NFL News & Analysis

Ranking the 25 best interior defenders from the 2022 NFL regular season

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) celebrates after a sack during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

  • Aaron Donald de-throned: At least in terms of this season’s grades, there is a new top interior defender for the first time since 2015.
  • Dexter Lawrence’s career year rockets him up the rankings: While always performing strongly, the former Clemson Tiger blew his previous numbers out of the water in 2022.
  • Dominant Quinnen Williams arrives: Williams’ 2022 season resembles many signs of what made him a third-overall pick out of Alabama in 2019.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

This list is based almost entirely on PFF’s final defensive grades for every interior defensive lineman during the 2022 regular season, and the grades take into account every defensive snap played for every player in every game. This list does allow for some wiggle room in the final rankings based on the number of snaps or games played but leans heavily into the final grades from the end of the regular season. For example, only one player on this list (D.J. Reader) played less than 400 defensive snaps (397) this past season, so the sample size is also important.

1. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs (92.0)

With a two-way tie for the highest grade at the position, Jones gets the nod at No. 1 because he played 51 more defensive snaps and generated more wins above replacement (0.44) at the position than everyone but Aaron Donald. Jones also provided more impact as a pass-rusher than any other interior defensive lineman, leading the position in sacks (15.5), win rate (20.2%) and total pressures (77).

2. Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants (92.0)

There isn’t much that separates Lawrence from Jones among the top two spots, and it doesn’t get much closer than the final grades. Lawrence earned the highest run defense grade (81.9) and pass-rush grade (92.4) at the position in what turned out to be a career year across the board for the former Clemson Tiger, significantly out-performing his previous (strong) season marks.

3. Quinnen Williams, New York Jets (90.1)

While Williams earned the fourth-highest grade at the position, he moves up this final list one spot after only missing one game all year and finishing with the third-most sacks (12) at the position. Williams also posted a slightly higher run-defense grade (77.7) than Aaron Donald (75.6), creating enough of a tie-breaker in the former No. 3 overall pick’s favor.

4. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (90.5)

For the first time since 2015, Donald did not finish with the highest overall grade at his position, but he still managed to earn a 90.0-plus overall grade, which he has done in every season of his NFL career. Donald also led all interior defensive linemen in wins above replacement (0.52) but did miss six games, which led to his lowest career sack total (five). Nonetheless, Donald’s play-to-play impact on the field is still clearly at an elite level, keeping him in the top five at his position even after a “down year.”

5. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers (89.8)

Heyward wraps up his 12th NFL season with another year of elite production and grades across the board. The 33-year-old played over 800 defensive snaps for the fifth-straight season and posted top-five marks in run defense grade (78.2), total pressures (58) and wins above replacement (0.26).

6. Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins (85.1)

Wilkins’ greatest strength comes from his run-stopping ability, ranking second at the position in run defense grade (81.0) and leading the position in defensive stops (55). Wilkins played all 17 games and posted career-high numbers in pass-rush grade (72.5) and total tackles (98) while also tying for the position-lead in batted passes (seven).

7. Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers (84.4)

While Brown may have posted just one sack on the year, his underlying pass-rush metrics reached new heights, including career-highs in pass-rush grade (77.9) and total pressures (40). Brown’s greatest asset, like most interior defensive linemen, was his run defense, earning the third-ranked run defense grade (80.6) that helped him earn the seventh-most wins above replacement generated (0.23) at his position.

8. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts (82.3)

Buckner played every game this season and posted the second-most defensive stops (47) at the position. Buckner has never finished a season with fewer than 48 total pressures in his seven-year career, keeping that streak alive with 56 total pressures this past season (tied for fifth at the position).

9. Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans (81.1)

Simmons set a new career-high in pass-rush grade (79.3), which was top 10 at his position, while also finishing within that range with 53 total pressures. Simmons’ strong year across the board led him to finish inside the top 10 in PFF WAR for the second time in his four-year career. 

10. Jonathan Allen, Washington Commanders (80.1)

Allen posted another pass-rush grade above 80.0, which has kept him inside the top 10 at his position in that category in each of the past three seasons. Allen has also provided strong value as a run defender, tying for the most tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage against the run (16) among defensive tackles.

11. Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles (78.2)

Hargrave finished 2022 inside the top five in pass-rush grade among defensive interior players for the third-straight season while also producing a 90.0-plus pass-rushing grade for the second-straight season. His 11 sacks set a new career-high and was a top-five mark for the position, helping make him the highest-ranked defensive player headed into this offseason’s free agency period.

12. D.J. Reader, Cincinnati Bengals (87.3)

Reader’s final grade was well inside the top 10 at his position but with only 10 games played in the regular season, he falls just outside that range for this final list. Regardless of games played, Reader set a career-high pass-rush grade (84.3) and pressure rate (10.0%) despite not being able to fall into any sack luck.

