Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Best Nose Tackles in NFL History

By John Turney

In part of an ongoing series, we move to the middle of the storm, the nose tackles or middle guards or whatever you wish to call them. We are including some middle guards in a 5-2/5-3 defense, nose tackles in 3-4 defenses and shade tackles (shoulder of the center, 1-technique) in 4-3 defenses.

As with any list, it's subjective and there isn't tons of difference between say, 11 and 18, for example, or from 29 and 59. However, we feel that the ones nearer the top are better and had better careers than the ones at the bottom.

1. Curley Culp
Culp played plenty of nose tackle in his years with the Kansas City Chiefs since they played lots of odd-man fronts with either he or Buck Buchanon would slide to play over the center, but it wasn't until 1974 when he played over the center full time. 

Upon arriving in Houston, the Oilers fortunes changed, going from the bottom of the AFC to among the better teams from 1975 through 1980. Plenty of other factors were there, but the move to the 3-4 defense and Culp's play in it were certainly right up there in the reasons why there was a turnaround (they were 3-31 in the previous 34 games prior to Culp's arrival.).

Culp was the NEA Defensive Player of the year in 1975 as the Oilers went 10-4 and Culp totaled 74 tackles, 11½ sacks, 8 run stuffs, and six forced fumbles. He was also a consensus All-Pro that season and garnered post-season honors (Second-team All-Pro, All-AFC, Pro Bowl) in six additional seasons.

He ended his career with 718 tackles, 67 sacks, and 70 stuffs plus 22 forced fumbles and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018. He was a physical freak of sorts for his day, 6-1, 275 pounds and he could run well but his strength was legendary on the wrestling mat (NCAA heavyweight champ, 1967). 

Willis was a dynamic 6-2, 213-pound middle guard for the Cleveland Browns from 1946-53. He played both ways early in his career but his primary position was right over the center in 5-man lines. He was active, fast, and really stood out on film. 

He was an eight-time First-team All-League selection and was a Second-team selection one additional time and was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame team All-1940s Team and the owner of five championship rings.

In terms of pure 3-4 nose tackles, to this day no nose has played in and started more games at the position than Fred Smerlas. No nose tackle has been First-team All-Pro more or gone to more Pro Bowls than Smerlas.

He was a First-team All-Pro four times and voted to five Pro Bowls and was an alternate to a couple of others.

Smerlas was among the first bigger nose tackles, weighing about 290 (though often listed as less); Joel Buchsbaum said, "This massive powerhouse never stops coming."

He also was among the first to crowd the center. After his stellar 1980 season, coaches from opposing teams would fly to Buffalo to watch how Smerlas played in the middle of the Bill defense and exported the style to their own 3-4 teams.

For the first half of his career, he played all downs, playing left tackle in the Bills sub defensive packages, something not all nose tackles could do. And for a nose, he was very durable. From 1980 through the first six games of 1990 he played in (and started) 149 consecutive games, remarkable given the duties of his position.

The only reason, we think, he's not in the Hall of Fame is that he left the Bills prior to their Super Bowl run and the lack of prestige the position of nose tackle has among some of the voters.

Some NFL players are just physical freaks in terms of taking a pounding and lasting and lasting. Lorenzo Neal as a fullback is one. Ted Washington is another.

Washington played 17 NFL seasons and was a starter for 14½ of those. He was 6-5 and 365 pounds, a giant of a man, even by NFL standards.

He was a bit of a vagabond playing for seven different teams in his 17 years, with six for the Bills, the most of any of his stops. He was All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro once and an All-AFC pick twice and voted to four Pro Bowls.

Hank Thomas is one of the more underrated players in recent NFL history in our view, right up there with Eugene Robinson, LeRoy Butler, Larry Brooks, and others. He was solid in all aspects and could have been a terrific 3-technique if asked. But he did the dirty work of a shade tackle in a 4-3 under defense. The one season he filled in for an injured 3-tech (Keith Millard) he did will, recording 8.5 sacks and 7.5 stuffs and 82 tackles. 

