Fantasy Football: How the 2023 rookie interior defender class stacks up using key stable metrics

Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) looks on before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

  • Georgia produces another defensive line stud: Jalen Carter’s dominance over the past two years should enable him to become a future top-tier defensive tackle option in IDP leagues.
  • The Aaron Donald comparisons may be justified: Calijah Kancey may be on the smaller size, but his pass-rush upside is huge if these stable metrics translate to the NFL.
  • Get to know more about this rookie class by checking out the other positions ranked so far: Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and for IDP, edge defenders all ranked based on their stable metrics.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

NFL draft season is well underway, so there are plenty of fantasy football IDP GMs who are building their rookie draft boards for dynasty purposes. Utilizing all the information available is going to be key in building those draft boards and looking at how each position stacks up against one another from an analytics standpoint is just one of the many tools to consider during the evaluation process. This series focuses purely on the key stable metrics that translate more often than not from college to the pros.

A few notes about how this series will work:

  • Rankings are based entirely on how these players performed in PFF’s stable metrics over the past two seasons.
  • Athletic ability and size are not taken into account for this process. Again, this is just one of many evaluation tools to consider.
  • This list includes all 24 interior defensive linemen from Mike Renner’s PFF big board but does not provide any weight to projected draft capital or the ranking to stack the class up in a nonpartisan manner.

Top-10 interior defensive linemen in PFF pass-rush grade since 2021

Player Pass-Rush Grade Pass-Rush Attempts
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 92.1 642
Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 92.0 907
Jalen Carter, Georgia 91.3 537
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 90.2 662
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 88.0 710
Siaki Ika, Baylor 86.7 490
Jaquelin Roy, LSU 84.3 661
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin 83.7 483
Bryan Bresee, Clemson 80.0 303
Moro Ojomo, Texas 78.9 427

Calijah Kancey established himself as one of the most interior effective pass-rushers during his final two seasons at Pittsburgh, especially in 2022, earning the highest pass-rush grade at his position (92.4). Kancey’s biggest knock from evaluators at this point relates to his size, and rightfully so, as he ranks inside the bottom-fifth percentile for height, weight,and arm length relative to his position. However, as these stable metric will show, and what another former Pittsburgh alum — Aaron Donald has shown, is that elite pass-rush tools can still translate to the NFL, especially for IDP, where pass-rush is difficult to find from the interior defensive line.

Jonah Tavai is the most experienced defensive tackle from the class, at least in terms of defensive snaps played, as no other interior lineman has played more snaps over the past two seasons than the San Diego State product (1,499). Posting strong metrics on that workload makes his showing all the more impressive, although the lower competition level in the Mountain West Conference should also be taken into consideration.

Jalen Carter is as dominant of a pass-rusher as there is in this class of interior defensive linemen, ranking top three in all pass-rush-related categories over the past two seasons. While his sack totals don’t do him justice, he still figures to be the top interior defender off the board in April’s draft, and it’s easy to see why, starting with his elite underlying pass-rush metrics.

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Top-10 interior defensive linemen in PFF pass-rush grade on true pass sets since 2021

Player TPS Pass-Rush Grade TPS Pass-Rush Attempts
Jalen Carter, Georgia 92.1 253
Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 92.0 454
Jaquelin Roy, LSU 90.6 277
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 90.0 272
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 89.5 330
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 85.1 312
DJ Dale, Alabama 82.5 125
Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina 81.1 146
Moro Ojomo, Texas 79.5 153
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin 78.3 178

On true pass sets, where screens, RPOs and rollouts (among other blocking scheme anomalies) are removed, Carter once again posted an elite pass-rush grade, this time topping the list. All seven of Carter’s sacks over the past two years came against true pass sets while also leading the class in win rate (25.2%) and pressure rate (20.6%) under the same circumstances.

Tavai’s dominance of the Mountain West Conference shines through once again on true pass sets, where he posted more pressures (83) on such plays than any other interior defender in this class. His pressure rate (19.2%) and win rate (23.8%) were both second behind only Carter.

