B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 40 Defensive Tackles from 2015

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 7, 2016

B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 40 Defensive Tackles from 2015

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Now that we've reached the end of the 2015 NFL season, who was the best defensive tackle in the game? We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly, the best? Forget reputation and how much money each player makes. We want the sort of cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players. 

    That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year. 

    The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading based on key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a best possible score of 100.

    Potential is not taken into consideration. Neither are career accomplishments.

    Defensive tackles are judged on pass rush (55 points), run defense (35) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (nine points). The maximum score for this position is 99.

    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 a team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Duke Manyweather, Matt Miller and Marshal Miller) with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team. 

    All statistics from Pro Football Focus. Players' heights, weights and seasons played from NFL.com.

40. John Jenkins, New Orleans Saints

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    David Seelig/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    35/55

    A third-year player from Georgia, John Jenkins' mammoth size (6’3”, 359 lbs) keeps him from working in space on passing downs. For this reason, the Saints asked Jenkins to merely take up space and keep blockers off Cameron Jordan. For his part, Jenkins added a half-sack and eight quarterback hurries. The big hole in his game to help much in the pass game is a lack of quickness and closing speed. He can bull-rush and anchor, but he doesn’t slip blocks or shoot gaps well enough to consistently pressure quarterbacks.

    Run Defense

    25/35

    With his size, length and power, Jenkins is built like a nose tackle and is best suited to line up over the center or in a shade technique there. If asked to collapse the center or keep a guard from pulling, Jenkins excels. He’s an assignment-smart football player. Where he lacks is in getting down the line to find the ball. Jenkins’ best season as a pro was in 2015, and new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen got production from him down the stretch last year, but his lack of speed shows up big on tape.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

39. Michael B. Bennett, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    38/55

    The other Michael Bennett, this sixth-round pick out of Ohio State, looks like he’ll stick around the NFL for a bit. Bennett, who is an ideal 3-technique pass-rusher at 6’2” and 303 pounds, has a quick first step and good awareness to find the quarterback. Where he struggles is in having the power to work through the hands of blockers. If double-teamed, he can be shut down and pushed off the ball. With just a half-sack in his first season, Bennett’s production wasn’t much to write home about, but his on-field play is encouraging.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    Against the run, Bennett simply has to be stronger. He was put on skates when double-teamed in the middle of the line and lost his leverage and base when a lineman got his hands inside his pads. Bennett’s quickness could become a strength, but until he learns to shed blockers, he won't stay on the field in crucial run situations.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

38. Tyson Alualu, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    39/55

    A 6’3”, 310-pound defensive tackle from California, Tyson Alualu hasn’t quite lived up to the No. 10 overall pick the Jacksonville Jaguars used on him in the 2010 NFL draft, but he’s still with the team after six seasons. Alualu’s pressures in 2015 were impressive—18, the most since his rookie season—but he added just two sacks and eight quarterback hits while playing almost 60 percent of the team’s snaps.

    Run Defense

    21/35

    As has been the case in every edition of the NFL 1000, Alualu gets docked for being too easily moved around in the run game. With just 18 solo tackles and five missed tackles, he doesn’t have the impact on first and second down to justify a higher ranking. Alualu has quickness, length and solid power play, but he has yet to put them all together to complete his game.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

37. Ahtyba Rubin, Seattle Seahawks

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    39/55

    In his eighth NFL season, Ahtyba Rubin made 16 starts for the Seattle Seahawks as the team’s primary run defender on the defensive line. With that in mind, he still saw action on nearly 50 percent of the team’s snaps.

    Rubin didn't bring a ton of production—just two sacks all season—but he did occupy blockers and space to open rushing lanes for Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin and Co. That’s where his value is, and while it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet (can we make assists a thing?), he does have an impact on the field.

    Run Defense

    21/35

    There were stretches in the 2015 season when Rubin was tough to move in the run game—most notably in the playoffs and the Week 2 game against Green Bay. When he’s on his game, Rubin uses his length well to stack up blockers, which leads to tackles.

