Watch CBS News

Silverman: Donald, Short Lead The Way Among NFL Defensive Tackles

By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

The position of defensive tackle is evolving in the NFL. It is no longer enough for a defensive tackle to stop the run and fill holes. Clogging the interior run is still a requirement for the position, but it is not enough for the best teams.

NFL coaches are looking for far more versatility from defensive tackles than they did five or 10 years ago. They are looking for big, strong, wide bodies with just enough athleticism to cause havoc on every play.


A defensive tackle like the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald or the Carolina Panthers' Kawann Short-- someone who can slide between the guard and tackle or the center and the guard and get in the quarterback's face -- makes a defense significantly better.

Here's our look at the top defensive tackles going into the 2016 season.

1. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
One look at Donald and you realize he is a tremendous athlete who keeps himself in excellent shape. He is 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, and while that weight is 30 to 40 pounds less than many at the position, Donald is a powerful man. He has unrelenting quickness, and he is nearly impossible for linemen to block in a one-on-one situation. Donald has the instincts to know what the offense is going to do, and that allows him to flow to the ball and make plays. He had 69 tackles and 11 sacks last year, and both numbers should go up this season.

2. Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
Short is the perfect defensive tackle for the Panthers because he is dominant against the interior run and he can collapse the pocket by himself. He can beat nearly any blocker in a one-on-one situation, and he is strong enough to occupy multiple blockers. That opens things up for Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, who are both superb playmakers.

3. Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins
Suh was somewhat passive in Miami last season, but he should be ready to have a monster year now that he is getting used to his surroundings. When he is at his best, he can be nearly as impactful as J.J. Watt. Explosively strong with excellent intelligence, he understands how the offense is going to attack, and he can obliterate that strategy. While he will never win a good behavior award, he is not as dirty as his reputation, and he is less likely to hurt his team with unnecessary penalties that lead to suspensions than he was in the past.

4. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
McCoy can ruin an opposing offense with his quickness and his ability to step into a gap and get through it. He knows how to disrupt opposing offenses. Quarterbacks have to look out for him, and he can also hammer unsuspecting running backs by coming from the backside and delivering a forceful hit.

5. Linval Joseph, Minnesota Vikings

Linval Joseph
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Joseph has found a home in Minnesota after a decent but unspectacular four-year run with the Giants. Joseph is a 330-pound monster, and he may be the best in the league when it comes to handling double-team blocks. He is also versatile because he can play the anchor tackle position in a 4-3 front, but he could easily handle the middle in a 3-4 set.

6. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Atkins has regularly occupied either of the top two spots in these ratings, but injuries have taken their toll on this powerful run stuffer. When Atkins is healthy and on his game, opposing interior blockers simply can't handle his strength and he can also string moves together. However, he is not as consistently dominant as he was just a couple of years ago. He is a strong closer who had 11 sacks last year.

7. Derek Wolfe, Denver Broncos
Wolfe was solid all season for the Broncos last year, but he turned it up at least two notches during their postseason run. Wolfe's ability to squeeze through the cracks in the offensive line and get in the quarterback's face made life much better for Von Miller, who came around the corner at warp speed and wrapped up the quarterback. Wolfe had 2½ sacks in the postseason and established himself as a money player.

8. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
He is going to have to make a serious adjustment as the Eagles go from a 3-4 to a 4-3 setup. Cox is an excellent player who excels against the run and can cause havoc for quarterbacks, but the adjustment may cause him difficulties in the first month of the season or longer. He had 9½ sacks last year, and it may be hard for him to reach that figure this year.

9. Damon Harrison, New York Giants

Damon Harrison
Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The Giants need help up and down their lineup on defense, and they did not hesitate to pick the pocket of the Jets to upgrade their line. Harrison is not the quickest player at the position, but he is nearly immovable at 350 pounds. Look for "Snacks" to give the Giants much better production from the defensive interior. He had 72 tackles last year, and he could come close to matching that figure this season.

10. Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jackson was one of the big free-agent winners in the offseason, as he signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the up-and-coming Jaguars. This three-technique tackle can pressure the quarterback, and the Jaguars need him to do this consistently this season. He had 5½ sacks a year ago and seven passes defensed. Look for him to improve on both figures this season.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.