LSU’s Jaquelin Roy was more effective against true pass sets, landing among the top five in pressures (39), quarterback hits (nine) and win rate (20.2%). This is where Roy made his biggest impact in these stable metrics due to his highest finish across all categories.

Top-10 interior defensive linemen in PFF pass-rush grade on non-play-action rushes since 2021

Player Pass-Rush Grade w/o Play Action Pass-Rush Attempts w/o Play Action
Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 92.1 745
Jalen Carter, Georgia 91.6 412
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 90.2 403
Jaquelin Roy, LSU 88.2 458
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 85.5 459
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 84.9 508
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin 79.7 309
Bryan Bresee, Clemson 78.6 235
Moro Ojomo, Texas 78.1 282
Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina 77.0 265

When it comes to earning elite pass-rush grades, the usual suspects emerge at the top once again, including Roy with another top-five finish. When he’s asked to go straight after the quarterback without any run defense responsibilities getting in the way, he’s proved to be excellent.

Devonnsha Maxwell also makes his third-straight top-five finish in the pass-rush grade categories, albeit against the lower competition of the FCS. Maxwell posted 23 sacks over the past two seasons while earning back-to-back 90.0-plus defensive grades since 2021. Eighteen of his 23 sacks came against non-play-action plays, which was the second-most from this class.

Top-10 interior defensive linemen in pass-rush win rate since 2021

Player Pass-Rush Win-Rate Pass-Rush Attempts
Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 18.23% 907
Jalen Carter, Georgia 17.58% 537
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 16.83% 642
Siaki Ika, Baylor 14.41% 490
Bryan Bresee, Clemson 13.49% 303
Dante Stills, West Virginia 13.34% 678
Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma 13.27% 472
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 13.17% 662
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 12.91% 710
Moro Ojomo, Texas 12.86% 427

The top three are back at it when it comes to pass-rushing, posting the best numbers of the class due to winning at a consistently high rate. For IDP purposes, these are the kind of numbers that help fantasy players understand who is going to have the best shot at impressive sack totals, which often require other circumstances out of the pass-rusher's control to happen. Win rate provides a clearer picture of what a player is doing on all of their snaps as opposed to the handful of plays that resulted in sacks.

Siaki Ika earned his best ranking among these metrics with an impressive win rate at Baylor, which also helped him to a very strong 86.7 pass-rush grade (sixth). Ika is a top-five interior defender according to the PFF big board and while he didn’t finish that high on the consensus rankings that take all of these stable metrics into consideration, it’s easy to see how his pass-rush ability makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in this class.

Bryan Bresee is also one of the higher-ranked prospects for his position, coming in as the No. 3-ranked interior defensive lineman on the big board. While he didn’t quite dominate these stable metrics, his athletic ability and tools are among the best in the class and should also translate to the next level as he continues to refine his game.

Top-10 interior defensive linemen in PFF run defense grade since 2021

Player Run Defense Grade Run Defense Snaps
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 93.1 492
Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 91.4 588
Moro Ojomo, Texas 91.0 380
Jalen Carter, Georgia 90.7 248
Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 88.6 567
Jacob Slade, Michigan State 87.4 399
Byron Young, Alabama 85.7 434
Dante Stills, West Virginia 85.0 566
Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 82.8 386
Mazi Smith, Michigan 80.0 509

Kobie Turner makes his case as one of the most well-round defensive tackles in this class, earning top-10 marks in every stable metric category over the past two seasons. While he isn’t of the higher-ranked prospects on the big board, the right landing spot and a chance for decent playing time could make him one of the more interesting IDP prospects as he should be able to provide a decent production floor with his run-defense ability.

Moro Ojomo not only developed into a viable pass-rush threat in 2022, earning an 84.1 pass-rush grade and five sacks but has proven to be one of the most consistent defenders against the run. Ojomo finished just outside the top 12 at his position in run defense grade in 2021 (81.9) but moved inside the top five in 2022 with an elite 91.4 run defense grade.

