Tackles serve as the anchor of the defense, especially in a 3-4 scheme, which 75% of the AFC East employs. There are some real heavyweights lining up in the trenches in this division both literally and figuratively. Joined by The Phinsider, Buffalo Rumblings, and Pats Pulpit, Around the AFC East ranks the starting tackles across the division this week.
Kris Jenkins takes the top spot here. He single handedly transformed the Jets' run defense from abysmal to elite last season. He was such a disruptive force that he garnered MVP talk well into November. Even though he wore down late in the year, the Jets still gave up the least yards per carry and fewest yards per game in the division. What sets Jenkins apart, though, is his versatility. He has made the Pro Bowl playing two very different versions of tackle. In Carolina, he was an elite 4-3 undertackle, assigned with the task of winning one on one matchups and getting into the backfield. In New York, his job was to plug the nose of the 3-4, absorbing and shedding multiple blockers on any given play. The two spots require different skillsets. Jenkins has it all, speed, agility, power, and strength and has thrived at both positions. I'm not sure any other tackle in this division could dominate at both positions the way Kris has.
If we included depth, the Pats would probably top the list. Not only do they have a 27 year old Pro Bowler in Vince Wilfork, they picked Boston College tackle Ron Brace in the second round of the 2009 Draft. Brace was overshadowed by his teammate B.J. Raji, but BC had one of the nation's top five run defenses when Raji was suspended in 2007 in no small part because of Brace. As things are, Wilfork deserves mention as one of the game's best nose tackles. Bill Belichick's 3-4 is built on a difficult to block front three. Wilfork has been the foundation for a few years now. Jarrod Mayo was one of the toasts of the NFL during his rookie year. Not to take anything away from the outstanding 2008 he had, but Wilfork tying up blockers played a big role in his rookie success.
The fact Jason Ferguson only rates third here says more about the depth of the position in the East than anything bad about Ferguson. It took the Jets three years until the Jenkins trade to adequately replace him when he bolted for Dallas after the 2004 season. That 2004 campaign was the only one in which Dewayne Robertson looked like he might deliver on his top five pick promise. Robertson's success came in no small part because he played next to Ferguson, who ate up blockers. With the Cowboys and Dolphins, he has been nothing less than a solid 3-4 nose tackle. He doesn't have Jenkins' quickness or playmaking ability and is smaller and less stout than Wilfork. Still, you could do a lot worse than Ferguson.
Being a Yankees fan, I want my team to acquire every available player. When I heard the Dolphins got Jason for a late pick last year, I wished the Jets had made that move so he could back up Jenkins. Salary cap be darned. After the way Jenkins wore down at the end of the year, tell me this would have been a bad idea.
Marcus Stroud would rate much higher in other divisions. He's a nice centerpiece in a 4-3 scheme. However, neither he nor Kyle Williams put up a high sack total a year ago, and the Bills ranked last in the division in yards allowed per carry and yards allowed per game. Does anybody really think these two are going to get Buffalo out of the cellar this year with all of the talent at the position in this division?
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments, and if you have your own analysis, create a free account and make a FanPost on the right hand side of the page.