The DT position is the focal point in a 3-4 defense, almost as important as a MLB in a 4-3 and a QB in any offensive system (except Miami’s). All four defenses in the AFC East use the 3-4 at least some of the time, making the DT position the most important to lock down in my mind. If you don’t have one, well just look at what happened to Buffalo and their ability to stop the rush last year. Who will be the next lockdown, gap-filling, run-stopping, scare-the-bajeebies-out-of-quarterbacks player? Whose defense will the AFC East running backs hate to play against this year?
AFC East #1 DT group: Buffalo Bills
The Bills made a lot of Bills fans very happy when they re-anchored their D-line and actually gave themselves a realistic chance at having an effective 3-4 defense, especially by re-tooling at the DT position. With the lone pro-bowler on the team, a couple of young guys not living up to potential, and Andre the Giant’s long lost half-brother, the Bills should be much better at filling up the middle of the line and creating havoc in the backfield. In fact, they need this group of guys to perform extremely well or else we’ll be looking at 2010 all over again. The Bills come in at a shaky number 1 because of the promising youthful lineup of big strong guys who all have high motors. The only thing giving me fits is the fact that they’re all so young. Williams is the old man at 27 years old and the rest are all under the age of 24. This line has the capability to impress, especially with Williams on the roster, but expect the first few games to be a little shaky, especially if they do not geta lot of time in camp or throughout the preseason to gel as a unit.
Marcel Dareus- 6’3, 319 lbs. “Please don’t let them blow it. Please don’t let them blow it.” This was my mantra for 8 minutes leading up to Dareus getting the phone call from the Bills. I knew we were going to get Dareus but had this deep seeded fear that only a Bills fan can have. You know what I’m talking about. That JP Lossman, John McEscargot, Aaron Maybenot, feeling of impending disappointment in their first round pick. But no! Finally, Buddy Nix lives up to the hype of being the draft guru and gives the Bills the biggest impact defensive player that we’ve had since Bryce Paup (I refuse to go to Bruce Smith like some people, for an unproven rookie). Dareus comes highly heralded out of Alabama with a defensive MVP honor in the 2010 national championship game. Dareus embodies the hope of Bills fans everywhere that the Bills will be able to shut down the run and rush the passer, giving the explosive Bills offense a chance to shine. If Dareus can live up to the hype, he will fit into the multiple defenses that Gailey plans to use including the 3-4 base, switching between DE and NT, and in the four man front of their nickel defense. Dareus has an amazing chop, swim and bullrush with fantastic fundamentals and prototype size for this position. I expect Dareus to be a first year Pro-Bowler and the Bills defensive MVP for the upcoming season.
Kyle Williams- 6’1, 306 lbs. Highly doubted coming out of LSU, the Bills stole Williams in the 5th round and got an immediate impact on their D with Williams getting in on 53 tackles in his rookie season. Over his 5 year career, Williams has been in on 291 tackles (3.7/game) and has 13.5 sacks (5.5 last season). He is by far the most underrated defensive player in the NFL and is just now starting to get recognized for his accomplishments. Using these numbers as a comparison, he has been more effective than ANY OTHER DT in the AFC East over his career including Vince Wilfork. Truly, he fits into the realm of the Jim Browns and OJ Simpsons of the world by being a fantastic player on a bad team. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in strength, technique and downright meanness, filling gaps and getting into the backfield despite constant double teams. Kyle Williams needs to be a life-time Buffalo Bill and is a future hall and wall of fame player.
Torell Troup- 6’3, 315 lbs. Drafted in the second round out of UCF, Torell Troup fit the bill for the Bill’s entire 2010 draft: R-E-A-C-H. Instead of taking a monster who was very productive in Alabama’s Terrence Cody, they take Troup who looked the part and helped lead the Bulls to a bowl game, but has failed to make an impact on the Bills roster. Getting in on only 33 tackles in 15 games last year (2 tackles a game? ouch), Troup needs to bump up his production and change something if he hopes to make the team this year. Could he be seen as the Bill’s next bust? Will he even be given the opportunity to make an impression.
