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Today on the NFC North Position Rankings, we break down four thru one who has the best defensive tackles. The NFC North rush defense was one of the worst in the NFL, with all four teams finishing 20th or worse in the rush yards allowed. The Minnesota Vikings had the best finish of all the teams finishing 20th, while the Chicago Bears finished 31st and the Detroit Lions finished 29th. Entering 2023, who is projected to have the best defensive tackle unit?
Ranking NFC North: Defensive Tackle
Number Four: Green Bay Packers
The Packers usually run a 3-4 defense, so on their depth chart, they have two names listed: T.J. Slaton and Jonathan Ford. Slaton last season recorded 31 total tackles and didn’t record a single sack. As for his backup Jonathan Ford, who the Packers selected 234th in the 2022 NFL Draft, he has no stats from last season.
The Packers come in fourth in the rankings due to the inexperience in between the trenches on defense; it’ll be interesting to see what they do throughout the season at defensive tackle.
Number Three: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings, like the Packers, also run a 3-4 defense, and leading the charge is Khyiris Tonga, who last season recorded 28 total tackles and 0.5 sacks. Behind Tonga on the depth, chart is T.J. Smith, who last season played in just one game, and that was against the Packers, and he recorded four total tackles in that game.
The Vikings also bring in Sheldon Day from Cleveland, who last season recorded 21 total tackles and one sack for the Browns. The Vikings ranked 20th in the league for rushing yards which starts with the defensive tackles, especially on the inside runs; the addition of Day should also help beef up their defensive line.
Number Two: Chicago Bears
The Bears finished 31st in rushing yards allowed, so they went out and fixed that problem by signing Andrew Billings from the Raiders, who recorded 39 tackles, one sack, and three quarterback hits. He will start alongside Justin Jones, who recorded 52 total tackles and three sacks, as well as a fumble recovery for the Bears.
They also drafted two defensive tackles in the draft by taking Zacch Pickens from South Carolina with the 64th overall pick and Gervon Dexter Sr. from Florida with the 53rd overall pick. Pickens, last season with the Gamecocks, recorded 42 total tackles and 2.5 sacks, while Dexter recorded 55 tackles and two sacks for the Gators.
Number One: Detroit Lions
In 2022 the Lions struggled against the run. Still, they played well between the edge rushers with Alim McNeill leading the charge, and he had some breakout games last season for the Lions as he finished the season with one sack and 41 total tackles as well as seven hits on the quarterback. Playing next to McNeill will be Isaiah Buggs, who the Lions brought in from the Steelers prior to the 2022 season, and he played in all 17 games last season, recording 46 tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble as well as ten hits on the quarterback.
Behind McNeill and Buggs on the depth chart are Levi Onwuzurike and Brodric Martin; Onwuzurike is entering his third season with the Lions but didn’t play last season, and in 2021 he recorded 35 tackles and one sack in 16 games. The Lions added Martin with the 96th overall pick in the draft out of Western Kentucky, and he recorded 31 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year. Benito Jones and Christian Covington will also be fighting for a spot on the roster; the Lions have depth at defensive tackle as they have worked this offseason to fix their defense.
Bottom Line: Defensive Tackle Position is an Issue for all Teams in the NFC North
The other day I ranked the Packers as the best running back group in this division with two solid backs who can run up the middle and now the other three teams in the division rank one thru three up the middle on the defensive line so the big test will be can the Detroit Lions, Vikings, and Bears shut down Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon and slow down the run game of the other teams they have to face twice this season? The team that finishes the best at limiting the run will most likely be within the top two teams in this division at the end of the 2023 season.