams is a guy who gets lost in the shuffle.
I can guarantee that not a single offensive coordinator in the league forgets him for a second during the week leading up to the time they'll have to face him.
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