NFL News & Analysis

2023 NFL defensive line rankings: Philadelphia Eagles take the top spot, San Francisco 49ers come in at No. 2

2KG0HG8 Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. 20th Nov, 2022. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Graham (55) sacks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during NFL game in Indianapolis, Indiana. John Mersits/CSM/Alamy Live News

• Eagles dominate the trenches: A season ago, Philadelphia ranked second in the league in pressure percentage despite blitzing at a below-average rate. And this was largely due to the defense's ability to get after the quarterback with just four pass-rushers.

• Commanders at No. 3: It remains to be seen whether edge defender Chase Young will still be on the roster when the season kicks off. But, as things stand, Washington's starting defensive line consists of four former first-round picks.

• Cardinals in a tough spot: The Cardinals lost three impactful starters from last season in J.J. Watt, Zach Allen and Markus Golden, which would be a reason for concern regardless. However, the problem is that the Cardinals did not really attempt to replace those players.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

The last two Super Bowls have shown the impact that a dominant defensive front can have on the NFL’s biggest stage.

The Philadelphia Eagles‘ marched to Super Bowl 57 thanks in part to their dominant front four, while Joe Burrow was pressured on 18 of his 42 dropbacks (43%) and sacked seven times in Super Bowl 56 against Aaron DonaldVon Miller and the rest of the Los Angeles Rams’ pass-rush unit.

Here, we rank the league's defensive lines from 1 to 32, starting with the ever-dominant Eagles.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

A season ago, Philadelphia ranked second in the league in pressure percentage despite blitzing at a below-average rate. And this was largely due to the defense's ability to get after the quarterback with just four pass-rushers.

While the Eagles lost interior defender Javon Hargrave in free agency, they were able to draft Georgia's Jalen Carter, who earned a Power Five-best 92.3 PFF grade in 2022.

There is a case to be made that Philadelphia’s second-string defensive line would also rank in the top 20 on this list.

2. San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco has arguably the best edge defender in the NFL in Nick Bosa, who also took home Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022. This offseason, they also added free-agent interior defender Javon Hargrave, who adds a pass-rushing element in the middle of the defensive line that the team might have lacked last season.

Arik Armstead had the lowest-graded season of his career last year, but the 29-year-old should still have plenty left in the tank. San Francisco’s projected starting four is rounded out by edge defender Drake Jackson, who is expected to make a leap in his second year.

3. Washington Commanders

It remains to be seen whether edge defender Chase Young will still be on the roster when the season kicks off. But, as things stand, Washington's starting defensive line consists of four former first-round picks.

The interior is led by Jonathan Allen, who has graded among the top 20 interior defenders for three straight seasons. And on the edge, they have Montez Sweat, who earned a career-high 86.4 grade that ranked eighth among players at the position last season.

4. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins' defensive line came on strong last season, and the unit should be even better in 2023, as all four projected starters are not yet 28 years old.

The youngest of the quartet, edge defender Jaelan Phillips, had a breakout season in 2022, ranking sixth among edge defenders in PFF overall grade (88.8). Interior defender Christian Wilkins continued his solid form, too, grading among the 10 best interior defenders for the second consecutive season.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh’s defensive line boasts some elite players, even if interior defender Cameron Heyward turned 34 in March and edge defender T.J. Watt earned his lowest grade since 2018 in an injury-plagued year.

Edge defender Alex Highsmith had a breakout season in 2022, finishing 24th at his position in overall grade (78.0). However, the unit lacks the depth it once had and needs rookie Keeanu Benton to play well right off the bat for the Steelers to retain their place in this top five.

6. Cleveland Browns

The Browns have had one of the best — if not the best — edge defenders in the league for the past couple of seasons. However, due to the lack of talent around Myles Garrett, the Browns have never really had an elite defensive line.

Since the end of the 2022 season, Cleveland replaced Jadeveon Clowney with Za’Darius Smith at edge defender and also added Dalvin Tomlinson to bolster the middle, which was a weakness last year.

