B/R NFL 1000: Top 50 Defensive Tackles
Editor's note: This is the 13th installment in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through April 24, with NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the NFL 1000 page for more rankings.
NFL defenses need interior pass rush and presence to combat the mobile, wide-open offenses of the modern age. To get that, you need a great defensive tackle. But each defense needs different skills and traits from its linemen.
So who is the best of the best?
That’s what the NFL 1000 aims to identify. Throw out the narratives and the fantasy football stats, and dig into the film. Then we’ll see who is the best.
The B/R 1000 metric is based on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance on a 100-point scale.
Potential is not taken into consideration. Nor are career accomplishments.
Defensive tackles are judged on run defense (50 points), pass-rush skills (50), and all of the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to play the position.
In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.
Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
Each player was scouted by me and a team of experienced evaluators with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
Don’t see your favorite player listed here? Check the scheme.
With so many defenses now playing a hybrid front, we went with the players listed by Pro Football Focus as 3-4 or 4-3 DTs.
50. Josh Chapman, Indianapolis Colts
As Josh Chapman (6’0", 341 lbs, one season) entered the rotation for the Indianapolis Colts this past season, he gave the team a massive interior presence—one that can plug gaps up the middle and slide off blocks to make sound tackles. He gets driven away from running plays more often than you’d like to see with a nose tackle of his size but has demonstrated he can sometimes reverse initial pushbacks by gaining leverage.
Chapman was not a factor in pass defense in 2013, managing just two pressures and zero sacks. He has poor hand skills and doesn’t have an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage.
In his first season after missing his entire rookie year with a knee injury, Chapman brought size and strength to the field but wasn’t much of a difference-maker. He is likely to start at nose tackle in 2014 but needs to improve his hand usage and generate more power.
49. Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings
An excellent athlete for the position, Sharrif Floyd (6’3”, 305 lbs, one season) has lateral quickness and moves well both along the line of scrimmage and heading upfield to make tackles. That said, he needs to improve at fighting off power-run blocks, as he got pushed and turned away from running plays often in his rookie season.
Floyd was a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft largely on the merits of his ability to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield, but it didn’t show up often in his rookie season. He has a quick burst, good closing speed and solid power, but he needs to do more with his hands and tends to rush directly into blockers.
Despite an underwhelming rookie season, Floyd has the potential to develop into a terrific defensive tackle, especially as a penetrator. He needs to continue to work on his technique but could be in line for a starting role in 2014.
48. Mitch Unrein, Denver Broncos
With adequate strength and active hands, Mitch Unrein (6’4”, 306 lbs, three seasons) is a fighter who can hold gaps in the middle and shut down runs, but he has to work hard to do so. He is adept at establishing pad level and winning with leverage. However, he gets exposed when he lets a blocker make the first move, as he lacks the power and hand skills to counter the control of most offensive linemen. He is a poor tackler who had nearly as many missed tackles (seven) as he did stops (nine) in 2013.
When Unrein brings pressure, it’s mostly as a result of his effort. He doesn’t have the burst, speed, power or pass-rushing moves to beat blockers with any consistency. He has yet to record a sack in his NFL career.
There’s nothing that stands out about Unrein’s game, but he is a high-motor player who doesn’t typically get knocked out of plays and provides solid rotational depth.
47. John Jenkins, New Orleans Saints
John Jenkins (6’3”, 359 lbs, one season) has the physical traits of a dominant run-stopping nose tackle, but he plays with poor hand placement and loses battles of leverage. Jenkins’ massive frame makes him difficult for any blocker to move off the line of scrimmage. But he allows run blockers to do so by enabling them to get their hands up into his pads. He has great movement skills for his size and can make plays both along the line of scrimmage and upfield, but his potential for greatness comes with developing the technique to truly impose his size through power.
Jenkins has an impressive burst for his size, but his current game as a pass-rusher is mostly limited to his bull rush. He lacks adequate pass-rushing moves and has not demonstrated he can work his way around blockers to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
While his game needs a lot of technical work, Jenkins exhibits the tools to be a solid NFL nose tackle as he develops. He received significant playing time as a rookie and should challenge for the New Orleans Saints’ starting nose tackle job in 2014.
46. Barry Cofield, Washington Redskins
Barry Cofield (6’4”, 318 lbs, eight seasons) seems to lack the requisite strength to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He has been pushed around frequently in his three seasons playing that role for the Washington Redskins. When he has opportunities to penetrate, he can make plays with good quickness, but he struggles with the task of maintaining his ground against power up the middle.
With a good burst and a strong set of pass-rushing moves, Cofield can shoot between gaps and work his way around offensive linemen to generate pressure on the quarterback. He isn’t adept at creating leverage or driving opponents back with power, but he has an array of techniques for fighting through blocks and has dangerous closing speed up the middle.
Cofield is somewhat miscast as a nose tackle, as he is more effective in penetration and in making plays in pursuit rather than with power, despite his size. He's been exceptionally durable, missing just one game in eight seasons.
45. Antonio Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Antonio Johnson (6’3”, 328 lbs, six seasons) gets pushed around far more than an NFL defensive tackle of his size should. He often gives up leverage and tends to get driven backward away from running plays. He can work off blocks adequately with his hands and is a solid tackler, but he didn’t make many stops at the line of scrimmage last season.
After recording just 1.5 sacks in his first five NFL seasons, Johnson doubled that with three this past year, but that doesn’t mean he became a significantly better pass-rusher. He can fight his way through blocks to get free lanes to the quarterback, but he doesn’t have the quickness, power or pass-rushing moves to be consistently disruptive.