    There were times, though, especially in the middle of the year, when he struggled to get off blocks and too often played high in his pads. That lack of leverage cost him precious footing and led to stretches of poor play.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

36. Cullen Jenkins, New York Giants

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    43/55

    Cullen Jenkins still has the quickness to make an impact in the passing game as he enters his 13th NFL season. The 6’2”, 305-pounder can play any of the defensive tackle alignments and shows positive first-step ability off the ball. In 16 appearances and 13 starts in 2015, Jenkins logged just three sacks, though. His game still shows burst and flexibility, but in limited stretches more and more.

    Run Defense

    17/35

    Jenkins had a positive impact in the passing game, but when asked to stop the run, he got used and abused. The first step that makes him a solid pass-rusher makes him a liability in the run game, as teams use that against him to get his body turned and kicked out of the lane. Jenkins has never been stout at the point of attack, but he’s no longer making splash plays against the run in the backfield to even that out.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

35. Earl Mitchell, Miami Dolphins

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    Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    45/55

    At 6’3” and 310 pounds, Earl Mitchell has the ideal size for a 1-technique defensive tackle lining up next to Ndamukong Suh, and his quickness heading into 2015 was seen as a strength. With the defense breaking down systematically across the board in Miami, Mitchell also failed to make an impact, accumulating just three quarterback hits and no sacks on his stat sheet. An aggressive, gap-shooting scheme fits his athletic profile, but it wasn’t a fit for Mitchell’s game in 2015.

    Run Defense

    15/35

    Mitchell made his name in the NFL as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, and based on his production and impact in 2015 playing in Miami’s 4-3 scheme, he misses that style of defense. Mitchell, who played on a defensive line with three high-caliber defenders who draw the attention of offensive coordinators, failed to get the push in one-one-one situations to move the line of scrimmage. With just 15 solo tackles on the year, Mitchell went weeks with minimal impact on the field.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    69/99

34. Tony McDaniel, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    39/55

    A big body (6’7”, 305 lbs) from Tennessee, Tony McDaniel’s first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t produce much in the pass-rushing department, as he logged just one sack in 14 games and three starts. McDaniel’s size means it’s hard to win with leverage, and he doesn’t have the quickness to work in space off the body of a guard or center. And while his length is a big factor in his impact on the game, McDaniel’s flexibility regressed in his 10th year in the NFL.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    Playing primarily as a run defender in the Buccaneers’ defensive packages, McDaniel is able to use his size to contain rushing lanes and collapse the line of scrimmage. He’s a big body who gets in the way but did little more to run down ball-carriers or influence the game. McDaniel no longer has the quickness to shoot gaps and make plays on the ball at a consistent level.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    70/99

33. Corbin Bryant, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/55

    In 2015, Corbin Bryant made his largest contribution in an NFL season, playing over 50 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps at both left and right defensive tackle. Though he had no sacks, he made an impact on the passing game with his hits on the passer (six) and quarterback hurries (20).

    Bryant, much like the entire Buffalo defense, struggled at getting home to the quarterback, but he did plenty to rattle them. With his exceptional length and solid get-off, Bryant is scheme-versatile enough to play end or tackle and can be more than a two-down player.

    Run Defense

    25/35

    The run game is where Bryant looks like he would be more of an impact player given his size (6’4”, 300 lbs), but he struggled to stack blockers in his 10 starts and too often gave up ground to interior offensive linemen shooting off the ball. Given that this was his first extended action as a starter, Bryant looked to be struggling more with the speed of the game than any type of physical limitation.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    71/99

32. Jay Bromley, New York Giants

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    40/55

    As more of a run defender than pass-rusher, Jay Bromley plays less than half of the New York Giants’ snaps, which helps explain why he failed to log a sack in his second NFL season. As a pressure player, Bromley did add 11 quarterback hurries and help set the table for his teammates on the edge, but he largely failed to make an impact. Bromley may be more at home in a 3-4 defense, where he can use his length and quickness better in one-on-one situations head-up on an offensive tackle as opposed to being asked to split blockers in the middle of the line.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    Big and long, Bromley has the body type to be an ideal run-stuffer. Outside of his body type, though, he fails to make an impact on the tape. Bromley plays straight up-and-down out of the snap and too often allows himself to get washed down by moving blockers on the offensive line. The former Syracuse defensive tackle has the athleticism to flash here, but his inconsistency is a major hold-up.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    71/99

31. Abry Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/55

    As a rotating defensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, Abry Jones logged just two sacks while playing roughly 33 percent of the team’s snaps on defense. While sacks aren’t the only measure of pass-rushing impact, Jones also struggled to produce in hurries (four) and hits (one) on the quarterback. That’s a step back from his 2014 production of three sacks.