Finally, the addition of free agent Ogbonnia Okoronkwo could be one of the most underrated signings of the offseason, as the former fifth-rounder has graded among the top 30 edge defenders in each of the past two seasons.

7. Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo might field the deepest defensive line in the entire NFL, as third-string edge defenders Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa could very well start for some NFL teams.

However, the unit’s ceiling depends on how well its best player will perform. Gregory Rousseau still needs some minor improvement to reach the elite level, as he ranked 20th among edge defenders in PFF grade last season, while Von Miller has turned 34 and is coming off a torn ACL.

8. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys defense led the NFL in pressure percentage last year, but only edge defenders Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence earned PFF grades over 70.0 on the defensive line.

While Parsons is undoubtedly an unstoppable pass-rusher and one of the best defenders in the NFL, Lawrence is entering his 10th season and just earned a PFF grade below 75.0 for the first time since 2016.

Although Dallas added interior defender Mazi Smith in the first round, the talent around the two edge defenders stops Dallas from ranking higher on this list.

9. New York Giants

No player improved as much as interior defender Dexter Lawrence did in 2022, ending the campaign as the second-highest-graded player at his position (91.6).

Lawrence and Leonard Williams form arguably the best interior defender duo in the NFL. This defensive line could enter the next tier if either of their young edge defenders — Kayvon Thibodeaux or Azeez Ojulari — make a leap in 2023.

10. Tennessee Titans

Due to the perception of the Titans offense, the defense might also be flying under the radar — even though their defensive front has the potential to be very good in 2023.

Interior defenders Denico Autry, Teair Tart and Jeffery Simmons all graded among the top 25 players at their positions. The Titans also signed edge defender Arden Key, who had a breakout season with the Jaguars this past season. They are also getting back Harold Landry III, who had to miss the entire 2022 season due to an injury.

11. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati’s defensive line is highlighted by edge defender Trey Hendrickson and interior defender D.J. Reader, two of the best free-agent signings in recent years.

Hendrickson had his best season as a pro in 2022, as he ranked 15th at his position in PFF grade, while Reader graded in the top 10 for the third time in four years.

The unit also features one of the better edge defenders against the run in Sam Hubbard, while third-year edge defender Joseph Ossai might also play a bigger role in 2023.

12. New England Patriots

Deatrich Wise Jr., Christian Barmore, Josh Uche and Matthew Judon all earned the highest PFF grade of their careers last season, but only Uche ranked inside the top 25 at his position. So, while Judon has recorded 28 sacks over the last two seasons, the Patriots' defensive line lacks a consistently elite performer.

Barmore continuing his late-season form in 2023 could very well change that, as he was the highest-graded interior defender over the last two weeks of the 2022 season.

13. Kansas City Chiefs

Interior defender Chris Jones is one of the best defensive players in the entire league and has earned a top-10 PFF grade in each of the last six seasons, including a league-leading 92.3 grade last year.

However, there are way too many question marks on the defensive line around him to place the Chiefs any higher. While free agent addition Charles Omenihu has a chance to be an upgrade from Frank Clark at edge defender, he has yet to play more than 660 snaps in a season in his career.

14. New York Jets

The Jets are in a very similar situation to the Chiefs. Interior defender Quinnen Williams has emerged as one of the best players at his position over the last couple of years and earned the fourth-highest grade among interior defenders in 2022. But while multiple edge defenders on the Jets roster have flashed ability in the past, none have proven they can play consistently at a high level for an entire season.

Projected starter John Franklin-Myers earned a PFF grade over 80.0 in back-to-back seasons, but he played just 643 snaps last year.

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15. Carolina Panthers

While most of the talk has been about edge defender Brian Burns on the Carolina defensive line, interior defender Derrick Brown’s breakout season flew under the radar in 2022.

