Making the Grade: 4-3 Defensive Tackles, 2008-2010

| July 6, 2011

Monday was our entry into the world of grading defensive ends over the past three years. Well logic tells me that today may as well be time for defensive tackles (and Friday we’ll be looking at the 3-4 specialists for those wondering where Vince Wilfork and Jay Ratliff are).
 
It’s as simple a concept as ever, although given that tackles are rotated more frequently, we’ve lowered the qualifying line to 50% of the average snap total of the five highest in that department in the past three years. We’ve also weighted the coverage grade as half the value of pass rushing, run defense, and penalties to get our overall score.
 
That’s the set-up, here’s the list:
 
1. Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings

Back in 2008, Williams was so much better than all other defensive tackles it wasn’t even close. Whether it be age, or the rest just studying tapes of him to find out what makes him so good, that gap doesn’t really exist now. He’s still dominant though – and has been for the past three years. If you don’t believe me, have a look at what he did to Washington in Week 12 of 2010. The Vikings will miss him when he’s suspended.

Grade:  +94.15
 

2. Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills

On current form, there is no one better as Williams had a tremendous year (even if most people didn’t realize it). Utterly relentless, you need to account for him on every play, and even that may not do you any good. Rebounded after a so-so 2009 (by his standards anyway) to have more defensive stops than any other DT in 2010, while racking-up plenty of pressure on the quarterback. Criminally under publicized.

Grade:  +79.4
 

3. Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins

Fair to say things haven’t gone exactly to plan in Washington for the former Titan. Staggeringly though, when he’s been on the field he continues to be as good a DT as there is out there (even though he may be as scrutinized a defensive player as there is). Despite the pretty low sack totals in Washington, in his first year there, he was a top five defensive tackle and not that far off his best year. Even last year he generated pressure in the sub package defense. If you can get him playing his best then he’s a bargain whatever the price.

Grade:  +60.75
 

4. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens

Ngata has always been a very good player, but it always perplexed a little he was held in such high regard while players like Kevin Williams were clearly more productive. Then 2010 rolled out and some of the consistency issues were replaced with a weekly dominance. Only issue with last year was he seemed worn down by the end of things, so you wonder if the Ravens may be better served to limit his reps some. Just a thought.

Grade:  +51.00
 

5. Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders

It’s been an interesting few years for Seymour.  After a strong end to 2008, he was surprisingly traded to the Raiders, where he proceeded to have a bit of an up and down year. One week he’d go out with a point to prove and destroy an opposition tackle, and the next he’d be near invisible. It was only in 2010, with a full time move to defensive tackle, than Seymour really kicked on and made life a constant nightmare for the interior linemen he faced. So good at everything we may not have seen the best of Seymour in a Raiders’ jersey. Only player on this list to play a different position each of the last three years (3-4 end, 4-3 end and 4-3 tackle).

Grade:  +49.65
 

6. Brandon Mebane. Seattle Seahawks

I’ve learned not to question the Seahawks when they make moves that appear to be bizarre (picking up Mike Williams, Raheem Brock, and Chris Clemons in recent years), but it surprises me they’re about to let Mebane walk. The talented defensive tackle hasn’t ever been as disruptive as he was in 2008, but he’s consistently played well and is one of the more complete and reliable defensive tackles in the league. Could represent a steal for a DT-needy team (hello, paging Indianapolis).

Grade:  +37.9
 

7.  Brodrick Bunkley, Philadelphia Eagles

Despite an injury-hampered 2010 that saw him lose his starting spot, it shouldn’t be forgotten how stout a run defender the former first round pick has been for the Eagles. So he’s never going to be the best when it comes to generating pressure, that’s not what Bunkley’s about and it’s amazing to consider the current depth of the Eagles defensive line. If you measure defensive tackles by their sack count (as some do) you really don’t appreciate this guy’s talents.

Grade:  +34.65
 

8.  John Henderson, Oakland Raiders

To be honest, the formerly dominant Jag looked a little spent after 2008 and 2009. He wasn’t bad, but gone was that player who, along with Marcus Stroud, formed one of the meanest pairing of defensive tackles. So kudos to him on showing in a limited role how effective he could be for the Raiders – he took over games on more than one occasion. Best years behind him and needs to have his snaps managed but Henderson is still a beast.

