NFL News & Analysis

PFF Interior Defender Rankings: Top 32 ahead of the 2023 NFL season

Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) celebrates in the fourth quarter during the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

• Aaron Donald reigns supreme: Donald remains a dominant force on the defensive interior, taking the top spot in these rankings.

• Chris Jones, Dexter Lawrence could unseat Donald in 2023: Both Jones and Lawrence posted elite grades in 2022.

• Two Giants land in the top 12: Dexter Lawrence comes in at No. 3, and Leonard Williams takes the No. 12 spot.

Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins

Rankings season is in full swing at PFF, and today we turn our attention to the interior defensive line. Rookies weren’t considered for this list, nor were current free agents, but the top 32 includes dominant all-arounders and some players who are better role players, either as pass rushers or against the run.

Other positional rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | OG

1. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

Despite posting his lowest PFF grade since his rookie year, Donald remains a dominant force on the defensive interior. In his nine-year career, he has produced 90.0-plus PFF grades in every season. Last year, he recorded 40 pressures on 396 pass-rushing snaps, so the production was still there even in an injury-marred season.

2. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

Jones may be on his way to surpassing Donald as the top interior defender in the NFL. His 92.3 PFF grade in 2022 was the best in the league at the position. With a career-high 97 pressures from 741 pass-rushing snaps, including the playoffs, Jones has established himself as a formidable force in the trenches.

3. Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants

Lawrence experienced a breakout 2022 season, earning a career-best 91.6 PFF grade. And at just 25 years old, he still has room to grow and could threaten Donald and Jones with another big season. Including the playoffs, he produced 70 pressures on 577 pass-rushing snaps, proving to be a disruptive force for opposing offenses all year long.

4. Quinnen Williams, New York Jets

Williams reached new heights with a 90.1 PFF grade in 2022, good enough to make him the fourth-highest-graded interior defender. At only 25 years old, like Lawrence, he still has plenty of potential to improve even further. He has fully justified his selection as the third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and heads into a contract year at the perfect time to reset the market at the position.

5. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

Despite being 34 years old, Heyward continues to perform at an elite level. With consistent PFF grades of 89.0 or better over the past four seasons, he routinely ranks among the top players in the NFL at the position. His career can’t go on forever, but there’s no reason to expect him to drop off in 2023, considering how he performed last year.

6. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

Since joining the Colts in 2020, Buckner has maintained a high level of play. His pass-rush grades have been better than 73.0 in every season since 2017. In 2022, he registered 56 pressures on 519 pass-rushing snaps.

7. Jonathan Allen, Washington Commanders

Allen has achieved strong PFF pass-rush grades in each of the past three seasons. While not dominant in run defense, he earned a 66.5 PFF grade in 2022 against the run, which was the best of his career. With 47 total pressures, including eight sacks and nine hits, on 482 pass-rushing snaps, he was a pass-rushing force once again in 2022.

8. Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins

Wilkins established himself as a top-10 interior defender in his fourth NFL season. PFF run-defense grades of 80.8 in 2021 and 78.9 in 2022 ranked him among the top four players at the position. Although stronger as a run defender, he has also produced 70.0-plus PFF pass-rushing grades in each of the past two seasons.

9. D.J. Reader, Cincinnati Bengals

Reader plays a vital role in Lou Anarumo's defense, highlighted by his 85.2 PFF grade in 2022. As a run defender, he has earned grades of 69.0 or better since 2017. He produced a career-high 84.1 PFF pass-rush grade in 2022, registering 32 pressures from 310 pass-rushing snaps.

10. Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans

While Simmons hasn't put together a fully dominant season, he has displayed flashes and stretches of high-level play throughout his career. In 2022, he recorded 53 total pressures on 584 pass-rushing snaps, adding to his strong sack total over the past two seasons (22).

11. Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers

Brown's career trajectory is firmly pointed up, with the former Auburn star producing a career-high 84.4 PFF grade in 2022. He registered 40 pressures on 514 pass-rushing snaps last season, on his way to a 77.9 PFF pass-rush grade, also a career high.

12. Leonard Williams, New York Giants

The sixth overall pick in 2015, Williams has been a high-floor player since arriving in the NFL. Throughout his eight-year career, he has never earned a PFF grade lower than 70.5. He’s solid both as a run defender and as a pass rusher and doesn’t really have a weakness to his game.

13. Javon Hargrave, San Francisco 49ers

Hargrave secured a massive contract this offseason from the 49ers after producing impressive PFF pass-rush grades with the Eagles. He hasn’t been great against the run over the past three seasons, but his pass-rushing dominance makes that easier to digest. He has generated 129 total pressures on 995 pass-rushing snaps over the past two seasons.

14. Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Vea impresses as a pass rusher, consistently earning PFF pass-rush grades of 72.5 or better throughout his five-year career. However, his play against the run hasn't quite matched that, with sub-65.0 PFF run-defense grades in each of the past two seasons.

15. Arik Armstead, San Francisco 49ers

Armstead’s 63.4 PFF grade last season was the second lowest of his career. His versatility has seen him play both as an interior and edge defender, though, so he brings added value in that regard. Armstead perenially achieves PFF pass-rush grades of 65.0 or better and recorded 30 pressures on 306 pass-rushing snaps last season.

16. Daron Payne, Washington Commanders

Payne’s PFF grades haven’t quite matched his hype. But while we’ve yet to see a season in which he has been good both against the run and as a pass rusher, he has shown enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him have a career year in 2023. He has registered 96 total pressures from 1,047 pass-rushing snaps over the past two seasons.

