- Illinois’ Jer’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.
The 2022 college football season has come and gone, and so has the deadline to enter the 2023 NFL Draft. 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.
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.
Best returner on offense is Marvin obvs, but the best returner on defense?????
Johnny MF Newton and it’s not particularly close. pic.twitter.com/3nb2FG6Ka0 https://t.co/bwI933v8ZM
— The Kingfisher (@TheKingfisher18) January 30, 2023
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)
|Micah Parsons||Penn State||LB||2019||94.8|
For justice, we must go to Don Corleone pic.twitter.com/nrphb0a9Eh
— Dontay Corleone (@dontaycorleone) January 5, 2023
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.
Mekhi Wingo (DT #92) is GOOD. pic.twitter.com/Oa41Q0AEQo
— cristian (@Cristianspfc_) December 22, 2022
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.
Big 3rd down.
Nebraska scored to make it a 1 possession game and Michigan went 3&out. Need a play.
Kris Jenkins makes it. Heck of a job by 94. Junior Colson was also in there to clean up. Big play. pic.twitter.com/18mBReS2Rp
— Due# (@JDue51) October 10, 2021
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.
Leonard Taylor does this on only his second snap of the night.
Straight violence. @AllHurricanes pic.twitter.com/ChKu5wnALP
— Luke Chaney (@luke_chaney4) September 29, 2022
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.
DeWayne Carter is a bad man pic.twitter.com/Ma9Qec617O
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) September 10, 2022
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.
.@ClemsonFB DT Tyler Davis (@tdbeast5390) had 6.5 sacks as freshman but only 3.5 combined his next two years. Had 1.5 against Wake and shows his cross-face quicks and athleticism to finish at QB here. He’ll boost his NFL stock w/ more reps like this: #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/MroVLgBHrE
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 27, 2022
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.
ANOTHER third down stop and forced punt from the Texas defense.
Look at the effort from DeSoto’s Byron Murphy! #HookEm | @Horns247 pic.twitter.com/z2AgaZTOFK
— Hudson Standish (@247Hudson) September 10, 2022
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.
Braden Fiske transfers to FSU. Aligned over the LG, Braden’s power shows shedding the center. Not the best set by the center and Fiske’s hands are wild throughout the rush. Still, “athletes finish in the backfield” and Braden does just that in pursuit of Pickett. #PortalProspects pic.twitter.com/ziWXIMKs0C
— William Becker (@BillBeck27) January 24, 2023
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.
Trying to watch @TexasTechFB Tyree Wilson and 3 drives in I’m looking up these DTs – Tony Bradford Jr and Jaylon Hutchings! These guys have some juice to get after the QB!
Only Power 5 iDL teammates with 30+ QB Pressures this season (Wake Forest pair is close!) pic.twitter.com/kSQnThhDKz
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 28, 2022