Simon’s Top 10 Defensive Tackles Going Into the 2015 NFL Season

As we move toward the end of our Top 10 rankings ahead of the 2015 season, it’s the turn of the defensive tackles.

The biggest baddest members of the defensive front, tackles need to be quick, strong and versatile. Often required to fulfill a number of different roles from run stuffer to pass rusher they are the wrecking balls in the trenches.

So who are looking set to be the most disruptive this season? This is my take on 10 of the best headed in to 2015. As always, let me know who you agree with, disagree with, or who you think should have made the list. You’ll find me on Twitter @headedforhades.

So, here we go…


  1. Sen’Derrick Marks

A bit of a risky selection to kick this Top 10 off given Marks is set to miss the entire preseason as he continues to recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL at the end of last year, but all reports suggest he’ll be ready to go by the time Week 1 gets underway.

Marks had something of a career year in 2014 with 9 sacks and 29 QB pressures, using a quick first step to outwit opposing blockers and get in to the backfield to disrupt the play. He also possesses the athletic ability to be used on stunts and, with the arrival of Jared Odrick from Miami in the offseason, that is something we could see more of from the Jags defense in 2015.

How Marks’ knee will hold up remains to be seen which is why he sits at 10, but he’s too good not to feature on this list in my opinion.


  1. Brandon Williams

Williams had a solid sophomore season last year, using his power and strength to get through the line on a regular basis and, whilst he didn’t necessarily always get to the Quarterback, he caused enough disruption for the likes of Dumervil and Suggs to finish the job.

Solid against the run with an impressive 38 tackles on the season, Williams is a difficult man to tie down with blocking, meaning he often draws the attention of two at the line. As he continues to learn his craft in his third year, he promises to remain a constant threat to opposing backfields.


  1. Kawann Short

Another tackle coming off his sophomore year, Kawann Short has continued to impress since the Panthers selected him in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft.

He’s particularly strong against the run either shooting the gap or shedding his blocker to make contact in the backfield. Whilst he struggles at times with countermoves from opposing linemen, his strength and athleticism often allow him to bull rush his way through, rather than round.

That’s something I think he’ll probably improve upon as his experience grows and his future looks bright, both for 2015 and beyond.


  1. Kyle D. Williams

Part of one of the best defensive lines in football, Kyle Williams was almost unstoppable against the run last year, recording 41 tackles on the season.

At 6’1” and 303lbs, he has immense strength to tie up his man and allow others to hit the gaps he creates to get across the line. He’s a big part of the Bills defense leading the League in 2014 for sacks. That relatively(!) small frame also gives great leverage against taller opposition allowing him to push his man backwards at the point of attack.

At 32 he’s not the youngest in the trenches, but with the talent and strength around him and the new-found energy Rex Ryan has brought to Buffalo, I don’t expect him to slow down just yet.


  1. Johnathan Hankins

Following the departure of Linval Joseph to division rivals Washington, Hankins’ has been accelerated from backup to starter faster than most anticipated, and has stood up to the task well.

Despite being on one of the worst run defenses last season, Hankins appeared to thrive in his new starting role, recording 51 tackles on the year as he consistently found ways to break through the line and meet runners head on using his quick initial burst to get opposing linemen turned or forced back in to the runner’s lap.

If there wasn’t a runner to tackle, he turned his attention to the Quarterback, recording 8 sacks on the year and a further 27 hits/hurries, again using that speed to get to his man. Not bad when you consider he’s currently listed at 320lbs!

The Giants need to step up in defense as a whole if they are to regain that competitive edge, but I think Hankins is certainly a foundation they can build upon.


  1. Sharrif Floyd

It’s fair to say Sharrif Floyd’s rookie season in 2013 didn’t set the world alight but he flourished in 2014 under Mike Zimmer’s defense, at least when he was healthy having effectively missed four games through injury.

Floyd himself obviously knew his first season wasn’t good enough to make it, choosing to give up meat in the offseason and coming in to last year 25 pounds lighter as a result. It paid dividends, too. Floyd showed better speed and agility allowing him to beat his man more regularly and record 5 sacks and 35 tackles.

Mike Zimmer has gone on record saying Floyd will need to learn to better take care of himself if he’s to continue to improve, but from what he has demonstrated already in his short career, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem and I think we see him continue to grow as a result.


  1. Marcell Dareus

When your defense is as dominant as the Bills’ was in 2014, it’s not surprising to see two of your tackles feature in a Top 10 list, and Marcell Dareus is one of the best there is in my opinion.