    Jones has a strong body but lacks the explosion to quickly get into gaps and put pressure on the backfield. Until he can develop a countermove to his bull rush, he figures to be limited as a rusher.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    Jones’ 6’4”, 320-pound frame is ideal for a gap-clogging run-stuffer, but a lack of instincts and quickness plagued his 2015 game tape. Jones is too often late off the ball, which allows blockers to get leverage underneath his pads. Once he loses that battle, he’s lost the war at trying to contain the run.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    71/99

30. Jordan Hill, Seattle Seahawks

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    39/55

    Slowed by a few injuries, Jordan Hill wasn’t able to make as much of an impact as he did a season ago. Hill is a shorter defensive tackle who is able to play with leverage and use his powerful lower body to drive back offensive linemen. Hill didn’t manage to record a sack this past season but was able to hurry the quarterback 19 times.

    Run Defense

    24/35

    Hill plays low to the ground, which helps him excel at moving laterally, and his short-area quickness is near the upper half of the league. When he digs his feet in and sets anchor, it is difficult for offensive linemen to move him off his spot. He doesn’t have the straight-line speed to to blow past guards and make plays in the backfield on a consistent basis.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    72/99

29. Akeem Spence, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    44/55

    It was an injury-plagued season for Akeem Spence in 2015. He started the year on the physically unable to perform list and finished it on injured reserve. Spence ended up playing in only eight games and recorded just one sack but was able to cause 11 quarterback hurries. When healthy, he is a better-than-average pass-rusher who is best at going against offensive linemen with his powerful punch and bull rush.

    Run Defense

    19/35

    Spence is an improved tackler who is able to disengage from blocks and wrap up ball-carriers to take them to the ground. He needs to improve at analyzing plays and distinguishing running plays from passing plays. Less than adequate change of direction and short-area quickness hinder Spence when chasing down runs from the backside.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    72/99

28. Tom Johnson, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    45/55

    The emergence of Tom Johnson over the past two years has added some much-needed depth to the Minnesota Vikings front four. He is a spot starter with excellent explosion off the snap and has a nose for the quarterback. His ability to create chaos in the pocket sets him apart from a lot of players at his position. Johnson finished the year with 5.5 sacks and an outstanding 38 quarterback hurries.

    Run Defense

    18/35

    For a guy who can rush the passer like Johnson, there has to be a reason why he isn’t a full-time starter. It's because he is terrible against the run. He is so worried about getting a sack or disrupting the quarterback that he is constantly out of position on running plays. Being a little undersized doesn’t help his case either. Weighing in at only 288 pounds, he is pushed around and overpowered by offensive linemen.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    72/99

27. Tyrone Crawford, Dallas Cowboys

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    46/55

    Tyrone Crawford had a breakout season this past year, racking up five sacks and 34 quarterback hurries. At 6’4”, 290 pounds, Crawford is one of the lightest defensive tackles in the league, but he makes up for his smaller build with elite quickness and agility. He is still a little raw as a player and will need to continue to grow his awareness of the game if he wants to develop into a top-tier pass-rusher.

    Run Defense

    17/35

    The downside to being an underweight defensive tackle is that you can get bullied around by a physical rushing attack. Which is exactly what happened to Crawford this past season. If an offensive lineman got his hands locked on Crawford, the defensive tackle was forced out of the play and unable to hold his ground. He had to rely entirely on his athleticism and lateral agility to make stops against the run.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    72/99

26. Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    36/55

    Johnathan Hankins is one of the up-and-coming tackles in the NFL, but he had his 2015 season cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hankins didn’t record a sack during the nine games he played in, but he was still a disruptive force against opposing quarterbacks. He has great reaction time and can convert quickness to power to overmatch offensive linemen. He racked up 11 quarterback hurries in his limited play.

