For last week's divisional rankings, we focused on linebackers. This week, we will stick with the defensive side of the ball and focus our attention on the division's defensive tackles.
And this division has some really good guys clogging up the middle. Please note, though, that I've put the most emphasis on the starters rather than on the depth.
MATTY'S RANKINGS OF AFC EAST DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Why are the Patriots at the top of my list? Two words - Vince Wilfork. He's an absolute beast at nose tackle for the Patriots. He does his job of eating up blockers unbelievably well. And he even makes some plays himself. He had 45 solo tackles last season to go with a couple sacks. But it's his ability to take on blockers as well as apply some heat up the middle on the quarterback that gives New England the top spot in my rankings.
Ron Brace is also a pretty formidable backup for Wilfork. He was a guy I know many Dolphin fans were high on entering the draft and he's going to fit in quite well in NE behind Wilfork. And you never know - Wilfork is scheduled to be a free agent following the '09 season. If Brace impresses this year, could the Patriots possibly let Wilfork walk? And would he walk all the way back home South Florida? I'm just saying...
It's hard to compare the defensive tackles in a 4-3 alignment to those in a 3-4. But the Bills do have a couple of very good tackles working the middle of their defensive line. Marcus Stroud is a monster at 6'6, 310 pounds. He does an excellent job against both the run and pass. He had 5.5 tackles for loss in '08 to go with his 2.5 sacks. And even when he isn't getting all the way to the QB, he's using his long arms to knock down passes - tallying 7 pass deflections last season.
Next to him is the underrated young DT Kyle Williams. Williams is only entering his fourth season since being a 5th round pick in 2006. But he's already started 43 games at DT for Buffalo - including all 32 the past 2 seasons. Last year, he picked up 2 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss playing next to Stroud. Together, he and Stroud present problems for the interior of any offensive line they face.
There are many things, it seems, that Dolphin fans can't agree on. But Jason Ferguson's value to this team is one thing all Fin fans understand. Ferguson doesn't put up impressive numbers by any means. But he does his job as the anchor in the middle of Miami's 3-4 defense and he does it well. He effectively holds his ground in the middle and will tie up two blockers on a consistent basis. But that's not to say he doesn't make the occasional play here and there. In fact, Ferguson was second in the division among all defensive tackles in tackles for loss. His 5 tackles for a loss only trailed Marcus Stroud by .5 tackles. And that's with Stroud not having to endure playing the nose in a 3-4 and with Jason coming off the field on 3rd down most of the time.
It's unclear at this point who will back up Ferguson this season, though. And at the age of 34, Jason will need more time on the sidelines to remain effective throughout a full 16 game regular season. Paul Soliai will have the first crack at it in camp. He played surprisingly not bad when he was given the opportunity last season. But his consistency must improve - as does his conditioning.
I'm fully prepared for Jets fans to come and attack me for this ranking. But that's fine. It's not that I think Kris Jenkins is a bad player. The thing is - I don't think he's as great as some in the media want you to believe. He's a massive individual and, because of that, wears down pretty quickly in a season. Last year, Jenkins looked dominant the first half of the season. But then he began to progressively go down hill - and conditioning has to be a major reason why. But the bottom line here is that during the most important stretch of the season - the final third of the season - Jenkins played average at best. Over the Jets' final five games of 2008, Jenkins tallied only 0.5 tackles for loss and no sacks.
More importantly, the Jets simply couldn't stop the run in those final five games. During their first 11, the Jets allowed just 78 yards rushing per game and surrendered just 3.4 yards-per-carry. But over those critical final five games of the year, Jenkins simply had no gas left - which led to opponents averaging 132 yards per game and 4.3 yards-per-carry against New York. The Jets were 1-4 in those games and went from potential Super Bowl contender to out of the playoffs. Most will point the finger at Brett Favre for that collapse. But the Jets couldn't stop the run - and a lot of that had to do with Kris Jenkins being ineffective at taking on blockers and clogging up the middle.