Johnson has the size to anchor the defensive line as a nose tackle or a 1-technique. As the Titans move to a more hybrid front, Johnson can be a big asset for defensive coordinator Ray Horton and head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
44. Vance Walker, Oakland Raiders
Vance Walker (6’2”, 305 lbs, five seasons) doesn’t stand out as a run defender, but he’s steady in his role. He typically holds his ground well against blocks at the line of scrimmage and can slide off blocks adequately to make tackles. He has solid movement skills and demonstrates that he can make plays all along the line of scrimmage and when chasing ball-carriers upfield.
Walker isn’t as aggressive a pass-rusher as he could be, but he has the pass-rushing moves to work his way through blockers at the line of scrimmage. He can quickly change directions with his feet and has effective swim and rip techniques. That said, he isn’t active enough with his hands, tends to be too upright as a rusher and doesn’t have much of a burst.
Walker played everywhere from nose tackle to defensive end in 2013, which bodes well for his transition to a 3-4 defense after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason. He isn’t much of an explosive playmaker but is a reliable role player capable of being a three-down starter with talent around him.
43. Mike Patterson, New York Giants
Mike Patterson (6’1”, 300 lbs, nine seasons) is fairly small for an NFL defensive tackle, but he has good functional strength and can hold his ground at the line of scrimmage. He also has good lateral movement skills and can get outside or across the line in pursuit to make plays. He doesn’t consistently overpower opponents or redirect runs, but he can make plays without leaving gaps exposed.
With zero sacks and just six total pressures this past season, Patterson made little impact as a pass-rusher. He lacks an explosive burst, doesn’t push with much power and is ineffective at beating blockers with his hands.
Patterson provided solid rotational depth for the New York Giants in his first season with the team, but he was only signed to a one-year deal. He will likely need to fight his way onto a roster in training camp this summer.
42. Brodrick Bunkley, New Orleans Saints
Brodrick Bunkley (6’2”, 306 lbs, eight seasons) is a solid run-stopper who slides off blocks well and is an effective tackler. In 3-4 defensive fronts, Bunkley looks overwhelmed at times as an undersized nose tackle. But despite getting pushed off the line, he shows an ability to recover and work his way back into plays. He is a sound tackler.
While Bunkley’s pass-rushing production fell in part due to his transition to nose tackle and a reduction in playing time, his two total pressures this past season are evidence of his minimal pass-rushing ability. He does little with his hands and lacks an explosive burst.
After a subpar season, Bunkley should be in serious jeopardy of losing his starting nose tackle job in 2014. He is a steady run-stopper but is undersized for a three-man front, and he is a liability in pass defense.
41. Sen'Derrick Marks, Jacksonville Jaguars
Sen’Derrick Marks (6’2”, 294 lbs, five seasons) has poor functional strength for a defensive tackle and gets pushed around too easily. He gets knocked backward or to the ground often with just a simple push and rarely holds his ground against double-team blocks. He makes some plays in the backfield with his quickness to penetrate gaps, but he is an easy target for opposing offenses to run at up the middle. He is also an inconsistent tackler who missed eight this past season.
Marks’ best asset is his first-step quickness, which he can use to explode off the line of scrimmage and beat blockers off the snap. He can work his way around blockers and split gaps between them, but he is a bit too reliant on his initial moves. He struggles to break free from blocks and has subpar balance moving forward. One of his strengths, however, is his ability to bat down passes; he led all NFL defensive tackles with seven passes defensed this past season.
An explosive 3-technique penetrator, Marks’ burst makes opposing offensive lines account for him. This can be good for the defenders around him but bad when he gets overwhelmed by double-teams against the run. On a Jacksonville Jaguars team that has added defensive line talent this offseason, Marks would be best suited for a situational role with less play against the run.
40. Kevin Vickerson, Denver Broncos
A massive defensive tackle who imposes his size well as a run defender, Kevin Vickerson (6’5”, 328 lbs, seven seasons) has great point-of-attack strength and is adept at holding his position in gaps and shutting plays down. He is not so adept at getting off blocks to make plays, but he often redirects them by keeping a potential running lane closed.
Not a particularly nimble athlete, Vickerson’s pass-rushing potential is limited. He can overpower opposing blockers with his bull rush but adds little else as a rusher. Lacking significant quickness and largely ineffective with his hands, Vickerson struggles to disengage from blocks.
Vickerson started the Denver Broncos’ first 11 games before his season came to an end with a dislocated hip. He is a big, strong nose tackle who holds up well at the line of scrimmage but isn’t a highly disruptive player.
39. Dwan Edwards, Carolina Panthers
Dwan Edwards (6’3”, 305 lbs, nine seasons) didn’t see much playing time against the run this past season and struggled to stop it when he was on the field. He has adequate size and strength for his position, but he struggles to get off blocks. He is too often driven away from running plays or knocked down to the ground, which can leave wide lanes open for opposing runners.
Edwards can quickly burst off the line of scrimmage and shoot through gaps to bring pressure. His pass-rushing moves aren’t great, but he is highly active with his hands and can fight his way around blockers. He plays with good leverage and can drive opponents into the backfield as a bull-rusher.
Edwards became a rotational player as the Carolina Panthers added talent at defensive tackle this past season, and that’s where he belongs. While he can still be an impact player in spurts as a penetrator, he has struggled for years as a point-of-attack run-stopper.
38. Corey Peters, Atlanta Falcons
Corey Peters (6’3”, 305 lbs, four seasons) broke out in 2013 for the best season of his career, especially in stopping the run. He is a strong, powerful run-stopper who holds his ground well at the line of scrimmage and can push opponents into the backfield. He sometimes gets turned away from plays when he allows blockers to engage him off the snap. But when he works himself off blocks, he has the athleticism to make plays all along the line of scrimmage and is a strong tackler.
Peters set a career high this past season with five sacks, but his per-snap pass-rushing production was among the lowest for NFL defensive tackles last season. He has solid quickness but doesn’t consistently attack in pass-rushing situations and has subpar balance. He has enough speed to stunt outside and rush around the edge, but he moves unnaturally as a rusher and has limited hand skills.
