The pass-happy nature of the NFL has led observers to focus extensively on pass rushers and their sack totals, but championship defenses excel at stopping the run behind the play of a disruptive force on the interior. These defenders often toil in anonymity on game day, but defensive coaches covet the presence of a monster in the middle. While most run stuffers are positioned at the nose tackle spot in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, the NFL has seen an influx of 3-technique defensive tackles who blow up opposing ground games.
After poring over oodles of All-22 Coaches Film, here is my list of the most destructive run stuffers in the league today:
5) Brandon Williams, NT, Baltimore Ravens
It's uncommon for nose tackles to garner widespread recognition for their efforts on the front line, but Williams has created a buzz in league circles as an emerging force at the point of attack. The 6-foot-1, 335-pounder wreaks havoc with his rugged playing style and explosive power. Williams excels at occupying multiple blockers in the middle, allowing linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith to flow freely to the ball. Most importantly, Williams is the centerpiece of an ultra-aggressive D-line that only surrendered 3.6 rushing yards per attempt in 2014, a figure that ranked third among NFL defenses.
4) Damon Harrison, NT, New York Jets
It's easy to overlook Harrison on a defensive front that features a pair of spectacular talents in Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson -- not to mention Leonard Williams, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft -- but coaches around the NFL can't stop raving about the fourth-year pro as one of the league's premier run stuffers. Checking in at 6-4, 350 pounds with exceptional strength, power and hand skills, Harrison is the centerpiece to the Jets' dominant defensive line. He is immovable off the point, yet flashes the agility and athleticism to run-and-chase within the box. Although he doesn't ring up impressive numbers or stand out as a pass rusher, it's possible that Harrison is the most important piece to the Jets' defensive puzzle. Pretty crazy to think he went undrafted in 2012.
3) Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams
The 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year commanded a lot of attention due to his pass-rushing prowess, but it's his disruptive presence against the run that earns him high marks in coaching circles. Donald destroyed opponents at the point of attack in Year 1, exhibiting exceptional first-step quickness and acceleration. He routinely slipped through cracks on pre-planned angle rushes, but also flashed the strength and power to hold the point against single- or double-teams. With Donald also displaying outstanding hand quickness and combat skills, the young defender has already emerged as a foundational piece for the Rams.
2) Marcell Dareus, NT, Buffalo Bills
The rise of the Bills' defense can be directly attributed to Dareus' emergence as one of the most dominant interior defenders in the NFL. The 6-3, 331-pounder has grown into an explosive pass rusher with a spectacular array of power-rush moves, but he's also an astounding presence against the run, thanks to his relentless spirit and mastery of leverage. Dareus completely manhandles offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage with superb hand-to-hand combat skills, displaying an explosive "butt-and-jerk" maneuver and a powerful arm-over move that allows him to shed and disengage quickly at the point. Most impressively, the former No. 3 overall pick shows outstanding balance, body control and agility while chasing runners down from the back side. Given Dareus' spectacular flashes on tape and substantial statistical output, the Buffalo star deserves this lofty standing on a list of interior defensive playmakers.
1) Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins
Whenever a team is willing to lavish a $100 million contract on a defender, it says a lot about his ability to impact the game as a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage. Thus, it is no surprise Suh commanded quarterback money on the open market. After all, this is a guy who absolutely terrorizes opponents with versatile skills as a pass rusher/run stuffer. The four-time Pro Bowler obliterates blockers with his brute strength and power, but also wins with first-step quickness and agility. Thus, he is nearly impossible to block when he brings his A-game. Suh not only produces explosive plays on his own accord, but his mere presence requires double-teaming, which frees up others to make plays in the backfield. Consequently, he raises the play of the entire defense -- that's the kind of impact coaches expect from a true franchise player. With a supporting cast in Miami that features a couple of studs on the edges (Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon), the Dolphins' designated playmaker could cement his status as a transcendent superstar of his era.