Every week until the season begins, I’ll be going through each position group in the NFC South, ranking them by team from fourth to first. Today we look at the defensive tackle position across the division, where two of the league’s best interior defensive linemen reside in the Bucs’ Vita Vea and Falcons’ Grady Jarrett. The Panthers boast a rising star on their defense, while the Saints interior defensive line could use some help. Will Tampa Bay’s balance take the top spot again?
The Saints interior defensive line already looked pretty miserable on paper, but now they’ll be without their best player for the first six weeks of the season. David Onyemata is one of the more underrated defensive tackles in the league, wreaking havoc against the Bucs in Week 9 of last season. However, Onyemata is facing a six-week suspension for a PED violation to begin the 2021 season.
Without him, the Saints are woefully unprepared. Tuttle has been a nice find as an undrafted free agent, but he’s not much of a difference-maker against the pass. Malcolm Roach is totally unproven, and Ryan Glasgow hasn’t hit 120 snaps in a season since 2017. Behind them, Albert Huggins has 58 total snaps over two seasons with two different teams, and Jalen Dalton has yet to see the field on defense.
With Onyemata out for a third of the season, look for the Saints to add a veteran to this group at some point in the next month.
3. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers interior defensive line is one of the least experienced groups in all of football. Daviyon Nixon, Mike Panasiuk and Phil Hoskins have never played a snap on defense in the NFL, and none are expected to be major contributors this season. Caraun Reid has been a seldom-used backup during his entire seven-year career, joining his sixth team in Carolina. Much will be expected of the Panthers top three defensive tackles this season, but they also have plenty to prove.
Derrick Brown and Bravvion Roy are second-year players looking to find consistency in year two. The Panthers need Brown to be an all-around star, while Roy is at his best on run downs. DaQuan Jones may finally step into an every down role in 2021, after an underrated seven years in Tennessee. Jones is by far the veteran leader of the group, but he’s been more solid than spectacular entering Year 8. The Panthers need a lot out of he and Brown, especially if there are no surprises amidst the younger defensive tackles.
2. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons interior defensive line isn’t as pathetic as their edge defenders, but it’s pretty ugly after Grady Jarrett. One of the finest players in the league at his position, Jarrett’s explosiveness and violent hands allow him to be a factor on all three downs. He’s one of about eight or nine true difference-makers in the NFL at the defensive tackle position.
After Jarrett, questions abound for the Falcons. Marlon Davidson and John Cominsky have been ok in small sample sizes, but now more will be asked of them. The Falcons hope those two can make up part of their top four rotation, along with declining nose tackle Tyeler Davison.
Atlanta did bring in a veteran in Jonathan Bullard to be a versatile defensive line piece, but the former Florida Gator has never really developed. Neither has Deadrin Senat, after the fourth-year pro had a promising start to his NFL career as a rookie. Ta’Quon Graham will attempt to avoid that plight as the lone first-year player in the group. His run defense impressed at times in Mobile this past January.
1. Tampa Bay Bucs
The Bucs have one of the two best defensive tackles in the division in Vita Vea, and two top six guys in Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston. This could be the year where Vea takes the leap to stardom, especially if he can take another step as a pass rusher. Suh is 34, but has never missed a game in his career due to injury. In fact, Suh and Steve McLendon are the oldest two defensive tackles in the NFL, but also two of the best conditioned. Expecting a major drop-off from either seems unlikely.
The biggest question with the Bucs interior defensive line is if they have enough pass rush in their lineup. Gholston has grown in his rush repertoire under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, but both he and Suh are better against the run. The same can be said for McLendon and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Can Khalil Davis make a spark after just 57 snaps as a rookie?
Bowles’ unit will be looking to continue their streak of No. 1 run defenses for a third straight season. If they can find another pass rusher contributor, the Bucs will have a dominant unit once again.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.