Before suffering a torn Achilles in Week 16, Peters was having a career year and was primed to land a significant contract on the free-agent market. Instead, he re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons on a one-year contract, where he will look to prove he can make a full recovery from his injury and back up his 2013 season with another strong campaign.
37. Steve McLendon, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steve McLendon (6’4”, 320 lbs, four seasons) isn’t one of the more physically dominating nose tackles in the NFL, but he holds his own as a run-stopper up the middle for the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line. He isn’t great with his hands and can be susceptible to being turned away from running plays by offensive linemen. But he doesn’t typically get driven off the line of scrimmage. He moves well both along the line and upfield and did not miss any tackles this past season.
McLendon, who failed to record a single sack in 2013, isn’t much of a pass-rusher. He can impose his size as a bull-rusher to generate a push up the middle, but he rarely gets around blockers. He doesn’t often win with athleticism or rush moves.
He’s no Casey Hampton, but McLendon has a game well-rounded enough to hold up as a run-stopping nose tackle in the middle of Pittsburgh’s three-man defensive front. That said, he will likely have to compete with free-agent addition Cam Thomas and perhaps a draft selection to retain the Steelers’ starting job in 2014.
36. Fred Evans, Minnesota Vikings
Fred Evans (6’4”, 305 lbs, eight seasons) can fire out of his stance to explode into opponents and generate power off the line of scrimmage. He isn’t great at working off blocks, however, and is a shaky tackler. He provides a solid presence at the line of scrimmage and drives blockers back more often than he gets pushed back himself, but he doesn’t make a great deal of plays.
With just three career sacks in eight seasons, Evans has never been much of a pass-rusher. He has good snap anticipation and quickness, but he has limited closing speed and isn’t particularly active or effective with his hands.
Evans has never been and likely will never be a big-impact player on an NFL defensive line, but he is going on his eighth season with the Minnesota Vikings as a reliable rotational defender, mostly as a run-stopper.
35. Sammie Lee Hill, Tennessee Titans
Sammie Lee Hill (6’4”, 328 lbs, five seasons) is a massive defensive tackle whose combination of size and quickness allows him to disrupt plays at the line of scrimmage and redirect run plays. He isn’t as powerful as one might expect a run defender of his size to be, but he can generate a good push when he gets a decent start off the snap.
In recording just six total pressures for the season, Hill didn’t have much of an impact as a pass-rusher in his first year with the Tennessee Titans. While he can quickly pop off the snap, he displays a lack of pass-rushing moves and doesn’t drive through blockers as a bull-rusher. He is skilled at leaping up and getting his hands on passes, however, recording four passes defensed this past season.
Hill’s first season with the Titans was largely unremarkable, but he has the physical tools to be great if he can learn to utilize them more effectively. He could project as either a nose tackle or 5-technique defensive end as Tennessee switches to a 3-4 base defense in 2014.
34. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons
Despite being relatively small for his position, Jonathan Babineaux (6’2”, 300 lbs, nine seasons) has impressive functional strength and doesn’t usually get pushed around at the line of scrimmage. His quickness, however, is what makes him an impact player. He is an explosive athlete who can shoot gaps into the backfield and make stops. He also has the ability to line up both inside and outside, and he can cover significant ground along the line of scrimmage. One big weakness is his tackling, however, as he led all NFL defensive tackles with 12 misses this past season.
Babineaux can beat blockers off the snap with his burst and has a solid set of pass-rushing moves, but he doesn’t bring much pressure when his initial attempts get blocked. He tends to rush straight at blockers and struggles to break them down with his hands. He's also a weak bull-rusher.
Babineaux’s window to continue being a consistent playmaker because of his quickness might be nearing its end, but the 32-year-old continued to be a productive every-down player for the Falcons, with whom he has played his whole career.
33. Bennie Logan, Philadelphia Eagles
Bennie Logan (6’2”, 309 lbs, one season) isn’t as big or powerful as the ideal NFL nose tackle, but he held his own after taking over that role as a Philadelphia Eagles starter halfway through his rookie season. He isn’t overpowering and is sometimes driven off the line of scrimmage, but he is a high-effort player who fights for position with his hands and has the athletic range to make plays all along the line of scrimmage.
With the foot skills to close in pursuit and the quickness to shoot gaps, Logan has the potential to be a highly disruptive interior pass-rusher. He doesn’t have the pass-rushing moves or power to frequently work his way around blocks, but he still managed two sacks and 15 pressures in just 165 snaps against the pass in 2013.
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga midseason and elevated Logan to the starting nose tackle role, they ended up with an upgrade. While Logan needs to add strength and improve his hand usage to excel at the position, he showed considerable promise in his rookie season.
32. Cullen Jenkins, New York Giants
A relatively small player for his position, Cullen Jenkins (6’2”, 305 lbs, 10 seasons) has limited strength for a defensive tackle and tends to get pushed around up the middle. Needing to win with leverage and/or his hands against bigger, stronger run-blockers, he doesn’t show he can consistently do so. He is also a very inconsistent tackler who had eight misses last season, but he moves well, which gives him a wide playmaking range.
Jenkins has terrific first-step quickness and a strong set of initial rush moves, including a quick spin move that can be devastating. When his initial move is blocked, however, he is largely ineffective and struggles to work around opponents. He has good closing speed when free as a rusher but does not have significant power to bull rush.
At his best as an interior penetrator and more specifically rushing the passer, Jenkins hasn’t shown any significant drop-off in his quickness. He should continue to make plays—even if his role becomes more situational—as long as he can continue to explode past blockers off the snap.
