College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning interior defensive linemen in college football for the 2022 season

Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) in action against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially reset time in college football.

We are on to the 2022 season, where teams across the country will compete for a chance to play for the College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. There’s still a lot to be figured out between now and then with team rosters and depth charts — the transfer portal deadline is months away. But the 2022 NFL Draft deadline is approaching for those who are eligible, so we now know which of college football’s top talents will be leaving and returning for this season.

As such, there's no better time to dive into early position rankings of the top returning players in college football. Below are the top 10 interior defensive linemen returning to college football this fall. Please note this has nothing to do with NFL potential.

Click here for more PFF tools:

Rankings & ProjectionsWR/CB Matchup ChartNFL & NCAA Betting Dashboards | NFL Player Props Tool | NFL & NCAA Power Rankings
Best Bets Tool


1. JALEN CARTER, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Georgia is losing a boatload of elite talent along its defensive front, but the team does return the clear-cut best interior defensive lineman in the country. Carter, a 2020 five-star recruit, earned an 89.7 pass-rush grade that tied for first in the Power Five this past season. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound interior defensive lineman also tied for first among that group in pass-rush win rate (18.5%) and finished second in pressure rate (13.4%).

He was also one of the best performers against the run, too, with the highest positively graded run play rate in the country by over four percentage points. The cherry on top is that he helped block a couple of field goals this year, one being in the College Football Playoff national title game. Carter has a whole lot of power in his game and could be a special player down the road.

2. BRYAN BRESEE, CLEMSON TIGERS

Bresee was a prime breakout candidate in his 2021 true sophomore season, but a torn ACL in his fourth game of the year derailed that. The 2020 No. 1 overall recruit played 582 snaps his first two years on campus and earned a 70.8 PFF grade anchored by a 79.8 mark as a pass-rusher. And most of that production came in his true freshman campaign while nearly a quarter of his rushes were with only three men.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound interior defender is the total package from a tools perspective and should continue on the breakout path in 2022 with a clean bill of health.

3. CALIJAH KANCEY, PITT PANTHERS

Kancey has been a consistent force since first stepping foot on the college gridiron as a redshirt freshman in 2020. He earned PFF grades of 80.4 and 83.7 in the past two seasons, both of which ranked inside the top 10 at the position among Power Five players. This past season, Kancey produced 38 pressures — including nine sacks and 10 hits — en route to an 84.1 pass-rushing grade. The 6-foot, 275-pound interior defensive lineman makes up for his lack of size with quicks and advanced technique.

4. JAXON PLAYER, BAYLOR BEARS

Player joins Baylor after four years of high-level production at Tulsa. He went from earning PFF grades of 74.8 and 80.6 in 2018 and 2019, respectively, as a pure nose tackle before transitioning to a versatile role in 2020 and 2021 and posting PFF grades of 74.0 and 87.3, respectively.

Despite seeing over 100 snaps at nose, defensive tackle and on the edge in 2021, Player managed to record an 85.0 grade as both a run-defender and a pass-rusher. This transfer was a home run for Dave Aranda and the Baylor Bears.

5. GERVON DEXTER, FLORIDA GATORS

Dexter is a candidate to take his play to elite status in 2022. The 6-foot-6, 303-pound interior defensive lineman posted a 75.8 pass-rush grade, 24 pressures and a 13.5% pass-rush win rate in 2021. When playing zero-technique or one-technique, Dexter recorded an 84.6 pass-rush grade — the fifth-best in the FBS.

He’s reminiscent of Javon Kinlaw at South Carolina due to his physical gifts. With a little bit of polish to pair with his length and strength, the 2020 five-star recruit can be an All-American in 2022. 

6. JACOB SLADE, MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Slade was the model of consistency for the Spartans in 2021. He earned an 86.1 PFF grade for the season, ranking third among Power Five interior defensive linemen. Slade ranked in the top 10 nationally at the position in both pressures generated (40) and run stops (27). He was among the six Power Five players at the position to earn grades above 75.0 as both a run-defender and a pass-rusher. Two are ahead of him on this list, and the other three are off to the NFL.

7. BRANDON DORLUS, OREGON DUCKS

Dorlus finished the 2021 season as one of college football's five most valuable interior defensive linemen, with 0.29 PFF Wins Above Average (WAA) generated. For reference, he accumulated only 0.02 WAA his first two years on campus in 2019 and 2020. The former three-star recruit earned a 65.1 PFF grade across 340 snaps in that two-year span before jumping to a 79.2 mark on 665 snaps in 2021. The latter wasn’t an easy thing to do on such minimal volume in the Power Five.

 8. JALEN REDMOND, OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Redmond showed no rust in his return to the field in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season. He earned an 82.6 PFF grade as a key reserve in 2018 and a 78.4 mark across eight games in 2021, most of which he started. Redmond did miss some time midway through the season due to injury, but after his return in Week 9, his top-tier pass-rush production remained. His 19.6% pass-rush win rate and 18.3% pressure ranked tied for first and first, respectively, among Power Five interior defensive linemen in 2021.


Related content for you:

Top 10 returning wide receivers in college football for the 2022 season
via Anthony Treash

9. JAQUELIN ROY, LSU TIGERS

Roy took a massive step forward in his 2021 true sophomore campaign. The 2020 top-50 overall recruit posted an 81.2 PFF grade, nearly 30 points higher than his true freshman mark. Roy tied with Georgia's Jalen Carter for the highest pass-rush grade at the position in the Power Five (89.7). He will help form one of the most talented defensive lines in the country in 2022 with Maason Smith, BJ Ojulari, Ali Gaye and others.

 10. COLBY WOODEN, AUBURN TIGERS

Wooden beefed up to be more of an interior rusher, and the move has paid dividends. The 6-foot-5, 278-pounder improved his pass-rush grade from 69.0 playing primarily on the edge in 2020 to 80.6 playing mostly inside in 2021. Though that’s not to say he isn’t capable of rushing the passer on the edge from time to time. The 2019 four-star recruit has that versatility and also impresses with his power, drive, hand usage and leverage.

SLEEPER TO WATCH: TYLEIK WILLIAMS, OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

The sheer number of high-end reps from Williams on just 184 snaps in his true freshman campaign is almost hard to believe. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound interior defender’s upper-body strength paired with his good hand placement for his age led him to a 75.4 PFF grade in his first season.

The four-star recruit posted an 84.0 pass-rush grade, racked up 21 pressures on 114 rushes, batted a couple of passes, recorded 10 defensive stops and forced a fumble. Williams should be able to ease the loss of experienced veteran Haskell Garrett along the Buckeyes’ interior defensive line.

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.
Sponsor

College Featured Tools

  • Power Rankings are PFF’s NCAA power ratings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

    CFB Grades+
  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

    CFB Grades+
  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data.

    Available with

    CFB Prem Stats+
College Subscriptions

Unlock College Player Grades and Preview Magazine

$7.99 / mo
$27.99 / yr

Unlock NCAA Premium Stats & PFF Greenline NCAA

$29.99 / mo
$119.99 / yr