    Run Defense

    28/35

    Hankins is a balanced defender who is just as good a against the run as he is against the pass. He can blow up plays in the backfield with a powerful bull rush but can also hold his ground and let the play come to him. Hankins still needs to get better at reading and diagnosing plays, but he showed improvement over last season. Even though he only played in nine games, Hankins still finished the year with 23 solo tackles.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    73/99

25. Kyle D. Williams, Buffalo Bills

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    41/55

    Kyle Williams has been one of the best defensive tackles in the league over the past few seasons, but a knee injury caused Williams’ season to come to an early end. He finished with only one sack in six games in 2015 and didn’t look as comfortable playing in new head coach Rex Ryan’s system. Williams does most of his damage rushing the passer by using a solid bull rush. He is able to use his powerful legs to drive opponents deep into the passing pocket.

    Run Defense

    23/35

    Williams can line up anywhere across the front line and be effective at stopping the run. He uses his stout frame to stay low out of his stance and get underneath his opponents' pads, blowing up plays in the backfield. He can also be patient against the run by anchoring down and holding his ground, allowing his linebackers to fill the gaps and make stops.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    73/99

24. Haloti Ngata, Detroit Lions

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    42/55

    Due to his age, Haloti Ngata isn’t the elite defensive lineman he used to be, but he is still able to produce at an acceptable level. Ngata racked up 2.5 sacks this past season. His high football IQ allows him to create plays even in the latter stages of his career. He might not be able to beat offensive linemen on a consistent basis with his athleticism, but he can still go toe-to-toe against anyone in the brute-force category.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    Ngata still has the strength to anchor and hold his ground, and he can eat up space in the middle of the field. He is a master at extending his arms and and getting into his opponent's chest, then tossing him aside when it is time to make the play. Ngata is way past his prime and doesn’t have the lateral agility or quickness to make plays down the line, but he still gives full effort on each play.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    73/99

23. Clinton McDonald, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    42/55

    Clinton McDonald came into this past season looking to build on back-to-back seasons in which he recorded at least five sacks. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle. While McDonald didn’t record a sack, he was still able to disrupt the quarterback and create pressure for the Tampa Bay defense. A little undersized for the position, McDonald uses his quick feet and active hands to get past offensive linemen.

    Run Defense

    23/35

    Even though McDonald only played in six games this past season, he was a terror against the run. He recorded a remarkable 28 combined tackles in only 256 defensive plays, which is excellent for an interior lineman. He has an innate ability to time the snap and find a seam to get to the ball-carrier. His size will put him at a disadvantage against mauler-type offensive linemen, so he has to rely heavily on his athletic ability to make plays.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    74/99

22. Roy Miller, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/55

    2015 turned out to be the best year of Roy Miller’s nine seasons in the NFL. His four sacks doubled his career output up until this past season. Miller is able to use his quick hands and remarkable upper-body strength to bowl over would-be blockers. He isn’t extremely agile but is explosive of the snap, which allows him to disrupt the pocket.

    Run Defense

    26/35

    Miller’s impressive upper-body strength allows him to hold his ground against even the most daunting rush attack. He is able to set an anchor and wait for ball-carriers to come at him then disengage and make the stop. Miller lacks the athleticism and quick feet to be a factor against teams who work the edges in the run game.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    75/99

21. Alan Branch, New England Patriots

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    42/55

    Alan Branch’s second season with the New England Patriots turned out to be one of the most productive of his nine-year career. He finished with 28 total tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles. Branch’s size (6’6”, 350 lbs) makes him almost impossible to block one-on-one. While he doesn’t have a quick first step, Branch uses the power from his legs to drive back would-be blockers into the pocket. Lacking any sort of move set, he relies solely on his physicality to create pressure on the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    24/35

    An immovable object in the running game, Branch uses all of his 350-pound frame to obstruct the middle of the field. The only time the offense is able to move Branch is when he comes out of his stance too high and lets his opponent get under his pads. When Branch is technically sound, it is going to be a long day for the opposing team’s rushing attack because there isn't going to be any room to run up the middle.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    75/99

20. Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    43/55

    After two excellent years to start his career, Sharrif Floyd came into this past season looking to dominate opposing offensive lines. However, because of a couple of nagging injuries in the middle of the campaign, Floyd wasn’t able to follow through with those plans.

