NFL 2023-24 Position Group Rankings: Defensive Line

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1. Philadelphia Eagles

The team’s roster boasts a blend of top-tier talent and remarkable depth, positioning them as the premier defensive line unit in football. During the 2022 season, Philadelphia clinched the NFL lead with an impressive 70 sacks as a collective (with Kansas City trailing at 55). This group excels in generating pressure from both the exterior and interior positions. Haason Reddick stands out as one of the NFL’s finest edge rushers, having notched 16 sacks last season, leading the team. In his 12th season, Fletcher Cox remains dominant in both pass and run situations from the interior.

The Eagles retain high-caliber rushers in Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. Their versatility allows them to be deployed strategically across the line, causing considerable matchup challenges for opponents during passing plays. In terms of run defense, the sizable presence of Jordan Davis in the center contributes to effectively occupying space. He’s expected to perform even more capably in his second year. The emergence of talented rookies from Georgia, namely Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, adds a reservoir of skill to the depth, making them ready for instant contributions when called upon. 

5 Philadelphia Eagles that should take a major step forward in 2020

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2. San Francisco 49ers

Once again, the San Francisco 49ers will field one of the most formidable defensive fronts in the league. A pivotal figure is Nick Bosa, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa’s impressive tally of 18.5 sacks in the previous season, coupled with 48 quarterback hits, underscores his consistent disruption of opponents’ backfields. The responsibility of starting opposite Bosa is likely to fall on 2022 second-round pick Drake Jackson, who will step into a more significant role.

The presence of Bosa should draw considerable attention, thereby creating advantageous circumstances for Jackson. The interior defensive line has been fortified with the addition of former Eagles standout Javon Hargrave, who partners with Arik Armstead. Hargrave’s career-high 11 sacks last season highlight his prowess, which should thrive particularly against offensive lines overcommitting to countering Bosa.

3. Washington Commanders

The Commanders boast one of the NFL’s most talented defensive lines, a force that significantly impacted games two seasons ago when they were in full health. Chase Young, who missed the entirety of 2022 due to a torn ACL, is poised for a return and, alongside Montez Sweat, carries the potential to become an elite edge duo. The interior of the Commanders’ line holds even more promise. Jonathan Allen reached a career-high with 16 tackles for loss in 2022, and Da’Ron Payne’s breakout saw him accumulate 11.5 sacks from the inside. While depth might be a concern, having exceptional players across all four-line positions is a rarity and positions the Commanders favorably.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Addressing their defensive tackle concerns was a priority for Dallas this offseason. The selection of Mazi Smith in the first round of the draft aims to rectify these issues, although its efficacy remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the prowess of the edge duo might overshadow any shortcomings. DeMarcus Lawrence, entering his tenth season, continues to be a productive force in quarterback pressure. On the opposite edge is Micah Parsons, an unstoppable talent demanding weekly gameplan attention from opposing offenses. With two Defensive Player of the Year runner-up finishes in his first two seasons, Parsons’ performance highlights his destructive impact. 

5. Cleveland Browns

2023 NFL Offseason report: Cleveland Browns | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

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Opting for more pass rush potency at the expense of run defense, Cleveland replaced Jadeveon Clowney with Za’Darius Smith this offseason. Smith’s 10 sacks in the previous season (his third double-digit sack campaign) positions him as a key edge presence. Smith’s role opposite Myles Garrett places him in favorable single-coverage scenarios. Garrett, one of the league’s premier pass rushers, has recorded 16 sacks in each of the past two seasons. Notably, Cleveland’s offseason also witnessed the additions of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Okoronkwo’s consistently effective edge defense and Tomlinson’s contributions in the middle address a historical area of weakness for the Browns.

