NFL News & Analysis

2022 NFL Free Agency Rankings: Interior Defensive Linemen

Chicago, Illinois, USA; Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon (28) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is a year-round process, as teams scout opposing players in an effort to defeat them during the year and perhaps sign them in the offseason.

Now that we're at the end of the 2021-22 NFL season, the free agency picture is coming into focus and teams are beginning to identify potential targets to improve their roster weaknesses.

Here are the top interior defensive linemen slated to hit free agency in 2022. Click here for PFF's full list of top 100 free agents.

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1. Akiem Hicks

PFF Free Agency Rank: 23
2021 Snaps: 304
2021 PFF grade: 72.3 (23rd of 125)

Hicks was yet another established veteran seeking a well-deserved contract extension prior to the 2021 season, with his agent Drew Rosenhaus going so far as to spend a few days at Bears training camp in an effort to get something done. Nevertheless, no agreement was reached, and Hicks then battled a nagging groin injury in his contract year. He still maintained his very high floor of play, earning a 72.3 grade (23rd), driven by a strong 71.9 pass-rush grade (29th).

Projected contract: Two years, $17 million ($8.5M per year, $12.5 million total guaranteed)

2. Calais Campbell

PFF Free Agency Rank: 30
2021 Snaps615

The ageless wonder Campbell put together another very strong season at 35 years old, with his 80.8 grade well above any of the other pending free agent interior defenders. He’s a better run-defender at this stage in his career than he is a pass-rusher, but he can still win his one-on-one matchup and get upfield in a hurry now and then. Much like his former teammate Larry Fitzgerald, Campbell will likely continue to play on strong one-year deals until he decides to hang up the cleats.

Projected contract: One year, $8 million fully guaranteed

3. Folorunso Fatukasi

PFF Free Agency Rank: 69
2021 Snaps: 558
2021 PFF grade: 61.5 (55th of 125)

Fatukasi played alongside fellow defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers, who the Jets extended in the middle of the season, and New York also has 2019 No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams’ next contract to think about in the not-so-distant future. Even still, Fatukasi is one of the league’s better and most unheralded nose tackles over the past few years, with run defense grades of 87.6 in 2019 and 86.2 in 2020 before a more subdued 2021 campaign. However, his 16 quarterback pressures this year represented a career-high.

Projected contract: Three years, $25 million ($8.33 million per year, $15 million total guaranteed)

4. B.J. Hill

PFF Free Agency Rank: 74
2021 Snaps: 564
2021 PFF grade: 69.8 (30th of 125)

Right before the 2021 season, the New York Giants inexplicably traded Hill and a seventh-round pick for former Cincinnati Bengals center Billy Price – and Hill excelled with more opportunities on a less-crowded defensive line.

The former third-round draft pick is a solid all-around 3-technique with the ability to generate relatively consistent pressure from the interior. With increased playing time, he earned his third straight 70.0-plus season grade, producing a career-best 12 combined sacks and hits.

Projected contract: Three years, $26.25 million ($8.75 million per year, $14.5 million total guaranteed

5. D.J. Jones

PFF Free Agency Rank: 77
2021 Snaps: 582
2021 PFF grade: 72.7 (21st of 125)

Jones quietly turned in a campaign that could make him the most sought-after free-agent interior defensive lineman. The 49ers kept him on a one-year deal in 2021 after his rookie contract expired, and if it was a “prove it” situation, his career-high 73.2 overall grade certainly proved that he’s earned a stronger multi-year deal.

Projected contract: Three years, $26.25 million ($8.75M per year, $15.5 million total guaranteed)

6. Linval Joseph

PFF Free Agency Rank: 81
2021 Snaps: 550
2021 PFF grade: 63.7 (46th of 125)

Joseph has long been one of the NFL’s premier nose tackles, and while his 63.1 overall and 49.3 run-defense grades in 2021 are both by far his lowest since 2011, he earned a career-best 83.0 pass-rush grade this season. In Joseph’s final three seasons in Minnesota, the team graded out at 91.5, 87.0, and 75.4 against the run. Without him, the defense has dropped to 41.5 and 50.3. Despite the down year, Joseph is a space-eater who may still garner some interest at 34 years old. However, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he hangs up his cleats after a great career.

Projected contract: One year, $6.75 million fully guaranteed

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7. Sebastian Joseph-Day

PFF Free Agency Rank: 85
2021 Snaps: 340
2021 PFF grade: 61.6 (54th of 125)

The Rams run defense took a big hit for a few weeks following Joseph-Day’s torn pectoral muscle in Week 7, but reports have indicated he may return for the playoffs. His ability to eat up space on the interior and free up other rushers will definitely be valued across the league.

Projected contract: Three years, $24 million ($8M per year), $15.5 million total guaranteed

8. Maliek Collins

PFF Free Agency Rank: 87
2021 Snaps: 628
2021 PFF grade: 64.0 (45th of 125)

Collins appeared to be one of the first veterans in Houston to buy into the new regime, put his head down and play hard on a team with zero playoff aspirations. The former third-rounder of the Dallas Cowboys has played at least 500 snaps in six straight seasons to begin his career and recorded a career-best 31 total pressures in 2021. He’ll still just be 27 years old through the 2022 season and is starting to realize his potential.

Projected contract: Three years, $27.75 million ($9.25M per year, $16 million total guaranteed)

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9. Sheldon Richardson

PFF Free Agency Rank: 104
2021 Snaps: 688
2021 PFF grade: 62.0 (52nd of 125)

Richardson was a cap casualty of the Cleveland Browns following the 2020 season, and while they were probably smart to save the cash/cap they did, the Browns interior defender unit ranked dead last in 2021 partly because of Richardson’s absence. Richardson graded out above 60.0 in every facet in 2021 and generated 37 quarterback pressures, continuing his impressive consistency as a quality interior pass rusher.

Projected contract: One year, $3 million fully guaranteed

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10. Tim Settle

PFF Free Agency Rank: 114
2021 Snaps: 210
2021 PFF grade: 68.0 (N/A)

Settle has still yet to play 350 snaps in a season, but his second straight 72.5-plus pass-rush grade and three straight seasons with double-digit quarterback pressures are intriguing for teams in need of a potential rotational interior pass-rusher.

Projected contract: One year, $4.25 million, $2.25 million total guaranteed


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