Grade:  +33.05
 

9.  Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons

With the Falcons in a state of flux, Jonathan Babineaux picked 2008 to really impose himself as an explosive defensive tackle apt at penetrating offensive lines. He built on this with his best season to date in 2009 which saw him land at the top of our rankings. He didn’t reach those heights in 2010, and would probably be better served to be rested a bit more than he is, but Babineaux is just too quick for some guards and centers. Just enjoys making plays in the backfield.

Grade:  +27.75
 

10.  Fred Robbins, St Louis Rams

There were some who questioned Robbins after a poor (by his standards) 2009. Well, one free agent move to St Louis later and those people are eating their words. The Rams wisely spared Robbins a huge amount of snaps and the end result was he was possibly the best player on a young and improving Rams team.

Grade:  +21.3

 
 
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
 
 

  • ethiohusteljr

    You were kind of wrong, going into the 2010 season the bills switched to a 3-4 and Kyle Williams played nose for them not 4-3 defensive tackle. Haloti should be a lot higher, but the ravens don’t even necessarily run a 4-3, they run a hybrid 3-4 not a 4-3. And for the most part Haloti Ngata plays end in thier 3-4 and nose tackle.

    • Neil Hornsby

      While the Bills did initially switch to 3-4 this season they quickly came to realise that trying to use Chris Kelsey as a LB was sub-optimal (at best!) and reverted back to 4-3. ( the split is about 25% 3-4, 75% 4-3) hence why Kyle is here as a DT.
      Regarding the Ravens scheme it’s a lot more vanilla than you may think and determining 4-3 or 3-4 is essentially based on what Terrell Suggs does. NFL teams determine if a player is a LB or DE based on the amount of times they drop into coverage and at about 12% Suggs is by any reckoning a DE. By way of example the average 3-4 Hybrid players will drop just short of 30% of all passing plays. Hope this helps.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    Common misconception – the Bills actually switched back to a 4-3 pretty soon into the season and used 3-4 looks at times, but were predominantly a 4-3 team. Case in point Kyle Williams was a defensive tackle in a four man line almost twice as many times (521) as he was a pure nose tackle (265 times, with a large number of those coming as part of the Bills sub package D).

    As for Ngata, near enough all of his work on the nose comes in nickel and dime defenses. While again he played far more in four man fronts (526 snaps compared to 202 as a 3-4 end). Ravens run a 4-3 hybrid with far more 4-3 looks in their base defense that 3-4. I wouldn’t say Haynesworth is a better player now than Ngata, but this is a three year study and for two of those years Haynesworth made a more consistent impact when he was on the field than Ngata. Not a knock on Ngata, just a reflection of how good Haynesworth was in those years (heck, he was even good this year when he got on the field).

  • james carbone

    Wow. I am somewhat surprised to see Bunkley on this list. When the Eagles drafted Patterson in 2005 and Bunkley in 2006, the run defense improved drastically, but I never thought Bunkley would be the 7th most productive DT over the span examined for this piece. We have seen what he can do as a run defender as you pointed out, however, I think the addition of Jim Washburn will allow Bunkley to have a breakout year as a pass rusher. In Bunkley’s last season at FSU he had 9 sacks, 15 QB hits, and 25 TFL’s. Washburn’s “wide 9″ technique, which is very similar to the system Bunkley played in at FSU, is gonna get everyone rushing up field as soon as the ball is snapped which should play to Bunkley’s strengths. So I’m looking for Bunk to have a big year and make an impact as a pass rusher for the Eagles. Trent Cole may finally get some consistent help.

    • astrazz2

      I was surprised to read that Bunkley is so stout against the run. Coming out of Florida State I thought he was considered an undersized (albeit very strong) DT who was ideally suited to play the 3-tech.

      Who are some guys you expect to see on this list in a few years (other than Suh)?

      Interesting stuff, keep up the good work.