Thomas played in 213 games, started 199 of them, totaled 864 tackles including 93.5 sacks and 95.0 run stuffs, totals that rival players like Warren Sapp and Bryant Young, two of the 1990s All-Decade selections. He also forced 19 fumbles and recorded three defensive touchdowns. He's a shade tackle that played all three downs and never needed to be replaced by a designated pass rusher like so many nose tackles, which accounts for his high sack total, in fact, no nose/shade tackle is even close and from film review, he was as good versus the run as any of them.

Now we are getting into the run-stopping specialists, though very good at that specialty. And with Carter, he'd have his moments getting to the passer.

Carter was a dominant nose when motivated. He was a First-team All-Pro in 1986-88 and was Second-team in 1985 when he had 7 sacks (he had 6.5 in 1988) and was a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion. Said legendary writer/talent evaluator Joel Buchsbaum about Carter, "has awesome ability, strength, quickness, and explosion but is not very durable". 

Carter played nine seasons, 121 games with 97 starts.

Pat Williams was a top nose for a long time, playing 14 seasons and was a starter in his last 10. In his first four years he was a top backup for Ted Washington forming an amazing 1-2 punch. He was a Second-team All-Pro once and a three-time Pro Bowler (all when playing as 1/2 of the "Williams Wall" in Minnesota. He ended his career with just 20.5 sacks but the main reason he was on the field was to stop the run and that he did, evidenced by his 90 run stuffs in his career (five times he had 9.0 or more). He was not quite the size of Ted Washington, but he was more than the 315 pounds he was listed at, though. 

Another big man, around 330-350 (390?) pounds, Wilfork was the anchor of the Patriots defensive line for more than a decade making First-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro four times and five Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons and earned himself two rings.
At 6-1 and 330 (350?) pounds, Jerry Ball was shaped like his name. 

Said Buchsbaum, "As good as Ball is, he'd be better if he controlled his weight. Last year (1989) he was 20 points overweight and he was double-teamed on almost every play had nine sacks and 73 tackles". Additionally, that year, he had 14.0 run stuffs (second in NFL behind Jerome Brown's 17.0)

He was First-team All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro twice and was a Pro Bowler all three of those seasons. He ended his career with 32.5 sacks and 75.5 run stuffs. 

Johnson played just eight years but they were mostly good some, some even very great. He was a three-time First-team All-Pro and three-time All-NFC/Pro Bowler and was part of those very good Eagles defenses from 1979-81. And in 1980 he got his hands up enough to pick off three passes from his nose position.

Ngata, from 2008-14 received post-season honors every season, three of those years he was a First-team All-Pro and the others Second-team or Pro Bowl or All-AFC, showing remarkable consistency. Ngata played more than the shade (1-tech) for the Ravens, playing mostly over guards and even inside shoulder of a tackle (4i) technique. Fronts are more complex now than there were "back in the day". So it's harder to peg players.

Technically he was the nose only a few seasons, playing next to Kelly Gregg or Terrance Cody, but in spirit, he was a big inside run stuffer and belongs on this list, rather than with the 3-4 ends or the three-techniques, he was, really, a unique player in his own category. So, if someone complains we could move him, but his skill set screams 'nose/shade tackle'!

Nonetheless, he was an inside, power player whose job it was to stop the inside running game and he did that well. He could even muster some pass rush—from 2010-2012 he had a total over 15.5 sacks, averaging just over 5 a season which is very good considering his positional responsibilities.

Rogers started his career hot, playing shade most often in a 40 defense, and was playing lots of plays (36.5 run stuffs in his first four seasons) and then went to his "All-Pro-type" years from 2004-08 when he was a Second-team All-Pro once and a three-time Pro Bowler. He was also one of the best kick blockers ever and the best of the 2000s by far with 17 blocked place kicks.

Baumhower was a unique player, tall (6-5) for a nose tackle and may have been better suited as a 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end. He had unusually large legs and Dolphin locker room lore includes the fact that even the large socks would not fully cover Baumhower's calves when stretched all the way to the top.

