The defensive ends get paid the big bucks but their NFL success is decided by who helps them in the middle. So who are the best defensive tackles in the game?
#10 – Sheldon Richardson – New York Jets
Sheldon Richardson proved a lot of doubters wrong in 2013. Many felt he wasn’t a great fit for the New York Jets scheme under Rex Ryan. He answered by winning NFL Rookie of the Year. What can he do for an encore? Lots if you believe the building hype.
#9 – Henry Melton – Dallas Cowboys
What a difference a year makes. After going to a Pro Bowl in 2012 and establishing himself as one of the best interior pass rushers in the league, Henry Melton watched a slow start to last season end in nightmare with a torn ACL in just the third game. He is still young and can impact games when healthy, but needs to prove it all over again.
#8 – Terrance Knighton – Denver Broncos
Another overlooked defensive tackle with a great nickname. Terrance Knighton, or “Pot Roast” to his teammates, was the main reason the Denver Broncos fielded the 8th ranked run defense. In fact his ability to shutdown Marshawn Lynch was the only good thing Denver can take away from their Super Bowl defeat. Knighton also had three sacks on the year, demonstrating his sneaky pass rush skill.
#7 – Marcell Dareus – Buffalo Bills
As maddening and idiotic as Marcell Dareus has been for the Buffalo Bills during this off-season, he is still coming off his first Pro Bowl in a year he posted 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He has never had fewer than five sacks in a season and has never missed a game in three years.
#6 – Dontari Poe – Kansas City Chiefs
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali get the credit for the success of the Kansas City Chiefs defense but they wouldn’t succeed nearly as much without the presence of Dontari Poe in the middle. His Pro Bowl campaign last year catapulted K.C. to the top of the defensive ranks and validated the chance the team took on him in the draft.
#5 – Vince Wilfork – New England Patriots
So much change and bad fortune has enveloped the New England Patriots defense over the years. Yet they always seem to pull it together for the playoffs, and the biggest reason why is Vince Wilfork. The five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle remains one of the best run defenders in the NFL at age 32 despite his recent Achilles injury.
#4 – Gerald McCoy – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Through two different head coaches Gerald McCoy managed to fight his way to stardom in pro football. His 9.5 sacks in 2013 were a personal best with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and enough to lock up his second Pro Bowl nod. With Lovie Smith in town he is only going to get better.
#3 – Geno Atkins – Cincinnati Bengals
A torn ACL robbed him of a glorious chance to shoot to the top of the list but at age 26 and with 29 sacks in just four seasons, Geno Atkins has become one of the standards defensive tackles are compared to when they enter the league. Provided he returns healthy, that should not change anytime soon.
#2 – Ndamukong Suh – Detroit Lions
As tiresome and nauseating his attitude on the field can be sometimes, it’s impossible to deny the effect Ndamukong Suh has on football games. His ability to press the pocket, shake blockers and control the line of scrimmage have made the Detroit Lions defensive front one of the best in the NFL.
#1 – Haloti Ngata – Baltimore Ravens
While Atkins, McCoy and Suh tend to get the headlines for their highlight reel plays, the Baltimore Ravens have quietly fielded the most consistently dominant interior force in the game. Haloti Ngata doesn’t call attention to himself. He just makes plays. Don’t believe it? Talk to his five Pro Bowl, 414 tackles, 23.5 sacks and Super Bowl ring.