Now that the NFL Draft is over, we are in for about three months of pure speculation and debate. In a good way to add fuel to the fire, we will go through every position and rank the top ten players at each position. Before making the rankings, first it should be clarified how these players are ranked. These aren’t players with the best statistics from last year, or with the best teams around them. It isn’t the best play per contract, or the young but unestablished vs. old and experienced debate. It is more so a projection of talent and determining that if a game was in two weeks, and I had to pick a player to be on my team, who would I take over the other. It comes down to a gut opinion, but having watched nearly every snap of the NFL in the past two years via NFL Game Pass I do have confidence in my opinions. At the end of the day it is another discussion of debate so check it out and let me know what you think. Defense is tough because there are so many different and versatile schemes in today’s NFL. I tried to break down position groups into specific schemes to better equate each player’s skills to their role. Therefore we took what was considered the base defense that they fit best in to use, and obviously only ranked each player in one position. This edition we look at the 4-3 Defensive Tackles 1. Aaron Donald
Donald is arguably the most disruptive player in the league. He seems to be the only player that can be put in the same breath as JJ Watt right now. Donald essentially spends his time in the offense’s backfield and is probably stronger in run defense than against the pass. In a strong position for top tier talent, there is no arguments against Donald as the top of the class.
2. Geno Atkins
Atkins bounced back in 2015 in a major way. He jumped from 3 sacks after an ACL tear to 11 last season. Atkins is similar Donald in which his run defense is stellar, and he was the biggest reason the Bengals were legitimate super bowl contenders in 2015. Atkins was once at the same standing as Donald, as the best of the best on the defensive line. Now he is just a touch older and a touch below talent wise, but still is as dominant at his position as anyone in the NFL.
3. Fletcher Cox
The Fletcher Cox argument is easy. Being drafted by Andy Reid to play the 4-3 Cox slowly ascended into the league. Chip Kelly came in, switched the scheme entirely and Cox not only did not miss a step, he continued to progress from year to year. Now Cox is back in the 4-3 with Jim Schwartz at defensive coordinator. Schwartz has coached, Suh,Dareus, and now has the opportunity to turn Cox into a name just like theirs. Cox already has more talent and upside than those two names and his 2016 should be the best of his career.
4. Gerald McCoy
McCoy is as consistent as you want your defensive tackle to be in the past three years or so. He has put up over 8 sacks in each of the last three years, and the Buccaneers biggest weakness has been finding anyone to play on the defensive line next to McCoy. Taking on double teams, beating blockers consistently and still defending the run strongly puts him at four on the list.
5. Kawann Short
Short could easily be right there with Atkins and Donald but for the very present we have only seen him play at this level for one season. Still, this level is top tier talent. Short put up 11 sacks last year, his third in the NFL and with defensive preaching Ron Rivera as his head coach the sky’s the limit for how far he can ascend into 2016 and beyond.
6. Ndamukong Suh
On talent alone putting Suh outside of the top 5 seems bold. But you have to factor in whether or not you actually want this guy on your team. He has proven to be a hothead, a problem in the locker room and a guy who takes plays off. When he is at his peak he is just as disruptive as ever. He has not matched his career high sack total since his rookie season, but in terms of drawing attention, and forcing pressure, Suh is still in elite territory.
7. Linval Joseph
Joseph may be better suited being compared to nose tackles, but in the 4-3 next to Sharrif Floyd he can line up in multiple techniques and is equally as effective. Since signing in Minnesota and playing in Mike Zimmers defense there has not been a harder defensive lineman to push off of the line. His strong suit is against the run and making tackles for loss, and as far as talk goes between these defensive lineman, he is the most underrated you can find.
Dareus had a rough 2015 and saw his sacks drop from 10 to 2. There is talk that next year Rex Ryan will make the big move to the 3-4, and that point Dareus will still be top five at his position but at the moment he is a step below the top elite. Dareus spent his year in a dramatic scheme change with Ryan coming in and also saw his partner in crime Kyle Williams miss time which drew him more double teams. Dareus also dealt with some injuries lingering throughout the year but only missed one game. The fact the blockers will pay more attention to Dareus than others shows how effective he is when going full on, and wherever he is lining up next year he is in the top ten at his position.
9. Star Lotulelei
Another case against the rising Short is that he is playing on a stellar defensive line all together. Lotulelei, a former first round pick is a big run stuffer and a guy who can clear blocks for Short to get after the quarterback. He isn’t the most mobile around, and like Joseph could be considered a nose tackle, but being able to rotate and move him around helps in his effectiveness. He is still only entering his fourth season and it should be a meaningful one as he is entering a contract year.
This could be a hot take or a bold call, but to be honest Jarrett could be higher, and I may have fallen into name bias putting Star over him. The problem with Jarrett is that he is a former fifth round pick with one sack. The pro with Jarrett is that he is a house to move and he was ranked PFF’s top rookie defensive tackle. He is another 4-3 guy who mans the nose tackle, and next year the Falcons may continue to use multiple looks to put Jarrett in winning situations over the center. If that is happening and he is taking up blockers the rest of the defense has more room to work and you can’t put a metric on how important that is.