NFL News & Analysis

Best interior defenders available in the 2023 NFL Draft and free agency

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (97) reacts after a fumble recovery against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Javon Hargrave is the prize of free agency: Hargrave’s 13.2% pressure rate since the start of 2020 ranks third among interior defenders, behind Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.

Jalen Carter is a special talent: one of the best interior defender prospects we’ve ever graded. He’s the only Power Five interior defender to grade above 90.0 grade both as a pass-rusher and as a run defender over a season. 

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While it’s not often regarded as a marquee position, a dominant interior defender can make a genuine impact on a defense, while holes can be created when a team's defensive interior is weak.

Here are the best options at the position this offseason.

Best Free Agents (rank among PFF’s Top 100 free agents)

  1. Javon Hargrave (3)
  2. Daron Payne (9)
  3. Dalvin Tomlinson (18)
  4. Dre’Mont Jones (22)
  5. Zach Allen (24)
  6. David Onyemata (47)
  7. Sheldon Rankins (64)
  8. Larry Ogunjobi (85)
  9. Matt Ioannidis (88)
  10. Morgan Fox (90)

This is a deep interior defender free agent class, with A’Shawn Robinson (92) and Poona Ford (94) also landing within our top 100 available free agents in addition to the 10 guys above.

Hargrave is the top non-QB free agent on the market this offseason, as he’s blossomed into one of the truly elite pass-rushing interior defenders. Hargrave’s 13.2% pressure rate since the start of 2020 ranks third among interior defenders, behind Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.

Daron Payne has regressed a bit against the run since his first few years in the league, but he’s become one of the better interior pass-rushers. His 75.6 pass-rushing grade ranks 18th among interior defenders since the start of 2021, and he generated a career-best 55 total pressures in 2022, eighth-most at the position.

Dalvin Tomlinson has been stout against the run throughout his NFL career, and he’s picked up his production as a pass-rusher over the past few seasons, finishing 2022 with a career-best 79.1 pass-rushing grade that ranked eighth among interior defenders. Tomlinson is one of 10 interior defenders to record at least 60 defensive stops against the run over the last three seasons while also recording a pass-rush win rate of at least 10% in each season.

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Best interior defenders in the 2023 NFL Draft (PFF Big Board rank)

  1. Jalen Carter, Georgia (2)
  2. Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh (13)
  3. Bryan Bresee, Clemson (20)
  4. Mazi Smith, Michigan (34)
  5. Siaki Ika, Baylor (65)
  6. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin (67)
  7. Moro Ojomo, Texas (85)
  8. Kobie Turner, Wake Forest (100)
  9. Jaquelin Roy, LSU (106)
  10. Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida (118)

Looking strictly at on-field football production, this year's interior defender class is stacked at the top, with three players cracking the top 20 on the PFF big board. 

Carter is one of the best interior defender prospects we’ve ever graded. He’s the only Power Five interior defender to grade above 90.0 grade both as a pass-rusher and as a run defender. His 17.1% win rate as a pass-rusher ranked second among Power Five interior defenders over the past two seasons, while his 36.2% positively graded play rate in run defense ranked first by a country mile.

Calijah Kancey had a combine to remember: He broke Aaron Donald’s record for the fastest 40-yard dash (4.67). The Pitt product owns the highest pass-rushing grade among Power Five interior defenders over the last two seasons at 92.3, and both his 17.3% win rate and 13.6% pressure rate also ranked first.

Coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2021 season, Bryan Bresee flashed the potential that made him a five-star recruit out of high school with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Penn State and Ohio State in addition to Clemson.

Over his final two college games, the ACC conference championship game followed by Clemson’s bowl game against Tennessee, Bresee posted a 90.9 pass-rushing grade with a 28.6 win rate to go with eight pressures (including a hit and a sack) across just 35 pass-rushing snaps. Bresee tested well in Indy and should be a high-upside Day 2 prospect at worst.

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