    When healthy, Floyd is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Vikings defense and is able to get pressure from both defensive tackle positions. He has a plethora of pass-rush moves that force the offense to double-team him on a consistent basis.

    Run Defense

    23/35

    Floyd shows great balance and flexibility in the trenches when locked up with an offensive lineman. His ability to stay on his feet and not get overpowered even when faced with a double-team disrupts the flow of the opposition's rushing attack. His short-area quickness and ability to move laterally help him release from offensive linemen and pursue horizontally down the line.

    On occasion, Floyd will allow ball-carriers to get free due to poor form while trying to make the tackle.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    75/99

19. Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    44/55

    Brandon Mebane isn’t going to scare most offensive units when it comes to the pass rush. He lacks the ability to counter his original move, so if his opponent stops him on his initial rush, he won’t be able to get to the quarterback. He only has 2.5 sacks over the last three years, but he is able to eat up blockers, forcing one-on-one matchups for his edge-rushing teammates.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    A stout run defender, Mebane’s shorter stature (6'1", 311 lbs) allows him to play with great leverage and get underneath his opponent's pad level. Due to his age (31) and deteriorating athleticism, Mebane lacks the lateral quickness to move side to side and chase down plays from behind. He has only recorded 23 solo tackles over the past two seasons, which is a lower total than he had during any one of his previous seasons. 

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    75/99

18. Ra'Shede Hageman, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    44/55

    Ra’Shede Hageman's 6’6”, 318-pound frame can come in handy in certain situations, but it can also be a detriment. Quarterbacks have to know where Hageman is on every play and have to think twice about throwing short over the middle because it is likely he will bat the ball right back at them.

    In only his second season, Hageman is still trying to become a productive pass-rusher, but he lacks an abundance of moves. If he isn’t able to get to the quarterback by sheer force, then he likely isn’t going to get to the quarterback at all.

    Run Defense

    22/35

    There are two sides to Hageman as a run defender. First, there is the mammoth of a man who fires off the ball, smashes through his opponent and makes the tackle. On the other hand, there is the guy who lets offensive linemen get under his pads and drive him back, creating huge lanes for the running backs to sprint through. More often than not, Hageman is getting driven back.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    75/99

17. Malcom Brown, New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    37/55

    Once again, the New England Patriots scored big in the draft when they selected Malcom Brown with the last pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.

    Brown’s combination of athleticism and size (6'2", 320 lbs) is rare and is a perfect fit for what the Patriots try to accomplish on defense. His ability to extend his arms and prevent his opponent from getting into his body allows him to shed blocks with ease and pursue the quarterback. Brown is going into this offseason looking to improve upon a rookie year that saw him collect three sacks and 14 quarterback hurries.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    Even though Brown played in fewer than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps, he was No. 21 overall in tackles at the position with 34 solo stops. He has powerful hands that he uses to control where he wants offensive linemen to go, which allows him to keep his eyes on the ball-carrier. This lets him rack up tackle after tackle. Brown will struggle at times when faced with a double-team, but he can match up well when he is able to go at an offensive lineman who doesn’t have any help.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    76/99

16. Michael Brockers, St. Louis Rams

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    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/55

    One of the most physically gifted defensive tackles in the league, Michael Brockers has all of the tools you look for in a dominant interior lineman. He has the ability to explode out of his stance and get great push up the middle when matched up in one-on-one situations.

    Playing alongside Aaron Donald gives Brockers favorable matchups on a consistent basis. In fact, the major knock on Brockers is that he should be more productive given the skill sets of his teammates along the Rams front line.

    Run Defense

    27/35

    An above-average run-stuffer, Brockers is able to use his powerful frame to stand his ground and make it tough for offensive linemen to move him off his spot. He also possesses the lateral agility to chase down running backs who are trying to bounce plays to the outside. His awareness allows him to diagnose draw plays and screen passes, thwarting potential big gains.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    76/99

15. Kevin Williams, New Orleans Saints

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    43/55

    Kevin Williams is a shell of the dominant pass-rusher he was early in his career. 2015 was the first year in Williams' career that he didn’t record a single sack. He no longer has the quick-twitch reflexes to time the snap and explode past offensive linemen. Williams also isn’t able to manhandle his opponent and force him into the quarterback's lap with a bull rush.

