NFL News & Analysis

Highest-graded interior defensive linemen from the 2023 NFL season: New York Giants' Dexter Lawrence comes in at No. 1

2WB025A New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence II (97) leads the defense onto the field before playing against the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Dexter Lawrence’s historic performance:  The Giants' phenomenal nose tackle secured the eighth-highest grade from an interior defender in the PFF era.

Rams' interior domination:  Veteran Aaron Donald and rookie Kobie Turner both surpassed an 80.0-plus PFF grade, making them the only interior tandem to do so. 

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Before we go full steam ahead into free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft, we’re taking one last look at the top players in the NFL at each position.

Here were the top 20 interior defensive linemen in the NFL by overall PFF grade in 2023. Subscribe to PFF+ to dig into the numbers for yourself!

1. Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants: 92.9

Lawrence's 93.0 PFF grade not only ranked first among all interior defenders, but it was also the second-best grade among all qualifying defenders. The Giants nose tackle was phenomenal in both facets of his game, finishing as the only interior player to earn an 85.0-plus grade as both a pass-rusher (92.6, the best at the position) and against the run (89.5).

2. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: 90.8

Even in his 10th season, Donald is still setting the standard among interior pass-rushers and earned his ninth straight 90.0-plus pass-rushing grade in 2023.

The longtime superstar was once again nearly unstoppable as a pass-rusher, as he generated a 22.1% pass-rush win rate, the highest mark at the position and the second-highest mark of his career. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that he faced “help blocks” (chip, clean up and backfield help) on nearly 29% of his pass-rush snaps.

Aaron Donald: Career PFF grades

3. Quinnen Williams, New York Jets: 90.6

Williams has cemented himself as one of the most versatile interior defenders in the league. The fifth-year pro paced the position in run-defense grade (90.4) due in large part to piling up 15 tackles for loss or no gain, the most among players at his position. He was similarly impressive as a pass-rusher, totaling the best pressure rate among qualifying interior defenders (16.1%).

4. Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers: 90.1

Brown’s reputation as a run stuffer continues to grow, as he finished 2023 as one of just two interior defenders to earn a 90.0 run-defense grade. He played a position-leading 427 run-defense snaps and generated an incredible 31.4% positively graded play rate. The Panthers interior defender recorded 110 total tackles and 50 run stops, both of which led the position.

5. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs: 88.1

Jones earned the sixth 90.0 pass-rush grade of his career in 2023. The Chiefs' lengthy playoff run allowed Jones the opportunity to rack up massive stat totals in a variety of key pass-rushing metrics, including sacks (14), total pressures (91) and pass-rush productivity (8.8), all of which rank first at the position.

6. Da’Shawn Hand, Miami Dolphins: 87.6

Despite his limited workload within the Dolphins’ interior rotation, Hand was excellent against the run in 2023. He produced a negatively graded play on just 7% of his 100 run-defense snaps, the best rate among qualifying interior defenders.

7. Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles: 87.4

Carter enjoyed a spectacular rookie season and really shined as a pass-rusher, earning the sixth-highest pass-rush grade (85.9) at the position. Carter produced some of his best work when his team needed it most, recording three sacks and a 20.4% pass-rush win rate when the Eagles were backed up inside their own 20-yard line.

8. Alim McNeill, Detroit Lions: 86.8

In his third year, McNeill set career-high marks in nearly every facet of his game. The Lions defensive tackle finished as one of just six interior defenders to surpass a 75.0 grade as both a pass-rusher (78.6) and run defender (76.9).

9. Christian Barmore, New England Patriots: 83.8

Barmore was a force as a pass-rusher in 2023, earning the seventh-highest pass-rushing grade (84.9) among interior defenders. The third-year tackle racked up 49 total pressures, including eight sacks, to go with five batted passes at the line.

10. David Onyemata, Atlanta Falcons: 83.3

A difficult ankle injury may have limited Onyemata down the back half of the season, but his impressive first nine games helped to secure this spot among his peers. Through Week 9, the Falcons tackle earned the fourth-highest run-defense grade (78.4) at the position, highlighted by a 23.6% positively graded play rate.

11. Kobie Turner, Los Angeles Rams: 83.2

The phenomenal first-year interior defender left his mark on quarterbacks all over the league. Turner led the rookie class with 12 sacks, the same number as teammate Aaron Donald. Turner earned the fifth-highest pass-rushing grade ever recorded by a first-year player in the PFF era (81.2).

12. DaQuan Jones, Buffalo Bills: 82.9

Despite dealing with a torn pectoral that forced him to miss nine games, Jones left his mark as a run defender. While he played just 88 run-defense snaps in 2023, Jones proved difficult to block, producing a positively graded play on 31.8% of his snaps, the best rate by any interior defender.

13. D.J. Reader, Cincinnati Bengals: 82.2

A torn quad in Week 15 prevented Reader from finishing out one of the strongest campaigns of his career. The eighth-year pro commanded significant attention in the run game, drawing a combo block on over 25% of his run snaps. On double-team looks, Reader secured three tackles for loss or no gain in the run, most among the position.

14. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts: 81.8

Buckner managed to bat down the most passes (7) by any player at the position. However, his presence in the run game undoubtedly posed a threat, as he tied the most run-defense snaps against a double-team (88) over the year.

15. Maurice Hurst, Cleveland Browns: 81.0

While Hurst earned respectable grades against the run (76.5) and in the pass rush (75.9), perhaps his most impressive single play came in coverage, where he flashed insane range to secure a rare defensive tackle interception, which came off a tip to himself.

16. Michael Pierce, Baltimore Ravens: 80.1

Pierce earned the fifth-highest run-defense grade (77.9) at the position. The veteran tackle produced 26 run stops on over 240 run-defense snaps, good for a 10.8% run-stop rate, placing him in the 91st percentile among interior defenders.

17. Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 80.0

Vea rarely made mistakes when met with the ball carrier, as he missed just two tackles all season, the fewest by any interior defender with 45 or more tackles. Additionally, the Bucs tackle was adept in prying the ball loose, as he also forced a pair of fumbles, the second-most at the position.

18. Arik Armstead, San Francisco 49ers: 78.4

A crucial piece to one of the league’s most aggressive pass-rushing defenses, Armstead finished with a top-five pass-rushing grade (86.5) on the interior. The Niners tackle was fantastic on late downs, producing a 22.2% pressure rate on third and fourth down, the best among interior pass-rushers.

19. Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens: 77.4

Madubuike finished rushes at a high clip, amassing 34 knockdowns over the year. He recorded 15 sacks, 19 hits and 43 hurries across 575 pass-rush snaps in 2023.

20. Armon Watts, Pittsburgh Steelers: 77.3

Although Watts played a limited role in his first season with the Steelers, he found great success against the run, earning a top-12 run defense grade (75.2) at the position. Watts was very effective at defeating blocks in the run without committing mistakes, as he generated a 23.7% positively graded play rate compared to just a 9.2% negatively graded play rate.



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