Kellen Heard- 6’6, 355 lbs. Undrafted, signed off of the waiver wires last year when he was released by the Raiders. He failed to play in any games last year and will likely be cut this year to make room for more promising young talent.
Michael Jasper- 6’4, 394 lbs. Michael Jasper is one of those rookies drafted in the late rounds that is like the prize at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks; he may not be worth much in the long run but he’s really shiny and fun to watch. Intriguing Bills fans everywhere, this mammoth football player is surprisingly athletic and does not look like a near 400 pounder. Playing out of Bethel University, Jasper turned heads as a 450 lb o-lineman on the inside that would take up two defenders and open gaps the size of Maryland. When told by Bills management that they would give him a chance if he dropped below 400 lbs, he quickly cut his weight down to 375 and was drafted in the 7th round because of it. Jasper could be the Bills’ big, and I mean big, project this year. All in all, I believe in this kid’s tenacity and dedication and believe that he will anchor this D-line at Nose for years to come.
The Bills Game Plan:
Load the interior of the D with the biggest, most athletic players we can find. Imagine this. September 25th, 2011. 3:01 left to play. 4th and 2. Bills 21, Pats 15. Pats ball on the Bills 2 yardline. Goal Line Formation. The Bills roll out a 5-2 lineup with Michael Jasper at NT, Marcel Dareus and Torell Troup as DT’s on either side and Kyle Williams playing one of the ends. Tell me that any team in the NFL will run for a touchdown against that!. With the massive amounts of talent that the Bills have this year, the only thing limiting their productivity is Chan Gailey’s creativity in how he uses them. I foresee the Bills mixing up the lineup and alternating these guys around, shifting up and down the line, pulling stunts and dropping opponents. Projected 3-4 lineup: Michael Jasper playing the nose, Dareus and Williams playing the “ends.” I see us in the top 10 in total defense and total rush defense and top 15 in sacks.
AFC East #2 DT group: New England Patriots:
The Patriots use a base 3-4 system, pulling attackers from anywhere, getting to the quarterback and stopping the run very effectively. Bill Bellicheck uses his DTs according to their skills and what they are best at. NE gets the #1 rating because their DT core is stacked with quality veterans, promising young kids, one 317 lb waste of space, and one monster perennial pro bowler. But let’s face it, the Patriots’s best defensive player is Tom Brady. These guys run up the score and dare everyone to try to keep up, allowing their opportunistic defense to pick off quarterbacks, cause fumbles and get sacks, just because the opponent is trying desperately to make something happen on offense.
PS. Call it sour apples, but couldn’t they let Vince Wilfork really hit the FA market just once?
Vince Wilfork – 6’2, 325 lbs. Vince Wilfork is a 7 year monster out of the U of Miami who astounds opposing offensive coordinators with his rare combination of size, strength, quickness and agility. His main goal which he has been successful in has been filling up the middle of the field and stopping the run. He has been in on 359 tackles over his career (about 3.3/game) including a monstrous 57 last year. He’s not much for sacking the quarterback (only9.5 career sacks), but runs from sideline to sideline devastating offensive game plans and embarrassing offensive linemen. He’s the most recognizable NT in the NFL and is coveted by any 3-4 defensive coordinator. In 2009, he hit the free agent market, which got me salivating until he was re-signed by the Pats within hours of Free Agency starting. Vince Wilfork continues to be the most dominant interior lineman in the NFL and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Gerard Warren- 6’4, 330 lbs. Warren is a 10 year veteran, who started every game for six of those seasons. He was picked third overall in the 2001 draft and has had a long fantastic career with the Browns, Broncos and Raiders. With 35.5 career sacks (3.5 in 2010) and being in on 320 career tackles (26 in 2010), Warren is still a big tough force to be reckoned with and can line up inside at the nose or outside on the end. The Patriots use him a the counterpart to Vince Wilfork, frequently pulling him on stunts to get to the QB. I’m not sure how many more years he has in him, but he is still a very productive, consistent player. Though he’s a free agent this year, Warren should be the first name on the list of Free agents to resign once the labor situation figures itself out, although with Bellicheck, you never know.