    Run Defense

    25/35

    Williams' inability to create a pass rush has helped him become a better run defender. He is able to clog up running lanes and has the hand strength to shed blocks and tackle ball-carriers for a short gain. At times he can be forced off his spot by a powerful drive-blocking offensive lineman, but he can hold his ground against most of his opponents.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    77/99

14. Paul Soliai, Atlanta Falcons

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    Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    45/55

    Rushing the passer is not Paul Soliai’s forte. He is a typical two-down run defender who didn’t record a single sack this past season. Soliai is so intent on stopping the run that sometimes it appears as if he forgets he can even go after the quarterback. The only positive about Soliai as a pass-rusher is he can take on a double-team, which allows the rest of the defensive line to be matched up one-on-one.

    Run Defense

    23/35

    At 6’4” and 345 pounds, Soliai is massive and difficult to move off his spot once he is anchored down. His abilities to eat up space and control blockers allow linebackers to roam free and make plays at the line or in the backfield. He has a solid punch but lacks the ability to consistently shed blockers to make a play on the ball. If Soliai is able to get his hands on the ball-carrier, then he will bring them to the ground. He rarely misses tackles.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    77/99

13. Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    47/55

    Adrian Clayborn’s stats don’t tell the full story on what he does for the Atlanta Falcons defense. His ability to play anywhere along the front four allows the Falcons to rotate in multiple linemen for specific situations, but he is most effective rushing from the inside positions.

    He lacks the elite quickness and bend to be a dominant pass-rusher on the outside. Clayborn combines a powerful frame (6'3", 280 lbs) with above-average agility (for an interior defensive lineman) to put a strain on the offensive unit.

    Run Defense

    21/35

    Clayborn’s main role against the run is to hold his ground and clog up potential lanes. He doesn’t have the lateral agility to chase down running backs from the back side, but he excels at anchoring against offensive guards and centers. When he is able to control the line of scrimmage, it allows the rest of the Falcons to swarm to the ball and make plays.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    77/99

12. Nick Fairley, St. Louis Rams

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    47/55

    One of the most athletically gifted defensive linemen in the NFL, Nick Fairley has the physical ability to be an elite player. Unfortunately for Fairley, he hasn’t lived up to that potential. He is explosive out of his stance and quickly gets into his opponents' pads, putting them on their heels. His inability to turn his athleticism into production has forced him into a supportive role for the Rams, who probably have the best defensive line in the league.

    Run Defense

    21/35

    Fairley lacks the discipline and work ethic to be an elite run-stuffer. He fires off the snap too high and doesn’t have the upper- or lower-body strength to hold up against a double-team. His short-area quickness and reaction time save him. He is able to outmaneuver larger offensive linemen and fill holes to close running lanes.

    Fairley will need to become more consistent if he wants to see more playing time on the interior of the Rams defensive line.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    77/99

11. Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    45/55

    Jonathan Babineaux's versatility allows him to rush the passer from all four positions across the Falcons defensive line. While his sack numbers don’t show it, his ability to create pressure up the middle forces the opposing quarterback into quick decisions, leading to poor throws or opportunities for his teammates rushing from the outside to get a sack.

    His experience allows him to recognize what the offense is trying to accomplish in certain situations, making him one of the most valuable players on the Falcons defense.

    Run Defense

    24/35

    Babineaux's ability to extend his arms and lock on to offensive linemen allows him to keep his eyes on the ball-carrier and diagnose where the play is designed to go. He then uses his strong hands to shed the block and pursue the runner. A little undersized at 6'2", 300 pounds, Babineaux can struggle when faced with a power-running team because he doesn’t have the lower-body strength to hold his ground.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    78/99

10. Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/55

    Marcell Dareus had his worst year rushing the passer as a professional this past season. Rex Ryan’s defense doesn’t fit Dareus’ game perfectly, but with time, he should be able to return to the beast of a pass-rusher he has been over the course of his career.