31. Michael Brockers, St. Louis Rams
An athletic yet massive nose tackle, Michael Brockers (6’5”, 326 lbs, two seasons) is a strong point-of-attack run defender who typically holds his ground against blocks. He also slides off blocks smoothly and has the lateral movement skills to make plays all along the line of scrimmage. He’s a bit inconsistent as a tackler, but he is a strong run defender whose game is still developing.
Brockers isn’t a consistent source of pressure, but he’s still a far better pass-rusher than the average 326-pound nose tackle. While many players of his size are only effective with a bull rush, Brockers has good first-step quickness, can work his way off blockers with his hands and has enough athleticism to stunt outside and rush around the edge. He has limited pass-rushing moves and doesn’t have as much power as one might expect, but he can capitalize upon his physical gifts.
Brockers’ game lacks consistency and is still in its developmental stages from a technical standpoint. But at just 23 years old, the Rams defensive tackle flashes the potential to develop into one of the league’s top players at his position.
30. Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings
He is not as strong of a run-stopper as he once was, but Kevin Williams (6’5”, 311 lbs, 11 seasons) continued to provide the Minnesota Vikings a solid interior defensive line presence this past season. He isn’t the most powerful defensive tackle, but Williams is good at fighting his way off blockers and sliding into position to make tackles.
One of the NFL’s most explosive interior pass-rushers in his prime, Williams’ quickness has waned in recent seasons, but the 33-year-old can still be disruptive up the middle. He gets controlled too easily by pass protection, even when he is isolated in one-on-one situations, but he is good at getting low to generate leverage and can fight his way through gaps with his hands.
Having missed just four games in 11 years, Williams has been a model of consistency on the Minnesota defensive line, but his career might be close to reaching its denouement. Once heralded as a perennial Pro Bowler and one half of the “Williams Wall,” he remains unsigned this offseason.
29. Phil Taylor, Cleveland Browns
Despite having the size of a typical gap-filling nose tackle, Phil Taylor (6’3”, 335 lbs, three seasons) is better at penetrating through gaps than he is at plugging holes shut. He has a good burst off the snap and uses his upper body well to swim and rip his way through blocks in the backfield. Taylor’s combination of size and athleticism gives him the potential to truly dominate as a run defender, but he is an inconsistent tackler who doesn’t often impose power on blockers.
Taylor can fight his way through defenders with his hands and strength and has closing speed in pursuit. But those traits haven’t translated to much on-field production for the Cleveland Browns defensive tackle. Taylor, who had just 11 total pressures in 2013, can still improve considerably as a pass-rusher if he can play with better leverage and transfer his weight into more power.
An underperformer to this point in his career, Taylor has exhibited the skills that lured the Cleveland Browns to select him in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, but he has been inconsistent despite flashes of brilliance. While he has excellent physical tools, his technical skills and effort leave a lot to be desired.
28. Sealver Siliga, New England Patriots
A stretch-run addition for the New England Patriots this past season, Sealver Siliga (6’2”, 325 lbs, two seasons) gave the Patriots what they lacked at the defensive tackle position: strength and power. A massive gap-plugger, Siliga was able to quickly step in and fill the team’s nose tackle role. He holds up well against power run blocking at the line of scrimmage and can turn the tables on blockers to drive them into the backfield and shut down runs.
Though he was impressively able to record three sacks in just five regular-season games, Siliga’s pass rush is limited mostly to his bull rush. He can generate a good push against blockers with his power, but he isn’t particularly quick and has limited hand skills.
When Siliga was elevated from the Patriots practice squad for the team’s final five games, he took advantage and proved to be the team’s best defensive tackle down the stretch. He’ll likely still have to compete for a roster spot in 2014, but he showed that he could be a candidate for significant playing time.
27. Tony McDaniel, Seattle Seahawks
In his first year with the Seattle Seahawks and as a full-time starter, Tony McDaniel (6’7”, 305 lbs, eight seasons) quietly emerged as a key member of the Super Bowl champions’ defense, especially against the run. A tall defensive tackle with good strength, McDaniel holds up well against double-teams at the line of scrimmage. He gets turned away from runs more often than he should, but he is good at working his way through traffic as a run defender. He tied for fourth among NFL defensive tackles with 30 run stops this past season.
Often substituted out of the game in passing situations, McDaniel doesn’t make much of an impact as a pass-rusher. He can use his hands to fight his way through blocks to bring pressure, but he has limited burst and power.
After starting his career with seven largely unmemorable seasons, McDaniel stepped up his game this past season and helped Seattle win a title. Re-signed by the Seahawks on a two-year deal this offseason, he should continue to be a key part of Seattle’s defensive front, especially against the run.
26. Kendall Langford, St. Louis Rams
The interior penetrator in the St. Louis Rams’ defensive front, Kendall Langford (6’6”, 313 lbs, six seasons) has the quickness to shoot gaps into the backfield and the movement skills to make plays all along the line of scrimmage. He supplements his athleticism with good strength and the ability to generate pushes that redirect runs.
Langford, who recorded a career-high five sacks this past season, has the burst and movement skills to generate pressure from both inside and outside. His pass-rushing moves are limited, but he can work his way off blocks with his hands and strength to break free and bring pressure.
He won’t typically dominate his opponents, but Langford more than holds his own on a talented defensive line with his combination of quickness, strength and technical skills.
25. Clinton McDonald, Seattle Seahawks
One of many playmakers on the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive line in their Super Bowl-winning season, Clinton McDonald (6’2”, 297 lbs, five seasons) made a good share of run stops by penetrating into the backfield with his quickness and tackling ability. That said, the undersized defensive tackle struggles to counter power run blocking and gets driven off the line or turned away from plays too easily.
In a breakout campaign this past season, McDonald recorded the first sacks of his career—5.5 of them, to be exact. He doesn’t have a great deal of pass-rushing moves, but he has a quick burst off the line of scrimmage and good closing speed. He is good at shooting gaps up the middle and can also rush around the edge by stunting outside.
