Top 25 defensive tackles in the NFL for the 2021 season | 15-1
There might be a few surprise names to begin here, but the usual suspects top this prestigious list of talents.
15. Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Tomlinson this high on the list might come as a surprise to some, but when we discuss immovable objects, including him is necessary. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch for years now. The stout defensive tackle has played everywhere on the interior for the Giants and creates physical mismatches in solo situations.
His ability to uproot pass blockers allows him to collapse the pocket. That means the Giants’ exterior rushers (if they had any) were free to rush the passer.
14. Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks
Listen. Draft Twitter can be a cesspool of creatures slinging feces at one another, but sometimes they get things right. Poona Ford was one of those things. Length is usually important to become one of the top defensive tackles, and Ford has that. He simply lacks height.
But doesn’t low man win? Not necessarily, but Ford pairs his natural leverage with a great base and hand placement to keep his distance and shed blocks in pursuit of the run. He’ll never be a high-upside pass rusher, but that is not his job.
13. Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Besides teammate Antoine Winfield Jr., there’s not a player in the league I admire more. I remember watching him force college offensive linemen into retirement with a devastating “hump” move. It’s clear how much better Tampa Bay’s defense is when Vita Vea is on the field.
What many do not realize about the nose tackle position is how much cognitively goes on. It’s not just “don’t get moved.” It’s why it usually takes time to get dialed in and be sharp at the position. If Vea stays healthy, he should be one of the most dominant NFL players heading into 2021, not just one of the top defensive tackles.
12. Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans
Jeffery Simmons holds a special place in my heart. Simmons was my third-ranked prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. If Quinnen Williams was the draft class’ technician with good athleticism, Simmons was the rabid dog being trained to compete in shows. He wasn’t sashimi raw, but there were unrefined elements to his game.
He lands one spot ahead of my one true draft crush (Vea) because he offers more pass-rush upside given his quickness and ability to deconstruct blocks through technique rather than pure, unadulterated power.
11. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers
Kenny Clark is the premier pure nose tackle in the league right now. Last season wasn’t as fruitful as 2019, but I expect a fully healthy Clark to continue his dominance as one of the top defensive tackles heading into 2021.
His improved pass rush allows the Packers to keep him on the field in obvious passing downs, making him a bit of an outlier as a true nose.
10. Jonathan Allen, Washington Football Team
Jonathan Allen has somehow remained unassuming in his four professional seasons. The former Alabama interior defender is a disruptive pass rusher who also helps bolster the best defensive line in the league against the run. Ioannidis is the better pure rusher, Payne is the better run defender, but neither blends the two the way Allen does.
Having a three-headed monster like that means many one-on-one situations, which Allen dominates with a violent cross chop and great explosion.
9. Quinnen Williams, New York Jets
Shockingly, we have another Alabama alum on the list. Williams easily has the best smile in the NFL, but don’t let that fool you. The loveable bear is a technical killer.
He didn’t get a ton of playing time at Alabama, yet his hands made him the best prospect in his draft class (a class that included Nick Bosa). Williams has strong hands and a great base. His athleticism allows him to play up and down the defensive front. He is one of the top defensive tackles heading into 2021 and well into the future.
8. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
Grady Jarrett is one of the premier interior pass rushers. He’s surprisingly stout against the run for his size. He lacks height, length, and girth, but makes up for it with explosiveness, leverage, and flexibility. There is a reason the Falcons chose him to be quite possibly the only building block on their team moving forward outside of quarterback Matt Ryan.
7. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
Fletcher Cox has a résumé that speaks for itself. He’s been selected as an All-Pro four times during his career and is largely considered the second-best of the generation. If not for a mutant playing the same position, he’d be seen as the best of the era.
His athleticism and power have always overwhelmed, making him one of the top defensive tackles in the game. Cox is aging now, but NFC East offensive lines still hate seeing him.
6. Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stephon Tuitt has outstanding lateral quickness and explodes well through direction changes. He sets up blockers well and has the hands to beat blockers across their face. Tuitt and teammate Cameron Heyward set one another up incredibly well.
His ability to work through the chest of defenders is outstanding. He couples that with a great swim move to win the corner.
5. Leonard Williams, New York Giants
Leonard Williams had a career year in 2020. In his sixth NFL season, his game has rounded into form. 2020 was the first season his pass-rush repertoire really came around. His 30 quarterback hits led the entire NFL in 2020. He possesses a strong spin move and can convert speed to power because of his explosive first step and long arms. Williams has learned how to use his length more effectively.
4. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
Heyward didn’t produce in the same fashion he had in prior seasons from a sack or tackle-for-loss perspective, but that’s partially because Tuitt was taking sacks left and right.
He’s one of the top technicians playing on the defensive line in the league. His ability to break down blocks with his hands makes him one of the top defensive tackles in the league.
3. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts
DeForest Buckner’s trade to Indianapolis was always going to work out brilliantly. Like San Francisco’s defense under Robert Saleh, the Colts are one of the most well-coached and over-performing groups in the NFL.
Buckner’s length and strength overwhelm offensive linemen. His stride length and the violence in his rip-through allow him to corner around blockers.
2. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Jones didn’t enjoy the same sack or TFL production he did in 2019, but he did enough to be voted as an All-Pro. He tied Aaron Donald for second-most hits on opposing quarterbacks with 28.
Jones has improved technically every season he’s played, and his size and explosiveness allow him to be creative in how he wins.
1. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Donald is the best player in the National Football League, and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. He’ll go down as one of, if not the best interior defender of all time. His six straight first-team All-Pro honors match the record set by Reggie White, who is widely considered one of the top 10 players in league history.
Donald has 46.5 sacks over the past three seasons. He appears chiseled out of stone and is one of three metahumans in the NFL. He’s currently the best of the three using his superpowers, though.
Want more NFL news and analysis?
Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things around the NFL. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis concerning the 2021 season and beyond.