After a couple of seasons with grades in the 60s, Brown earned a PFF grade of 84.4 in his third season, seventh among interior defenders. While the rest of the defensive linemen have failed to make an impression in recent seasons, the duo of Brown and Burns puts the Panthers' defensive line in the top half of this list.

16. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers defensive line probably looks better on paper than on tape. While edge defender Khalil Mack recorded a PFF grade over 85.0 in each of the first seven seasons of his career, he has graded below 75.0 in the last two years.

Interior defender Sebastian Joseph-Day also failed to get back to his 2020 form and produced the lowest PFF grade of his career in his first season with the Chargers.

Still, Joey Bosa is among the very best edge defenders in the NFL when he is healthy, and he alone can elevate a defensive line.

17. Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota’s defensive line has a lot of new and interesting pieces, but it is yet to be seen whether its best player, edge defender Danielle Hunter, will still be on the team in September.

We have highlighted interior defender Khyiris Tonga as a potential breakout candidate for the Vikings after he graded among the top 15 players at his position in his first season in Minnesota. Free-agent addition Marcus Davenport was also a solid and consistent edge defender in New Orleans, ranking in the top 20 at his position in three of the last four seasons.

18. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have one of the better interior defender duos in the entire NFL, as DeForest Buckner’s elite play is complemented by Grover Stewart‘s ability against the run.

However, there are plenty of question marks on the edge, as former first-round draft pick Kwity Paye has yet to make an impression as a pass-rusher in the league, and Samson Ebukam has yet to grade above 70.0 over a season.

19. Green Bay Packers

There are still several pieces to work with on the Packers' defensive line, but this unit has been trending in the wrong direction over the past few years.

Kenny Clark’s PFF grade has declined in each of the last four seasons, with his 66.4 mark from last year representing a career-low that ranked only 45th at his position. And the unit’s best player, edge defender Rashan Gary, is coming off a torn ACL.

Green Bay’s defensive line has two other former first-round picks with potential, though interior defender Devonte Wyatt barely played in his rookie season in 2022, and 2023 will be edge defender Lukas Van Ness’ first year in the NFL.

20. Detroit Lions

The Lions didn't really invest in the defensive line during the 2023 offseason, but this unit could rank a lot higher next season just because of the potential progress its young players can make.

Former second overall pick edge defender Aidan Hutchinson came on strong toward the end of the season after a slow start to his rookie campaign, ranking 21st among edge defenders in PFF grade by the end of the season. Meanwhile, interior defender Alim McNeill improved significantly, with his 69.8 PFF grade finishing 33rd at his position.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars had three edge defenders who ranked in the top 50 in PFF grade last season. However, only Josh Allen remains on the team, as Arden Key signed with the Titans, and Dawuane Smoot is currently a free agent after tearing his Achilles late in the season.

This will put some pressure on former first-round pick Travon Walker after his quiet rookie campaign. Interior defender Davon Hamilton earned a career-high PFF grade and made our list of the 32 best interior defenders in the NFL.

22. Los Angeles Rams

If not for Aaron Donald, the Rams could very well have ended up outside the top 30 on this list, but even the three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s presence could not lead to a better ranking for this unit.

Donald earned a PFF overall grade over 90.0 for the ninth time in his nine-year career this past season, but he was dethroned as the highest-graded interior defender after seven seasons at the top.

Outside of him, the Rams do not have much to offer on the defensive line, but they did draft five defensive linemen this year, so they'll be hoping that at least one or two can step up in 2023.

23. Houston Texans

While the Texans do not have an elite player on their defensive line — at least not until rookie Will Anderson Jr. gets acclimated to the NFL — they have more starting-caliber players than most teams that find themselves outside the top 20 on this list.

In fact, the Texans have four interior defenders who ranked in the top 100 players at the position. Furthermore, while edge defender Jerry Hughes will start his 14th season in the NFL, he is still capable of playing at a solid level, as he has earned PFF grades over 70.0 in each of his last six seasons and ranked among the top 40 at his position in each of those years.