Coming off the best season of his career as a key member of the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive line rotation, McDonald will play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 after signing a four-year contract this offseason.
24. C.J. Mosley, Detroit Lions
Though his playing time was significantly reduced in his first year with the Detroit Lions, C.J. Mosley (6’2”, 310 lbs, nine seasons) is a solid all-around run defender who can hold his position within gaps, but also moves his feet well enough along the line of scrimmage to make plays away from his starting point. While he isn’t a particularly frequent playmaker, he’s a sound tackler when he has an opportunity.
Mosley has never been much of a pass-rusher, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that he failed to record a single sack. He has enough quickness to occasionally shoot past a blocker off the line of scrimmage, but he lacks consistency with his pass-rushing moves and isn’t an overpowering bull-rusher.
Mosley doesn’t make many big plays from the middle, but with his strength and quickness, he provides solid rotational depth for a team that has two impactful playmakers starting in front of him.
23. Dan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
He didn’t see considerable playing time for the Arizona Cardinals this past season, but there’s a lot to like about Dan Williams (6’3”, 314 lbs, four seasons). He is a strong point-of-attack run-stopper who also has above-average lateral movement ability for a nose tackle and can make plays all along the line of scrimmage. Despite seeing just 131 snaps against the run this past season, Williams recorded 14 run stops.
Williams, who recorded the first sack of his NFL career this past season, doesn’t generate a consistent push, but he has the athleticism and hand skills to beat blockers into the backfield and pressure quarterbacks.
Relegated to a situational role on Arizona’s defense this past season, Williams also had to overcome tragedy when his father was killed in a car accident in September. Despite the adversity and limited repetitions, Williams was productive when he was on the field, making a case for increased playing time going into his contract year in 2014.
22. Linval Joseph, New York Giants
Linval Joseph (6’4”, 323 lbs, four seasons) is a big nose tackle who utilizes his size and strength to hold his ground at the line of scrimmage but is also relatively light on his feet for his size. He can effectively fight off blocks, including double-teams, and is a sound tackler who can also move along the line of scrimmage and make plays away from his starting point.
Joseph doesn’t have the burst or moves of a natural pass-rusher, but he can find his way to the quarterback occasionally. He has the strength to bull rush and the dexterity to find rush lanes and run through them when they open up.
A strong starter in the middle of the New York Giants defensive line for the past three seasons, Joseph is now set to replace Kevin Williams with the Minnesota Vikings after signing a five-year contract this offseason. An athletic player with great size and ability who is still just 25 years old, he has the upside to make their investment pay off.
21. Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
It didn’t take long for Star Lotulelei (6’2”, 315 lbs, one season) to establish himself as one of the NFL’s best run-stoppers. With exceptional strength, Lotulelei consistently shuts down his gap at the line of scrimmage and can often push an opponent back into the backfield. He is also an effective penetrator thanks to his terrific burst off the snap. Lotulelei consistently redirects runs away from him and is a strong, authoritative tackler.
The same physical attributes that make Lotulelei a star against the run could also make him a fantastic pass-rusher, but he needs to develop better pass-rushing moves with his hands. He is most effective with his bull rush, as he can drive blockers back with his power. Although his penetrating quickness is impressive, he does not have great pursuit speed. For him to be a more impactful pass-rusher, the most important step will be to develop techniques he can use to work his way off and around blockers.
The Carolina Panthers defense emerged as one of the NFL’s best in 2013, and Lotulelei’s immediate impact, especially against the run, was a big reason why. The 24-year-old, who plays both defensive tackle spots, could be ranked in the top 10 next year if he develops his technique and continues to dominate against the run.
A strong starter in the middle of the defensive line for the past three seasons, Joseph is now set to replace Kevin Williams with the Minnesota Vikings after signing a five-year contract this offseason. An athletic player with great size and ability who is still just 25 years old, he has the upside to make their investment pay off.
20. Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco 49ers
Glenn Dorsey (6’1”, 297 lbs, six seasons) is smaller than the prototypical NFL nose tackle, but his first season playing the position in the San Francisco 49ers’ 3-4 defense went well, especially as a run-stopper. Dorsey exhibits the strength to hold his ground up the middle, even against double-teams and bigger blockers, while he can use his hands and quickness to slide off blocks and make stops. A strong tackler, Dorsey recorded a stop on 10.4 percent of his snaps against the run this past season, the fifth most among DTs who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps.
Despite having more quickness than most nose tackles, Dorsey hasn’t been much of a pass-rushing threat at any point in his career, with just six sacks in six years. He doesn’t generate enough power to be a destructive bull-rusher, and his pass-rushing moves are ineffective. He recorded just six total pressures this past season.
Dorsey never emerged as the player the Kansas City Chiefs expected him to be when they selected him No. 5 overall in the 2008 NFL draft, but his move to nose tackle in San Francisco led to the best season of his career in 2013.
19. Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins
A massive interior defensive lineman with brute strength, Paul Soliai (6’4”, 340 lbs, seven seasons) fits the criteria of a prototypical NFL run-stopping nose tackle. He consistently holds his ground at the line of scrimmage, including against double-teams. Running straight at him is typically a futile exercise, and he can make plays on runs away from him with impressive movement skills and his ability to work through traffic.
Often rotated out of the lineup in expected passing situations, Soliai has just four career sacks. He has no significant burst and won’t break down blocks with pass-rushing moves, but he is a strong bull-rusher who can win with power. He is most effective as a pass defender when he frees up his teammates by occupying double-team blocks, rather than actually bringing pressure himself.
Soliai doesn’t make many highlight plays, but he does sustain his ground against double-teams and clog running lanes. Signed to a five-year contract this offseason by the Atlanta Falcons, he should be a vital cog in the middle of a hybrid defense that uses both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts.
18. Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions
A tremendous athlete at his position, Nick Fairley (6’4”, 298 lbs, three seasons) has great playmaking range for a defensive tackle and makes many of his plays against the run by exploding to the football. He can use his quickness to shoot gaps up the middle and make stops in the backfield, while he is also good at working outside and along the line of scrimmage to make tackles in pursuit. He is a bit too reliant on his athleticism as a run defender, however, and is often taken out of a play once a blocker gets his hands on him.
Fairley’s combination of athleticism and strength makes him a tough matchup for pass blockers. He has impressive first-step quickness, can close fast upon acceleration and is a nimble mover who is able to bring pressure around the edge. Also a strong bull-rusher who is very good at establishing leverage, Fairley has 11.5 sacks over the past two seasons. If he can develop his hand skills, he could be even more effective.
Issues off the field and inconsistency on it have marred Fairley’s first three years with the Lions, but when he is on his game, he is one of the NFL’s best interior penetrators. Truly explosive for his position, the 2011 first-round pick has the potential to continue to improve.
17. Karl Klug, Tennessee Titans
An undersized defensive tackle, Karl Klug (6’3”, 278 lbs, three seasons) didn’t play much against the run this past season, and he tends to get taken advantage of when he is on the field as a run defender. He can be driven off the line of scrimmage easier than bigger defensive tackles and doesn’t have the strength to counter that. He can shoot gaps into the backfield to make plays and is a solid tackler when he has a shot to make plays. But he isn’t a strong presence against power runs.
Active and strong with his hands, Klug has strong pass-rushing moves and enough supplementary quickness to be dangerous as an interior pass-rusher. He isn’t spectacularly explosive, but he anticipates snaps well and attacks with his upper body immediately. He doesn’t have the power to be an effective bull-rusher, but he can fight his way through blockers with his hand skills. He does have a tendency to lean too far forward and sometimes loses his balance off the snap as a result.
Klug was utilized mostly as a situational pass-rusher this past season, and he excelled in that role. With good foot skills for an interior defensive lineman but a lack of size and strength, he might never be a strong three-down player, but he should be able to play situationally as a defensive end if the Tennessee Titans switch to a 3-4 base defense in 2014.
16. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
Moved inside to play nose tackle primarily this past season, Haloti Ngata (6’4”, 340 lbs, eight seasons) continued to dominate as a run defender. His quickness is still an asset in the middle, while he can consistently impose his size and strength to occupy blocks and shut down running lanes. He moves well along the line of scrimmage and is a strong tackler.
Ngata’s playing time in pass-rushing situations, and consequently his production as a pass defender, dipped in 2013. He didn’t look as explosive as he had in previous seasons, but he also wasn’t put in many situations to penetrate gaps. He is a strong bull-rusher who can often overpower his opponents in one-on-one situations, but he doesn’t do much with his hands to disengage from blocks.
Ngata is a versatile player who does many things well, which gives the Ravens options on where to play him and how to utilize him. But at 30 years old and with his size, keeping him at nose tackle looks like a natural fit. He has a strong presence up the middle, especially against the run, and can consistently make the players around him better by drawing double-teams.
15. Pat Sims, Oakland Raiders
Pat Sims (6’2”, 310 lbs, six seasons) is a strong, powerful run defender who consistently holds his ground against blocks at the line of scrimmage. He can overpower opponents to push them into the backfield and redirect runs, while he is a very strong tackler when he gets off blocks. He isn’t a terrific athlete but moves well enough to make plays away from his starting point.
Combining his quick burst with his ability to quickly generate power, Sims is a strong bull-rusher who can drive blockers back to the quarterback. He wasn’t used consistently as a pass-rusher by the Oakland Raiders this past season, and he isn’t very active or effective with his hands, but he can take advantage of his physical traits to bring some interior pressure when he is in the game.
After signing a one-year deal with the Raiders, Sims took advantage of his opportunity by starting all 16 games and putting together the most productive season of his career. He was re-signed by the Raiders last week.
14. Malik Jackson, Denver Broncos
Playing both defensive tackle and end in 2013, Malik Jackson (6’5”, 293 lbs, two seasons) moved actively along the Broncos defensive line and was often around the football as a run defender. An athletic lineman, Jackson can get from Point A to Point B quickly, regardless of whether he is pursuing a run outside or crashing in toward the middle. He doesn’t overpower many opponents, but he exhibits plenty of functional strength, both holding lanes inside and setting the edge outside.
Combining strong hands with speed and acceleration, Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher from both inside and outside. He doesn’t have an exceptional first step, but he's fast in pursuit and adept at stunting. He has good length and uses his arms to fight his way through blocks and pressure the quarterback.
One of many unsung players who stepped up in a big way for the Denver Broncos defense in their AFC championship run, Jackson’s versatility and ability to impact the game on all three downs make him a highly valuable member of the defensive line. At just 24 years old and with his ability to make plays both inside and outside, Jackson’s future looks bright.
13. Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
As the Dallas Cowboys moved to a 4-3 defensive front in 2013, Jason Hatcher (6’6”, 299 lbs, eight seasons) became a defensive tackle and got pushed around sometimes as a run defender. He is a terrific penetrator who can shoot gaps into the backfield, and he has the speed to track down runners outside in pursuit. But he consistently gets swallowed up by double-team blocks. Leaner than most NFL defensive tackles, Hatcher gets driven off the line of scrimmage too easily and struggles in matchups against power-rushing offenses.
Hatcher thrived as an interior pass-rusher in Dallas’ new defensive scheme, recording 11 sacks in 2013 after totaling just 16 combined quarterback takedowns in the first seven years of his career. Hatcher’s athleticism is his biggest weapon. He consistently gets quick jumps off the snap and can accelerate in a hurry. He can rapidly burst through gaps in the offensive line and excels at stunting with speed around the outside of the offensive line. He isn’t explosive with his hands and tends to be too linear in his rush angles. But that hasn’t stopped him from emerging as one of the NFL’s top interior line pass-rushers.