Top-10 interior defensive linemen in run stop rate since 2021

Player Run Stop Rate Run Defense Snaps
Jalen Carter, Georgia 13.47% 248
Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona State 9.30% 442
Mazi Smith, Michigan 9.22% 509
Jacob Slade, Michigan State 9.11% 399
Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 8.70% 492
Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin 8.43% 417
Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma 8.33% 266
Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida 8.06% 586
Moro Ojomo, Texas 7.80% 380
Cameron Young, Mississippi State 7.74% 457

Carter blew everyone else in this class away with his impressive run-stop rate, and while the sample size is smaller, factoring in the level of competition that he faced in the SEC helps ease those concerns.

Nesta Jade Silvera performed well as a run stopper over the past two seasons at Miami (FL) and Arizona State but probably won’t be much of an IDP factor in the NFL as an under-sized interior defender that doesn’t provide a lot of pass-rush upside.

Michigan’s Mazi Smith is likely closer to what NFL teams will be looking for when it comes to an interior run-stuffer. His size and strength are more likely to translate to the NFL than Silvera’s while offering about the same as a pass-rusher. Smith may not translate to an ideal IDP asset outside of deep leagues if he is unable to develop his pass-rush game, or at least be allowed to do so at the next level.

Combined consensus ranking of all stable metrics since 2021:

Ranking Interior Defensive Lineman PFF Big Board Rank
1 Jalen Carter, Georgia 1
2 Jonah Tavai, San Diego State 15
3 Kobie Turner, Wake Forest 8
4 Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh 2
5 Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga 21
6 Moro Ojomo, Texas 7
7 Jaquelin Roy, LSU 9
8 Bryan Bresee, Clemson 3
9 Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin 6
10 Jacob Slade, Michigan State 17
11 Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina 14
12 Byron Young, Alabama 13
13 Siaki Ika, Baylor 5
14 Dante Stills, West Virginia 23
15 Mazi Smith, Michigan 4
16 Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma 18
17 Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona State 24
18 DJ Dale, Alabama 20
19 Zacch Pickens, South Carolina 12
20 Keondre Coburn, Texas 11
21 Brodric Martin, Western Kentucky 16
22 Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida 10
23 Cameron Young, Mississippi State 19
24 Taron Vincent, Ohio State 22

Carter reigns supreme across all stable metrics posting top-five marks across the board and never finishing lower than fourth in any category. Before the Carolina Panthers traded up to the first overall pick, there was talk of Carter potentially being the first player taken in April’s draft, and his underlying metrics certainly help his case as potentially one of the first defensive players off the board. He should be an impact IDP early in his career regardless of the landing spot.

Tavai was top-two in four of the six stable metric categories, but as highlighted throughout, he did so against lesser competition in the Mountain West Conference and measures on the smaller size for his position. His discrepancy compared to the PFF big board likely comes from a concern in those numbers not translating against much tougher competition in the NFL.

Turner can be considered a riser based on this ranking compared to the big board thanks to all-around strong showings in pass-rush and run defense metrics. The right landing spot and draft capital could make him an interesting IDP rookie target in deeper leagues.

While Kancey dominated the pass-rush categories, he didn’t necessarily show as well as a run defender, although his marks were far from poor. If his quickness at the line of scrimmage continues to work at the next level, he has the makings of a future top-tier defensive tackle in IDP formats.

Bresee and Ika are both top-five players at the position according to the PFF big board but fell a bit lower as both didn’t score well as run defenders, but that isn’t to say they won’t develop in that regard. Their strengths ultimately came as pass-rushers but didn’t prove to be as dominant as some of the other top five defensive tackle prospects on the big board.

Smith is the other top-five “faller” according to these ranks, and for IDP purposes, that should make sense. Smith didn’t perform well in the pass-rush metrics and profiles more as a nose tackle in the NFL, where fantasy production is a rarity. Even uber-athletic nose tackles like Jordan Davis from last year’s class won’t hold much fantasy value outside of the deepest leagues due to limited sack upside. Smith posted just two sacks over the last two years as a starter on over 1,100 defensive snaps.

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