He was part of the good, innovative defenses of Bill Arnsparger with the Dolphins, the 'Killer Bs' if you will. His top move was the head butt and pull, almost a 4-3 tackle technique -- sometimes referred to as the "Merlin Olsen-jerk". 

He was First-team All-Pro twice and a Second-teamer three other seasons and went to five Pro Bowls as a nose tackle (tied with Fred Smerlas for the most-ever by a 3-4 nose). He was also part of the Dolphins pass rush packages for the first 2/3 of his career, totaling 9 sacks in 1981, 8 in 1978 and 1983 and 6½ in 1979.

14. Tim Krumrie
Tim Krumrie was a very active-type nose tackle, all hustle all the time. The Bengals slanted a little more than some other 3-4 teams possibly because Krumrie and the ends were somewhat undersized so their coaches would use "movements" to compensate because playing straight on he could get moved sometimes, especially when doubled.

As a result, the Wisconsin Badger made an unusually high number of tackles for players in his position and, at times, could get some rush. He ended his career with 1,017 tackles, more than any other nose we can find and 34.5 sacks.

He's likely best known for a gruesome broken leg in the Super Bowl versus the 49ers but he came back from that in 1989 and had a couple solid seasons after that. He was a Second-team All-Pro in 1987 and a consensus First-team All-Pro in 1988 and was picked to Paul Zimmerman's (Sports Illustrated) All-Pro team in 1985 and got mentioned from Zim in 1986 as well.

Not ranked—Joe Klecko
This is about where we'd put Klecko if we had put him on this list, having been a guy who truly played three positions about equally in terms of years, we chose to put him with the 4-3 tackles even though his best two single seasons were as a 4-3 end and a 3-4 nose. We may reconsider in the future, but for now, we put him with the tackles.

15. Casey Hampton
Hampton was a stalwart on the Steelers defensive line for a dozen seasons. He played 173 games, starting 164. Never an All-Pro but he was a five-time Pro Bowler. He rarely played on passing downs and finished with just 9 sacks in his career, but when he played (2001-12) the Steelers allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league over that span and allowed an average carry of 3.64 which was second in the NFL over that span and Hampton was a big part of that.

Sugar Bear Hamilton began his career as a defensive end in 1973 but when the Patriots moved to a 3-4 defensive full-time in 1974 he was the middle guard. Really, on a game-to-game basis, Hamilton was the NFL's first modern nose tackle. The 3-4 had been around for years but no one committed to it on an every-down basis like the Patriots in 1974. The Oilers were the next who committed to it after getting Curley Culp at mid-season, though they used it some in previous games and years. 

He was a 'move' guy, not a power guy and he could rush the passer very well in addition to playing his two-gap responsibilities. In fact, he ended his career with 53½ sacks with highs in 9½ in 1977, 8 in 1980 and 6½ in 1976. He had a high of 85 tackles in 1978, 68 in 1979, and 67 in 1980.

The Broncos used some 3-4 for years prior to 1976 when they finally committed to it full-time. But the starter at nose in the first game was Lyle Alzado, not Carter. As it turned out, Carter found his position and Alzado went on to be an excellent 3-4 end. 

Carter was the classic run-stopper at nose, not much of a rusher, but did use a pass-rush move to get penetration plenty—the arm-over or "swim" move. 

He was a Second-team All-Pro in 1977 and that was the only season he received post-season honors.

Maas was a Pro Football Weekly All-Pro in 1986 and 1987 and a Pro Bowler in both those seasons.

Maas was "Big, mean, strong, and nasty" according to Buchsbaum who also thought Maas would have been an excellent 4-3 tackle. He did play some 3-4 end in his career and was always effective as a defensive tackle in the Chiefs 4-man lines when they went to nickel, he would routinely turn in 5, 6, or 7-sack seasons.

Jamal Williams's career seemed to be heading into obscurity as a very good shade (nose) tackle in a 4-3 defense for the Chargers from 1998 to 2004. He'd done yeoman's work, playing the run, coming out of the game on likely passing downs, but never getting a sniff of Hawaii and the Pro Bowl.

Enter Wade Phillips who installed a 3-4 and Williams as the nose and voila, he's in the Pro Bowl for the next three years. To be fair, Williams was a Second-team All-Pro in 2004 and then First-team in 2005 and 2006. He was a pure run-stopper, he's one of the few players to actually go to a Pro Bowl in a season when he had zero sacks. And he deserved it due to what he meant to those Charger defenses.

20. Damon Harrison
"Snacks", in our view is the top nose/shade tackle in the game today and if he continues his career arc he could move up this list quickly. He's looking good so far.

21. Linval Joseph
Joseph began his career as a Giant but his best work has come as a Vikings. Overall, we peg him as the second-best nose/shade in the NFL, though there are others very close. 

As the NFL becomes, more and more, a passing league there may be a time coming when run stuffers are not needed and won't command the money that Harrison or Joseph get. We will follow that trend, but as of now, we like Joseph's game and think he could move up.

22. Bob Golic
Golic was a Sporting News All-Pro in 1985 and was a Second-team All-Pro in 1986 and was a Pro Bowler from 1985-87. He was a converted linebacker who moved to nose tackle in 1992 with the Browns. He likely wasn't going anywhere in the NFL as a 'backer. In 1980 the Patriots linebacker coach was Bill Parcells and once when trying to populate a linebacker drill, called out, "Give me three linebackers and Golic".

Golic ended his career with the Raiders as a shade tackle in a 4-3 scheme, playing the run downs and doing it well.

23. Bill Pickel 
Bill Pickel in an interesting player. A tall nose, like Bob Baumhower, at 6-5 and began his career as an inside designated pass rusher. He was usually the shade tackle in the Raiders 40 nickel (Bandit) defense and he recorded 6 sacks in 1983 and 12.5 in 1984. He would also play left end on occasion, usually when Lyle Alzado was taking a series off or if he missed a game or two. In those situations, Howie Long would play the right end. And as was normal, Long would play the three-technique in passing situations.

In 1985 Pickel took over the nose tackle spot in the Raiders defense and he'd play the usual shade spot in passing downs. And in that role, he recorded 24 sacks in 1985-86. Then in 1986-87 he was still the starter but played less in passing situations and recorded just one sack in 1987 and five in 1988. 

He spent his last six seasons as a backup/rotational nose for the Raiders, then the Jets. We think he would have been a fine left 3-4 defensive end and inside rusher in nickel but the Raiders already had that guy—Howie Long. Such is life.

Dan Saleaumua was like a rolling ball of butcher knives, moving around all the time, always seemingly around the ball. He was a Dr. Z favorite as well. He was All-Pro in 1990 then made a Pro Bowl in 1995. He ended his career with 510 tackles and 35.5 sacks and 57.5 run stuffs.

25. Jay Ratliff
Some of what we said about Jamal Williams fits with Jay Ratliff. He was playing some defensive end, some inside rusher in nickel but when Wade Phillips took over as head coach in 2007 and installed his 3-4 defense Ratliff took over the nose and was an instant hit. he was a Pro Bowler from 2008 through 2011 and a First-team All-Pro in 2009. From 2008-09 he averaged 6.8 sacks and 45 tackles. He was certainly a three-down nose tackle.

26. Joe Nash
Nash played 15 years, about half in a 3-4 scheme and the other half as a shade in a 4-3 scheme. He was one of the better pass rushers among this group. He was First-team All-Pro in 1984 and Second-team All-Pro in 1985 and his sack total for those two years was 16. Obviously, for a nose to get that many sacks he has to be a three-down player and Nash was. He was also a very good kick blocker and an integral part of a good defense and a fine defensive line trio composed of Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant to his flanks.

27. Jim Burt
But was a Pro Bowler in 1986, but was certainly worthy of selection in 1984 and 1985 as well. Likely 1988, too, but it was a crowded field in the 1980s for nose tackles. Two slots for the Pro Bowl and at times 25 of the teams in the NFL playing a 3-4 defense. Burt also helped the 49ers in their Super Bowl seasons as a rotation nose tackle.

Burt was a bit injury-prone and was also undersized at around 260 pounds but was very tough and determined.

28. Dave Pear
Pear only played six seasons before his body gave out. He was a Second-team All-NFC pick in both 1977 and 1978 and was a solid three-down nose tackle. He began his career backing up the Colts tackles on the "Sack Pack" in 1975 and went to the Buccaneers as part of the expansion draft. Al Davis loved him enough to send the Bucs a 2nd and 3rd rounder for him in 1979.

Pear was extremely active and made a lot of tackles from 1976-79. He totaled 9 sacks in 1978 (3½ in both 1976 and 1977). Had his body not given out his track record likely would have been stellar.

29. David Logan
Logan had a knack for scoring on defense, he had three scoop and scores and a pick-six in his career, pretty good for a nose tackle. Logan was the starting nose tackle for the Bucs from 1980-86 and his sack totals for those years were 4-5½-4½-9½-5½-6½-2 for a total of 37½ even leading the Bucs in sacks in 1985.

Logan was undersized at 250 pounds and was more the 'middle guard' type, reading and reacting but usually crowding the center and "outquicking him" rather than overpowering him. And as evidenced by his sack totals could get after the quarterback very well for a nose.

30. Greg Kragen
A Pro Bowler in 1989, All-AFC in 1991, and Second-team All-Pro in 1992 Kragen was a very credible player. Undersized at 263 pounds but very active. He was sometimes considered a liability in the run game, but he, too, would make some plays behind the line of scrimmage. When you can play for 13 years and start for 11 of them you must be doing something right.

31. Russell Maryland
Maryland was probably not really worth the #1 overall pick spent on him, but he did have a very good career. He was a starter for the Cowboys when they were the NFL's top defense and helped them to three titles in four seasons. He was a Pro Bowler in 1993 and had, in our view, a 'Pro Bowl-type' year in 1997 for the Raiders but didn't get the nod. He was a two-down player and didn't offer much in terms of a pass rush.

32. Tim Bowens
Bowens is similar to Maryland in that they played in 4-3 defenses and were two-down run stoppers who usually played over centers rather than guards, though Bowens was bigger at 6-4, 325 versus 6-1 and around 300 pounds.

Bowens was a Second-team All-AFC as a rookie and a Pro Bowler in 1998 and 2002. Both times he was a Pro Bowler he has a season sack total of zero. Oddly, those are his only two seasons where he was shut out, usually, he'd have a couple of three or something. But he wasn't on the field to rush the passer, he was out there to plug the middle, and that he did.

We also think he was Pro Bowl-worthy in several other seasons especially 1996, 97, and 2000.

33. Gary Dunn
A backup to the Steelers famed Steel Curtain in the 1970s Dunn took the nose tackle position when the Steelers switched to a 3-4 defense. He was solid in all areas, he was a Second-team All-Pro in 1984 and though not elite, was very good. He was somewhat undersized at 260 or so pounds.

34.  Les Bingaman

Like Bill Willis a middle guard in the old 5-man lines of the 1950s. He got lots of post-season honors (four-time First-team All-Pro and one-time Second-team All-Pro) and championships (1952-53) but on film, he didn't impress us all that often. Sometimes he did, but not consistently. 

A giant of a man, listed at 275 but was well over 300 pounds, he didn't move well. Maybe we are shorting him because some have called for his election to the Hall of Fame, but see that happening. 

Traylor, like Bob Golic, was a converted linebacker who kept getting bigger and bigger  (up to 340 or so) and got moved to the defensive line. Traylor played mostly in 4-3 defenses as a shade tackle (shoulder of the center) but also played some nose in a 3-4 later in his career.

He never got any post-season honors but in the late-1990s and early-2000s, he was certainly worthy of some. He ended his career of 17 years with 20 sacks and 61 run stuffs—more than many of the nose tackles who beat him out for Pro Bowls.

36. Paul Soliai

Soliai went to one Pro Bowl and is, in many ways, a prototype 2-down nose man, weighing 344 pounds and standing 6-4.

37. Dontari Poe
Similar to Soliai (two Pro Bowls) but has a higher peak, we think, but has only played six full seasons, we think he could rise quickly as he puts the 'sustained' into sustained excellence. He was also a Second-team All-Pro in 2013. To sustain this ranking he has to stay at this level for a few more years like some of the others behind him. It's possible—a lot of these guys play a long time.

38. Brandon Williams
Thirty-nine with a bullet, Williams is rising on our list. He's not received any post-season honors as of yet but that could change this year. The last couple of years he's played more tackle than exclusively on the nose as he did earlier in his career but the Ravens like to put two big men in the middle next to each other and sometimes we've seen some rotation. In any event, he's a big man in the middle and qualifies for this list as of now. Like Poe, he's still in his prime and ranked as though he'll be at this level for several years longer. 

39. Anthony McFarland
Booger is now on Monday Night Football and does a credible job but he was also a very, very credible nose in the Tampa Bay defense, allowing Warren Sapp to play the three-technique and free-wheel to the quarterback. He never got any post-season honors but in 2000 he was worthy. He got two rings, one with Bucs and one with the Colts but didn't get to play in the 2002 post-season with the Bucs due to injury.

40. Tony Siragusa
Goose played 12 years and never went to a Pro Bowl, but was one of those who has 'Pro Bowl worthy' seasons. For him, 1994 and 1999 would qualify. Was a big part of the Ravens amazing run defense from 1997-01 which was the best in the NFL in that span. Almost always left the field in passing situations.

41. Brandon Mebane
Mebane played some rush tackle early in his career but became the run-stuffer for the Seahawks and now the Chargers. More solid than spectacular but was a part of a great Seahawks defense which certainly qualifies as a generational defense.

42. Hollis Thomas
A 13-year pro and solid part of the Eagles defense in the Andy Reid era. Another of the solid, not spectacular types. Mostly a 4-3 shade tackle and could get some pressure on the quarterback.

43. Reggie Kinlaw
Kinlaw was very undersized, at just under 250 pounds, but fought hard and was a valuable component to the Raiders Super Bowl wins in 1980 and 1983. Lyle Alzado liked to say Kinlaw was the best nose man in the NFL, we don't buy that, but he was good and deserves this mention. He left the field in passing situations and was what we term the "middle guard" types, the active, leverage players who lacked size.

44. Tony Casillas
Tony played 12 years some as a nose with the Falcons, some as more of a shade with the Cowboys, though that would vary since the Cowboys didn't 'flop' their tackles. But he was a guy who played run downs and left the field on likely passing downs. He played well enough to be recognized as a Second-team All-Pro in 1989

45. Grady Jackson
Big Grady was one of the larger tackles of his, or any era, listed at 345 but really 360? Early in his career, he had enough pass rush chops to stay on the field all the time and from 2000-03 he totaled 23.5 sacks and did that with three different teams. He played for six teams in his career and always seemed to find a job because a man that size with enough quickness to get to quarterbacks is valuable.

46. Gilbert Brown
The Gravedigger, a true giant. Listed at 340 pounds, but what was he—360? 380? A solid contributor to the Packers Super Bowl teams of 1996 and 1997. Not a contributor to the pass rush like many of the nose men in front of him on this list but against the run he was elite.

47. Terrance Knighton
Pot Roast Knighton played just seven years but did have a lasting impact. For his era, he was not excessive in size (maybe around 300 pounds) and was a good piece in some good run-stopping teams in Denver.

48. Alvin Wright
An underrated player he was the Rams starting nose from 1988-91. He played in the USFL and was signed by the Rams in 1986. The move from 3-4 defenses to 4-3 teams in the early 1990s left Wright as a man without a country, his skill set was not in demand like it had been.

He was not a huge man but was very powerful, just a rock in the run game. He left the field on passing downs or when the Rams deployed the Eagle/Hawk schemes they liked in that era.

49. Brodrick Bunkley
A smaller (295-pound) type nose tackle with good quickness he played both on the nose and as a shade in 4-3 schemes but a steady performer.

50. Ken Clarke
Clarke was a starter for the Eagles after Charlie Johnson left for the Vikings. He was a very good pass rusher for a nose man and played in the Eagles 4-man lines from 1979-81 totaling 13.5 sacks in that span but not a clogger in the middle. Kind of the opposite of a Gilbert Brown-type.

He lost his job when Buddy Ryan kept bringing in young studs like Jerome Brown. He also moved around so and was a good nose the year Henry Thomas moved to three-technique for the Vikings. His top year was 1984 when he had 6.5 run stuffs and 10.5 sacks. 51

51. Jimmie Jones
Jones was a very, very quick player who was, like Ken Clarke, a designated rusher earlier in his career (totaling 19 sacks in four years). He then signed with the Rams in 1994 and played the 4-3 shade tackle for three years providing 'cover' for D'Marco Farr. He played on pass downs every year but 1995 when Sean Gilbert sunk from defensive end to tackle.

He had a nice career, totaling 32 sacks and earning two Super Bowl rings.

52. Jeff Wright
Wright took over the nose tackle position from Fred Smerlas and he wasn't near the run stuffer Smerlas was but he was a very good pass rusher often good for five or six sacks a season—not bad for the position. He was undersized and could be moved by blockers in run downs, however.

53. Tony Elliott
Elliot anchored some of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL in the late 1980s and he could get some push, having played some nickel defensive tackle before winning the starting nose tackle position.

54. B.J. Raji
Raji was a top-10 pick—rare for a nose-type tackle. He went to one Pro Bowl in 2011 and in 2010 had 6.5 sacks and in the playoffs, he had a big pick-6 that helped the Packers get a ring. Only a short career prevents him from being higher on this list.

55. Joel Steed
In 1997 Steed was an All-AFC pick and a Pro Bowler, he was the middle of the "Blitzburgh" defense in the 1990s. Looked and played like Alvin Wright, a little bit.

56. Jason Ferguson
Ferguson played 13 years in the NFL and was a starter for 127 of the 159 games he played. An active player, he moved well and had some fair pass-rush moves. From 1998 through 2004, as a Jets starter he averaged 56 tackles and 3 sacks. He put in a couple of good seasons with the Cowboys in 2005 and 2006 under Bill Parcells who he played for in New York.

57. John Parrella
Parella played on a dominant run-stopping defense for the Chargers, one that allowed the second-fewest yards rushing from 1997-01 and a league-best 3.18 yards per rush. he could also get after the quarterback a little, averaging 4 sacks a year over that same span with a high of seven in 2000.

The Chargers played a 4-3 and Parella and linemates Norman Hand shared suites of playing over the center, so not quite the same as some of the other nose tackles on this list, but the spirit of his game was the same.

58. Norman Hand
A fine, fine run stuffer, after his years with San Diego, moved to the Saints where he played the nose while L'Roi Glover played three-technique and for a few years it was quite a good tandem. He could push the pocket fairly well, too.

59. Chris Hovan
A high-motor, hustle type. He got the do the grunt work for the guys that replaced John Randle and Warren Sapp. Yep, he arrived when those guys were on their way out of town. So he ended up playing for three-techniques like Jovan Haye and Tony Williams, though he got to play some three-technique himself for a few years in the early 2000s when Fred Robbins manned the nose.

60. Mike Stensrud
Stensrud took over for Curley Culp and played well for a few years, but at 6-5, 280, it's likely that 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end would have been a better fit for his body type. After seven years in Houston he bounced around to four teams in four years actually playing some 30-end for the Chiefs.

61.  Tim Goad
Yet another solid, steady type who was a starter for the first eight seasons of his career and a part-time starter in his ninth, and final season. For his era, he was somewhat undersized but played with good technique.

62. Kelly Gregg

A powerful player who always seemed to make a lot of big plays for a great Ravens defense. Certainly part of that was playing with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata. Ngata played the nose when Gregg was hurt and after he left, but the fronts were very multiple and we saw both on the nose, both at three-technique, both on a tackle, either head up or on the inside eye. The Ravens defense was really fascinating in terms of fronts.

Gregg, in full seasons from 2002-09 averaged 63 tackles and 2½ sacks a season one on one of the two dominant defenses over that span. That deserves some mention on this list.

63. Isaac Sopoaga
Sopoaga played the middle on the 49ers defense for a half-dozen or so years. Also played some shade tackle in a 4-3. 


We're going to stop at a nice, round number of 64 (*eyeroll*), but there are several others we could list, but we'd just say the same things over and over. Also not that anywhere from maybe 25-50 are all roughly about the same. So if your guy is lower that you think he should be, you're probably right. 

There are players we omitted that are likely as good as the ones at the bottom end of the list, but we left them out if they had short careers or played a fair amount of time at other positions, but if we did miss someone, as always, let us know.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Excellent article, John T! And my man Smerlas getting his due … love it!

  3. Kendall Wright looked like the perfect slot receiver for a lot of the year. one bid wonders has more information on college football bowl game.

  4. LOL, really curious where you got the film to do an in-depthanalysis of Les Bingaman. Bullshitter.

    1. I have the had the enjoyment of watching every game televised game that Les Bingham played in. I also recall the time that Les scored. Bet ya cannot not find that at film. I recall watching the game on Thanksgiving Day at my aunt and uncles house as a teenager. My uncle went crazy, shouting, "Did you see that". Bingaman was very big. They ran him in so as to have him score. The crowd also went crazy. I cannot find a record of that game.

  5. I realize he was mostly a part-time player but I thought Pete Kugler for the 49ers played alot of quality snaps. I think he was part of at least three of their championships, though undersized.

    1. he was a good player, but didn't play enough to really fit in. Also, played some DE. Maybe if he hadn't gone to USFL but really, except for 1983, he was a backup---someone who got to play when Carter was hurt, would play some 40 tackle in nickel/dime

      He was considered by the 36 starts was kind of a problem

  6. John, in your opinion, and others on this site, would you put Smerlas, Krumrie or Henry Thomas in the HOF ?

  7. Casey Hampton is criminally low on this list. He was the straw that stirred the drink for the 2x Champion defenses for the Steelers in the 2000’s. Other than Polamalu there wasn’t a better player on those defenses.

    1. all the guys ahead of him were better than he was. As with any list there is room for debate here and there but he's ranked about right.

      Let me guess, you are a Steeler's fan?

  8. Another excellent piece of work by you Mr. Turney.

  9. Jamal Williams was the monster in the middle. It frequently took 2 or 3 linemen to block him, freeing up teammates to double-cover or blitz.

  10. Great list -- Curley is indeed #1. And love seeing Smerlas getting recognized so high. Would have put Maas and Gilbert Brown much higher, but really enjoyed this list. Gilbert Brown was a big piece in that loaded Packer defense.

  11. I would have thought Manu Tiuasosopo would have been in there as he was mixing it up well in the era with Sugar Bear Hamilton, Rubin Carter, Fred Smerlas, etc.
    And if Reggie Kinlaw makes the list then I would have put Dave Rowe in as well. Rowe helped the Raiders to their first Super Bowl trophy (IMO) - I was at that Super Bowl.

    1. as a nose tackle, mostly a backup or part-time player

  12. Gilbert Brown was a big piece in that loaded Packer defense.

  13. Tim Goad is a very good player from start.

  14. Joe Nash is a glaring omission. His 10 kick blocks rank top 10 among all NFL players. His 47.5 sacks and 779 tackles put him easily among the best who have ever played. He toiled in obscurity in Seattle at a time when the league wanted to forget Seattle existed & still was a 1st team AP & Pro Bowler in 1984, and could easily have been a Pro Bowl player in 2 other seasons.

  15. It was for too short of a timeframe for both but Albert Haynesworth and Kris Jenkins were top 10 elites NTs for brief periods.

    1. Jenkins was a NT and agree. Haynesworth was not a NT...he played there if there was an over/under and he had to slide, but in Titans system they played left DT or right I have him wit hthe 4-3 tackles.

      Jenkins I have there too but could make a case he belongs here. Pantehrs did left- and right- as well.

      With Jets, of course, he was a NT ... so he was kind of a hybrid.

      Anyway, yes, botehr were elite players for a short time.