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The Value of Things: Bang for Your Buck— Interior Defensive Linemen

Is there even a standard for defensive tackles?

Los Angeles Rams Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

As we continue through this series we see two definitive things at each position. First, sometimes there isn’t a standard of performance we can find with basic statistics. Secondly, the Texans don’t have any of those guys. They don’t have any of those guys at any position. Of course, they aren’t paying anyone the going rate for top ten performance. The team has essentially been stripped down to the foundation and they are beginning the slow process of rebuilding.

Defensive tackles change wildly depending on the scheme they are playing in. 4-3 defensive tackles will naturally make more plays than the 3-4 defensive tackles. Their job is to take on two blockers so someone beside them or behind them can make the play. We acknowledge that from the outset.

We also acknowledge that they aren’t paid as much as corners or edge defenders. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that they make fewer plays. Just remember the same caveat that we have said every time. The numbers aren’t meant to say who’s the best or worst defensive tackle. We are trying to identify an industry standard and it will admittedly be difficult at this position. We are looking at performance over the last three seasons.

Top Ten Performance

Aaron Donald— 177 tackles, 53 TFL, 38.5 sacks, 77 quarterback hits, 10 forced fumbles

Deforest Buckner— 188 tackles, 29 TFL, 24.0 sacks, 58 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles

Chris Jones— 99 tackles, 19 TFL, 25.5 sacks, 65 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles

Jonathan Allen— 193 tackles, 20 TFL, 17.0 sacks, 54 quarterback hits, 0 forced fumbles

Vita Vea— 78 tackles, 12 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 0 forced fumbles

Kenny Clark— 152 tackles, 18 TFL, 12.0 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, 1 forced fumbles

Grady Jarrett— 180 tackles, 23 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 49 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles

Cameron Heyward— 226 tackles, 33 TFL, 23.0 sacks, 59 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles

Fletcher Cox— 116 tackles, 21 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 31 quarterback hits, 6 forced fumbles

D.J. Reader— 114 tackles, 10 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, 0 forced fumbles

Naturally, we do the same thing we do at every other position. We looks for positive and negative outliers. We can see it pretty plainly at this position. There are three guys that obviously don’t have the numbers. Again, this doesn’t make them worse. It means that their defense asks them to do something different. That would include former Texan D.J. Reader. He was a lot more prolific as a Texan. Again, we are talking about the difference between defenses more than the difference between defenders.

The question is whether a team that employs a defensive tackle that simply takes on blockers should pay that defensive tackle top ten money. Obviously, different rating systems could rate these players differently. PFF rated Reader as the ninth best defensive tackle in the league last season.

Localize It

One of the advantages to having a team without any top ten performers is that you don’t have to focus on any specific position. You can simply get the best players available and focus on the players you think who could have the best chance of becoming one. So, they didn’t really focus on interior defenders this season. They still have two more drafts with extra draft picks, so they could focus on defensive tackle then.