NFL Cornerstones: Defensive Tackles

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you guys agree.

The selection- Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Honorable mentions- Gerald McCoy, Sheldon Richardson, Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Marcell Dareus

This might seem like a no-brainer because of how much media attention Ndamukong Suh receives and how many analysts regard him as the best in the league. However, the selection got a little bit hazy when I started comparing the numbers. Suh is an incredible force for the Lions’ defense but Marcell Dareus is no slouch. He is actually averaging more tackles and the same number of sacks per season as Suh. The other guys mentioned are all fantastic options as well but given Gerald McCoy is recovering from a serious knee injury, Geno Atkins is still trying to find his 2013 form when he suffered his own knee injury and Sheldon Richardson and Aaron Donald have very small sample sizes, Suh wins almost by default. His biggest competition is Dareus but more on why Suh has the edge over him later.

Suh is a bit older than the other guys on this list at 28 but he has only played 5 years in the league. He should still have a couple of good years left in the tank. I already mentioned what Suh can do as a pass rusher. He has recorded at least eight sacks in three of his five seasons, which is incredible for an interior lineman. He displays a certain amount of quickness and a great punch at the point of attack. Couple that with his massive 6’4”, 305-pound frame and you have very large man wreaking havoc along the line of scrimmage.

The five honorable mentions have had fairly productive seasons as pass rushers but none of them have then also dominated the ground game like Suh has. Dareus has 11 run stuffs in his 4-year career and McCoy has 13 over his 5-year stint. The Lions defensive anchor has racked up 36. That completely blows away just about any other run defender in the league. The Detroit mainstay slides well along the line and is too strong for offensive lineman to keep blocked for very long. Suh’s combination as a top pass rusher and an elite run stopper make him the perfect multifaceted player to build a defense around.
The four-time Pro Bowler is not without flaws though. Suh has a bit of a mean streak, which has led him into trouble with referees and league officials alike. His antics can often cause a distraction or cost his team on the field in the form of penalties. It has even led to Suh being suspended by the league, which is not what you want to see from your star defensive lineman. On top of that, even though Suh seems to be around the ball a lot, he does not generate too many turnovers. He only has 3 turnovers forced in his entire career. It is probably a little meticulous to point it out, but he has not thrived at creating those big plays.

Despite that, Suh still has some traits that are simply invaluable. He has never missed a game due to injury in his career, something that held back McCoy and Atkins from being selected. He also plays with consistency. Year in and year out, the three-time All Pro has put up stellar numbers that ranks among the best in the league at his position. He also provides a little bit of fire to a defense with his aggressive play. Sometimes, it comes back to hurt him, but it can certainly be motivating for his teammates to see how hard and passionately he is working.

Suh’s window of productivity is slowly closing and while he may not be getting any better at this point in his career, he still has the physical tools to be the best defensive tackle in the league. In about two years, I would venture to guess that it will be Donald taking this spot as the cornerstone. I think he has that something special that could propel him to being one of the best defensive players in the league. For now though, Suh will reign supreme. He is playing some of the best football of his career. Even if Suh does leave the Lions this season, he will still be the best player at his position, making whatever team he joins instantly better.

For more Cornerstone selections, click here.


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