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2024 Defensive Line Rankings

NFL Fantasy



The NFL season is just around the corner, which means it is time for our positional rankings here at FTN Fantasy. This week, we will tackle the defensive side of the ball, speicifcally defensive lines.

One important disclaimer before diving into the article: These rankings are ordered based on each team’s true defensive line. That said, there will be several teams missing key edge rushers who identify as outside linebackers. Keep an eye out for a future article ranking each team’s top linebacking units to see where those teams rank.

As always, this article will be re-assessed as we get closer to the season and get key data points from training camps ahead of the NFL season. Check out the preliminary defensive line rankings for the 2024 season below. 

Track our whole position group rankings series: Offensive Line | Pass-Catchers | Backfield | Linebackers | Quarterbacks | more to come!

2024 NFL Defensive Line Rankings

1. Dallas Cowboys (Base: 4-3)

DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, 3T: Osa Odighizuwa, 1T: Mazi Smith, DE: Micah Parsons

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – OCTOBER 13: Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) during the National Football League game between the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys on October 13, 2019 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Cowboys’ top four defensive linemen make up one of the most talented and disruptive units in the NFL. The combination of DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa and Mazi Smith combined to average an 81.1 pass rush grade on PFF in 2023, with Parsons (93.7), Lawrence (80.3) and Odighizuwa (80.0) finishing with individual grades above 79.0. The collective group generated 22 sacks and 202 total pressures last season. They were also a middle-of-the-road team against running backs in 2023.

A challenge for the Cowboys in 2024 will be the loss of key depth on the defensive front. Dallas let four key contributors who played at least 270 snaps walk in free agency (DE Dorance Armstrong, DT Jonathan Hankins, DT Neville Gallimore and DE Dante Fowler Jr.). The Cowboys are banking on significant growth from 2023 first-round pick Mazi Smith. The Michigan product was used as a rotational piece in 2023, playing just 304 snaps. He put together a solid season as an interior pass rusher (70.3 PFF grade) but was a liability as a run defender (34.9 PFF grade). 

The Cowboys have more depth on the edge. 2022 second-round pick Sam Williams was solid in a rotational role last season (five sacks and 15 pressures on 192 pass-rush snaps) and will need growth. Dallas also dipped into the edge depth during the 2023 draft, picking Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland in the second round. Kneeland will need time to acclimate to the NFL level coming from the MAC, but he posted an 84.7 pass-rush grade in his final season and had career highs in sacks (6.0) and pressures (28). Either player emerging as a legitimate pass rusher would allow Dallas to utilize Parsons in his best role, as a chess piece in the box that can rush from any position or from depth as a linebacker. 

If Mazi Smith can develop while taking on a bigger role in the offense, it is hard to imagine that Dallas falls outside the top three defensive lines when healthy. However, injuries (especially on the interior) could be detrimental to this unit, especially given their status as a middle-of-the-road run defense up the middle. 

2. Indianapolis Colts (Base: 4-3)

DE: Kwity Paye, 3T: DeForest Buckner, 1T: Grover Stewart, DE: Samson Ebukam

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 18: Indianapolis Colts Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner (99) celebrates with Indianapolis Colts Cornerback Kenny Moore (23) and teammates after a tackle in game action during a NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals on October 18, 2020, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by MSA/Icon Sportswire)

The Colts will be running back a strong defensive front that produced well in 2023. Indianapolis’ top eight defensive linemen in their rotation (in terms of snaps played) return in 2024, led by the formidable trio of DeForest Buckner (81.8 PFF grade), Samson Ebukam (84.4 PFF grade) and Kwity Paye (74.3 PFF grade). Those three players were disruptive pass rushers (128 pressures and 26 sacks combined) and strong run defenders (73.9 average run defense grade) last season.

Indianapolis also opted to bring back disruptive 1-technique Grover Stewart after a strong season in 2023. Stewart was limited to just 11 games due to a PED suspension but finished third among the defensive line in PFF grade (76.2) and run defense grade (77.3). He also generated 15 pressures and a half sack from the interior. 

Indianapolis came into 2024 with ample returning depth at the edge in Tyquan Lewis (44 pressures and 4.0 sacks) and Dayo Odeyingbo (29 pressures and 8.0 sacks) but added to the pass-rushing group by selecting UCLA’s Laitu Latu with the 15th pick in the NFL draft. Latu had medical concerns in college but was stellar during his career with the Bruins. Over the last two seasons, he generated 27 sacks and 81 pressures while finishing with an overall PFF grade above 88.0 twice. He could immediately contribute as a situational pass rusher but could also easily take Kwity Paye’s job on the edge starting on Day 1. That would allow the Colts to move Paye around the defensive line to maximize his size and athleticism. 

The Colts lack the pure star power of the Cowboys, but they have ample depth and can withstand injuries with plenty of proven pieces along their defensive line. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them finish the season as the most productive unit in the NFL in 2024. 

3. Detroit Lions (Base 4-3)

DE: Aidan Hutchinson, 3T: Alim McNeill, 1T: D.J. Reader, DE: Marcus Davenport

DETROIT, MI – AUGUST 12: Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) celebrates after tackling Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison (30) during a preseason NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions on August 12, 2022 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

The Lions went into 2023 hoping they could utilize excellent depth and versatility to find a complement to Aidan Hutchinson on the defensive line. That goal ultimately wasn’t met, but Detroit did establish that both Hutchinson (91.0 PFF grade in 2023) and 2021 third-round pick Alim McNeill (88.5 PFF grade in 13 games) have star potential. 

Hutchinson (101 pressures and 11.5 sacks) and McNeill (34 pressures and 5.0 sacks) form a formidable duo, which allowed Detroit to utilize free agency to fill out the rest of their starting defensive line. D.J. Reader will be a fantastic addition to the interior defensive line after posting three straight seasons with the Bengals with a PFF grade above 80.0 and a run defense grade above 73.0. During that time, he also generated 85 pressures and five sacks. 

Detroit will also hope Marcus Davenport can return to form after an injury-plagued 2023 limited him to just four games in Minnesota. In his previous five years with the Saints, Davenport averaged 37.8 pressures and 4.6 sacks per year and never finished with a PFF grade below 71.0. 

Even if Davenport struggles to regain his disruptive presence, this is a team that has depth on the edges. Both John Cominsky and Zach Paschal logged over 350 snaps in 2023. The duo combined for 42 pressures and 3.0 sacks. The team also has 2022 standout James Houston, who was limited to just 31 snaps due to injuries in 2023. He produced 17 pressures in eight sacks in 2022 on just 92 pass-rushing snaps in a rotational role. 

Detroit entered the 2024 offseason with two foundational pillars on their defense, which allowed them to upgrade talent through free agency at their other two positions. If Reader can continue his dominance on the interior and Davenport returns to his pre-injury form, then this could be a team that pushes its way to the top defensive line ranking by the end of the season.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-3)

DE: Myles Garrett, 3T: Shelby Harris, 1T: Dalvin Tomlinson, DE: Za’Darius Smith

SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns Defensive End Myles Garrett (95) looks on during the National Football League game between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers on October 7, 2019, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Cleveland has plenty of talent on thei defensive line, headlined by the continued excellence from veteran edge rusher Myles Garrett. The seven-year pro just completed his fourth straight season with at least 750 snaps played and a PFF grade above 89.0. In five of his seven professional seasons, Garrett has at least 50 pressures and 13 or more sacks. 

While Garrett is the headliner, this unit also returns three other strong starters. The interior duo of Shelby Harris and Dalvin Tomlinson generated 57 pressures and six sacks while being solid against the run. Opposite edge rusher Za’Darius Smith didn’t have a ton of sack production in his first season with Cleveland (6.0 sacks), but he finished second on the team in pressures (60) and pushed opposing quarterbacks toward Garrett to finish the job.

The Browns have solid depth on the edges as well. Ogbo Okoronkwo played the second-most snaps in his career (447) and generated the most pressures in his career (33) in a reserve role. He converted those pressures into 4.5 sacks in 2023. Cleveland also fortified their interior defensive line with former Jet Quinton Johnson (29 pressures and 6.0 sacks in 2023) and in the draft. 2024 second-round pick Michael Hall Jr. is a tweener in terms of size but showed freak athleticism during the NFL combine. He generated 22 pressures in his final season with Ohio State. 

In terms of pure talent among starters, this unit can compete with Dallas at the top of these. However, this is a team that has some unproven depth and needs Shelby Harris and Dalvin Tomlinson to be more than solid to jump into the top three teams. 

5. New York Jets (4-3)

DE: Jermaine Johnson, 3T: Javon Kinlaw, 1T: Quinnen Williams, DE: Haason Reddick

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – NOVEMBER 06: Jermaine Johnson #11 of the New York Jets during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers on November 6, 2023 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The 2023 Jets were able to lean on fantastic depth across their defensive line to get after the quarterback. Seven players logged at least 10 pressures (including five players with 29-plus). Six players logged at least four sacks. Unfortunately, salary cap issues forced the Jets to overhaul this unit in 2024. 

New York had to let three players with at least 626 snaps on the defensive line walk in the offseason, including edge rushers John-Franklin Myers (50 pressures and 3.5 sacks) and Bryce Huff (67 pressures and 10.0 sacks) and interior defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (29 pressures and 6.0 sacks). The Jets replaced that production with explosive veteran Haason Reddick (four straight seasons with 40-plus pressures and at least 13 sacks) and oft-injured defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. 