Hatcher has been a late bloomer, only emerging as a standout defensive lineman in his past couple of seasons. That didn’t stop the 31-year-old from earning a four-year contract this offseason with the Washington Redskins. As he returns to the 3-4 defensive scheme, Hatcher will move back to DE, which should be good for him as a run defender but might not be optimal for him as a pass-rusher.
12. Damon Harrison, New York Jets
Damon Harrison (6’4”, 350 lbs, two seasons) emerged as the NFL’s quintessential run-stopping nose tackle in 2013. The massive man in the middle can dominate opponents with his size and strength, but he also moves well laterally considering his size. He is quick to anticipate which direction a run play will go, then can direct blockers in the way of runs rather than allowing them to push him away. He led the NFL with 36 run stops in just 272 snaps against the run in 2013.
Despite his excellence against the run, Harrison is typically removed from the game in situations in which the opposing offense is expected to throw, and that’s because he makes minimal impact as a pass-rusher. He rarely goes forward off the snap, and when he does, he exhibits poor balance. He occasionally wins with his bull rush, but he has no consistently effective pass-rushing moves.
“Big Snacks” might always be limited to base and run-stopping defensive packages due to his lack of ability as a pass defender, but his ability to stop the run makes him an ideal fit as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive front.
11. Jared Odrick, Miami Dolphins
A quick penetrator, Jared Odrick (6’5”, 302 lbs, four seasons) is adept at getting into the backfield quickly and making plays. He is a strong tackler. With good feet and great length, he can be moved outside to defensive end in some packages and make plays on the edge. Relatively lean for an interior defensive lineman, he has some issues playing with power and can be driven off the line of scrimmage away from runs.
With a great burst off the line of scrimmage and good initial pass-rush moves—especially his swim move—Odrick is a dangerous interior pass-rusher. He is overly reliant on his quickness off the snap, as he struggles to break free from blocks once he is engaged. Still, his ability to shoot gaps allows him to bring frequent pressure from inside, while he also has the athleticism to stunt outside and bring pressure around the edge.
After a disappointing 2012 season as a defensive end, the Miami Dolphins realized Odrick was better suited to playing inside, and he emerged with his best career season in 2013. A key member of Miami’s defensive line rotation but often off the bench this past season, Odrick should have a chance to compete for a starting job with Earl Mitchell in 2014.
10. Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
Second-round draft pick Kawann Short (6’3”, 310 lbs, first season) wasn’t as hyped as rookie classmate Star Lotulelei, but his production and impact were eye-opening in 2013. As the season wore on, Short became more comfortable with his assignment and started allowing his tools to take over. He’s strong in his legs and rear, and he's able to sit on blockers to hold rushing lanes closed. He’ll also get into the backfield and pursue on plays away from center.
Short has a quick first step, and while it’s not elite, it was quick enough to catch interior blockers off guard. Combination blocks and chips were a problem for him early, but by season’s end he was handling both one-on-one blocks and chips with smart hand use. He also effectively used a stutter step in pass-rushing sets that allowed him to set up moves in space.
Rookies rarely have the type of balance to their game that Short showed us in 2013. He’s able to play any of the defensive tackle techniques and is an equal factor against the run and pass.
9. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
The prototypical 3-technique defensive tackle, Geno Atkins (6’1”, 303 lbs, four seasons) excels at getting into the backfield and stopping the ball. He doesn’t possess the size to be a gap-plugger or great anchor, but Atkins’ lower body strength is high-level. He’s the type of defensive lineman who makes plays in the backfield and in pursuit.
This is where Atkins makes his money. He’s super fast off the ball and is able to slip by blockers with a combination of speed, agility and leverage. Atkins’ low center of gravity allows him to get underneath blockers and win the leverage battle if needed. But he wins on the majority of plays with his quickness and ability to shoot gaps.
An injury-shortened season keeps Atkins lower on the list because we evaluated fewer of his games. When healthy, he looked as elite as ever, but he wasn’t able to overcome a few average games with a smaller sample size.
8. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans
Jurrell Casey (6’1”, 305 lbs, three seasons) may not look like a big, physical beast, but he is. His play shows that. He’s quick off the ball and is able to get a jump on the line. That puts him in the backfield before blockers know what to do. That can work against him, though, as offenses will come underneath and catch him off-guard. When the play calls for penetration of the offensive line, Casey excels. He’s a smaller nose tackle than most, but his quickness and athleticism set him apart.
Casey is incredible at penetrating the line and creating havoc. He’s naturally low to the ground and has the killer burst off the ball to beat blockers out of their stance. He’ll turn a guard or center with his speed and uses his arms to rip or swim if the blocker does get a hand on him. Casey’s best attribute is his shoulder and hand combination, as he uses them to get under or through blockers without getting caught up at the line.
Casey will be Ray Horton’s new best friend, as the Titans’ defensive coordinator will love the versatility of his pass-rushing tackle.
7. Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs
A massive athlete with incredible movement skills, Dontari Poe (6’3”, 346 lbs, two seasons) can flat-out dominate the offensive line. Poe has otherwordly strength and can anchor the line and keep blockers from getting to the second level, but he’ll also shed those same blockers to make a play on the ball-carrier. He can lose his legs at times and has to churn better through traffic.
Playing as a 0-technique, Poe is often matched up head-to-head with a center. That creates a harder job for him as a pass-rusher. When Poe gets the jump on the snap, he’s unstoppable and displays jaw-dropping quickness for a man his size. Poe has to learn to play better through chips and combination blocks, but we started to see that progression at times in 2013. Keeping his weight low and balanced is a huge key for his development.
