The Top Five: Best 4-3 Defensive Tackles in the NFL

Bob Cunningham@BCunningham215Senior Analyst IJune 30, 2009

ASHBURN, VA - MAY 1:  Albert Haynesworth #92 of the Washington Redskins runs through drills during minicamp on May 1, 2009 at Redskins Park in Ashurn, Virginia.   (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

In any defense, the tackles may be the most important part.

They are the first line, and they're the tone-setters. Their play can determine the difficulty or ease of the linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties behind them.

If the line is playing well and keep the linebackers clean, odds are that team will be fairly successful. If they're not, their respective team is looking at a very long day.

They're the biggest guys on the field and their only intention is to make sure that the other big guys across from them don't move them. They growl, they snot, and they snarl just to defend that six inches of ground.

The trenches. It's the reason why we love football and what makes it such a man's man of a sport. Giving up or keeping that six inches can be the difference between a win and a loss.

These are the guys who do it best.

5. Mike Patterson  (Philadelphia Eagles)

54 games started, 9.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 1 TD, 154 tackles

Patterson has been solid since his first days in the NFL, but over the last two seasons he has really began to separate himself as one of the better tackles in all of football.

He's grown into a brick wall. He's not tall, and not all that big at only 5'11 and barely breaking 300 pounds, but he understands that leverage is all that counts when you're a lineman, and he uses it better than most.

His shorter stature seems to help with this, as it's much easier for a guy at 5'11 to get lower than a guy at around 6'4.

Look for Patterson in the Pro Bowl this year, and several times in seasons following. If this list is put together again in a few years, he may find himself much higher.

4. Marcus Stroud  (Buffalo Bills)

100 games started, 24.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 245 tackles, *3-time Pro Bowler

Stroud is an absolutely dominating force.

He's highly underrated because of the small markets he's played in (Jacksonville and Buffalo), but make no mistake there is not a single offensive coordinator in the league who doesn't gamplan for a way around Marcus Stroud.

Even without the deserved media coverage, Stroud has still found his way to three Pro Bowls. One more than his former teammate, John Henderson.

Stroud is always going to command a double-team, and will make his teammates better because of it.

3. Tommie Harris  (Chicago Bears)

69 games started, 24.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 143 tackles, *three-time Pro Bowler

Tommie Harris may be the quickest man playing defensive tackle.

Unlike Patterson, Harris is much more of a pass-rush specialist. While he certainly doesn't seem to lack against the run, his forte is getting pressure on the quarterback and creating havoc in the backfield.

Barring injuries, Harris may be considered the best tackle in all of football, regardless of the scheme. Unfortunately for Harris and the Bears, he has been injured throughout his career and unable to reach his full potential.

Even while he may not ever get to that point, he is still a force to be reckoned with and should be recognized as one of the most complete tackles playing the game today.

2. Albert Haynesworth  (Washington Redskins)

74 games started, 24 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 200 tackles, *two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Albert Haynesworth. He seems to only be motivated by the money and the glory of playing professional football. I may be wrong, but the fact that he has only produced in contract years does nothing to temper the criticism.

As far as on-the-field goes, no one has been better than Haynesworth the past two years. He has been a disrupting force anywhere along the line. While he's mainly a tackle, he has moved out to defensive end on occasion with great success.

He is a beast of a human being and is able to beat nearly any offensive lineman that the league can throw at him. Again, the only problem is that he has only produced in contract years.

If we throw out the past two seasons (both contract years), Haynesworth has a mere 9.5 sacks. He also has never finished out an entire season. This, in my mind, does not entitle him to the $100 million contract he received. He has his money, now will he be motivated to perform?

1. Kevin Williams  (Minnesota Vikings)

94 games started, 42.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 forced fumbles, 4 TDs, 223 tackles, *four-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro

Kevin Williams is without question the very best defensive tackle in the entire NFL.

He is incredibly reliable (having missed only two games in his career), and can rush the passer as well as stuff the run.

He's an absolute wrecking ball on the line. Moving him is a nightmare for any offensive line. He consistently must be double-teamed if he is going to be taken out of a game, and even then he usually dominates.

His rare mix of being able to get to the quarterback and hold his own on the line is something the NFL hasn't seen since back when Reggie White graced the football field with his presence.

The four career interceptions, two of which he's returned for touchdowns, shows the rare athleticism he possesses for a man his size. He also has scooped up two fumbles for touchdowns.

Williams is a talent that only comes along once a generation. He's a man who's extremely under appreciated because of the position he plays, but should get serious Hall of Fame looks if his career holds up the way it is.

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