Drafted 3rd overall by the Bills in 2011, Dareus hasn’t looked back since and has become an ever present threat on the defensive line both against the run game and for opposing Quarterbacks alike.

At 6’3” and 331lbs, Dareus has the build and strength to bull rush almost any lineman opposing him and the skill to shed his block and close in on his target with impressive speed for a man of his size. As a result, he’s dangerous both when sealing an end for others to get in the backfield, or doing it on his own.

That is a fact borne out by the numbers for last year, too. Dareus finished the year with a League high 10 sacks, and 22 further pressures on the passer. Add in his 38 tackles (32 of which were solo efforts) and it’s clear he’s a threat in his own right, without having him backed up by a stellar supporting cast.

He’ll miss the first game of the 2015 season due to suspension for violation of the League’s substance abuse policy but I don’t see that having any major effect. It’s a contract year as well and with the Bills potentially struggling with the salary cap, I think we can expect Dareus to want to put in another exceptional year to maintain his obvious market value.


  1. Gerald McCoy

Not everything was awful in Tampa last year and, thankfully for the Bucs, their new $100M man was one of the exceptions.

In a season cut short by a knee injury in Week 15, McCoy once again showed why he was paid the big money, getting to the Quarterback on a regular basis and making a nuisance of himself at the line against the run, earning himself a third consecutive selection to the Pro Bowl in the process.

Whilst the run game isn’t necessarily his strength, he excels in the pass rush even when targeted by the opposing line given Tampa’s lack of any real effectiveness off the edge. In just 668 snaps (and with a broken hand for part of the season), McCoy managed 9 sacks, 9 hits and 27 hurries on the Quarterback and shed blockers with ease at times using his leverage and speed to leave them in his wake.

They will be hoping for a few changes in Tampa Bay in 2015, but one thing they won’t want to change is the leadership and productivity of McCoy as one of the best tackles in the League currently.


  1. Ndamukong Suh

The top two on my list of tackles was a close run thing and I have changed my mind several times in the process of writing it up but, in the end, this year’s big money mover lands at the runners-up spot. The season that ultimately earned Suh that record-breaking move to Miami was possibly the best of his career so far as he continued to be a powerhouse in all aspects of the game.

Against the run, Suh recorded more solo tackles than anyone on this list (37) and was credited with 38 offensive stops. His sheer size and strength are more than enough to make his own gap and, once he does, his speed gets him to the ball carrier in double quick time. He’s learned to time those bursts as his career has progressed, meaning he’s less likely to overshoot on his pursuit than in his early years.

As a pass rusher, Suh is equally destructive. 8 sacks and a massive 49 hurries/hits meant he was a threat on every down and didn’t allow opposing offenses any opportunity to relax. His speed off the line at the snap often catches blockers off guard although, if there is one criticism, his eagerness to hit the gap makes him prone to drawing a flag or two – 10 to be precise – but that’s a small price to pay for the sheer chaos he can cause.

As mentioned, it was a tough decision to put Suh at 2 on this list, but there is the unknown of settling in to a new defensive line in Miami and the challenges that will bring. There’s no doubt Suh is good enough to overcome those, but it’s enough to allow my Number 1 to shade the top spot…


  1. Aaron Donald

Whilst DT wasn’t necessarily high on the Rams’ list of needs coming in to the 2014 draft, Jeff Fischer chose to use the 13th overall pick to take what they considered to be Best Available and make Donald a Ram. As it transpired, it was an excellent choice.

Make no mistake; the Rookie out of Pittsburgh had an exceptionally good first year. He was voted the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, became the first Rookie to be voted to the Pro Bowl since 1993, and quickly established himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the League.

Despite a slow start to his NFL career (recording just 13 tackles and 1 sack in his first 5 games) Donald quickly found his feet and finished the season a far stronger and consistent performer, with 8 further sacks on the season including one in six of the last seven games.

Toward the end of the season, Donald would find himself with more than one blocker to content with, but his low center of gravity and excellent leverage meant he would often make short work of getting in to the backfield and harassing the Quarterback or stuffing the run inside before it had even reached the line of scrimmage. In short, Donald was a human bulldozer.

There is no doubt teams will be more aware of his capabilities this time around and he’ll likely see more double team blocks but his improvement over the course of his first year alone is enough for me to think he’ll only get better with a full offseason behind him.

Donald himself recently said he feels like his first year was nothing more than a foundation to build upon and that’s a scary prospect for opposing linemen and offenses alike. If he’s even close to improving on his exemplary first year, I think we’ll be hard pressed to find a better performer at the position this year.