Projecting the Top 10 for the 2020 NFL Season: Defensive Tacklesby Ethan Hewette August 25, 2020 0 comments
Every year the NFL Network does its top 100 countdown based on the previous season. However, that’s the past, and we want to look forward to the future. Four of our writers have put together a 14 part series, predicting our top 10 at each position. We’ve also included the most under and overrated at each position. Today, we continue the series with our top 10 defensive tackles.
10) Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers
Clark has been a name that has been left off of top-10 lists a few times, however, he has every right to be on them. In 2019, Clark put up six sacks, nine tackles-for-loss, and has totaled 30 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons. He has shown versatility in playing either nose tackle or sliding out to play a little three-tech, and his quickness matches well with his strength giving him the ability to rack up tackles. Clark is beginning to turn into a superstar and recently received a big payday.
9) D.J. Reader, Cincinnati Bengals
Reader has slowly progressed into one of the better nose tackles in the NFL. Weighing in at 347 pounds and 6 foot 3 inches, Reader has been able to muscle his way through blockers and get pressure on the quarterback. He totaled 13 quarterback hits in 2019 after having just 11 in his first three seasons combined. Reader also had 52 total tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2019. Reader has shown versatility playing from all over the interior defensive line and has a motor that runs with the best of them. Pairing Reader with Geno Atkins, who is also on this list, will be an incredible duo for the Bengals in 2020.
8) Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
While Short’s 2019 season was cut down to just two games due to injury, this doesn’t take away his need to be on this list. Short has been one of the more well rounded defensive tackles in the NFL since he came into the league in 2013. His combination of quickness, size, and technique make him a bigtime weapon for the Panthers defense. Short should be back to his healthy self for 2020, and his elite level of play.
7) Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons may have gotten the steal of the decade when they were able to grab Jarrett in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. While his first few seasons were not very involved, the past two seasons have been quite different. In 2019, Jarrett would post 7.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures, and 69 total tackles. While some knock him for his six-foot stature, he uses it to his advantage to gain easy leverage on offensive lineman and has dominated over the past two seasons. Jarrett is another young defensive tackle who deserves a big payday.
6) Jurrell Casey, Denver Broncos
The loss of Casey is going to impact the Tennessee Titans defense more than most people realize. While the tackle numbers weren’t as large in 2019, he still put on a show dominating interior offensive lineman and allowing his teammates around him to thrive. He has shut down play after play for years now and hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves. However, after a ridiculous trade with Denver where the Broncos only gave up a seventh-round pick, Casey could thrive with other big names around him. Casey could have a career year in 2020.
5) Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Meet the second half of a very talented Bengals interior defensive line. Atkins has been playing at an elite level since he stepped onto the field in 2010. However, 2019 did see a decrease in production for him. He did also play a career-high in snaps at 76% meaning his legs weren’t as fresh as they usually are. With a revamped defensive line, including Reader, Atkins will be able to rotate in and out more, most likely seeing his numbers get back to where they usually are.
4) DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts
Buckner has quickly grown into a top defensive tackle over his four seasons in the NFL. After putting up 12 sacks in 2018, Buckner would follow up with 7.5 in his 2019 campaign. Over those two seasons, Buckner also amassed 54 quarterback pressures and was a big part of the San Francisco 49ers elite defense last season. Buckner’s speed combined with his massive 6-foot-7-inch and 300-pound frame is crazy and is part of the reason why he has been so dominant. After being traded to the Colts for a first-round pick, expect Buckner to dominate offensive lineman.
3) Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
Cox has been one of the most consistent defensive tackles in the NFL over the past few years. While 2018 was his best season totaling 10.5 sacks and 45 pressures, he has been a phenomenal pass rusher his entire career. Cox can win from any position and has been a Pro Bowl player for the past five seasons. He also has been either a 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro since 2014. While I put him behind Jones on this list, Cox could easily slide into that second spot with a dominant 2020.
2) Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
I’ll be honest. If the Chiefs didn’t re-sign Jones long term, they would have regretted it big time. Fortunately for both sides, they did, and Jones’ tear of dominance will continue in a Chiefs jersey. It is criminal that Jones has only been selected to one Pro Bowl and just one Second-Team All-Pro selection. Over the past two seasons, Jones has accumulated 24.5 sacks and 76 quarterback pressures. He has that crazy combination of size and quickness and simply powers through blockers. Expect some big results with the big money he received in 2020.
1) Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
Was there any other option to put here at number one? Donald has been far and away the best defensive tackle in football for the past two seasons. After leading the league in sacks (20.5) and tackles for loss (25) in 2018, Donald would follow it up with 12.5 sacks and led the league again in tackles for loss with 20 in 2019. On top of this, Donald has accumulated 125 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons. How? Donald has a superhuman combination of speed, quickness, bend, and technique, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Most Underrated – Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
Short is a player that, unfortunately, hasn’t gotten much recognition and too often isn’t a name that comes up much when discussing the best defensive tackles. That is surprising given that the guy can do anything you ask him to do, and only two Second Team All-Pros and two Pro Bowls are in his possession. 2020 will be a season where several eyes will be on the Panthers with new head coach Matt Rhule, so hopefully, this will also highlight Short’s abilities.
Most Overrated – Michael Pierce, Minnesota Vikings
Make no mistake, Pierce is a great run stuffer. His 2018 run defense was phenomenal. However, it was a smaller sample size, and 2019 wasn’t quite as impressive. While this is most likely his performance balancing out, we haven’t mentioned pass rush. The reason is that when it comes to rushing the passer, Pierce has been a non factor. Again, great run stuffer, but I’m not sure I’d pay him the money the Vikings currently are.
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