Kyle Love- 6’1, 310 lbs.- An undrafted Free Agent in 2010, Love filled in whenever and wherever he was called upon, getting in on 7 tackles in 4 games played (one started). His lone sack came in a game that I attended where he pounded Ryan Fitzpatrick into the frozen turf of the Ralph on the day after Christmas. I see the Pats keeping him around for depth based on his abilities, versatility and performance.
Myron Pryor – 6’1, 310 lbs. Pryor is a 2 year veteran draft by the Patriots out of Kentucky. Honestly, he’s a bit of a project for the Pats, getting in on only 33 career tackles (including only 12 last year), never getting to the quarterback on his own, despite playing in 22 games. I won’t say that he’s a let-down as he was only drafted in the 6th round and provides good depth at DT. Myron needs to pick it up if he expects to make it to another contract.
Kade Weston- 6’5, 315 lbs. Weston had a fairly mediocre career at the University of Georgia and has been bitten by the injury bug quite a bit. Served all of last year on IR, so we haven’t really seen much from him. He did have 28 tackles in his senior year, but not much else stands out with Weston.
Marlon Favorite- 6’1, 317 lbs. I don’t know how this works, but couldn’t the Panthers, Rams, Chiefs, Seakhawks, Saints, Bills and Colts, just have saved themselves a bunch of money and gotten themselves a really nice practice dummy. Marlon is everyone’s Favorite guy to sign, until they realize he can’t play pro football. With this roster, he will be cut before the season begins. The Bills cut him and kept John McCargo on the line. Shouldn’t that say something?
AFC East # DT group: NY Jets
The Jets come in at #3 with a decent amount of talent and a monstrous amount of questions. The Jets lucked out with Pouha, but have since decided to recruit out of a casino at the blackjack table. Wilkerson? Hit me. Ellis? Hit me. Sir, you have 20. I don’t care, hit me. The Jets DT roster is a boom or bust situation where they will either get great amounts of production or be very disappointed. I expect them to hit the Free Agent market hard, spending exuberant amounts of money to try and get Aubrayo Franklin or Pat Williams to bring some experience to this young, but talented lineup.
Sione Pouha- 6’3, 325 lbs. When Kris Jenkins tore his ACL in 2009, we wondered what the Jets would do. When it happened again in 2010, we already knew the answer. Sione Pouha. With his massive gap filling presence on the interior, Pouha gives the Jets the run-stopping ability that they need in order to run the multiple attacking defenses that Rex Ryan loves to run. Getting in on 174 tackles in 78 games, Pouha is the steel anchor allowing other players to focus on filling the edges, dropping back into coverage or getting after the quarterback. The only part of his game that Pouha really needs to work on is beating double teams to get into the backfield on shotgun or third and long plays. He only has 2.5 sacks in his career, 2 of them coming last year. At 32 years old, I’m wondering if he’s got enough time to improve his game, or if he’ll just stick with what he knows best and that’s stuffing the run.
Muhammad Wilkerson- 6’4, 315 lbs. The heir-apparent to Pouha, Wilkerson was drafted in the first round out of the MAC-East’s own Temple Owls. Wilkerson was dominant throughout his career, but brings up 2 age old drafting dilemmas; (1) how do you account for a weaker conference? Would Wilkerson have performed as well and held up to the beating that the SEC or Big East linemen would give given him? (2) At only 21 years old, will he have the maturity and work ethic needed to be successful in the NFL. Nothing Wilkerson has done has shown otherwise, but his age still draws the question. I believe that the Jets made the right move, as the run on DT’s was on with Dareus, Fairley, Phil Taylor and Liuget all being gone by the time the Jets picked at 30 in the first round. But Wilkerson sure does have a lot to prove and will need to grow up real fast if he wants to make an impact for the Jets.