17. Calais Campbell, Atlanta Falcons

At 36 years old, Campbell isn’t the same player he was at the height of his career. But he did enough over the past three years with the Baltimore Ravens that expecting him to not be a top-20 player at the position this year is doing him a disservice. In his 15th season in the league, he produced 70.0-plus PFF grades both against the run and as a pass rusher.

18. Dalvin Tomlinson, Cleveland Browns

Tomlinson started his career as more of a run stuffer but has developed as a pass rusher over the past three years. His PFF run-defense grades have dipped every season since his rookie 82.7 mark, but he’s coming off a season where he set career highs in PFF pass-rush grade (77.6) and pressures (30).

19. Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles

There’s some projection here with Davis, who played just 270 snaps in the regular season and playoffs last year, but he should pair with fellow former Georgia Bulldog Jalen Carter to spearhead the Eagles’ defensive interior by the end of the 2023 season. Davis registered 10 tackles resulting in a defensive stop from 142 snaps against the run and flashed as a pass rusher, including four pressures on 14 pass-rushing snaps against the Commanders in Week 3.

20. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers

Clark is just 27 years old, but this will be his eighth season in the league, playing 5,119 snaps in that span. His PFF grade has dropped every season since 2019, including a 66.4 mark in 2022 — the first sub-70.0-graded year of his career. Still, he was a more-than-effective pass rusher, generating 45 total pressures from 459 pass-rushing snaps.

21. David Onyemata, Atlanta Falcons

After signing an impressive three-year, $35 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, Onyemata will need to get back to his 2020-2021 form for that contract to make sense on Atlanta's side. His 53.0 PFF run-defense grade last year was the lowest of his career, though he has still been effective as a pass rusher, producing 116 pressures from 1,097 pass-rushing snaps over the past three seasons.

22. Christian Barmore, New England Patriots

Barmore ended his rookie campaign on a tear and has a chance to be a big part of the Patriots' defense in 2023 and beyond. Against the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills over the final two weeks of the season, he registered 11 of his 23 pressures on the season, coming on 52 pass-rushing snaps in those two games.

23. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

It’s been three seasons since we saw Jarrett really dominate for a stretch, and with his being 30 years old now, it’s fair to wonder if his best days are behind him. He was still good enough to make this list based on his play last year, though, registering seven sacks, 10 hits and 28 hurries from 487 pass-rushing snaps.

24. Ed Oliver, Buffalo Bills

Oliver was young when he entered the league, and with four seasons under his belt despite being just 25 years old, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him have a career season in a contract year. He has produced 65.0-plus PFF grades in three of his four seasons in the league and set a career high with 48 pressures from 460 pass-rushing snaps in 2021.

25. Zach Sieler, Miami Dolphins

Arriving with the Dolphins during the 2019 season after he was claimed off waivers from the Ravens, Sieler set a career high with an 84.9 PFF grade in 2021. His 73.4 PFF grade in 2022 didn’t quite hit those heights, but his 944 snaps last season were over 400 more than any other season of his career and it was the second year in a row that he topped a 77.0 PFF run-defense grade.

26. Grover Stewart, Indianapolis Colts

Stewart turns 30 during the 2023 season and his career-high PFF grade of 72.6 came in 2021, so we aren’t under any illusions that he’s on the cusp of becoming a top-10 player at the position. What he is, though, is a really solid run defender, having earned a 68.0-plus PFF run-defense grade in each of the past four seasons. He’s the type of player that every team in the league would like to have, at least as a rotational piece.

27. Poona Ford, Buffalo Bills

Ford is coming off the lowest-graded season of his career, earning just a 56.6 PFF grade in 2022. All four seasons before last year were above 68.0, though, so Bills fans should feel good about him as a run stuffer heading into 2023. Over his five-year career, he has made 112 tackles resulting in a defensive stop.

28. Harrison Phillips, Minnesota Vikings

Phillips is limited to being mostly a run defender, but he is good in that role and was stout against the run in both Buffalo and Minnesota. His 73.8 PFF run-defense grade in 2022 was the second highest of his career, with Phillips setting a career high in snaps (738), too.

29. Davon Hamilton, Jacksonville Jaguars

A third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Hamilton is coming off a career year both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. He finished 2022 with 35 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, as well as with 31 total pressures from 380 pass-rushing opportunities.

30. B.J. Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

Hill was another smart free agency addition by the Bengals, a good all-around player on the interior of their defensive line. Through five seasons in the league, he has never finished with a PFF run-defense grade lower than 65.0. He is coming off a 2022 campaign in which he set a career high with 45 total pressures from 615 pass-rushing snaps.

31. DaQuan Jones, Buffalo Bills

Jones is good against the run, earning PFF run-defense grades of 65.0 or better in six of the past eight seasons, but has also developed some as a pass rusher later in his career. He’s coming off a season with the Bills in which he set career highs with a 72.7 PFF pass-rush grade after recording five sacks and 33 total pressures.

32. Zach Allen, Denver Broncos

Allen turned a career year with the Arizona Cardinals into a nice contract with the Broncos in free agency. And with Allen being just 25 years old after the first four years of his career, Denver will feel good about his career trajectory. His 71.6 PFF pass-rush grade in 2022 was the best of his NFL tenure, as were his six sacks and 35 total pressures.

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