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Defensive Tackle - Part 1: The Roster

Grading the defensive tackle position in order to show what upgrades can be made via free agency and/or the draft.

John Hughes
John Hughes
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Positions:

Pettine_BASE_saban - Note

Strongside Tackle (ST)

  • Typically 2-gap assignments -- asked to occupy and control a blocker
  • Usually lined up at 0-tech or 1-tech -- A nose tackle
  • Predominately assigned to engage the center and control the A-gaps, though sometimes shifts over to take on a guard or penetrate an A-gap.
  • Skill set: A stout player that can hold his ground against interior linemen and double teams

Weakside Tackle (WT)

  • Typically 1-gap assignments -- asked to penetrate or fill
  • Usually lined up at 3-tech or 4-tech -- An under tackle
  • Predominately assigned to the weakside B-gap but this also often switches to a weakside A-gap assignment
  • Differing skill sets can be used here: Can be a quicker, disruptive penetrator or a stouter gap filler that is hard to move

Strongside End (SE)

  • Typically 2-gap assignments
  • Usually lined up at 5-tech: A 3-4 defensive end
  • Predominately assigned to engage and control an offensive tackle
  • Somewhat commonly, the SAM is asked to crash down and take out the tackle or a pulling guard and the strongside end is then tasked with holding contain on the edge.
  • Skill set: Needs greater agility and range than the average defensive tackle to maintain contain on the edge. Doesn't have to be quite as stout at the point-of-attack as an interior lineman.  The ability to penetrate/disengage from offensive tackle once the ballcarrier commits to a path is more important, as are pass rushing skills.

Sub (not pictured above)

  • Pass rushing defensive tackle in obvious passing situations
  • The Browns liked to employ a nose tackle and an under tackle or sometimes just a single tackle
  • Pass rush skills are a premium here. Stoutness versus the run may be sacrificed.


A grade of 7 is adequate.

Grades of 8+ are strengths.

Grades of 6- are major liabilities.

  • Stoutness (st) -- Ability to hold ground versus run blocking offensive linemen.
  • Penetration (pn) -- In the run game, the ability to fire through a gap and into the backfield or to fit into a gap and fill it.
  • Pass Rush (pr) -- Ability to threaten pass blockers and the pocket.
  • Projected Position (position) -- Not necessarily where the player has played but his best fit in the Browns Pettine/Ryan defensive scheme.

I grade stoutness, penetration, and pass rush. The grades for these attributes are not intended to be added up to achieve a total score, each attribute stands alone.

I also project the position(s) and role where the player would best fit in the Browns defense. For example, a label of WT2 indicates that this player would fit in at the second spot on the depth chart for the weakside tackle position.

		st pn pr	position
Hughes		10  9  7	NT1, WT2
D Bryant	 6  8 10	SE1, sub2
A Bryant	 5  8 10	sub1
Winn		 7  8  8	SE2, sub3
Kitchen		 7  8  7	NT2/1
Taylor		 6  8  7	WT1/2, NT3
Meder		 6  8  7	WT2/3, NT4
Fua		 7  7  7	SE3/4
Rubin		 6  7  7	NT2, SE3
McDaniel	 6  7  7	NT2/3

Nose Tackle:
		st pn pr 	position
Hughes		10  9  7 	NT1, WT2
Kitchen		 7  8  7 	NT2/1
Taylor		 6  8  7 	WT1/2, NT3
Meder		 6  8  7 	WT2/3, NT4
Rubin		 6  7  7 	NT2, SE3
McDaniel	 6  7  7 	NT2/3

  • Stoutness is by far the most important attribute here.
  • Penetration is useful.
  • Pass rushing is not a major factor here.
  • Hughes grades out as a starting-caliber nose tackle.
  • Kitchen grades out as an average backup.
  • No one else who saw action here in 2014 grades out as NFL-adequate at NT.

Weakside Tackle:
		st pn pr 	position
Hughes 10  9  7 NT1, WT2
Taylor 6  8  7 WT1/2, NT3
Meder 6  8  7 WT2/3, NT4

  • Either exceptional penetration or stoutness can carry this position.
  • All three major attributes are valuable here.
  • Hughes grades as a starter here as well.
  • Taylor can handle reps here but was repeatedly victimized by zone schemes.
  • Winn and Kitchen are out of position here but have put in some good reps.

Strongside End:
		st pn pr 	position
D Bryant 6 8 10 SE1, sub2 Winn 7 8 8 SE2, sub3 Fua 7 7 7 SE3/4 Rubin 6 7 7 NT2, SE3

  • Penetration and pass rush are very important here.
  • Stoutness is not as important, but still useful.
  • Desmond Bryant grades out as a starter.
  • Winn is a quality rotational player here.
  • Fua and Rubin are most adequate at this spot due to their agility but have very underwhelming upside due to mediocre pass rush ability.

		st pn pr 	position
D Bryant 6  8 10 SE1, sub2
A Bryant 5  8 10 sub1
Winn 7  8  8 SE2, sub3

  • Pass rushing is of utmost importance here.
  • Penetration is valuable.
  • Stoutness is a nice bonus but worth sacrificing.
  • Armonty grades out as a quality sub defensive tackle.
  • Desmond is also very valuable here.
  • Winn is worthy of his share of reps in sub D but is less dynamic than the Bryants.


  • Have a quality 5-tech strongside end (D. Bryant).
  • Hughes has played like a capable starter at either nose or weakside tackle but a second starting-caliber player is needed for the other spot.
  • Winn, Taylor, and Kitchen can man backup roles but adding another backup that is slightly better or more versatile would help.
Grades and scouting reports of potential free agents and draft prospects that could potentially address these needs will be presented in future articles of this series.


Hughes is on the right here at nose tackle and Desmond Bryant is just offscreen to the left at under tackle. Bryant is driven back a couple yards and then splits the double team to get back into the play. Hughes is 2-gapping. He controls the center with leverage, stacks him up, and disengages to attack the ballcarrier.


Hughes shows how it's done vs. a stretch play. He locks horns with the guard, covers ground laterally without giving up depth, and sheds to catch the back.


Compare Rubin (NT, left) and Hughes (WT, right) here. Rubin gives up a yard off the snap; Hughes drives the guard back a yard. Hughes sheds his blocker, Rubin is stuck on his. Hughes simply bends much better, gets better leverage, and generates a lot more power.


Desmond Bryant flashes the ability to knife past blockers and disrupt running plays in the backfield. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin struggle to generate a push while moving laterally.


Billy Winn gets good contain of his B-gap from weakside tackle. Desmond Bryant gets sealed out of the play on the backside. Rubin gets blown off the ball and driven away.


Kitchen does an adequate job holding the point at nose tackle. He's slowly shoved upfield, but nearly as quickly or as far as Rubin is from weakside tackle. Desmond Bryant does a nice job 2-gapping against the right tackle and ripping to attack the B-gap.


Sione Fua is at nose and Billy Winn is at strongside end. Fua is driven back by the center. Winn is driven wide, creating a big hole.


Now in sub defense, Desmond and Armonty Bryant both show their ability to slip past blockers and penetrate into the backfield to disrupt the run. Both do much better trying to get penetration than attempting to hold their ground at the point of attack.