Chicago Bears: Home and AwayJeremiah Ratliff
Ratliff is a 10-year veteran out of Auburn. Last season he recorded 37 tackles and 6½ sacks, a feat that shows that even though he has had a successful career so far – with the Bears and the Dallas Cowboys – he is not ready to slow down. Ratliff was ranked as the sixth-best defensive tackles according to Pro Football Focus, as he excelled in defending both the run – 7.0 rating – and rushing the passer – 10.4 rating. It is expected that the Bears will be switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme next year after they hired John Fox as head coach and Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. Ratliff would be expected to be the starting nose tackle as he had extensive experience at the position while playing for the Cowboys.
Detroit Lions: Home and AwayNdamukong Suh
Suh is a five-year veteran out of Nebraska, and he continued to prove that he is one of top defensive tackles in the NFL last year, recording 53 tackles, a team-high 8½ sacks and defended three passes. PFF rated him 27.5 at the end of the season, making him the third-highest rated defensive tackle in the NFL. This offseason Suh will be a free agent and will have the opportunity to play for a team besides the Lions for the first time in his career. He will fetch big money no matter where he ends up, as he has been one of the most dominant defensive linemen since entering the NFL, but you can be sure the Lions will look to sign Suh to a long-term deal.
Green Bay Packers: Home and AwayLetroy Guion
The Green Bay Packers are the only team in the NFC North not to have a top-10 defensive tackle, which likely played into their No. 23-ranked rush defense. In his first season with the Packers, Guion was their best defensive tackle, and he received a -4.8 rating by PFF. It was a new experience for Guion to be playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme as he had always played in a 4-3 scheme while with the Minnesota Vikings. Next season he will have another year in the system to learn and continue to get better, and he should improve on his 32 tackles, 3½ sacks, one forced fumble, and one defended pass. Guion is a free agent this offseason, but after a good year it is safe to assume the Packers will look to resign him.
Seattle Seahawks: HomeKevin Williams
Williams is a 12-year veteran and is finishing his first season with Seattle. Even at the age of 34, Williams was still one of the best, if not the best, defensive tackles for the Seahawks. He finished the regular season with 30 tackles, three sacks, and two passes deflended. PFF gave him a rating of -0.3 after his 2014 regular season. Even though that rating makes him the No. 40 defensive tackle in the NFL, he is still the highest ranked out of the defensive tackles on the Seahawks’ roster. Williams only signed a one-year contract with Seattle, so he will be a free agent this offseason, and if Seattle wins the Super Bowl it is very possible that he will contemplate retirement.
Arizona Cardinals: AwayDan Williams
Williams is a five-year veteran after the Cardinals drafted him in the first-round of the 2010 draft. Last season he recorded 32 tackles, one sack and one pass defended, and because of his performance PFF gave him a rating of 11.5, making him tied for the No. 14 defensive tackle in the NFL. His strong suit is defending the run, and he earned a 13.7 rating while defending the run in 2014. This offseason Williams will be a free agent, and he will be a sought-after talent since he has been able to produce and at 27 years old he is still in the prime of his career.
St. Louis Rams: HomeAaron Donald
Donald was drafted No. 13 overall last year and he has surely exceeded all the expectations that were set on him at the beginning of his rookie season. He recorded 47 tackles, nine sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass defended, which led him to being rated as the top defensive tackle in the NFL by PFF with a 34.4 rating. Donald excelled in both defending against the run – receiving a 15.7 rating – and rushing the passer – receiving a 16.8 rating. If he is able to continue to improve he could be an impact player on the Rams’ defense for years to come.
San Francisco 49ers: AwayQuinton Dial
At the start of the season, Dial played as a rotational defensive end, but then in Week 11 he got to start as the 49ers’ nose tackle. It took him a couple weeks to get his bearings while playing the position, but the last three weeks of the season he seemed to figure everything out and ended on a high note. Dial finished the season with 30 tackles, two sacks and one pass defended. His play caused PFF to give him a 3.9 rating at the end of the season. Dial just finished his second year in the NFL after the 49ers drafted him out of Alabama.
Kansas City Chiefs: HomeDontari Poe
Poe just finished his second season in the NFL after the Chiefs used the No. 11 pick in the 2012 draft to bring him in. Poe is an anchor on the Chiefs defensive line, and his 966 snaps is more than any other defensive lineman played in 2014 – second-most was Suh with 875 snaps. He finished the season with 46 tackles, six sacks, and one pass defended. Poe’s performance started to trail off at the end of the season – receiving a 0.2 rating from PFF – and one reason could have been the amount of reps he was receiving. He is still a young and talented player, though, and should be able to bounce back in 2015.
Denver Broncos: AwayTerrance Knighton
Knighton is a six-year veteran from Temple. The Jacksonville Jaguars originally selected him in the third round of the 2009 draft, but now he is leading the way for defensive ends on the Broncos. At the end of the regular season, Khighton had recorded 30 tackles, two sacks and three passes defended, which led to PFF giving him a 12.7 rating. He was not very good rushing the passer – receiving a 0.4 rating – but he did excel defending the run – receiving a 13.0 rating. This offseason Khighton will be a free agent and could make a nice addition to a team looking for a big body to clog up the middle of the field.
San Diego Chargers: HomeSean Lissemore
The Chargers did not have a lot to write home about last season when it came to their defensive tackles, which is one of the reasons why they ended the season with the league’s 26th-ranked rush defense. Lissemore was the highest rated defensive tackle on the Chargers with a -2.3 rating after he recorded 29 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. Even though he has a negative rating, Lissemore played pretty consistently throughout the year, but the Chargers’ Week 13 game against the Baltimore Ravens skewed his rating because he didn’t rate well stopping the run, and as the nose tackle that was one of his primary responsibilities.
Oakland Raiders: AwayPat Sims
The Oakland Raiders finished the season with the 22nd-ranked rush defense, and a lot of that came from the poor play of their defensive tackles. With a -3.4 rating by PFF, Sims was the highest rated defensive tackle on the Raiders at the end of the 2014 season after he recorded 25 tackles and one pass defended. Sims just finished his sixth year in the NFL after he was drafted by Cincinnati in the third round in 2008. This offseason, Sims is a free agent and with a new coaching staff in Oakland it is unclear whether he will be back in 2015 or not.
New York Giants: HomeJohnathan Hankins The New York Giants finished the year with the NFL’s 30th-ranked rush defense. Although blame for a poor run defense can usually be put on the defensive tackles, this is not one of those cases as Hankins had a great season, and excelled against the run. He finished the season with a 20.2 rating by PFF – good for the seventh highest rated defensive tackle in the league – and a 12.1 rating while defending the run. During the course of the season, Hankins recoded 51 tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble and three passes defended.
Atlanta Falcons: AwayJohnathan Babineaux
Babineaux just finished up his 10th year in the NFL after the Falcons drafted him out of Iowa in the second round of the 2005 draft. He was the highest rated defensive tackle by PFF on the Falcons line with a 2.7. He did not play well when forced to defend the run and received a -7.4 rating against the run. Where he did play well, however, was rushing the passer, and he received a 6.3 rating. On the season, Babineaux recorded 31 tackles and two sacks. He played in 708 snaps for the Falcons in 2014, and as he continues to get older – he is currently 33 – it could be expected that his reps will begin to diminish.