    Dareus is an excellent athlete for his size, and his versatility allows him to be productive in any situation. While his sack numbers were down to just two, Dareus still managed to strike fear into quarterbacks by putting up 23 hurries.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    Dareus’ ability to get penetration and slip between blockers allows him to be a force against the run. He is also able to anchor down, take on blockers and obstruct holes, forcing teams to run around him or away from his side of the field. His 52 combined tackles show that not only is he able to bring down ball-carriers on designed runs in his direction, but also that he can move from his spot and make plays down the line.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    79/99

9. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

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    Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    43/55

    Although he only played 268 snaps during his rookie season, Grady Jarrett showed flashes of being a dominant inside rusher. His compact body (6'0", 305 lbs) allows him to play with great leverage, giving him the ability to use his excellent lower-body strength to bully offensive lineman.

    He plays with great effort when he is on the field, but he lacks the endurance to be an every-down player at this stage of his career. If Jarrett can work on his stamina to keep from getting fatigued, then the 22-year-old should become one of the pre-eminent interior pass-rushers for years to come.

    Run Defense

    27/35

    Due to his effectiveness as a pass-rusher, lack of top-flight stamina and the abundance of run-stuffing defensive tackles across the Falcons front line, most of Jarrett's snaps come on passing downs. He is far from a liability against the run, though, and shows great awareness even for a player of his age.

    Jarrett has a powerful initial punch. Combine that with his stout frame and he is able to get underneath his opponents' pads and torment them play after play.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    79/99

8. Akiem Hicks, New England Patriots

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    46/55

    An early-season trade sent Akiem Hicks from the New Orleans Saints to the New England Patriots. The change of scenery apparently helped Hicks on the field, as he played more effectively in a Patriots uniform. Hicks lost around 20 pounds in the offseason, which helped him become more productive and dependable against the pass. A two-sack game against the Houston Texans in Week 14 highlighted his campaign.

    Run Defense

    25/35

    While shedding some weight helped Hicks become a better pass-rusher, it hurt him a little against the run. He wasn’t able to stand his ground as often as he did in previous seasons. Being 6’5”, Hicks has issues staying low and playing with leverage, but he has great hands and is excellent at shedding blocks when needed.

    As the season went on and Hicks became more familiar with his new defensive scheme, he saw more playing time and became more effective.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    80/99

7. Dominique Easley, New England Patriots

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    47/55

    It was an injury-plagued year this past season for Dominique Easley. When he was on the field, though, you could see why the Patriots drafted him in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. His quickness and agility are exceptional for an interior lineman. Easley is able to use his athleticism to cause fits for offensive guards and centers, forcing them to perform with perfect technique to avoid his wrath. In only 275 snaps, Easley managed to rack up 24 quarterback hurries and two sacks.

    Run Defense

    25/35

    A developing run-stuffer, Easley needs to become more consistent against the rush to be considered one of the top-tier guys. There are plays in which he seems nearly unblockable and able to track down the back, but then he will follow those efforts by getting blown off the line. His lighter frame (6'2", 285 lbs) allows offensive linemen to push him around, so he needs to become more active with his hands. That way he can release from the block and chase down the running back.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    81/99

6. Dan Williams, Oakland Raiders

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    45/55

    Mostly a one-trick pony when it comes to rushing the quarterback, Dan Williams uses his powerful bull rush almost exclusively on passing plays. His real value as a pass-rusher is his ability to command a double-team, allowing his teammates to draw one-on-one matchups. The majority of his quarterback pressures can be attributed to great coverage downfield, which allows Williams that extra second to beat his opponent.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    One of the best run-stoppers in the league, Williams uses all of his 330-pound frame to set up a personal roadblock in the middle of the field. He can stand up offensive linemen and squat down and wait for the running back to try to squeeze by. Then he tosses his adversary aside like a rag doll to make the stop.

    Williams’ short-area quickness is stellar for a player his size, but he lacks the top-end speed to catch backs down the line. His 51 combined tackles and 33 stops anchor an improved Oakland Raiders front line.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    84/99

5. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    52/55

    One of the most dominant inside pass-rushers in the NFL, Gerald McCoy has everything you look for athletically in a defensive tackle when trying to disrupt the quarterback. His quickness off the snap combined with his power allow him wreak havoc on passing plays. McCoy’s 8.5 sacks rank near the league lead for interior defensive linemen, and he has been consistently around the nine- or 10-sack range for the last few years.

