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Evaluating the Defensive Tackle Position

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Kenrick Ellis was the projected starter at defensive tackle, until he was sidelined during training camp with a back injury due his weightlifting regime. At that point, Damon Harrison, a formed undrafted free agent, grabbed the position and never looked back. Both Ellis and Harrison are now in their contract year, and Leger Douzable, the third stringer, was just re-signed to a one year deal. With all three set to hit the market next year, it's important to start looking at whether or not they should be retained for future years.

NAME SNAPS TACKLES SACK FF PD STF
Damon Harrison 510 66 1 0 2 7
Kenrick Ellis 210 16 0 0 0 2
Leger Douzable 242 20 1.5 0 0 2

According to ProFootballFocus, Harrison is ranked the 5th best defensive tackle in the league, and Ellis is ranked 17th. For some reason, Douzable is listed as a defensive end by PFF, despite the New York Jets listing him as a defensive tackle, but if he were on the defensive tackle rankings, he'd be 37th.

On a per snap basis, Ellis and Douzable are 1st and 2nd at stopping the run among defensive tackles that have played 25% of run snaps, and 4th and 5th among all defensive tackles. Despite Douzable being listed at defensive end, he would come in at 10th on the defensive tackle rankings.

At rushing the passer, they're far lower at 43rd and 84th. Douzable, if on the right list, would be 23rd. However, this makes sense since, as John Butckho has said, "Rex likes the traditional two down, two gap, run stuffing nose tackle." Ryan simply doesn't ask his tackles to rush the passer.

Obviously, all three are highly productive players, and the Jets are incredibly fortunate to have three excellent options at defensive tackle. Ellis and Douzable would likely start on most teams, but it's important that at least one be retained to provide enough depth, should something happen to Harrison. Personally, I see no reason why not to bring back all three on multi-year deals.

Using OverTheCap, a fair value of a starting defensive tackle of Harrison's caliber is roughly $5M per year, since he isn't being used as an impact pass rusher. The Jets got Douzable back extremely cheaply for how productive he is, at just $750k for the one year. If you estimate Ellis to be somewhere between the two, but closer to Douzable than Harrison (let's go with $1.25M per year), it seems possible the Jets can lock up all three long term for just $7M per year. Not bad for such an important position in Ryan's defense, as we saw in 2012 when Sione Pouha went down with injury and the Jets had one of the worst run defenses in the league. For comparison, that cumulative amount is surpassed by five individual tackles' per year salary (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Geno Atkins, Ahtyba Rubin, and Kyle Williams).

What do you think? Who would you retain, and for how much?