Defensive Linemen Rankings

Defensive Linemen Rankings

Over a series of articles over the next few weeks, Gary Van Dyke and I will be going over sets of our top 12 players at each IDP position. The first one I am going over here is defensive linemen rankings.

This may not include all defensive linemen you think of, as we have split interior defensive linemen away from all edge players. Edge players are generally your base 4-3 defensive ends (like Nick Bosa) and base 3-4 outside linebackers (like Shaq Barrett). The players I am looking at here are defensive tackles or base 3-4 defensive ends.

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Defensive Linemen Rankings

1) Aaron Donald – Los Angeles Rams

Outside of 2022, when he only played in 11 games, you need to go back to 2014 to find a year when Aaron did not finish first or second in non-edge defensive linemen. 2014 coincidentally was his rookie year. If healthy, Aaron is a lock to finish near the top of non-edge defensive linemen. If you discard his rookie year and 2022, he has averaged 12.7 sacks, 18,9 tackles for a loss, and 56 combined tackles.

2) Quinnen Williams – New York Jets

The third pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Quinnen finally broke out last year for the Jets. He averaged 5.2 sacks, 56 combined, and seven tackles in his first three years for a loss. Last year he had 12 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss (both career highs), and 55 combined tackles (tied for his career high.

Head Coach Robert Saleh spoke about his excitement in having Quinnen on the team when he was hired in 2021, and we saw the fruits of that in 2022. With a much better offense projected this year, Quinnen will have a great shot to match or exceed his 2022 numbers.

3) Christian Wilkins – Miami Dolphins

Over the past two years, Christian has amassed more tackles than any other interior defensive lineman, with 89 combined in 2021 and 98 combined in 2022. Add in four sacks a year and 13 tackles for a loss, and you have an elite defensive lineman. You can hear other IDP analysts discussing their thoughts on Christian this year on the IDPro Player Podcast back on July 22, 2023.

4) DeForest Buckner – Indianapolis Colts

For his career, DeForest averages 7.6 sacks, 9.9 TFL, and 66 combined tackles a season. Since joining the Colts in 2020, he’s averaged 8.2 sacks, 10.3 tackles for a loss, and 66 combined tackles. During those seasons, he has finished fourth, fourth, and sixth for non-edge defensive tackles. He belongs near the top of this list.

5) Jonathan Allen – Washington Commanders

Taking out his rookie year, where he only played in five games, Jonathan has averaged 6.5 sacks, 9.4 tackles for a loss, and 63.8 combined tackles a season over the past five seasons. This includes the outlier year, 2020 when he only had two sacks and two tackles for a loss. He belongs in any discussion of top non-edge defensive linemen.

6) Chris Jones – Kansas City Chiefs

Over the past five seasons, Chris has had finishes of 4, 11, 19, 18, and 2 for overall non-edge defensive linemen. Some of the context for this large discrepancy is that he has moved around positions on the defensive front, particularly in 2021, and he was not as effective as a defensive end. He also did not have a lot of higher-end pass-rushing help for much of that time.

7) Jeffery Simmons – Tennessee Titans

Jeffery broke out in his third year when he had 8.5 sacks,12 tackles for a loss, and 54 combined tackles. That year he was a non-edge defensive lineman four. He virtually matched that in 2022, with 7.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss, and 54 combined tackles, but was a non-edge defensive lineman 14. The Titans, in general, were awful this year, especially in terms of defensive health. Jeffery has shown enough and has enough talent to regularly finish in the top 10 going forward. 

8) Javon Hargrave – San Francisco 49ers

Javon had a minor breakout in 2021 with career highs in sacks, combined tackles, and tackles for a loss. In 2022 he had career highs again in sacks and tackles for a loss, with just three fewer combined tackles. In 2022 he was a non-edge defensive lineman, nine overall. I don’t see his situation changing that much despite changing teams to San Francisco this year. He is going from one great defensive line to another, and I expect another great year.

9) Cameron Heyward – Pittsburgh Steelers

Cameron has been a force in the NFL, and fantasy football, since becoming a starter in his third year (2013). Excluding an injury that ruined 2016 when he only played six games, he has averaged eight sacks, 11.78  tackles for a loss, and 65.78 combined tackles over the past nine seasons. He is regularly in the top 10 non-edge defensive tackles, and I don’t see that changing this year.

10) Leonard Williams – New York Giants

The sixth overall pick in 2015 by the Jets, Leonard was great at getting pressure but could not convert those to sacks. During his four and a half years with the Jets, he had 17 sacks and 32 tackles for a loss but a whopping 90 QB hits.

In the three and a half years with the Giants, he has 21 sacks, 26 tackles for a loss, and 67 QB hits. Getting more big plays to go with his quality tackle numbers has made him a high-end non-edge defensive lineman for IDP players. He is getting up there in age, having just turned 29, but for this year, he should continue to produce.

11) Dexter Lawrence – New York Giants

Since Dexter joined them in 2019, the Giants have had good defensive lines but a less-than-desirable pass-rushing situation. In 2019, 2020, and 2021 they averaged 36.67 sacks and 94.67. 

This improved in 2022 when fifth overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux joined Azeez Ojulari (the 50th pick in 2021). Last year the Giants had 41 sacks and 106 QB hits. Dexter had his best year across the board with 7.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and 68 combined tackles. That was good enough for non-edge defensive linemen nine overall.

12) Daron Payne – Washington Commanders

Many have Daron higher on this list, and I do think he deserves to be on here. That said, it would be foolish to rank him just off of his 2022 season. His overall tackles (64) are in line with his prior four seasons when he had 61, 54, 56, and 56. The sacks and tackles for a loss were off the charts, though.

Daron’s 11.5 sacks that year were a career-high by 6.5. Similarly, his 18 tackles for a loss were a career-high by 12. He was around non-edge defensive lineman 18 in 2021, and while I think he will have a good season, the happy medium for him is somewhere between that and the overall non-edge defensive lineman four that he was last year.

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