6. Miami Dolphins

Retaining their starting lineup from the previous season, the Dolphins enter a phase where their players are hitting their primes. Christian Wilkins’ emergence as a prominent defensive tackle accentuated his performance in the past season. Zach Seiler also bolsters the interior as a stout presence against the run. Bradley Chubb, although marred by durability issues, carries undeniable talent as a former top-10 pick. His tenure with the Dolphins is expected to be marked by impactful play. Jaelan Phillips, an edge rusher, appears poised to transition into the NFL elite during his third season. Accumulating 15.5 sacks in his initial two Miami years, Phillips stands out as one of the most promising talents in the league.

7. New York Giants

The Giants are among the few teams capable of breaking into the upper echelons of this list. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence shine on the interior, effectively pressuring opposing pockets even when double-teamed. Kayvon Thibodeaux, a top-five 2022 draft pick, has the potential to elevate this group’s performance in the upcoming season. The latter half of his rookie season revealed his speed-power combination’s efficacy in pressuring tackles off the edge.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

Alex Highsmith’s breakout 2022 campaign complements T.J. Watt’s formidable presence on the edge, creating a potent tandem. Despite his injury struggles in the previous season, Watt retains his status as one of the NFL’s premier edge rushers. Watt’s 2021 season, where he secured 22.5 sacks and the Defensive Player of the Year honor, exemplifies his impact. Cameron Heyward’s continued stellar performance on the interior, even at 34 years of age, solidifies the Steelers’ standing as a standout defensive line unit.

9. Tennessee Titans

A top-five unit is attainable for the Titans in 2023, contingent on edge production. The contribution of free agent acquisition Arden Key, building on a strong 2022, and the recovery of Harold Landry III from a season-long injury will be pivotal. In terms of interior defense, Jeffrey Simmons, Denico Autry, and Teair Tart combine to form a formidable trio. Simmons’ consistency over the past two seasons is underscored by his 16 sacks and consecutive second-team All-Pro selections.

10. Buffalo Bills

Opinion: Early look at potential 2024 needs for the Buffalo Bills - Buffalo Rumblings

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Buffalo’s defensive line depth rivals the best in the league, outside of Philadelphia. Von Miller’s potential impact, although influenced by his age and recovery from a torn ACL, remains substantial. The Bills possess four starting-caliber edge rushers beneath him—Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Leonard Floyd, and Boogie Basham. Ed Oliver’s interior presence, combined with DaQuan Jones, solidifies the middle and addresses concerns from the 2022 season.

11. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati has a very well-rounded defensive line, with stout defenders against the run and as pass rushers. Former Saint Trey Hendrickson has been stellar in his first two years with the Bengals, making two Pro Bowls and racking up 22 sacks. He is complemented on the other side by Sam Hubbard, a stout run defender who sets the edge well. Behind them, rookie first-round picks Myles Murphy and Joseph Ossai provide one of the best second unit edge rushes in football. Inside, D.J. Reader has become a good defensive tackle, and B.J. Hill eats up blocks in the run game.

12. New York Jets

The Jets have a good mix of young and old on the defensive line, especially on the edge. Veterans John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson will start outside New York but look for young guns Jermaine Johnson and Will McDonald to get plenty of work out there. On the interior, Quinnen Williams has grown into an elite defensive tackle over the past few seasons and reached new heights last year with 12 sacks and a first-team All-Pro selection.

13. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have improved mightily across their defensive line in the last few years, but it all starts with Chris Jones. Jones is one of the top pass rushers in football at any position, and it only makes it more impressive that he does it from the interior of the Chief’s front. Jones tied career highs in 2022 with 15.5 sacks and 29 QB hits and added 17 tackles for loss. Second year man George Karlaftis should improve after a strong rookie season, and free agent acquisition Charles Omenihu was particularly good in a limited role last season in San Francisco.

14. Los Angeles Chargers

Health is always the question mark for the Chargers, along with the interior of the defensive line. Sebastian Joseph-Day was supposed to sure up the inside for Los Angeles but had a poor first season in powder blue last year. On the edge, Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa form one of the top duos in the league when healthy, but staying on the field has been a problem for both in recent years. Last season, Mack played all 17 games, but Bosa appeared in just five.

15. Carolina Panthers

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Lost in the Panther’s up-and-down season was the breakout of defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Brown racked up 40 QB pressures in 2022 while consistently serving as an elite defender in the run, living up to his billing as a top-10 pick back in 2020. With Brown in the interior and star edge rusher Brian Burns on the outside, Carolina will be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines to block.

16. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have two monsters on the interior, with Grover Stewart eating up space in the run game and DeForest Buckner wreaking havoc on opposing backfields week after week. Buckner remains one of the best passes rushing defensive tackles in football and will anchor this Colts defense again in 2023. On the edge, Indianapolis is much less proven, with former first-round pick Kwity Paye and journeyman Samson Ebukam on the outside. Paye has yet to make a significant impact, while Ebukam has never been a true edge player.

17. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders’ defensive line is very one-dimensional, but it still has the star power to be effective as a unit. The interior is unreliable, leaving the Raiders vulnerable against the run, but they can get after the quarterback. Maxx Crosby is one of the elite edge rushers in the league, finishing 2022 with 12.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss to lead the NFL. On the other side, Chandler Jones had a down year in 2022 with just 4.5 sacks but had reached double digits in his previous six healthy seasons, so he should bounce back. The Raiders also drafted Texas Tech star Tyree Wilson seventh overall to add depth on the edge.

18. Houston Texans

The Texans don’t have elite talent on the defensive line, but No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson Jr. should have an impact. Anderson is solid against both the pass and the run and jumped off the screen throughout his time at Alabama with his elite get-off and production. On the other side, veteran Jerry Hughes still has some gas left in the tank and is coming off a nine sack season. On the interior, Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins should get most of the work, but there isn’t a lot of reliable depth behind them.

19. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have a couple of breakout candidates on the edge, and if one or both pans out, this defensive line can be highly effective. Odafe Oweh has shown flashes in his first few seasons but is looking for more consistent production in year three. Former Michigan star David Ojabo played in just two games last season because of an achilles injury but can be an effective pass rusher in his first season. The Raven’s run defense should be serviceable with big-nose tackle Michael Pierce eating up double teams and new addition Jadeveon Clowney in the mix.

20. New Orleans Saints

Predicting the New Orleans Saints starting defense after 2023 draft

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Cameron Jordan continues to be one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, but he is entering his age 34 season. Carl Granderson had a wonderful year in 2022 and should continue to improve as he enters his fifth season. However, this team lost David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport, two quality pieces, and failed to replace them. That leaves the Saints without adequate talent or depth to be any higher on this list.

21. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have talent up front on defense, but for now, it’s a case of “I’ll believe it when I see it” for this group (and the whole defense). Green Bay has consistently underperformed on this side of the ball over the last few years, and it starts with a lack of resistance in the run game and a haphazard pass rush. Veteran Kenny Clark remains a stalwart, and Preston Smith is still a talented edge. But his production has declined over the past few seasons. Rashan Gary is a supreme talent and looked like a future star in 2021, but he’s coming off a torn ACL.

22. New England Patriots

Matthew Judon is as steady as they come rushing the passer in New England, recording 28 sacks in his two seasons as a Patriot. Bill Belichick has a young group outside of Judon that was improving in 2022. If they can continue that upward trend. This could be a standout unit. Christian Barmore was a star in college who is just finding his footing in the NFL, while versatile edge rusher Josh Uche quietly had a good season for the Pats.

23. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are in a bit better shape after Danielle Hunter signed a $20 million extension for this season, but there’s still much to be desired upfront. The Vikings added Marcus Davenport from New Orleans, who is a solid piece, but the interior of this unit is looking a little shakier. Khyiris Tonga was solid at nose tackle last season, but Harrison Phillips and especially Dean Lowry can be vulnerable spots inside.

24. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are one of the rare teams that will be good on the interior of the defensive line but will struggle on the edge. Atlanta added Calais Campbell and David Onyemata to go next to Grady Jarrett in the middle of that defense, and while the three of them are all aging, they are all still very productive. However, Bud Dupree and Lorenzo Carter will be on the edge for the Falcons, two players who failed to stick on their previous teams.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign DT Vita Vea to four-year, $73 million contract extension | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

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The Bucs still have talent on the defensive line from their Super Bowl-winning team in 2020-21, but they will need a more productive season in 2023. Shaquil Barrett played just eight games last year but still has a great burst off the edge. Vita Vea remains one of the top run stuffers in the middle. Can the Bucs get more production from multi-year starter Joe Tryon-Shoyinka? They might need it to finish the season higher up on this list.

26. Los Angeles Rams

Aaron Donald is the only thing keeping the Rams from the bottom of this list. The future Hall-of-Famer is still one of the best players in the world but is entering his age 32 season and struggled with injury in 2022. Donald was still a force when healthy, posting five sacks and ten tackles for loss in 11 games despite facing constant double and triple teams. The sad news for Donald is that he’ll see plenty of those because the Rams have run out of talent around him. Los Angeles drafted a lot of bodies up front in the late rounds of the 2023 Draft but has nobody with any proven NFL history outside of Donald.

27. Detroit Lions

Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2022, came on strong as his rookie season went on. He’ll be a foundational piece on the Detroit defensive line. Where else can the Lions find production in 2023? Alim McNeill has been a good pass rusher from the interior, but it remains as to whether he can be a consistent force when he gets more attention. The rest of Detroit’s line is very unproven, so they land toward the bottom of the rankings despite the promise that Hutchinson has shown.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars

If the Jags want to fulfill their lofty expectations in 2023, the line must step up. It starts with former top 10 pick Josh Allen, who is coming off a strong 2022 but needs to take the next step for Jacksonville to be on the edge. DaVon Hamilton and Folorunso Fatukasi form a strong duo in the middle. The success of this group will come down to the development of Travon Walker. Walker was good against the run as a rookie, but the 2022 No.1 overall pick needs to be a force rushing the quarterback in year two.

29. Denver Broncos

If Randy Gregory can stay on the field, he gives the Broncos an explosive player on the end of their defensive line. The problem is that Gregory has struggled to be available for many reasons during his career, the most recent being a knee injury that limited him to just six games in 2022. The Broncos also found something late in the year in edge rusher Baron Browning, who’s recovering from offseason knee surgery and added Frank Clark from the Chiefs. There’s some talent on the edge in Denver, but they will struggle up front on the interior.

30. Seattle Seahawks

Boye Mafe, Derick Hall showing Seahawks' pass rush upside: 'We feed off each other' - The Athletic

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The Seahawks’ defensive line has been a talking point for years, and they are still looking for answers. They found a versatile piece last season when Uchenna Nwosu came over from the Chargers, immediately becoming the best man in Seattle’s front four. However, the Seahawks have missed on a ton of draft picks in these spots in recent years. This season will be on the shoulders of Boye Mafe and rookie Derick Hall to provide some pop off the edge.

31. Chicago Bears

The Bears had a chance to add talent to the defensive line in the 2023 Draft but instead opted to get Justin Fields some help up front. It’s an understandable choice, but the defensive line will suffer this season. They were one of the worst pass rushing teams in football a season ago and attempted to remedy that by adding DeMarcus Walker and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. Those two will help the pass rush, but it will still be an uphill battle against the run.

32. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals lack NFL bodies on the defensive line. They lost their three best players up front from last season in J.J. Watt, Zach Allen, and Markus Golden, and are just looking to find future building blocks under new head coach Jonathan Gannon. Zaven Collins could become one of those after reports that he could move to the edge more in 2023, but this group will be vulnerable.

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