    Run Defense

    23/35

    The major knock on McCoy is he doesn’t appear to have that mean streak teams look for in a dominant run-stuffer. His inability to clog up the middle on running plays sometimes makes him a liability against the run.

    McCoy’s extensive repertoire of pass-rush moves actually hurts him when teams run at him because he will end up taking himself out of the play by trying to get to the quarterback. His 23 combined tackles are far too few for someone who was on the field for more than 800 plays this past season.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    84/99

4. Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    51/55

    A gifted pass-rusher, Kawann Short has a quick first step that he can easily convert to power. He possesses an eclectic set of pass-rush moves, which range from an overpowering bull rush to a swift, agile spin move. 2015 was a breakout year for Short, as he finished with a career-high 11 sacks and was constantly in the backfield, piling up 54 quarterback hurries.

    When Short isn’t able to get to the quarterback, he makes himself a factor in the short-passing game by reading the quarterback’s eyes and getting his hands up to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    Short’s size (6’3”, 315 lbs) and athletic ability also make him a force in the running game. He is able to stay low after firing out of his stance and play with great leverage. He holds his ground while the play develops then tosses his foe aside to make the tackle. Short is also able to disrupt the play in the backfield by overwhelming guards with his bull rush and driving them back into the rushing lanes.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    90/99

3. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    53/55

    A healthy year for Geno Atkins equals a dominant year. Perhaps the most talented interior pass-rusher in the league, Atkins plays with a rare combination of power, agility and quickness. Whenever his initial rush is stopped, he can rely on remarkably effective countermoves. He plays with superior leverage and doesn’t allow offensive linemen to get under his pads. Eleven sacks and a league-leading 58 quarterback hurries are the numbers we’ve come to expect from Atkins when he is healthy.

    Run Defense

    29/35

    An excellent run-stopper, Atkins uses his same skill set that terrorizes quarterbacks to effectively shut down the opposition’s running game. The awareness he shows in knowing when to eat up blockers, which allows his teammates to come in for the tackle, and when to shed blocks to make the stop himself is uncanny. There were a few moments when Atkins got a little too pass-rush happy and ended up out of position, allowing running backs to squeeze through lanes.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    91/99

2. Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    53/55

    One of the biggest, baddest guys in the NFL, Ndamukong Suh not only has the skill set that makes him one of the best defensive linemen in the league, he has the attitude to match. The 6'4", 320-pound Suh is one of the most physically imposing players in football. He is so powerful that offenses have to double-team him on nearly every play or their starting quarterback will be picking himself up off the turf repeatedly. Suh’s six sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 41 hurries all ranked in the top five of his position.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    Suh’s ability to stand up blockers and drive them back helps blow up running plays. He also has amazing agility for a man his size, which allows him to slide down the line and pull down ball-carriers. Most of Suh’s 45 combined tackles were of the punishing variety. He not only takes runners to the ground; he drives them through the turf with extreme force. It’s no surprise that Suh is the most penalized defensive lineman in the NFL.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    92/99

1. Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    55/55

    In only his second season in the NFL, Aaron Donald has proved that not only is he the best defensive tackle in the game, he is also one of the best overall players. His quickness off the snap matched with his stellar technique make him nearly unblockable. Not only can he beat his opponents on his initial rush, but he has a plethora of countermoves that cause offensive linemen fits.

    Donald’s 11 sacks and 42 quarterback hurries both ranked third-most among defensive tackles, while his 26 quarterback hits doubled the second-place total.

    Run Defense

    33/35

    Donald’s capability to rush the passer is what most people notice when they watch him play, but his dominance as a run-stopper is what makes him the best in the league. Unlike most players who are vulnerable against the run because of their pass-rushing skills, Donald’s high football IQ allows him to read the play, and his superior agility permits him to react to what he sees. His 63 total tackles also ranked near the top of his position.

    Position Value

    9/9

    Overall

    97/99
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