Kawann Short is league’s top-graded defensive tackle

Through Week 7, DT Kawann Short owns a better interior defender grade than J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Kawann Short is league’s top-graded defensive tackle


The Carolina Panthers double-dipped at defensive tackle in the 2013 draft, selecting Star Lotulelei with the 14th overall pick, and then coming back to grab Kawann Short with their second round selection.

So far, this has proven more successful than the last time they tried that tactic—selecting Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in the third round of the 2011 draft—but it is Short who is starting to dominate like a first-round stud.

Star Lotulelei was supposed to be a do-it-all player at the position. He could stuff the run and rush the passer, and reminded many of Haloti Ngata when he was coming out of the draft. Short, though, is the player who has transformed into that image this season; he may not have Ngata’s 340-pound frame, but he has been a force against the run and pass this season, and was a destructive monster against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

Short notched a pair of sacks, but also had seven additional hurries and a batted pass. The Philadelphia offensive line, which had been righting its season up until this game, was torn apart by Short, who split his time between the left and right side of the line (44 snaps at DRT, 25 at DLT), and contributed to the negative pass-protecting grade from each of the interior starters.

When Jason Peters went down for the Eagles and forced a re-shuffle along the line with Dennis Kelly coming in, things got even worse, and Short ramped up the pressure.

The drops (a ridiculous eight in total) won’t help reflect it, but this was arguably Bradford’s best performance of the season, despite the pressure applied up front and the struggles of those around him. He put several good passes where they needed to go, despite heavy pressure for much of the game (24 of his 54 dropbacks). However, he was not rewarded by his receivers making plays.

While Short tore up the Eagles, oddly enough it is Star Lotulelei, the player that was supposed to become the next All-Pro interior defender, who is struggling to live up to his teammate as he works his way back from a foot injury. He has yet to knock the quarterback down, much less notch a sack, and has just three total hurries on the season from 97 pass-rushing snaps. His run defense has also been below his better play, and the Panthers are waiting to really see the player they expected when they drafted him.

Whichever way you look at it, Carolina’s second attempt at upgrading their defensive interior was a far more successful one than their first, and the combination of Lotulelei and Short looks to have netted the team one star player and one capable starter—just like they expected. The only difference is that it is Short who has emerged as the star, while Lotulelei plays in his shadow.

Short has now moved ahead of Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt in our interior defenders rankings, and has done so with excellent grades as a pass-rusher and defending the run. He gives the Panthers defensive stars at every level, with Josh Norman in the secondary, and linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly also playing at an extremely high level. The team is now 6-0, one of five undefeated teams in the NFL, and has the kind of defense in place to compete come January.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • datruth55

    Shouldn’t this be in the NFC East?

    • unc54

      Because the Panthers play in the NFC East…

    • criolle

      Wait, WHAT?
      I confess to being thoroughly confused.
      The Panthers play in the NFC S-O-U-T-H.
      Their schedule has them playing AGAINST each of the NFC East teams this season. ALL of the NFC South teams will be playing against the NFC East teams this season. That way each of the NFC South teams has equal “strength of schedule”.
      I have no idea how the Ravens got into this conversation, unless it was the comparison to Haloti Ngata. As I mentioned, I’m thoroughly confused.

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  • ChuckNice

    If I were Star reading this article on a Monday morning (which he will I’m sure, I would feel pretty bad about “playing in his shadow” as this author put it. I think Star could be just as good if not better as soon as he is 100%. The guy was a beast before he got hurt!
    Even now you can’t be upset at how Star is constantly doubled while giving Short the opportunity to beat one man. I’m proud of the role that both players play and will be even more so once Star gets back to full health. He was beating doubles before he was hurt and I expect him to get back to that status before seasons end, and when this happens its going to be a feast from the inside of that line.
    KEEP POUNDING!!

    • unc54

      I agree. People generally don’t notice that Star and KK complement each other. Star is more huge and can take on multiple linemen while KK pass rushes during passing downs. In running downs Star does the same thing, allowing KK to pursue the RB. So basically if KK is doing this well, it means that Star is doing his job pretty darn good.

      • David S

        Exactly …each has his role in the schemes they run …

    • David S

      Couldn’t have said it better …Sometimes i wonder if these writers even understand how team defense works …

  • imstillhere

    Brandon Williams of the Ravens is the best interior defender currently.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      he’s dominant against the run, but isn’t a factor on third downs, at all. best NT right now

    • Jackson Blankenship

      Do you have an algorithm that studies each snap played by each defender and renders a grade based upon that specific players per snap impact? No? Well Pro Football Focus does, and all that fancy science has declared Kawann Short as the best interior lineman. Take your fanboy bias to a Ravens page and tout your greatness there where it will be appreciated. This isn’t an opinion based article.

    • Jackson Blankenship

      Do you have an algorithm that studies each snap played by each defender and renders a grade based upon that specific players per snap impact? No? Well Pro Football Focus does, and all that fancy science has declared Kawann Short as the best interior lineman. Take your fanboy bias to a Ravens page and tout your greatness there where it will be appreciated. This isn’t an opinion based article.

      • imstillhere

        I guess the +5.8 he had as of through week 6 (which is higher than shorts) means nothing? Open your eyes and realize that you can judge players off more than pff grades.

  • Brian

    Imagine how good the panthers would be if they still had to the kraken Greg Hardy

    • David S

      Yeah ..how is it working out in Dallas …Hardy doesn’t fit in the locker room

    • ChuckNice

      That’s all it is right now is an imagination. Our team is much better for not having him, as much as I hated to see the Kraken leave. Too high a risk for the Big Cat to take. He would never write a check as big as Hardy is going to want for the amount of risk that the team would have to take! Not worth it.

  • Paul Huff

    Honestly, anyone in Panther Nation that wants Greg Hardy back obviously doesn’t understand team chemistry. The Panthers probably aren’t the most talented team in the NFL, but they play and fight for each other.

    Greg Hardy is an incredible football player; he is also a self-centered jerk who has no clue about esprit de corps and camaraderie. He is a cancer on a football team. Look back on the Dallas game Sunday. He’s fighting with coaches and teammates. A zebra doesn’t change his stripes, does he?

    We have a classy bunch of guys in Charlotte. We don’t want that bad apple back.