13. Leonard Williams, New York Giants (77.9)

Williams has been among the most consistent defensive linemen since entering the league in 2015, as he's never posted a sub-70.6 overall grade in a season. Under defensive coordinator Don Martindale, Williams played a higher snap share from inside the tackles (70%) than he has since joining the Giants in 2019. This led to a career-high pass-rush grade (74.8) for the former sixth-overall pick.

14. Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens (77.2)

One of the oldest active defensive players in the league, Campbell continues to play at a high level even as his workload has been scaled down a fair bit to keep the 36-year-old fresh. This strategy helped Campbell earn his highest pass-rush grade as a member of the Ravens (71.9), which also helped him land 5.5 sacks — the most he’s had as a Raven as well.

15. Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota Vikings (77.1)

With just 2.5 sacks on the season, it’s easy to overlook Tomlinson’s impact as an interior pass-rusher. Still, his 79.1 pass-rush grade (11th among DIs) and 29 total pressures for a 9.90% pressure rate (23rd) are career highs for the former Alabama product. Tomlinson has been nothing short of solid in his NFL career, as he's never posted a sub-74.9 overall grade in six seasons.

16. Zach Sieler, Miami Dolphins (74.7)

Sieler played every game for the Dolphins this season, leading to a career-high 874 defensive snaps, which made him one of the most important players on Miami’s defense, evidenced by finishing the year ranked 13th at his position in PFF WAR (0.21). Sieler’s high snap volume combined with not missing any games moves him up a couple of spots from his actual overall finish in terms of pure grade.

17. Andrew Billings, Las Vegas Raiders (76.4)

Billings found a great spot in Las Vegas to reignite his NFL career. After opting out of the 2020 season and playing just 72 defensive snaps in 2021, he worked his way back into a starting lineup. His 76.4 overall grade is a career-high, doing so thanks to his strong play against the run, where he earned a 72.3 run defense grade that ranked 14th among interior defenders who played at least 50% of the team’s defensive snaps.

18. Davon Hamilton, Jacksonville Jaguars (74.9)

After back-to-back seasons of grades in the 50s to start his NFL career, Hamilton hit his stride in 2022 while playing every game and more defensive snaps (610) than he had in each of those past two seasons. This led to not just a career-high overall grade (74.9) but also career highs in run defense grade (69.4), pass-rush grade (76.1), pressures (27) and sacks (2.5).

19. Shelby Harris, Seattle Seahawks (73.2)

Harris didn’t quite show the pass-rush upside that he did during his years with the Broncos, but his first season in Seattle did allow him to post his best run-defense grade (76.9) since 2018. Among interior defensive linemen who played at least 50% of their team’s run defense snaps, Harris ranked top 10 in run-defense grade and run-stop percentage (9.4%).

20. Zach Allen, Arizona Cardinals (72.7)

Allen missed four games this past season but still managed 660 defensive snaps, which highlights just how much the Cardinals leaned on him to support their interior defensive line. This led to a career year for the 2019 third-rounder — not just in terms of grading across the board but also in sacks (5.5) and PFF WAR (0.19), making him a top-five free agent at his position this offseason.

21. Sheldon Rankins, New York Jets (73.1)

After a poor year in 2021, Rankins bounced back in a big way in his second season with the Jets, finishing with his best overall grade since 2018. The former 12th-overall pick may not reach the heights of his 2018 season again, but posting solid grades and production across the board should help his cause as he enters free agency this offseason.

22. Teair Tart, Tennessee Titans (73.1)

Perhaps the biggest surprise name on this list, Tart — a former UDFA out of FIU in 2020 — became a significant part of the Titans’ defense this past season, playing career-highs with 16 games and 520 defensive snaps. Adding to the pleasant surprise, Tart greatly out-performed his previous grades in the NFL — most notably as a pass-rusher, earning a 75.9 pass-rush grade (18th) that led to 26 pressures and 1.5 sacks.

23. DaQuan Jones, Buffalo Bills (72.6)

The nine-year NFL veteran carried the load for the Bills’ defensive line this past season, playing over 100 more defensive snaps than any other Bills' defensive linemen. He then led all Bills’ interior defensive linemen in overall and pass-rush grade (72.8) en route to two sacks and a career-high 30 total pressures.

24. Harrison Phillips, Minnesota Vikings (72.1)

Phillips’ first season with the Vikings was significant, as he played all 17 games, which led to the most defensive snaps he’s played in a season (693). Phillips’ impact is predominantly felt as a run defender, where he earned a 73.6 run defense grade (T-10th, min. 50% of snaps) and helped his new team finish second in the league in run-defense grade (86.1) after it ranked among the bottom half of the league in that category the year prior before adding him with a three-year contract.

25. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons (71.3)

There’s an argument to be made that Jarrett should be even higher on this list considering his importance to the Falcons, as he earned the most WAR (0.20) on the entire defense. His 45 total pressures and six sacks were also the best on the team while the rest of the defense sunk the Falcons to the 31st-ranked team pass-rush grade (54.1). With the argument that Jarrett didn’t receive much help in 2022, the grades are still able to isolate individual performance, and while still playing at a high level, the 30-year-old former Clemson Tiger’s best years appear to be behind him.


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