Ranking the NFC South defensive tackles

I already had a pretty good idea that defensive line isn’t strong overall in the NFC South. But that’s been reinforced over the past few days as I’ve worked my way up to the front four in our series of position rankings.

We looked at the defensive ends on Monday and saw that the list was topped by Will Smith and an aging John Abraham, and filled out with a bunch of prospects and role players. We’re looking at defensive tackles today and the pickings might be even more slender.

  1. Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons. This one was easy. Babineaux is by no means an All-Pro, but he’s proven over time he’s a very solid defensive tackle, which might make him the only one in the division. Babineaux should be helped by having Peria Jerry and Corey Peters joining the rotation this year. Last season, Babineaux led the Falcons with 6 sacks.

  2. Sedrick Ellis, Saints. No, he hasn’t dominated like a lot of people thought he would coming into the league two years ago. But the main reasons for that have been injuries. When he’s healthy, Ellis isn’t far from the same level as Babineaux, and, eventually, could turn out to be better.

  3. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers. Yep, I’m going with a rookie this high. Part of it is because there’s not a lot to choose from. But part of it is because I think McCoy’s going to be really good right from the start. Don’t be surprised if he’s at the top of this list a year from now. I’ve had two general managers from other teams with early picks that they had McCoy ranked ahead of Ndamukong Suh, who went one pick ahead of McCoy to Detroit.

  4. Anthony Hargrove, Saints. Like a lot of NFL teams, the Saints rotate their defensive tackles a lot and Hargrove technically might not be a starter. But Hargrove’s going to play a lot. He straightened his life around as he joined the Saints last year and it looks like the arrow continues to point up on this guy.

  5. Peria Jerry, Falcons. We’ll see if this one ends up being a reach or not. There are big questions about Jerry’s health as he comes back from a major knee injury that sidelined him for most of his rookie year. But the guy was a first-round pick. The Falcons are going to rotate their tackles heavily and may be a little cautious with Jerry at first, but they’re hoping he can emerge as a force as the season goes on.

  6. Roy Miller, Buccaneers. McCoy and second-round pick Brian Price are getting all the attention, but Miller’s another young defensive tackle the Bucs are expecting big things from. He’ll probably start next to McCoy. Miller’s not the kind of guy who will put up big stats, but he’s a “plugger’’ and should be a big boast for the run defense.

  7. Brian Price, Buccaneers. He’s more explosive than Miller and although McCoy’s been drawing all the comparisons to Warren Sapp, Price is the guy that actually is built like Sapp, and, theoretically, should be able to play like Sapp did. But a preseason injury set back Price just enough to probably keep him out of the starting lineup. That doesn’t really matter. He’ll rotate in a lot.

  8. Corey Peters, Falcons. If Jerry’s not healthy, the Falcons are going to have to rely on Peters a lot. Either way, Peters will have a prominent role in the rotation. He showed more polish in camp than the Falcons expected from a third-round choice.

  9. Louis Leonard, Panthers. His health remains a question. But, if Leonard is on the field, he’s the best defensive tackle the Panthers have.

  10. Remi Ayodele, Saints. Yeah, I know this guy started 13 games for the Super Bowl champions last year and he could start again. But Ayodele is more role player than anything else. He’s all right against the run, but doesn’t bring anything special to the table.

  11. Ed Johnson, Panthers. If he keeps dropping weight like he has throughout the preseason, Johnson probably will end up starting or getting significant playing time. The Panthers took a chance on this guy because he played under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks with the Colts before running into some trouble. But Johnson appears to be getting his career back on track.

  12. Trey Lewis, Falcons. Again, much will depend on Jerry’s health. But with Babineaux suspended for the first game, Lewis might have some role in a rotation.