24. Las Vegas Raiders

Maxx Crosby earned a top-five grade in both 2021 and 2022 and has cemented himself as one of the best edge rushers in the league. However, none of the other members of the Raiders' defensive line managed to rank in the top 64 at their position in 2022, which shows the struggles this unit can expect in 2023.

This year’s seventh overall pick, Tyree Wilson, could be the savior of this unit, but it remains to be seen when he will be able to get on the field for Las Vegas following his foot injury.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The top two players on the Bucs' defensive line, interior defender Vita Vea and edge defender Shaquil Barrett, are both coming off the lowest-graded season of their careers, and both struggled with injuries throughout the campaign.

As a result, the Bucs desperately need Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall to step up, as both have failed to make an impression so far in their young careers.

26. Baltimore Ravens

It is entirely possible that one of the Ravens’ young edge defenders, either Odafe Oweh or David Ojabo, will have a breakout season. But until that happens, it is difficult to rank this unproven defensive line higher.

Another name to highlight on this unit is interior defender Justin Madubuike, who has shown flashes that suggest he can play at a very high level but has also been too inconsistent over the first three seasons of his career.

27. Atlanta Falcons

Three separate Atlanta defenders made our list of the 32 best interior defenders in the league, but the combined age of the three will be 97 years by the time the season kicks off, and it is more than likely that Grady Jarrett, Calais Campbell and David Onyemata are all toward the tail ends of their careers.

This, combined with the fact that their projected starting edge defenders both graded outside the top 80 at their position in 2022, is not a promising sign for the Falcons' defensive line for the 2023 season.

28. Denver Broncos

The expensive signing of interior defender Zach Allen and the late addition of edge defender Frank Clark suggest that the Broncos were not satisfied with what they had on the defensive line, but it is questionable whether these two moves will significantly improve the unit.

Allen earned a 72.7 grade in what was a solid season in 2022, but that represented a career-high mark and the first time he's surpassed 60.0. And even though Clark made big plays in the playoffs in recent years, his three highest-graded seasons came between 2016 and 2018.

29. New Orleans Saints

Edge defender Carl Granderson enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, and his emergence meant that veteran Cameron Jordan was not the highest-graded defensive lineman on the Saints for the first time in years.

Nevertheless, while Granderson’s emergence is a promising sign, Jordan’s age and potential decline, together with the lack of starting-caliber players in the middle of the line, are causes for concern for Saints fans.

30. Seattle Seahawks

During the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Seahawks had a chance to bolster their defensive line but elected to pick cornerback Devon Witherspoon instead.

While that represents an improvement for the Seattle secondary, the defensive line remains in a relatively poor position. Although the Seahawks have seven defensive linemen who played at least 250 snaps last season, only one of them ranked in the top 60 at his position in PFF grade.

Edge defender Uchenna Nwosu was easily the best player on the Seattle defensive line, as he picked up a PFF grade of 72.6 last season.

31. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears produced pressure just 22.3%of the time when they chose not to blitz, dead last in the NFL. They sacked opposing quarterbacks on 2.8% of their dropbacks without blitzes, also last in the league.

As a result, the Bears went out and signed DeMarcus Walker and Andrew Billings in free agency and drafted multiple defensive linemen in the first three rounds of the draft. While this can solidify the unit a bit, it is unlikely to be a significant upgrade, especially when it comes to pass rush.

32. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals lost three impactful starters from last season in J.J. Watt, Zach Allen and Markus Golden, which would be a reason for concern regardless. However, the problem is that the Cardinals did not really attempt to replace those players.

Arizona has only one defensive lineman who played more than 350 snaps last season, and that was interior defender Leki Fotu, who ranked 125th out of 127 players at his position in PFF grade.

Although we highlighted edge defender Cameron Thomas as a potential breakout candidate for the Cardinals, this unit might struggle mightily during the 2023 season.



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