Over the last few seasons, several New York Jets players have referred to themselves as the best at their positions. In some cases, these claims have been almost laughable. Damon Harrison joined the "I'm the bestest" bandwagon recently by declaring himself to be the best nose tackle in the NFL. Unlike Dee Milliner's crazy claim last year, this argument may have some merit to it; a bit more similar to Richardson's claims that he would be the #1 overall pick in a 2013 redraft. So does Damon Harrison have a point?
I think the first thing that you have to do is narrow down the parameters. Even Geno Smith's claims (boy, Jets players need to stop making pronouncements) of Pro Bowl caliber flashes are perfectly reasonable if you interpret "flashes" to mean "twenty-five seconds of a preseason game." In Damon Harrison's case, he explicitly claimed that he was the best "nose tackle" rather than defensive tackle, meaning that you have to eliminate a large number of elite DTs who wouldn't really qualify as nose tackles, such as Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy. He also says that this is true "If you look at a nose tackle's job description." So what is the nose tackle's job description? I took this straight from Wikipedia:
The 3–4 nose tackle is considered the most physically demanding position in football. His primary responsibility is to control the "A" gaps, the two openings between the center and guards, and not get pushed back into his linebackers. If a running play comes through one of those gaps, he must make the tackle or control what is called the "jump-through"—the guard or center who is trying to get out to the linebackers. The ideal nose tackle has to be much bigger than 4–3 DTs, weighing around 335 pounds or more.
So if you didn't know, the nose tackle's primary job is to fill the interior running lanes and prevent the offensive line from opening a hole directly in the center of the defensive line. He is also responsible for eating up interior double teams and stuffing interior running plays, making nose tackles the quintessential space-eaters. While pass rush productivity is an obvious benefit in today's NFL, it's more of an added bonus than an essential trait. His main job is to engage the opposing team's center and one guard, leaving only 3 offensive linemen to block the other defensive linemen. If he can do this while holding his ground and getting the occasional run-stuff, he's doing an excellent job. If we're talking about a nose tackle in the purest sense, a run-stuffing space-eater who demands double teams is essentially what we're looking for, and Damon Harrison is certainly that type of player.
In 2014, Harrison was PFF's 3rd ranked run defender at the DT/NT position with a score of +16.8 despite only taking 496 snaps. That's over 200 fewer snaps than either player who finished ahead of him, and he likely would have finished at least 2nd in the NFL if he had taken 700 snaps (2nd best had 876 snaps and a grade of +17.6 against the run.) He also finished second in tackles despite his lack of snaps (ahead of the top 2 overall run-stuffers), missing half as many tackles as the leader (who edged him out by only 5 total tackles.) He also landed #4 in Bucky Brooks' list of the top 5 run-stuffers. So in terms of a run-stuffing role player, Harrison has a lot of validity to his claim. Someone could certainly argue that he is the best pure run defending NT in the game.
So does Harrison's claim to be the best NT have merit, then? It certainly has some, but I doubt anyone would agree that he is the best. Ndamukong Suh is a superior run-stuffer in my opinion, and he's gotten it done with less talent around him and more double teams in his face. In addition, Suh may be one of the best pass rushing NTs in the NFL, if not the best. Marcell Dareus also stuffs the run extremely well while providing considerable kick (should have said this for Suh) against the pass. Tallying double digit sacks as a nose tackle is both very rare and extremely impressive. Dontari Poe is a nightmare for defenses, rarely missing snaps and always demanding a double team. Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald is also quickly separating himself from the pack of interior linemen, often winning with mind-boggling quickness off the snap.
If we narrow down the field enough, we could probably eliminate Poe and Suh from the argument. Neither is really a nose tackle because they both play an inordinate number of snaps (966 and 875 respectively; both exceeding 75% of the team's total defensive snaps) and do more than a traditional 3-4 NT would ever be asked to do for a team: They are simply transcendent players. You could maybe argue that Harrison is a better run-stuffer and "traditional" 3-4 NT than Aaron Donald has been thus far, but Donald is already a much better overall player. There's basically no way that you can claim Harrison is a better option than Marcell Dareus in anything other than off the field personality. If you laser focus in on Harrison's claim, you could probably argue him into the top 5 or even top 3. If you're talking about player value, however, he might not even crack the top 10 with his limitations (minimal snaps and 0 pass rush productivity.) Either way, it would be refreshing to hear some humility from the players for a change. I mean really, what's next? Ryan Quigley claiming he's the NFL's best punt-snap-catching-punter?