Ranking the interior defensive linemen in the NFL required me to break the players into four distinct groups just to do justice to the different assignments asked of them in various schemes around the league.
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A 3-4 nose tackle is asked to command double teams and prevent guards and centers from getting to second-tier blocking at the linebacker level. A 4-3 nose tackle is required to penetrate the inside "A" gap and often loop around and be responsible for containing the "C" gap. Then there are 3-4 defensive ends who really aren't ends, but instead work down into the "B" gap to defending power running plays. Then there is the hard-to-find, 4-3 three-technique tackle who is asked to penetrate and be disruptive.
With four distinct assignments for defensive tackles, I differentiated the groups and ranked the top five players within each category. As always, the players will be presented in alphabetical order.
There are certainly more quality 3-4 nose tackles than 4-3 nose tackles. If Pat Williams retires, for example, I don't believe any of the top five 4-3 nose tackles would make a list of the top ten overall of the position. Conversely, there are more 4-3 three-technique tackles than 3-4 defensive ends who meet the criteria for evaluation as interior defensive linemen. Keep in mind most 4-3 teams are using high draft picks on the three-technique tackles, not nose tackles. But both play an important role in the defense.
3-4 NOSE TACKLES
Casey Hampton, Steelers: He's manned the nose tackle spot in Pittsburgh for 10 seasons and usually gives up his body to force double-teams to free the Steelers' great inside linebackers to make tackles. Hampton only got credit for 10 solo tackles last season, and has nine sacks in his career. Forget the stats -- Hampton does his job on a championship defense.
Sione Pouha, Jets: Maybe the most underrated nose tackle in the NFL. Pouha originally got on the field because Kris Jenkins was always injured, but proved he deserves the job. In two seasons as the starter he has 74 tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles.
Jay Ratliff, Cowboys: The premiere nose tackle in the NFL and always a Pro Bowl player who gets it done despite being undersized at the position. While most 3-4 nose tackles are around 350 pounds, Ratliff plays at closer to 300. He has 17 sacks in the last three seasons and six forced fumbles over the last two.
Kyle Williams, Bills: A rising star after being a fifth-round pick in 2006. Williams is undersized at 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds, but plays with great leverage and quickness. As one offensive line coach said, "If he was somewhere besides Buffalo, everyone would look at him like Jay Ratliff." Williams has 95 solo tackles and 9.5 sacks the last two seasons.
4-3 NOSE TACKLES
Roy Miller, Buccaneers: Is solid in the Tampa-2 defense. Brian Price was drafted last year to play the nose position, but struggled to beat out the little known Miller before going down with an injury. Ask coaches about Miller and you will find out they really respect him. Has 80 tackles and three sacks in two NFL seasons.
Fred Robbins, Rams: An underrated pass rusher who has a terrific combination of power and quickness for a big man. Robbins followed Coach Spagnuolo from the Giants to the Rams and had six sacks this last season and even had eight passes defended. Robbins has been in the league 10 seasons but has recorded 25 sacks in the last five seasons.
Pat Williams, Vikings: An inside force who made up half of the "Williams Wall" along with Kevin Williams. He's been talking retirement, but we'll see when the lockout is lifted. Pat Williams has been an NFL starter for 14 seasons and plays more like a 3-4 nose tackle clogging up the middle. If he decides to play but doesn't return to the Vikings, 3-4 teams could be very interested in his services.
4-3 DEFENSIVE TACKLE (3 TECHNIQUE)
Richard Seymour, Raiders: A top defensive lineman in the league for 10 seasons who can play in any scheme and virtually any position. In 29 games with the Raiders over the last two seasons, he has 95 total tackles and 9.5 sacks. Seymour has become a team leader and has brought out the best in DT Tommie Kelly.
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3-4 DEFENSIVE ENDS
Finally, you'll notice that no where on this list did you find Albert Haynesworth, Kris Jenkins, Shaun Rogers, Ty Warren or Jamal Williams. Those players were under consideration, but simply have to reinvent their game or in some cases get healthy.