Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Who would you rather have? Keith Millard, John Randle or Kevin Williams?

Kevin Seifert of ESPN's NFC North blog penned a post today about the Detroit Lions Ndamukong Suh. But what caught my attention were the statistics embedded in the Suh post that showed just how good the Minnesota Vikings have had it at defensive tackle over the past 25 years.

In Seifert's post he lists the defensive tackles with the most double-digit sack seasons and the DTs with the most sacks in their first two seasons. In the former category, Hall of Famer John Randle leads the pack with seven double-digit sack seasons. Keith Millard is tied for third place on that list (with five other guys) with three double-digit sack seasons.

As for the latter category, Williams tops that list by posting 22 sacks in his first two seasons and Millard comes in second with 21.5.

Now sacks are only part of how to measure the worth of a defensive tackle, but it did get me wondering who I'd rather have playing defensive tackle in his prime for the Vikes – Williams, Millard or Randle.

It's a tough call. Randle has the Hall of Fame resume and the gigantic personality to go with it. No defensive tackle was more disruptive than Randle in his prime. But there are many observers who say Randle couldn't/wouldn't defend the run and consider him a one-dimensional player. That probably is accurate, but Randle's one dimension – rushing the quarterback – was one hell of a dimension.

Williams might be headed for the Hall of Fame someday as well (although even with six Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro selections to his credit, but no Super Bowl rings, I have my doubts). His sack totals have fallen off since his first two seasons, but he was, and still is, a superior run defender compared to Randle. And he, along with  Pat Williams, were the fulcrum of some historically good run defences from 2006-2009. Williams was also a master of batting down passes at the line of scrimmage and even if he hasn't posted a 10-sack seasons since 2003, he's still a guy you have to account for when the QB passes the ball. And he remains a three-down player.

Millard is the toughest guy for me to assess. My memories of his 1984-89 Vikings heyday are a bit hazy 20-plus years on. I remember him being a maneater as a pass rusher. I don't have photographic recollections of his abilities against the run, but I remember him being solid in that area and the Vikings were in the top 10 in run defense most of that era. While there was some great talent on those lines back then (Chris Doleman, Doug Martin, Henry Thomas, Al Noga), Millard had something to do with that. What makes Millard tough to rank is that his career was cut short by a major knee injury in 1990. He was not close to the same player after that.

So who would I rather have in his prime? I'm going to go with Millard. He was just as dominant a pass rusher as Randle when healthy and was a much better run defender. As for why Millard over Williams, weighing his pass rush and run defense abilities against Williams, I give Millard the slight edge there. But not by much.    

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