Top 10 returning interior defensive linemen in college football for the 2023 season

Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Jer'Zhan Newton (94) sacks Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

  • IllinoisJer’Zhan Newton: The redshirt sophomore leads this list after being the most valuable Power Five interior defensive lineman this past season.
  • Cincinnati’s Dontay Corleone: The redshirt freshman comes in second and was the highest-graded defender in the country in 2022.
  • LSU’s Mekhi Wingo: The sophomore rounds out the top three and was a true marathon man for the Tigers this year.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 interior defensive linemen returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account here. 

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1. Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois Fighting Illini

Newton broke out in a significant way as a redshirt sophomore this season.

He finished as the most valuable Power Five interior defensive lineman according to PFF’s wins above average metric and led that same group with 59 pressures while his 13 tackles for loss/no-gain were tied for the most among all FBS interior defensive linemen.

2. Dontay Corleone, Cincinnati Bearcats

As a redshirt freshman this season, Corleone led all FBS defenders with a 93.8 grade.

His 94.7 run-defense grade was also the best mark by a defensive player since Micah Parsons in 2019. Despite ranking just 256th among interior defensive linemen in run-defense snaps (172), “The Godfather” registered the sixth-most run-stops (27). 

Highest single-season run-defense grades in PFF College era (Since 2014 among DI, EDGE and LB)
Name School Position Season Run-Defense Grade
Quinnen Williams Alabama DI 2018 96.5
Maurice Hurst Michigan DI 2017 95.0
Reuben Foster Alabama LB 2016 94.9
Micah Parsons Penn State LB 2019 94.8
Dontay Corleone Cincinnati DI 2022 94.7

Vita Vea

Washington DI 2017 94.7

3. Mekhi Wingo, LSU Tigers 

After an impressive freshman season at Missouri, Wingo transferred to LSU this past season.

He practically never came off the field for the Tigers this year, as the sophomore’s 821 snaps were 30-plus more than any other interior defensive linemen in college football. His 84.3 run-defense grade was third among SEC interior defensive linemen while his four sacks were tied for the most.

4. Kris Jenkins, Michigan Wolverines

Like Corleone, Jenkins is a dominant run-stuffer in the middle of Michigan’s defensive line. 

The junior’s 31 run-defense stops were tied for the most in the nation among interior defensive linemen, and his positively-graded run-defense rate was third among Power Five interior defensive linemen.

5. Leonard Taylor, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Coming out of high school in 2021, Taylor was a top-10 recruit according to On3’s consensus ratings.

He lived up to the hype this season, especially as a pass-rusher. The sophomore’s 19.5% pressure rate and 16.2% pressure rate trailed only Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey among Power Five interior defensive linemen. Taylor has the potential to be the top defensive tackle in the 2024 draft.

6. DeWayne Carter, Duke Blue Devils

Taylor isn’t the only elite pass-rushing interior defensive lineman returning to the ACC.

Carter’s 52 pressures trailed only Newton among Power Five interior defensive linemen this past season. The redshirt junior’s eight sacks were also tied for first in that same group. 

7. Tyler Davis, Clemson Tigers

Davis impressed as a true freshman in 2019 with a 79.6 grade before battling injuries over the following two seasons.

Finally healthy in 2022, the senior returned to his dominant ways, as his 82.9 grade was a top-10 figure among Power Five interior defensive linemen. His 36 pressures were fourth among that same group as well. 

8. Byron Murphy II, Texas Longhorns 

Texas had the deepest interior defensive line in college football this past season, with four earning grades above 77. 

Murphy is one of two who are returning, and his 83.9 run-defense grade in 2022 was a top-10 mark among Power Five interior defensive linemen. The sophomore was also 11th in the Power Five with a 14.8% pass-rush win rate.

9. Braden Fiske, Florida State Seminoles

Fiske has been one of the most productive interior defensive linemen over the past two seasons for Western Michigan

In that span, the redshirt junior’s 81 pressures were tied for fifth among FBS interior defensive linemen while his 47 run-defense stops tied for third. Fiske will test his talents at the Power Five level next season at Florida State. 

10. Jaylon Hutchings, Texas Tech Red Raiders

Good luck trying to run through the A-gap against Texas Tech.

Hutchings patrols the middle of the Red Raiders' defense, as their nose tackle and stuffs whichever running back that dares to run at him. The senior’s 82 run-defense stops over the last four seasons are more than any other interior defensive linemen in the country. He’s more than just a dominant run-defender, too. Hutchings’ 78 pressures in that span are tied for 11th in that same group.

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