Whether your favorite team runs a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme on defense, any chance of stopping opponents always starts up front.
The defensive tackles in a 4-3 scheme are asked to attack gaps and be disruptive in the backfield. The defensive ends in a 3-4 defense, who essentially play the same role as tackles, are asked to stop the charge of 350-pound offensive tackles and make plays at the line of scrimmage. Teams that don't have a great player on the inside usually will struggle on the defensive side of the ball, no matter how good their corners are or how aggressive their linebackers are known to be.
Of course, ranking the top tackles is problematic. A 4-3 penetrator such as Tommie Harris of the Bears is asked to do different things than a player such as Richard Seymour of the Patriots -- who is listed as a defensive end in a 3-4 but plays the role of a tackle. The same is true of a nose tackle such as San Diego's Jamal Williams, who is asked to eat up double teams all game long. To rank the top six tackles is very difficult, but when looking at who are the best at what they are asked to do, while also considering the different schemes, it becomes a manageable task.
There's a reason the Browns went after Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers in the offseason. It's the same erason the Jets traded for Kris Jenkins and the Bills made a deal for Marcus Stroud. These guys are hard to find, and whether they were underachievers or have medical histories in the past, teams will take the risk to acquire them and will pay the big bucks to keep them on the roster.
Here are the top defensive tackles in the league today and why they make their defenses work:
1. Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans
Haynesworth is basically unblockable, and his motor has been a lot more consistent in the last year to the point that no one can call him an underachiever. Haynesworth can penetrate like the speedy one-gap players, and has the size to clog up the inside like the great two-gapers. He combines power, brute strength and impressive athletic ability against his opponent every play. If he misses a game, the Titans have a very slim chance of winning.
2. Tommie Harris, Chicago Bears
Harris is the premiere one-gap attack "three-technique" tackle in the game today. It was a title Warren Sapp held for years. Harris can stunt the front, cross a guard's face in a flash and be in the backfield in a split second. He was slowed by an injury and the loss of Tank Johnson a year ago, but he still makes plays and is a playmaker. He is not really suited for any two-gap work like the 3-4 guys.
3. Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings
Some would argue that Williams is the top tackle in the league. He has what Haynesworth has in the speed to penetrate and the bulk to hold up the line of scrimmage. He teams up with Pat Williams and opponents just cancel the run out of their game plan. The only stat you need to know about Kevin Williams is that in 2007, opponents rushed for 74.1 yards per game against the No. 1 run defense in the league. He could climb to 10 sacks this season.
4. Richard Seymour, New England Patriots
Seymour had a down year last year as he battled injuries, but it was just two years ago he was the No. 1 defensive tackle on this list. He can play any defensive line spot, including a 4-3 right end or even a 3-4 nose tackle. Patriots coach Bill Belichick can scheme any way he wants with Seymour. Versatility and an all-around game are his big strengths.
5. Ty Warren, New England Patriots
While Seymour was on the sideline, Warren rose to the occasion and made his presence felt as a player who could attack the backfield or play down the line. New England may be known as Tom Brady's team, but Warren and Seymour make the defensive line just as special. Warren has excellent hand usage and a quick first step to neutralize blockers.
6. Jamal Williams, San Diego Chargers
Williams may have lost a step and sometimes needs some breaks during a game. However, when you watch him control the line of scrimmage, work down the line to make tackles in the run game, force double teams and set up linebackers, he is still the big force on the nose in the NFL.
Honorable mention: Vince Wilfork, New England; Pat Williams, Minnesota; John Henderson, Jacksonville; Marcus Stroud, Buffalo; Kris Jenkins, New York Jets; Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh and Shaun Rogers, Cleveland.