I was actually looking for a highlight video to break down exactly what it is that Paul Soliai does, but there was not one. I did however find this video of a true franchise DT. If you find, or make a highlight video of Paul Soliai's highlights, feel free to post it and we will take a look at exactly what he does.
I will make the case that neither Soliai or Starks are even in the same league as Ngata and therefore do not warrant the franchise tag the way Ngata does. I feel like we got ripped off and were forced to franchise 2 mediocre DTs just because Jeff Ireland thought these guys were good because someone told him so. If you look at this tape, it is pretty clear that this guy is a franchise player, and what we have are warm bodies that we were forced to overpay because it is hard to find big bodies that can play according to Jeff Ireland. We could have had 2 in 2010... instead we picked Jared Odrick followed by Koa Misi. We keep trying to replace both of those guys. I would rather have picked Linval Joseph followed by Terrence Cody instead of both of those guys. Then we could have let Starks and Soliai walk instead of franchising them.
My biggest gripe with either of these guys is that they can't shed blockers and are only good for "eating blocks" which is just another way of saying they are really good at getting blocked. The fact that Soliai is so big that it takes 2 guys to move him is not amazing.. it is simple physics. The part that irritates me to no end is if they are not running right at him he NEVER gets double teamed. If they run to the outside they either try to reach him or they don't even bother to block him. Let me explain what I mean. For instance, if they are running to the TE side and Soliai is lined up to the TE side of the Center in a 1 technique they will have the Center reach to block him rather than blocking down with the OG on the TE side. That allows them to set the edge against us because they are using one less blocker on that side, without pulling anyone. Occasionally Soliai will notice the whole defense is moving that way and will get in the backfield deep enough to make a play.. but that is nothing spectacular. They just totally disrespected him, and he actually made a play. Not really as impressive as it looks. They purposely ran towards what is supposedly a natural mismatch. Show me another time where you would purposefully cause a mismatch with a "franchise player." It doesn't happen to Ngata I can tell you that. It only happens with our "franchise players."
I really didn't want to make this another post disrespecting PFF, but I guess it just turned into that. PFF isn't any smarter than most fans are when they are watching D-line play, which is why they don't recognize how much Soliai and Starks are consistently thrown into situations where they have a natural advantage and wind up with a positive grade even though they didn't really do anything. The fact that they beat their guy is not impressive, it is expected. It allowed them to have an extra blocker at the point of attack and therefore even though they "won" the battle, they allowed an easy win to the war.
Lets be honest most former pros who were either D-linemen or O-linemen that are now analysts are too lazy to actually watch enough film to see this. Instead they rely on PFF rankings instead of actually watching the crap that Soliai and Starks put on the field every week. I being a Dolphins fan am forced to watch this crap week in and week out. Being a former D-lineman, I spend most of my time watching the D-line and O-line as it is the quickest way to determine who is going to win a game. There are occasions where bad O-line and D-line play can be overcome, but it is always a dog fight(see the last few years for the Dolphins.
The guys that are actually able to analyze don't know enough about D-line play to go against guys like Warren Sapp. But anyone can recognize what a true franchise DT is when they see it on the field.
Add to that the fact that Ireland pays both of these guys franchise money and we suddenly have 2 Pro Bowlers even though we have one of the worst run defenses in the league. 2012 our Run Defense was much better.. but that was after a few completely awful performances where our LBs played the way they normally did, aggressive. They had to learn to sit back and give up 5 yards. They couldn't shoot the gap, because the DT was busy eating a block" and if they picked one A gap, the RB would hit the other A gap, or the B gap. In either case they had to eventually give up and give up 2-4 yards. Then we complained that neither Dansby or Burnett made plays. You don't make plays at 2-4 yards.. you make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. How did Ellerbe look last year behind a franchise DT? Not so great. How did he look the year before behind Ngata? I think he helped win a Super Bowl even though Ray Lewis was out for most of the season. Want to get better LB play? Improve the guys in front of them.
Still not convinced they are not just guys? Lets take a look at some other ekite DTs and we can measure them up against them. The first: Vince Wilfork.
2nd: Ndamukong Suh- Pay attention to what Mike Tice says about a DT needing to get penetration. Now tell me how often you see either of our DTs get penetration.
3rd in no particular order: Geno Atkins. Look at the way he uses his hands. Also look at the penetration he is getting.
4th Gerald McCoy- Look past all the pash rush highlights because I am not even talking about the fact that McCoy can stay on the field on third down and Soliai can not. I want you to purely look at how he plays the run. Look at how he sheds blocks and makes tackles. When Soliai does that he does it 4-6 yards in front of the line of scrimmage. It is not enough sometimes to make the tackle. It is about where you make the tackle. If you are a DT and you give them 4 yards... you have failed at your job. You have not stopped the run.