In a league where defenses are constructed under the premise of being strong up the middle, the tackle position has become the most pivotal spot on the defensive side of the ball.
Although defensive tackles come in various shapes and sizes, the elite players at the position possess a multi-faceted set of skills that allows them to function effectively as run or pass defenders. As the point men in the center of the defense, they are expected to dominate the running game by providing consistent penetration up the middle. Though they are often forced to fight off double teams, dominant defensive tackles are able to control the line of scrimmage while defeating multiple blockers on the way to the ball carrier. These one-man wrecking crews not only dominate on their own accord, but their presence creates opportunities for their teammates to flow unobstructed to the ball.
As pass rushers, elite defensive tackles may not tally double-digit sack totals, but their ability to push the pocket disturbs the rhythm and timing of the passing game. While some are most effective when used on the move as part of a stunt or game, others have the brute strength to overwhelm blockers on bull rushes. Regardless of their style, defensive tackles with superior pass-rushing skills have the capacity to take over a game with their penetration.
With those traits in mind, here's one man's look at the five best defensive tackles in the league:
1. Albert Haynesworth, Redskins
The league's most dominant defensive player the past two seasons has terrorized opponents with an unrivaled combination of strength and power. The two-time Pro Bowler single-handedly snuffs out running games while also serving as an intimidating presence as a pass rusher. Haynesworth, who signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with the Redskins this offseason, has tallied 14.5 sacks over the past two years and was the driving force behind the Titans' emergence as a top defensive unit.
The four-time Pro Bowler is a dynamic interior rusher with outstanding strength and quickness. Though he is routinely recognized for his run-stopping skills, he's considered by many as the league's best pass rusher at the position. Williams has amassed 42.5 sacks in his career, including 8.5 last season.
3. Haloti Ngata, Ravens
The hulking interior defender has flown under the radar on the national scene, but insiders rate the Ravens' star as one of the best players at the position. As an athletic run-stopper with exceptional power, Ngata anchors an impenetrable defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 35 consecutive games.
4. Kris Jenkins, Jets
The eight-year veteran reclaimed his spot among the elite with his dominant performance in his first season in New York. Although Jenkins shifted from his customary position as a "three-technique" in a 4-3 scheme to nose tackle in the Jets' 3-4 defense, he proved to be an immovable force at the point of attack. With few interior offensive linemen capable of blocking the behemoth, the Jets' rush defense ranked as the league's seventh-best unit last season after finishing 29th in 2007.
5. Darnell Dockett, Cardinals
The sixth-year pro enjoyed a coming-out party in February, registering three sacks against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. The ultra-athletic interior rusher has the ability to win with quickness or power on the inside. Though he fails to play to his potential consistently, few defensive tackles are capable of taking over a game like Dockett, which makes his inclusion on this list mandatory.