Kenrick Ellis- 6’5, 330lbs. Drafted in the third round, the Jets took yet another gamble on a DT, trading production (51 tackles in his junior year) for character. Ellis was a rising star with Spurrier’s South Carolina gamecocks, but after being suspended for three games for breaking undeclared school rules and then being dismissed for breaking the same rule again. Ellis found himself unwanted by major conference teams and chose to transfer to Hampton University for the next two years. I have questioned the NCAA and their policies for years, finding them to be archaic and ridiculous, so who knows whether these violations were actually anything an NFL team would have to worry about. But to be dismissed from a team is a serious question mark in my mind, one that the Jets organization will have to wait and hope that Rex Ryan will be able to erase.
Carlton Powell- 6’2, 312 lbs. Three years into his career, Powell has never made an NFL team, after rupturing his Achilles tendon in his rookie season, Powell bounced from the Broncos, Browns, Bucs, each time being released until he was signed to future contract with the Jets. Powell will be cut this year to make room for the younger players who have more to prove.
Martin Tevaseu- 6’2, 325 lbs. Tevaseu is one of those players that shows how a good work ethic and sheer tenacity can get you pretty far in the NFL, even if your body can’t keep up. Tevaseu was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Browns, released a month later and finally signed by the Jets last summer. After breaking his hand in practice, Tevaseu insisted on practicing with a club over his hand and was rewarded with being resigned to the practice squad after clearing waivers and making the active roster after the season was over. Tevaseu may not have a future in the league but he may stick around with the practice squad for a while and should be ahead of Powell on the Roster.
AFC East # DT group: Miami Dolphins
The dolphins come in dead last for the second straight week as free agency and lack of depth should tear this team apart. The ‘Phins are in real trouble at this incredible essential position. If they cannot lock down their defense by signing someone major during Free Agency, re-signing Paul Soliai, or trading away Ronnie Brown for a second tier DT, they could be competing for Andrew Luck next year.
Fantasy Highlight: If you have any AFC East running backs on your fantasy lineup, highlight and put a whole bunch of stars around the two weeks they play Miami.
Paul Soliai- 6’4, 355 lbs. Soliai is the only real option for the Phins at this point, getting in on 39 tackles last year with 2 sacks. Soliai has always had fantastic size, strength and athleticism, but struggles with his knowledge of fundamentals, technique and moves. Soliai is not the NT of the future for the Phins, but at this point is their only option.
Chris Baker- 6’2, 329 lbs. Chris is not an NFL lineman. He went undrafted in 2009 and has played in a total of 2 NFL games, each for a different team in Denver and Miami, failing to record any kind of professional statistic. He might have a nice career… in the UFL or AFL, but will be cut in the NFL.
Frank Kearse- 6’5, 325 lbs. Frank Kearse was the seventh round draft pick in last year’s draft out of Texas A+M. He’s very big and fairly productive and with 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2009 and 58 tackles with one sack in 2010, I say he’s a steal and should be on their roster for some time to come. Kearse may never be a starter, but should be given an opportunity to impress as he’ll be getting a lot of reps with this depleted line.
Coming up next week (Tuesday, May 31) I’ll break down the AFC East Running Backs and show who will be the next gashing running back and who will end up being a fantasy star.
Sione Pouha: http://turnonthejets.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/alg_sione_pouha.jpg
Marcel Dareus: http://www.dlcache.indiatimes.com/imageserve/0d1HgG99FGceh/350x.jpg
Paul Solaia: http://turbo.indyposted.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Paul-Soliai-Nose-Tackle-Miami-Dolphins.jpg
Kris Jenkins and Trent Edwards: http://www.profootballcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/kris-jenkins.jpg