Poe is among the most athletic nose tackles in the game, and in a one-gaping system, he flourished in 2013. Poe’s needle is pointing way up.
6. Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins
Randy Starks (6’3”, 305 lbs, 10 seasons) displays high-level intelligence, awareness and a combination of strength and quickness against the run. He doesn’t get fooled by misdirection and is agile enough to get into the backfield to give chase. At the point of attack, he can get pushed off his spot, but when Starks plays with leverage he can be impossible to move.
With a quick first step and smart hand use, Starks is able to split blockers and make plays in the backfield. He’s also strong enough to generate a push off the ball and get linemen moving backward. His speed isn’t elite, but he’ll get players on their heels. Starks can struggle to shed blockers if he gives up his leverage—and that did show up at times—but he has a proven ability to collapse.
One of the more balanced defensive tackles in the game, Starks is able to stop the run as a gap-penetrating force and affect the pocket as a pass-rusher. He’s valuable. That’s why the Dolphins re-signed him this offseason.
5. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Few defensive tackles have the natural gifts that Ndamukong Suh (6’4”, 307 lbs, four seasons) can boast. How he uses those, though, is the question. While Suh has improved as a run defender, too often he explodes off the line of scrimmage and looks to attack the quarterback while missing the running back. Suh can make incredible plays in the backfield, though, because he’s able to get through the line so quickly. In pursuit he’s unstoppable and fast enough to chase down ball-carriers.
Suh is the master of first-step burst and has the ability to beat blockers with speed. He’s among the most athletic defensive tackles in the game. He also has the raw strength and quickness to win with power rushes or with speed moves. If you need him to get through a gap, Suh does it by being faster than blockers. He creates panic in offensive linemen because of his speed. The downside is that he can play recklessly and take himself out of the play by going out of his way to get to the quarterback.
In any given year, Suh could be the top-ranked defensive tackle or outside the top 10. His physical abilities are off the charts, but his discipline and consistency can move up and down. In 2013, we saw the dominant Suh.
4. Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks love versatility on the defensive line, and having Brandon Mebane (6’1”, 311 lbs, seven seasons) allowed them to move many players around him while maintaining a consistent force in the middle. With a big enough body and naturally low leverage, Mebane is able to make plays by cutting through gaps or standing-up blockers and pushing them off the ball. What you won’t see is Mebane getting pushed back, as he anchors when engaged by a blocker. With power, leverage, great arm-locking technique and high-level awareness, Mebane is one of the best run-defending tackles we saw.
Mebane didn’t record a sack in 2013, but his ability to generate pressures and hurries was impressive. Again, we’re looking at the results on film and not only relying on stats, and Mebane stood out for his ability to flush the pocket. As part of the Seahawks’ defensive line rotation, Mebane’s consistent play allowed them to create great matchups and alignments, but he also excelled on individual talent. His quick first step allows him to get the jump on blockers. He’s doesn’t have elite speed and sustained quickness, but he is good enough to beat interior linemen.
Mebane could be considered a situational defender given the way Seattle rotates its linemen, but when he’s on the field his impact and production were high-level.
3. Terrance Knighton, Denver Broncos
Terrance Knighton (6’3”, 335 lbs, five seasons) has the size and strength to shut down rushing lanes as a one- or two-gap defender. His strength when engaged by blockers is top tier, and he’s able to shed and get to the backfield to trap ball-carriers. Knighton is also adept at simply holding his ground and preventing blockers or backs from getting through the line.
The man they call "Pot Roast" can struggle to generate push off the line if he comes out of his stance high—which is something you’ll see on film. When given the chance to push and use power, Knighton can dominate. He is agile in short areas and can beat blockers if given room to operate with a stutter step and smart hand use. He’s more agile than you’d think but doesn’t show great chase ability.
You can’t measure Knighton’s impact in 2013 with just stats. His ability to crash the backfield opened up opportunities for the entire Denver defensive line and gave the team a pass rush with Von Miller out of the lineup.
2. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
As the nose tackle in Buffalo’s versatile scheme, Marcell Dareus (6’3”, 331 lbs, three seasons) was asked to do many things in Mike Pettine’s defense. He excelled at them all. Against the run, he holds point as the anchor, and he’s quick enough to be a one- or two-gap tackle. He’s strong, stout and big enough to dominate the point of attack. You’d like to see Dareus make a few more plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he was one of the best nose tackles against the run.
Dareus uses his hands well to break free from blockers and then attack. That’s a valuable asset as the Bills move him around depending on the down and distance their defense is facing. He may be over the center or in a 3-technique, but he shows good burst and vision at either spot. Dareus blows off the ball and isn’t afraid to slam into a blocker to create pressure or penetration. He doesn’t have great moves in space, but he is a tough man to handle in close quarters.
Dareus’ versatility is a major boost to the Buffalo defense. It allowed the entire unit to perform well above expectations in 2013. He’s a young player on the rise.
1. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gerald McCoy (6’4”, 300 lbs, four seasons) emerged in 2013 as the NFL’s best defensive tackle. When playing the run, he shows quickness off the snap and the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s aware and fast, but not overly stout at the point of attack. The way to counter McCoy is to put an angle block on him off the snap and then chip with a guard or center. If you’re able to contain his first step, you can win. That’s easier said than done, though.
The first step McCoy shows in the run game is also his best asset in the passing game. He’s incredibly quick, fluid and smart in his explosion at the snap. He plays low for his size and has the ability to get underneath the hands of a blocker. When asked to shoot a gap, McCoy can win with speed or hand use—or a combination of both. He’s fast enough to close in on the quarterback in space and has relentless pursuit skills.
McCoy is the ideal 3-technique defensive tackle. His quickness, agility and awareness make him nearly unstoppable as a pass-rusher.