The interior defensive line position is becoming an increasingly important role in NFL defenses. These big men can push the pocket, stop the run, and the best of them can rush the passer. Having a complete defensive tackle that can do all three will change the complexion of any defense across the league. Let’s zoom in on each conference and even more specifically each division, and let’s predict who the best big men will be.
AFC North: 3-4 DE Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens
TFL Projection: 13
Campbell was just re-learning the ropes of a 3-4 defense and was battling injury throughout the 2020 season. In 2021 Campbell is going to be healthy and ready to hit the ground running in Wink Martindale’s system. Next to a developed Justin Madubuike and the new edge rusher Odafe Oweh, Campbell’s job just got a whole lot easier. I think we’ll see vintage Calais this year.
AFC North Dark Horse: 3-4 DE Casey Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: DT DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts
TFL Projection: 18
I expect Buckner to go insane this year and to carry this Colts defense deep into the playoffs. He is big, strong, and athletic and is as polished as anyone when it comes to technique. The Colts’ defensive scheme is set up so that Buckner gets to ruin lines up front while the cover game gets as much attention as possible. The best part? Only cost the Colts a first round pick.
AFC South Dark Horse: 3-4 DE Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: 3-4 DE Dre’Mont Jones, Denver Broncos
TFL Projection: 14
Vic Fangio’s defense revolves around one shutdown corner (Kyle Fuller), one rush linebacker (Bradley Chubb), and one rush defensive end (Dre’Mont Jones). It’s always been this way since he was with Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Kyle Fuller in Chicago. He has had some elite talent in Denver but never had a dominant defensive end. Until this year that is. Jones has developed enough now and is ready to be a menace inside for Fangio. I have loved this dude since the draft and he is ready to prove me right.
AFC West Dark Horse: 3-4 DE Jerry Tillery, Los Angeles Charger
AFC East: DT Quinnen Williams, New York Jets
TFL Projection: 20
I have some incredibly high hopes for Williams this year. Not only is he in a Robert Saleh defense now, but he is in his third year as a proffesional. Last year he was dominant in an absolutely terrible defense and I think now that he is with a defensive minded coach and in a defensive tackle friendly scheme, we’re going to see Quinnen Williams ruin some offensive game plans this year.
AFC East Dark Horse: 3-4 DE Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins