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summer. There is good reason for that -- they all have excellent offenses led by superior play by their quarterbacks. But they could also struggle considerably when it comes to defending the middle of the field, at least compared to some of the more complete teams around the league like the New England Patriots.
This week, we are ranking the "interior defense" for all 32 teams, meaning defensive tackles, nose tackles and inside linebackers. Let's see who is rock solid up the middle.
*Indicates rookie status
1. Los Angeles Rams -- Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Tanzel Smart*, Cory Littleton
The Rams may be lucky to even get to "7-9 bulls--t" next season, but they won't be held back by the interior of their defense, which is the best in the NFL. Donald is one of the top 10 players anywhere, Ogletree was a second-team All-Pro, while Brockers and Barron get overshadowed a bit, but possess exceptional talent that made them top-15 picks. Los Angeles was first in the league last season in "Stuffed Rank," meaning that they held backs to zero or negative yards on 29 percent of run plays.
2. Carolina Panthers -- Kawann Short, Luke Kuechly, Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler, David Mayo, Ben Jacobs, Kyle Love
As if it weren't enough that the Panthers have Short, who just signed a five-year, $80.5 million contract, and Kuechly, a three-time All-Pro and one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Lotulelei, 2013's first round pick in a contract year, they also have Butler waiting in the wings for his opportunity. Last year's first round pick, Butler will probably replace Lotulelei in a year, but for now Carolina gets to see what it looks like when they have all of these players (hopefully) healthy at the same time.
3. Baltimore Ravens -- Brandon Williams, C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Michael Pierce, Patrick Onwuasor, Brennen Beyer
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Williams, an elite run-stopper, when he signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract to remain in Baltimore. Only Brockers has a higher APY as a nose tackle, but Williams got a record guarantee ($24.5 million) for the position. Mosley has made two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro rosters in three years.
4. Seattle Seahawks -- Bobby Wagner, Jarran Reed, Malik McDowell*, Ahtyba Rubin, Naz Jones*, Quinton Jefferson, Michael Wilhoite
Seattle ranked first in the NFL in YPC allowed and second in run defense DVOA, thanks in large part to another elite season by Wagner, who is ever-so-close to a Defensive Player of the Year award. Reed is on his way to becoming one of the top run-stoppers in the game, while Pete Carroll is hoping that McDowell becomes his pass rushing specialist from the inside.
5. New York Giants -- Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson*, Keenan Robinson, Jay Bromley, Robert Thomas, Mark Herzlich, B.J. Goodson
The Giants finished second in YPC allowed, third in run defense DVOA, and third in rushing yards allowed mainly thanks to Harrison, maybe the best run-stopper on any defensive line on any team. They lost Johnathan Hankins, but added Tomlinson in the second round.
6. New England Patriots -- Dont'a Hightower, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Kyle Van Noy, Vincent Valentine
Another unit that the Pats are quite comfortable with. Hightower signed a four-year deal to remain in New England because of course he did, as he helped Bill Belichick's defense allow an NFL-low six rushing touchdowns. Brown has flown under the radar, but could be one of the position's top-paid players very soon.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald, Sealver Siliga, Stevie T'Ikolovatu, Kendell Beckwith*
Tampa struggled against the run (22nd in YPC allowed), but the talent with McCoy and Alexander is obvious and the defense improved as the season wore on. Things should only get better in Mike Smith's second season as defensive coordinator. Some have called Baker the "steal of free agency."
8. San Francisco 49ers -- DeForest Buckner, NaVorro Bowman, Earl Mitchell, Quinton Dial, D.J. Jones*, Brock Coyle
While the Niners could be headed Tyler Clippard Womens Jersey
toward another season with double-digit losses, the middle of their defense should be a strength. Switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, Bowman must adjust to some new tasks, but he's proven to be a top-five linebacker when healthy. Buckner had 77 tackles and six sacks as a rookie and has Donald-like potential. If Bowman goes down for any reason, San Francisco has some interesting depth with rookie Reuben Foster, if necessary.