NFL News & Analysis

PFF Record Book — Defense: Highest-graded seasons at every position

2K5TN6J Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) celebrates a sack during a NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, October 9, 2022, at SoFi S

  • Aaron Donald dominates DI record books: Donald may be the best NFL defender of all time, so it shouldn't be surprising that he owns two of the three interior defender grading records in PFF's database.
  • Luke Kuechly equally dominates the LBs: Kuechly owns three of PFF's four grading records among linebackers, illustrating his all-around talent and dominant when he was on the field.
  • Robert Quinn surprises: The edge defender position has been littered with elite play during the PFF era, but Quinn owns the top single-season defensive grade.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The PFF database is a vast expanse of grades and statistics that encompass nearly two decades' worth of NFL action. The goal has always been to help better understand the game of football and bridge the gap between the past and present generations. 

PFF data goes as far back as 2006, which may be a small sample size of the game’s entire history but serves as a tremendous asset in determining which performances truly stand the test of time. 

These are the official PFF grading records for every position on defense. 

Edge Defender

Defensive Grade: Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams (93.6; 2013)

The PFF record for edge defenders was hotly contested, as the top two seasons are separated by just 0.2 grading points. In a surprising turn of events, Quinn’s 2013 barely edged out Von Miller’s 2012 (93.4) for the honor. In his third year in the league, Quinn earned his only season of 85-plus grading, surpassing some franchise-defining names like Miller, Myles Garrett and Khalil Mack, all of which have multiple seasons graded in the top 10. 

Pass-Rushing Grade: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns (93.5; 2022)

Although Garrett came up just short of the overall defensive grade record at the position, he does come away with the PFF pass-rushing record. Garrett’s 93.5 grade this past season is the highest on record by any player not named Aaron Donald. And he is one of just four defensive linemen to ever earn a 93-plus pass-rushing grade. In the past two seasons, Garrett has been a force, earning two of the top-four graded seasons from an edge defender. With four-straight seasons of 90-plus grading, Garrett’s dominance doesn’t look to be slowing down soon.  

Run-Defense Grade: Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars (93.6; 2018)

Unsurprisingly, the gargantuan Campbell makes his way into the PFF record books on account of his remarkable run-stuffing ability. In his time with the Jags, Campbell flourished as one of the best run defenders in the PFF era, earning three-straight seasons of 90-plus grades, peaking at 93.6 in 2018. That season, Campbell broke the record for run defense grade by an edge that was previously held by Von Miller (93.1) since 2012. However, Miller does still hold the record for most seasons (four) earning a 90-plus run defense grade by an edge.

Interior Defensive Line

Defensive Grade: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (94.8; 2018)/Pass-Rushing Grade: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (94.2; 2017)

Over the past decade, Donald has established himself as not only the league's best defensive player but maybe even the best defender the game has ever seen. In his nine-year career, Donald has never earned a PFF defensive grade below 90.0. Of the top 10 graded seasons by any defender, Donald owns five of them. The 94.8 grade he earned in 2018 is the highest ever recorded by a defender in the PFF era. No other defender has ever broken the 94.0 grading threshold, a feat Donald has accomplished three times (2017, 2018 and 2020).

Run-Defense Grade: Damon Harrison Sr., Detroit Lions (93.7; 2018)

Despite playing for four different franchises, Harrison established himself as the league’s premier interior run stuffer, above even Aaron Donald. In his nine-year career, “Snacks” earned a 91-plus grade in five of them. Harrison owns four of the top 10 run-defense seasons by an interior defensive lineman, and he is the only player with more than one.


Defensive Grade: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers (93.6; 2015)/Coverage Grade: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers (93.2; 2015)

The Panthers legend is undoubtedly one of the most complete defenders to ever play the game. With a resume littered with elite grades, it’s no wonder why Kuechly owns three of PFF's four linebacker records. In the PFF era, no linebacker has more seasons of 90-plus defensive grades than Kuechly (five). His 93.6 defensive grade in 2015 is nearly two grading points above the next-best season, Bobby Wagner’s 2018 (91.7). That season, Kuechly set a new ceiling for coverage play, finishing as the only linebacker to ever surpass a 92.0 coverage grade.

Run-Defense Grade: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers (91.8; 2018)

While Kuechly owns both the coverage and run-defense grade records, they came in different seasons, further reinforcing his dominant impact on the game. The run-defense grade record was much more contested, as the top 15 graded seasons were separated by less than one grading point. Kuechly’s 2018 season beat out the likes of Patrick Willis (91.6; 2017), Bart Scott (91.6; 2010) and Bobby Wagner (91.3; 2016).

Pass-Rushing Grade: Jamie Collins Sr., New England Patriots (93.2; 2014)

One thing Bill Belichick has always done better than other coaches is put players in the best position possible to maximize their skill set. That’s a large contributing factor to Collins capturing this record in just his second year in the league. While Collins has played throughout the front seven, he took over 900 snaps at off-ball linebacker positions in 2014, managing an astounding 32.7% pressure rate.


Defensive Grade: Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts (93.3; 2014)

Most remember Davis for his impromptu retirement during halftime of a 2018 Week 2 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers, but he does also lay claim to the best PFF defensive grade at corner. Davis just barely overtook Asante Samuel’s record, set back in 2006, by just 0.1 grading points. Along with Charles Woodson (2009) and Chris Harris Jr. (2012), Davis is one of just three corners to ever earn 90-plus grades in both coverage and run defense grades. 

Coverage Grade: Asante Samuel, New England Patriots (93.1; 2006)

Samuel may have missed out on the overall defensive grading honor, but he remains in firm grasp of the coverage grade record. Since 2006, a number of elite corners have tried and failed to overtake Samuel’s record, including Richard Sherman (92.5; 2012), Chris Harris Jr. (92.2; 2014) and Darrelle Revis (92.1; 2009). Additionally, Samuel owns the honor of being the only corner to ever break into the 93.0 grading threshold.

Run-Defense Grade: Alterraun Verner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (93.7; 2014)

Although Verner was never known as a lockdown cover corner, he does find his way into the PFF record books as a run defender. In his first season in Tampa, Verner overtook Charles Woodson’s 2009 (92.4) by 1.3 grading points to grab this record. An honorable mention also needs to be given to Antoine Winfield, who owns three of the five-best graded run defense seasons from a corner.


Defensive Grade: Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears (93.2; 2018) & Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (93.2; 2012)/Coverage Grade: Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears (94.7; 2018) & Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (94.7; 2012)

Jackson and Byrd are tied to not one, but two PFF grading records, sharing the defensive and coverage records at safety. While Jackson and Byrd may not be household names around the league, their performances in each respective season are as impressive as they come. In the PFF era, just four players have ever earned a coverage grade exceeding the 93.0 threshold – the aforementioned Samuel (2006), Ed Reed (2009), Jackson and Byrd. The 94.7 coverage grade earned by both Jackson and Byrd is significantly higher than the next best season and flirts with an unheard-of 95.0 coverage grade. 

Run-Defense Grade: Joshua Kalu, Tennessee Titans (93.5; 2022)

In his first season playing a significant role in the Titans defense, Kalu showed his prowess as a run stuffer and finds himself breaking a 15-year-old PFF record. The previous record, held by Kerry Rhodes (93.1) since 2007, has stood the test of time – and nearly held strong due to Kalu just barely reaching the number of snaps needed to qualify. Consistently elite graders like Harrison Smith have fallen just short of capturing this title on multiple instances, yet Kalu managed the impossible. There’s still much to be deciphered in Kalu’s game, as none of his other facets graded out terribly well, but he will undoubtedly be a player to watch moving forward.


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit