As the NFL has evolved into a dynamic passing league, the need for interior defensive linemen has gone down. However, if you can effectively rush the passer, interior defenders can definitely still make an impact, and overall, this is a rather deep position. Placing an emphasis on pass-rush ability, we’ll let the numbers dictate who the top players are at this position.
Before we start, let’s go over the metrics that we’ll use to evaluate these players.
- Pro Football Focus assigns players with a grade from -2 to 2 for each pass-rush snap, which paints a great picture of how effective a pass rusher they area. Their overall grade is known as their Pass-Rush Grade
- Pro Football Focus’ Run-Defense Grade accomplishes the same feat, but for rushing plays.
- Pass-Rush Productivity measures how productive an interior rusher is based on the pressures they accumulate, with a weight towards sacks.
- Run-Stop Rate is the percentage of times an interior defender stops a run for a loss of yards- when they are able to “blow up” a rushing play.
Each player was assigned a percentile rank in these statistics, based on their mean production over the past two seasons, and with a slight weight towards the 2019 season. Then, their overall grade was compiled using the following formula, relying on the more stable metrics and making pass-rush production a high priority:
Now, let’s see who the numbers believe are the top 131 interior defensive linemen in the NFL!
#1: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 95.5315)
Simply put, Aaron Donald’s production over his six-year career has been absurd. He’s earned a pass-rush grade or better in the past five seasons, and has received a 90-overall grade in each year of his career. His 106 pressures in 2018 were incredible for an interior defender, and honestly, he’ll likely go down as one of the best players of all time.
#2: Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers (Overall Grade: 92.4922)
When Kenny Clark was drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft, he was seen as a run-stuffing nose tackle. However, in the last two seasons, his progression as a pass rusher has been very impressive, as he ranks in the 99th percentile in that regard. Entering his fifth season, it’ll be interesting to see if the Packers give him the massive extension that he’s in line to get- upwards of $20 million annually.
#3: Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 91.3999)
Grady Jarrett has followed a similar career trajectory to Clark, as it took until his fourth season for him to become an impact pass rusher. Not only has he been a 95th percentile player in pass rush and run defense, but his consistency has been remarkable, and he’s one of the more underrated players in the NFL.
#4: Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 91.2275)
When one thinks about the Steelers’ front seven, TJ Watt and Devin Bush are the top players that come to mind. Yet, it only makes sense for Cameron Heyward to get more credit- he’s been a menace on the interior of their defensive line. He’s established himself as a 60-pressure rusher with superb run defense, which is quite the combination.
#5: Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 89.7624)
Was Akiem Hicks’ elite 91.8-grade 2018 season legitimate? Previously, he had been a solid run defender and average pass rusher, and although he only played 191 snaps due to an elbow injury, he was was closer to that type of player in 2019. He still rates very high on this list because of that 2018 season, but he’ll need to prove that it wasn’t an outlier.
#6: Da’Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 89.506)
Similarly to Hicks, Da’Shawn Hand only played in 110 snaps last season, so he still needs to back up his tremendous 2018 season. Despite being just a fourth-round pick, he graded in the high 70s as a pass rusher and run defender, and is a tremendous fit in Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme, even if he doesn’t turn out to be worthy of this high ranking.
#7: Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 89.265)
Outside of Aaron Donald, there isn’t a more powerful interior rusher than Chris Jones, who ranks in the 99th percentile in his pass-rush skills. Now, he’s not a consistent run defender, yet he’s more than capable in that area, and even if he wasn’t, it wouldn’t really matter. His contract negotiations with the Chiefs, who franchise-tagged him and don’t have much in the way of future salary cap, will be very interesting.
#8: Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 87.0425)
Previously, Fletcher Cox was considered the top interior rusher not named Aaron Donald. Yet, the 29-year-old didn’t have an ideal season last year, and in a day and age in which there are a lot of pass rushers from the interior defensive line, he needs to be more consistent next season.
#9: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 86.2877)
Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for Geno Atkins. The 32-year-old has regressed in each of the past two seasons, and is at the age where that can be attributed to a natural decline. Nevertheless, he’s still a very talented interior pass rusher, and hopefully can be rejuvenated considering how much talent the Bengals have added this offseason.
#10: Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 85.6081)
Kenny Clark is an example of the modern-day nose tackle, but outside of him, Javon Hargrave is the most talented player in that role. He answered the bell last season by playing a career-high 655 snaps, and was still very efficient as a pass rusher. Paired with Fletcher Cox after signing a three-year, $39 million deal with the Eagles, he could be in line for a fantastic season in 2020.
#11: Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade: 85.2945)
Although he went on injured reserve after two weeks last season due to a torn rotator cuff, Kawann Short is easily the Panthers’ best defensive player heading into 2020. Despite his slight regression as a pass rusher in 2018, he’s generally been an above-average pass rusher with elite run defense, and although you’d rather have that flipped, it’s still a valuable skill set for a player at his position.
#12: Shelby Harris, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 85.1702)
In his three seasons with the Broncos, Shelby Harris hasn’t gotten consistent playing time, but has really grown as a player. If you take out the first four games of the season, in which he struggled as a nose tackle before moving to a more traditional base 3-4 role/3-technique on nickel downs, his success as an all-around player last season is even greater. The fact that no team came with a better offer than the one-year, $3 million contract he got to come back to Denver is just baffling.
#13: DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 83.866)
Whereas Harris couldn’t cash in this offseason, DeForest Buckner was certainly able to, signing a four-year, $84 million extension with the Colts after they sent the 13th overall pick to the 49ers for his services. In my opinion, that had to be one of the worst moves made of the entire offseason by any team. Not only does he play a non-valuable position, but the 26-year-old isn’t a standout player, and won’t be as productive playing for a worse defensive line. He’s a solid player, yet not a franchise building block by any means.
#14: DJ Reader, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 83.343)
Although Javon Hargrave rates as the better player, DJ Reader earned a larger contract ($52 million) than him from the Bengals. In Cincinnati’s case, they have to be hoping that his growth as a pass-rusher was legitimate, as he went from being a traditional nose tackle to a true force on the interior. If so, he’ll rank much higher on this list, and their defensive line will be elite.
#15: Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 82.8426)
When the Bucs passed on versatile safety Derwin James for nose tackle Vita Vea with the 12th pick in the 2018 draft, it looked like one of the worst decisions of the draft. In hindsight, it was still a poor decision, considering positional value, but at least Vea has produced. He follows the mold of Hargrave and Reader as a nose tackle who can really make an impact rushing the passer; he’s a 350-pound defender who ran a 5.1 40-yard dash, which is pretty impressive.
#16: Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 82.7445)
While he’s not a star, Stephon Tuitt is a pretty reliable player on Pittsburgh’s defensive line. He’s grown into an above-average pass rusher with borderline elite run defense, and in 278 snaps last season, which wasn’t even factored into his ranking (too small of sample size), he earned a 85.1 pass-rush grade.
#17: Matt Ioannidis, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 82.1541)
When one thinks about the Redskins’ pass rush, the team’s plethora of edge rushers, as well as a couple of their young interior defenders, garner almost all the attention. Yet, the most established player on their defensive line has to be Matt Ioannidis. He’s a very poor run defender, but ranks in the 99th percentile in pass-rush productivity, and he’s coming off of his best season from a volume standpoint.
#18: Maurice Hurst, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 79.4255)
A heart condition dropped Maurice Hurst, a projected early first-round pick, into the fifth round of the 2018 draft. There, the Raiders felt comfortable taking a chance on his talent, and the early dividends are encouraging. He’s been more of a rotational player, but plays on passing downs, which is what truly makes a difference. To that end, his 77.8 pass-rush grade from this past season is a high-quality number, and entering his third season, it feels as though we may have not seen the best from him yet.
#19: Danny Shelton, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 78.8628)
Until this past season, Danny Shelton had been a run-stuffing nose tackle. However, he broke out in a major way for the Patriots this past season, earning a 73.5 pass-rush grade. The Lions, who signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract, have to be hoping that his progression rushing the passer wasn’t a fluke; if it isn’t, they could have a very dynamic interior defensive line between him and Da’Shawn Hand.
#20: Leonard Williams, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 78.4132)
Leonard Williams has never lived up to the hype as the 6th overall pick in the 2015 draft, and may still be an overrated player because of it. Regardless, he’s in the 80th percentile as a pass rusher and run defender, and actually rates out well in pass-rush productivity. For what it’s worth, he also was much better once he was traded from the Jets to the Giants.
#21: Gerald McCoy, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 78.0691)
Once considered a true game-changer on the interior defensive line, it’s clear that Gerald McCoy is no longer the superstar he was in his prime. Still, though, the 32-year-old is a productive pass rusher and ranks in the 90th percentile in run-defense grade, and should continue to a reliable veteran for the Cowboys after signing a three-year contract with them.
#22: Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade: 78)
Of the non-quarterback selections, the Panthers selecting Derrick Brown with the 7th overall pick over defensive playmaker Isaiah Simmons was very confusing, and has a lot of similarities to the Bucs passing on Derwin James for Vita Vea in 2018. Coming out of Auburn, he’s a very safe projection, as he’s a solid pass rusher and elite run defender. However, he’s a player to won with power in college, and that won’t be as easy in the NFL- he’ll likely be a solid player, yet not one worth spending a top-ten pick on.
#23: Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade 77.8)
Brown may not have superstar potential, but the same definitely cannot be said for Javon Kinlaw. He needs to work on his technique, yet he’s an athletic freak who is extremely powerful, and reminds me a lot of Chris Jones. Unlike Brown, he probably won’t make as much of an immediate impact, though in a couple of seasons, he could very well end up being the better player.
#24: Malik Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 77.4915)
Before the Eagles could see the returns of signing Malik Jackson to a $30 million deal, he went down with a Lisfranc injury in the first game of the season. Now, Philadelphia has only added more depth on the interior defensive line with Hargrave, though he’s only played above 500 snaps once in his career, so Jackson definitely will still have a major role. If you need a run defender, he’s not the right player for you, which is why the Jaguars cut ties with him in the 2019 season. Still, his pass-rushing ability makes him a very talented rotational player, and if healthy, he’ll make an impact this season.
#25: Shy Tuttle, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 77.4765)
A major reason why teams shouldn’t invest resources on interior defenders is that it’s easy to find them. The Saints signed Shy Tuttle as an undrafted free agent, and he surprisingly played a noticeable role for them. Plus, not only did he improve as a pass-rusher throughout the season, but he also had what was probably my favorite defensive highlight of the season (seriously, though, put him at fullback with that stiff-arm!).
#26: Maliek Collins, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 77.4761)
We’ve already emphasized the idea that pass-rush ability is far more valuable than run defense, yet NFL teams still tend to disregard interior pass-rush specialists. Ideally, Maliek Collins would’ve been rewarded for a career-best 77.6 pass-rush grade, but in what has to be related to his 20th percentile rank in run-defense grade and 5th percentile rank in run-stop rate, the Raiders were able to sign him to a one-year contract worth $6 million. It’s the perfect scenario for Las Vegas, who is giving Collins a chance to prove his pass-rush improvement was legitimate; if it was, he’ll form a very nice tandem with Maurice Hurst.
#27: Eddie Goldman, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 77.4635)
Coming off of an elite season in run defense, the Bears signed nose tackle Eddie Goldman to a $42 million deal. Unfortunately for them, his run-defense grade dropped by around 20 points, which is a problem for a player that isn’t a top-notch interior pass rusher. At the end of the day, the 26-year-old has had four solid seasons and one high-end season, and unless something changes in 2020, it’d be smart to believe that 2018 was an outlier season for him.
#28: David Onyemata, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 75.8559)
After a poor 2019 season, it was surprising to see David Onyemata secure a three-year, $27 million deal to come back to the Saints. However, he was a force in 2018, and considering what inferior players at the position signed for, that contract looks far less egregious. A bounce-back performance from him would be huge for New Orleans’ defense.
#29: John Jenkins, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 75.538)
As mentioned with Maliek Collins, teams tend to overvalue run defense, which causes a player like John Jenkins to fall through the cracks in free agency. Yet, he was in the 85th percentile in pass-rush grade last season, and he offers tremendous depth for the Bears.
#30: Denico Autry, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 75.3719)
The Colts have consistently tried to buy-low on players, which is what they did when they signed Denico Autry to a three-year contract. Since signing that deal, the 29-year-old has been an above-average pass rusher in back-to-back seasons, and will look to have another productive season before he enters the free agency market.
#31: Sheldon Richardson, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 75.2879)
As part of their splurge last offseason, the Browns gave Sheldon Richardson a $39 million contract, and to his credit, he was as productive as he was previously. He was a very hyped-up player coming out of the University of Missouri, but has never taken the next step from being an above-average starter to being a star.
#32: Jurrell Casey, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 74.6927)
The Broncos were glad to trade a seventh-round pick to trade for Jurrell Casey, and his $11.25 million cap hit on a contract with no guaranteed money remaining after this year, and for good reason. He regressed last season, but Denver wisely bought low on a player who previously had been an elite run defender and solid pass rusher.
#33: Michael Pierce, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 74.5279)
Michael Pierce has never been more than a mid-60s-grade pass rusher, but where he really stood out was with his run defense, which ranked near the top of the league. However, he regressed massively in that department last season, and the Ravens felt comfortable letting him sign with the Vikings in free agency. Considering he’s a player who doesn’t play a high-frequency of snaps and has a more replaceable skill set, that was the right decision by one of the smartest front offices in the NFL.
#34: Steve McLendon, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 74.4887)
Sticking with the theme of nose tackles who don’t play a lot of snaps, Steve McLendon has developed as a pass rusher (75th percentile), but the Jets defensive tackle is most known for his run defense. New York has invested a lot of resources on their interior defensive line, yet he remains their best interior defender heading into the 2020 season.
#35: Xavier Williams, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 74.1995)
As the starting nose tackle on the Chiefs in 2018, Xavier Williams has surprisingly an impact pass rusher. He missed most of the 2019 season due to an ankle injury, yet produced enough in the previous season to be worthy of a starting spot.
#36: Taven Bryan, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 73.2686)
A first-round pick by the Jaguars in 2018, the consensus appears to be that Taven Bryan has been a bust. However, I don’t believe that to actually be the case. As he earned a larger role with the team last season, his pass-rush grade improved, and he’s a more than capable run defender. Considering how much defensive talent Jacksonville has lost recently, the 24-year-old will get the chance to prove himself, and I expect him to do just that.
#37: Tim Settle, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 73.0899)
Despite being seen as your traditional nose tackle, Tim Settle has actually been a suboptimal run defender in his two seasons in the NFL. However, he showed some flashes rushing the passer last season, and perhaps he’s capable of more with an increase in snaps played.
#38: Sebastian Joseph-Day, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 72.785)
The Rams drafted Sebastian Joseph-Day in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, and in 481 snaps as a pass-rushing nose tackle. It would’ve been intriguing to see how he fared in his second full season, yet the Rams have added multiple inferior interior defenders that will almost certainly get more playing time than him.
#39: Derek Wolfe, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 71.2546)
Although the Ravens’ agreement with Michael Brockers fell through, they get a better player to fill a need on the interior defensive line, and at a far lesser price (1/$6M). Derek Wolfe declined as a run defender last season, but had a career-best season as a pass rusher, so that may have actually been his most productive season since 2015. He’s a versatile piece that defensive coordinator Don Martindale will love to utilize.
#40: Jordan Elliot, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 70.8887)
In my opinion, one of the most underrated prospects in this past draft was Missouri’s Jordan Elliot. Had it not been for positional value, I would’ve saw him as a first-round prospect. He was the highest-graded interior defender in all of college football last season, and offers a lot as an interior pass rusher.
#41: Rodney Gunter, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 70.888)
Despite the fact that he was never an impact producer with the Cardinals, especially in run defense, I’m actually in favor of the three-year, $18 million deal the Jaguars gave him. He has the size and ability to play Calais Campbell’s role as a “big edge” player on early downs that kicks inside on passing downs, which would help mitigate his issues in run defense.
#42: Deadrin Senat, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 70.887)
For whatever reason, Deadrin Senat completely fell out of favor in 2019, playing only 20 snaps for the Falcons despite not being listed with an injury. That’s a shame, as the third-round pick was a productive player as a rookie, ranking in the 85th percentile as a pass rusher. Sure, his run defense isn’t ideal, yet Atlanta drafted a player with a similar skill set in the second round; if Senat is on the trade block, teams should aggressively pursue him.
#43: Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 70.8455)
The Saints have been waiting for Sheldon Rankins to be an elite interior defender since they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft, and he showed progress in 2018, earning an 81.2 overall grade and a 70.4 pass-rush grade. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old tore his Achilles in the playoffs, and wasn’t the same this past season- he was merely an average player. Even worse, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 14, so his luck keeps getting worse.
#44: Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 70.719)
Dexter Lawrence fits the mold of Vita Vea and Derrick Brown as a solid player, but not one that should’ve been drafted where he was (17th overall pick 2018) due to positional value. Nevertheless, the 22-year-old was better-than-expected rushing the passer, and improved down the stretch; he could be a top-20 interior defender in a season or two.
#45: Andrew Billings, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 70.3875)
The Browns have done a fantastic job this offseason, but one area that’s really stood out is their ability to fill defensive holes with cheap one-year contracts. They were looking for some depth on the interior of their defensive line, and rather than overspend, they waited out the market and secured the services of Andrew Billings for just $3 million. As a capable run defender and solid pass-rushing nose tackle, he’ll likely start and make an immediate impact for them.
#46: Zach Kerr, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade: 69.4452)
Further displaying why they didn’t need to draft Brown, the Panthers only paid $1.5 annually for the next two seasons to acquire a productive interior defensive lineman. He’s been a solid run defender, yet also has been an above-average pass rusher in three of the past five seasons- he’ll start for Carolina when they utilize a base formation.
#47: Lawrence Guy, New England Patriots (Overall Grade: 67.8753)
The Patriots have done a fantastic job buying-low on defensive players, only to watch them blossom in their defensive scheme. In the first five seasons of his career, Lawrence Guy was merely an average player at best. However, in his three seasons with the Patriots, he’s rated as an above-average player, including an 89.8-grade season in 2018.
#48: DaQuan Jones, Tennessee Titans (Overall Grade: 67.601)
After letting go of Jurrell Casey, the Titans will only place a great emphasis on their incumbent interior defenders, including DaQuan Jones. The 28-year-old is coming off of his best season, especially as a pass rusher (66.3 pass-rush grade), and will look to repeat that performance before becoming a free agent.
#49: Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 67.5199)
Coming off of his worst season since 2011, Ndamukong Suh is hoping to fight up age regression in 2020. For whatever it’s worth, the 33-year-old improved as a pass rusher down the stretch, which may be due to him getting acclimated to Todd Bowles’ defensive scheme. After being on three different teams in the past three seasons, he’s back in Tampa Bay after agreeing to a one-year deal with them.
#50: BJ Hill, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 67.2519)
In 2018, BJ Hill earned a 70+ grade as a pass rusher and run defender, but he unfortunately was much worse this past season. With Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence on board, it’s clear that the 24-year-old doesn’t have a clear route to playing time in 2020.
#51: Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans (Overall Grade: 66.564)
Had it not been for a torn ACL, Jeffery Simmons may have been a top-ten pick in the 2019 draft. Yet, he somehow returned in Week 7, which is remarkable- the Titans have to be thrilled with that after drafting him the 19th overall pick. In an expanded role this season, I’m expecting him to make good on his pass-rush upside.
#52: Ed Oliver, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 66.1595)
Also a second-year player, Ed Oliver was a super hyped-up player at the University of Houston, but had an up-and-down rookie season. Strangely, his best performance came in the first game of the season, yet Buffalo is hoping that he’s in line for a massive second-year break out- it usually takes defensive linemen a year before they can adjust to the NFL.
#53: Tyson Alualu, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 65.0596)
#54: Ross Blacklock, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 64.7)
Ross Blacklock has all the athletic tools in the world to be an impact interior defender, but since TCU runs so many stunts, he didn’t really get a chance to develop. Nevertheless, he has a lot of potential.
#55: Quinton Jefferson, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 64.6892)
The Bills paid decent money (2/$13M) for Quinton Jefferson this offseason, and after playing as a “big edge” for Seattle, I wouldn’t be shocked if his pass-rush production improves as a full-time interior defender. Buffalo has a lot of depth on the defensive line, but I’m guessing he’ll have a spelled-out role for them.
#56: Jonathan Allen, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 64.6436)
The Redskins were likely thrilled to draft Jonathan Allen, considered to be a lock for the top five, with the 17th overall pick. However, after showing promise in his first full season in 2018, he didn’t make much of an impact this past season. As he enters his fourth season, it’s safe to say that he needs to get back on track.
#57: Linval Joseph, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 63.871)
Although nose tackles aren’t generally very valuable, the Chargers were so thin on the interior defensive line last year, so the addition of Linval Joseph may actually be somewhat noticeable. His production has declined in recent seasons, but the 31-year-old still ranks in the 65th percentile as a pass rusher and run defender.
#58: Folorunso Fatukaski, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 62.4125)
#59: Dre’Mont Jones, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 62.19)
At 6’3″ and 281 pounds, Dre’Mont Jones was seen as a bit of a tweener coming out of Ohio State, and the Broncos have made him a full-time interior rusher. After earning a 70.3 pass-rush grade as a situational player in his rookie season, I’m excited to see how he continues to progress.
#60: Kyle Love, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 62.19)
#61: Roy Robertson-Harris, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 61.1179)
#62: Nick Williams, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 52.7777)
After being drafted in the seventh round by the Steelers in 2013, Nick Williams’ emergence last season was a very pleasant surprise. He was a solid pass rusher for the Bears, effectively replaced Akiem Hicks, and was rewarded with a multi-year contract from the Lions.
#63: Jordan Phillips, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 59.1362)
After a 9-sack season last year, it was so obvious that a team would overpay for Jordan Phillips’ services. In the end, that team was the Cardinals, who gave him a three-year, $30 million contract, which is far too much. The 27-year-old has never been an average player in terms of overall grade, and his sack to pressure ratio (9:26) is clearly unsustainable.
#64: Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 57.9918)
Although he’s developed into a terrific run defender, Dalvin Tomlinson has showed no signs of improvement as a pass rusher, and is thus a very replaceable player- the 26-year-old is only a useful player on base downs.
#65: Charles Omenihu, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 57.9405)
#66: Henry Anderson, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 57.351)
After posting 48 pressures and 8 sacks in 2018, Henry Anderson was rewarded with a $25 million extension by the Jets. Yet, that appears to be an outlier season for him, especially after his pass-rush grade regressed to 55.2 last season.
#67: Marlon Davidson, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 57.3)
Even though he played edge rusher at Auburn, Marlon Davidson will convert to a full-time interior defender after being drafted by the Falcons in the second round. He’s a massive projection, as we have no success of him succeeding on the inside, but on passing downs, I’m expecting him to be a solid pass rusher.
#68: Allen Bailey, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 57.1244)
#69: PJ Hall, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 56.8902)
#70: Malcolm Brown, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 56.8451)
#71: Vernon Butler, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 56.6217)
After posting six sacks last season, it may seem like Vernon Butler finally realized his potential as a former first-round pick. However, that came on only 16 pressures, and his pass-rush grade (60.7) was right around his career average.
#72: Dontari Poe, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 56.592)
#73: Jarran Reed, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 56.5798)
Jarran Reed is a very similar story to Butler and Phillips; his 11 sacks in 2018 didn’t look to be legitimate, and upon returning from suspension in 2019, that proved to be the case. Yet, the Seahawks still gave the 27-year-old a two-year, $23 million deal.
#74: Damon Harrison, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 56.4227)
At his peak, Damon Harrison was easily the best run defender in the NFL, and one of the best in NFL history. However, there’s a reason he’s already been on three different teams- he doesn’t make an impact as a pass rusher. After what was easily the worst season of his career, it looks like he may retire.
#75: Marcell Dareus, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 56.087)
Similarly to Harrison, Marcell Dareus was an elite run defender between 2013-2015, but has never lived up the hype as the third overall pick in the 2011 draft.
#76: Tyeler Davison, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 55.6349)
#77: Christian Covington, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 53.1602)
#78: Sheldon Day, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 52.6089)
#79: Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade; 50.9705)
In the first draft of a new regime in Miami, they played it incredibly safe by drafting Christian Wilkins in the first round, and probably are regretting that decision. Despite being seen as a top-notch run defender, he actually was a below-average player in that regard, and won’t ever provide much rushing the passer.
#80: Quinnen Williams, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 50.4145)
After having one of the greatest college seasons we’ve seen from an interior defender, Quinnen Williams was expected to be an instant All-Pro for the Jets- he was drafted third overall for a reason. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t utilized properly, but he was just in the 40th percentile as a pass rusher; even if he improves like most young interior defenders, he may not be the star he needed to be to justify where he was selected.
#81: Larry Ogunjobi, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 50.1947)
Usually, players at this position improve over time. Yet, Larry Ogunjobi has followed the opposite trajectory, as not only has he failed to improve as a pass rusher, but he’s now become a below-average run defender. The Browns showed this offseason what they think about the 25-year-old by adding multiple interior defenders.
#82: Neville Gallimore, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 50)
If he lives up to his potential, Neville Gallimore will be a modern-day nose tackle with his athleticism, get-off, and upside rushing the passer. However, he too often played out of control in college, so he’ll need time to develop.
#83: Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 50)
With the power he generates with his hands, Justin Madubuike has a lot of upside as a power rusher on the interior defensive line. He lands in the perfect situation with the Ravens, as he’ll be able to be a role player this season before earning a larger role in the future.
#84: Chris Wormley, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 49.32)
#85: Adam Butler, New England Patriots (Overall Grade: 48.9057)
#86: Tyler Lancaster, Green Bay Packers (Overall Grade: 48.2112)
#87: Brandon Williams, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 48.1797)
Similarly to Harrison and Dareus, Brandon Williams was considered to be one of the top interior players in the NFL in terms of run defense, but he’s been a middling pass rusher. Now, as his run defense was become only above-average, he’s just not a valuable player.
#88: Morgan Fox, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 48.0285)
#89: Raekwon Davis, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 48)
As a very powerful player, Raekwon Davis was always expected to develop into a blue-chip player at Alabama. However, he failed to get better as a pass rusher, so is mostly just a run defender. His elite length is intriguing, and he’s a interesting fit in Miami’s multiple defensive scheme, but I still can’t believe the team spent a second-round pick on him given all their long-term needs on offense.
#90: William Gholston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 47.5302)
#91: Michael Brockers, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 47.1054)
Michael Brockers is a reliable run defender and is versatile, but how valuable is that in today’s game? You need to be effective rushing the passer in today’s game, and the 29-year-old hasn’t ever been that. The $30 million the Rams are paying him is perplexing.
#92: Davon Hamilton, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 47.05)
If he reaches his potential, Davon Hamilton will be an effective pass rusher as a nose tackle. However, it’s more likely he’s most just an impact run defender, and never played 400 snaps in any of his seasons at Ohio State.
#93: Jonathan Bullard, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 46.9924)
#94: McTelvin Agim, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 46.5)
Coming out of Arkansas, McTelvin Agim was a late riser in the draft process, and the Broncos made him a third-round pick. He’ll need to add play strength, so he probably won’t play much this season, yet has all the makings of a talented interior pass rusher.
#95: Al Woods, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 46.1475)
#96: Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 45.6211)
As we’ve discussed countlessly, it’s very easy for teams to find nose tackles. Despite being an undrafted free agent, Poona Ford has been a very productive run-stuffing nose tackle, and the 24-year-old will be a starter for the Seahawks- they play base defense at an extraordinary rate.
#97: A’Shawn Robinson, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 45.3538)
Coming off an elite season in terms of run defense in 415 snaps in 2018, expectations were high for A’Shawn Robinson. Unfortunately, the Alabama product went back to being a rather unproductive player in 2019, though that didn’t stop the Rams from giving him a two-year deal worth $17 million. That’s a contract that I simply cannot justify.
#98: Jack Crawford, Tennessee Titans (Overall Grade: 44.6529)
#99: Dean Lowry, Green Bay Packers (Overall Grade: 44.4244)
The Packers gave Dean Lowry a three-year, $20 million contract extension prior to last season, but rather than continue to progress, he regressed as a run defender and continued to be a below-average pass rusher.
#100: Justin Jones, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 44.1769)
#101: Beau Allen, New England Patriots (Overall Grade: 44.0035)
#102: Josh Tupou, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 41.4388)
#103: Johnathan Hankins, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 41.3193)
#104: DJ Jones, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade: 41.0423)
After trading DeForest Buckner, the 49ers are going to ask DJ Jones to play a meaningful role for them, especially on early downs. However, they should temper their expectations, considering he’s been a below-average pass rusher and run defender.
#105: Grover Stewart, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 39.3573)
#106: Daron Payne, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 37.6743)
Just one year after drafting Jonathan Allen, the Redskins once again went to the University of Alabama to fortify their defensive line, this time selecting Daron Payne with the 13th overall pick. Considering the 22-year-old has ranked in the 20th percentile in pass-rush grade through his first two seasons, they may be regretting that decision.
#107: Mike Purcell, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 35.58)
In search of a run-stopping nose tackle, the Broncos signed Mike Purcell for just under $1 million, and they were rewarded- he earned a 91 run defense grade. The 29-year-old offers nothing as a pass rusher, but for just $3 million this season, he’ll be able to fill in for them when they utilize a traditional base 3-4 formation.
#108: Corey Peters, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 35.5315)
#109: Jaleel Johnson, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 35.0699)
#110: Abry Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 34.6056)
#111: Brent Urban, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 34.507)
#112: Bilal Nichols, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 34.3099)
After a productive rookie season, expectations were high for Bilal Nichols to succeed in a large role, but that didn’t work out- his 1.00 pass-rush productivity was the worst among the players on this list.
#113: Kerry Wynn, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 34.1775)
#114: Angelo Blackson, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 33.5047)
#115: Sylvester Williams, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 32.6475)
#116: Austin Johnson, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 32.6118)
#117: Earl Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade; 31.9925)
#118: Marcus Hunt, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade; 31.7436)
#119: Derrick Nnadi, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 31.3843)
Derrick Nnadi has been a decent run defender for the Chiefs since being drafted in the third round in 2018, but he’s yet to register a pass-rush grade of 55 or higher.
#120: Davon Godchaux, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 31.0205)
Considering they’ve drafted Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins in back-to-back drafts, it’s safe to say the Dolphins aren’t sold on Davon Godchaux, and rightfully so- he’s a run-stuffer with only one season of above-average production in that regard.
#121: Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 30.2957)
Even after they restricted the original five-year, $50 million deal he signed, the Bills can’t be pleased to have Star Lotulelei under contract for around $18 million over the next two seasons, per Over the Cap. He hasn’t earned an overall grade from Pro Football Focus over 63 since 2014, nor has he even had 25 pressures in a season.
#122: Khalen Saunders, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 30.1845)
#123: Akeem Spence, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 29.8867)
#124: Damion Square, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 29.0304)
#125: Antwaun Woods, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 27.0223)
#126: Brandon Dunn, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 24.211)
#127: Brandon Mebane, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 23.6529)
#128: Shamar Stephen, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 22.648)
#129: Trevon Coley, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 22.0015)
#130: Jerry Tillery, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 20.9205)
Ranked as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-overall prospect in the 2019 draft, it’s safe to say that Jerry Tillery was expected to be a very impactful interior rusher early on for Chargers. Instead, he ranked in the 10th percentile as a pass rusher and run defender, and I’m not sure what we can actually expect from him this season.
#131: John Atkins, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 20.557)