At the very least, this will still be a formidable defense thanks to the continued development of edge rusher Jermaine Johnson and interior defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Johnson finished third on the defense in PFF grade in his second season (83.0) while setting career highs in pressures (56) and sacks (7.5). Williams posted his second consecutive season with a 90.0+ PFF grade and set a career-high with 70 pressures, although his sack production dipped to just 6.0 after logging 13.0 in 2022. 

The Jets have good depth on the interior with veterans like Solomon Thomas and Leki Fotu but will need Will McDonald Jr. to step up in his second season. New York let the 2023 first-round pick have a developmental year, limiting him to just 183 snaps. He still generated 12 pressures and 3.0 sacks despite logging just 99 pass rush snaps last season.

The Jets are easily a top-three unit thanks to their formidable trio of Quinnen Williams, Jermaine Johnson and Haason Reddick. However, the team will need this group to stay healthy (or a considerable developmental leap from McDonald) to match 2023’s disruptive tendencies. 

6. Las Vegas Raiders (4-3)

DE: Maxx Crosby, 3T: Tyree Wilson, 1T: Christian Wilkins, DE: Malcolm Koonce

PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 24: Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) looks on during the national football league game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 24, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)

The Raiders defensive line sustained itself on another excellent season from Maxx Crosby (92.1 PFF grade, 94 pressures, 14.5 sacks) with inconsistent production surrounding him. Las Vegas may have discovered a hidden gem in situational pass rusher Malcolm Koonce. Koonce posted his first career season with over 70 snaps played, finishing second on the team in pressures (52) and sacks (8.0). Koonce easily outplayed 2023 top-10 edge rusher Tyree Wilson, who posted an underwhelming 24 pressures, 3.5 sacks and 47.1 PFF grade in nearly 500 snaps played. 

Over the last few years, the Raiders have attempted to rely on rotational play from their interior defensive line. In 2023, that meant splitting snaps between Bilal Nichols (616 snaps), John Jenkins (595 snaps), Adam Butler (526 snaps) and Jerry Tillery (504 snaps). Only one of those players (Tillery) finished with a PFF grade above 62.0. 

The Raiders worked hard to find a complementary piece on the interior that could free up Maxx Crosby on the edge and potentially hit a home run in former Dolphin Christian Wilkins. The veteran defensive tackle had his third straight season with a PFF grade above 74.0 in 2024 and posted career highs in pressures (58) and sacks (10). Time will tell if he can maintain that production, but at the least, he is a consistent disruptor from the inside that will force teams to figure out if Crosby or Wilkins should be doubled on passing downs. 

The trio of Crosby, Wilkins and Koonce has a lot of room to regress, but if they can maintain their 2023 production this could be a very good defensive line. The Raiders experimented with Tyree Wilson on the interior at times in 2023 and could move him there full-time in 2024 to exploit his athleticism against guards. If Wilson can show significant growth in his second season after a fully healthy offseason, this unit could easily become a top-five group in 2024. 

7. San Francisco 49ers (4-3)

DE: Nick Bosa, 3T: Maliek Collins, 1T: Javon Hargrave, DE: Leonard Floyd

ARLINGTON, TX – JANUARY 16: San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) in action during the NFC Wild Card game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys on January 16, 2022 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

San Francisco tried to build a star-studded defensive line in 2023 to help get over the hump in the 49ers’ pursuit of a Super Bowl. The team ultimately fell short of their goal, which led to an exodus of talent this offseason. 

The 49ers decided to move off from 2023 contributors like Arik Armstead (509 snaps), Javon Kinlaw (476), Clelin Ferrell (476), Chase Young (328) and Randy Gregory this offseason (471). That group combined to average a 62.0 PFF grade, 29.4 pressures and 4.4 sacks. That is a significant loss for a defensive line that has had exceptional amounts of depth over the last few seasons. 

Stalwarts like Nick Bosa (95 pressures and 10.5 sacks) and Javon Hargrave (52 pressures and 7.0 sacks) remain in 2024 but will be surrounded by less consistent talent. The 49ers signed Maliek Collins in free agency after a solid season in Houston (62.7 PFF grade with 45 pressures and 5.0 sacks) on the interior. They also targeted former Bills edge rusher Leonard Floyd (41 pressures and 10.5 sacks) after a successful season as a situational pass rusher. 

The 49ers have good, experienced depth behind their four starters in Yetur Gross-Matos and Jordan Elliott. 2022 second-round pick Drake Jackson was limited to just 199 snaps in 2023 but didn’t show much growth after a rotational role in 2022. 

Ultimately, this unit has far less depth and talent in 2024 but still features two of the best disruptors in Bosa and Hargrave. If the veteran free-agent additions can provide a similar level of play to the departing depth, they can be fine. If not, this unit may struggle mightily in 2024. 

8. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)

DE: Jalen Carter, NT: Jordan Davis, DE: Milton Williams

PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jalen Carter (98) gestures after a tackle during the game between the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 22, 2023 at Lincoln Financial Field. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

These rankings don’t consider Philadelphia’s strength at edge rusher due to their base 3-4 defense. However, it is also a testament to just how dominant their three-down linemen are in the trenches. 

Jalen Carter was everything that was promised making the jump from Georgia to the NFL in 2023. He led the Eagles in PFF grade (89.0) and finished third on the team in sacks (6.0) and pressures (49) in his first season. Philadelphia also must be pleased with the development of Jordan Davis.

Many wondered if Davis could withstand a full-time role in the NFL due to his size, but he played over twice as many snaps in 2023 (519) as he did in 2022 (225). His PFF grade stayed largely the same (70.5 vs. 71.4) with his contributions as a pass rusher (18 pressures and 2.5 sacks) growing immensely.

Those two, combined with the development of third-year defensive end Milton Williams (69.7 PFF grade) make this unit the best three-down grouping in the NFL. Injuries could derail this team due to a lack of proven depth, but if Carter, Davis and Williams can keep developing then they are as disruptive of a defensive line combination as there is in the NFL. 

9. Green Bay Packers (4-3)

DE: Rashan Gary, 3T: Devonte Wyatt, 1T: Kenny Clark, DE: Preston Smith

CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 03: Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) points down field after a play in action during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers on January 03, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Green Bay will spend the 2024 season transitioning into a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. That will not be very difficult considering they have the personnel on the roster already to hit the ground running in this schematic shift. 

The Packers return nine defensive linemen who played at least 250 snaps in 2023. Only one of the returning players (defensive end Colby Wooden) finished with a PFF grade below 62.0. Green Bay’s defensive front has studs on the edges with Rashan Gary (80.0 PFF grade with 60 pressures and 9.0 sacks) and Preston Smith (73.9 PFF grade with 45 pressures and 8.0 sacks) to go with very solid depth pieces everywhere else. 

All four of the Packers’ projected starters finished 2023 with at least 45 pressures and 5.5 sacks. The team also has depth in young rotational players like Karl Brooks (66.9 PFF grade in 2023), Kingsley Enagbare (64.5 PFF grade) and 2023 first-round pick Lukas Van Ness (18 pressures and 4.0 sacks in 182 pass rush reps in 2023). 

Green Bay lacks the star power of many of the teams ranked ahead of them on this list, but they are also the most equipped to handle any injuries that head their way. It wouldn’t be shocking if they climbed this list due to the natural attrition that happens along defensive lines in a 17-game season.

10. Buffalo Bills (4-3)

DE: Greg Rousseau, 3T: Ed Oliver, 1T: DaQuan Jones, DE: A.J. Epenesa

HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 04: Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver (91) warms up before the AFC Wild Card football game between the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 4, 2020 in Houston, TX. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

All four of Buffalo’s projected starters were on the team in 2023, but the collective group struggled to stay healthy and on the field. The combination of Greg Rousseau (85.6 PFF grade) and A.J. Epenesa (80.3) has developed nicely as pass rushers. The duo combined for 94 pressures (65 by Rousseau) and 11.5 sacks in 2023. 

Ed Oliver remains one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL after posting 65 pressures and 9.5 sacks in 2023. His size makes him somewhat of a liability in the run game (55.4 PFF run defense grade), but that is made up for his ability to disrupt on passing downs. The team will also hope that DaQuan Jones can replicate his 86.0 PFF grade over 174 snaps after an injury-riddled 2023. 

Buffalo’s salary cap constraints were arguably felt the most along this team’s defensive line. The team was forced to let key contributors like Leonard Floyd (12 sacks), Jordan Phillips (391 snaps), Tim Settle (58.2 PFF grade) and Poona Ford (59.3 PFF grade) walk during the offseason. That leaves this unit exceptionally shallow. The team will also hope that Von Miller can regain his form as a situational pass rusher a year removed from an ACL injury after his struggles in 2023 (13 pressures on 179 pass rush snaps). 

Buffalo has two very good edge rushers, a solid pass-rushing defensive tackle and the potential for Von Miller to regain his form, which is a good foundation and justifies an early top 10 rank. However, any injuries (or the continued struggles of Von Miller) could lead this team to tumble down the rankings in short order. 

11. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)

DE: Justin Madubuike, NT: Michael Pierce, DE: Broderick Washington

BALTIMORE, MD – SEPTEMBER 19: Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (92) brings down Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (31) during the Kansas City Chiefs game versus the Baltimore Ravens on September 19, 2021 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Like Philadelphia, Baltimore’s ranking suffers from the exclusion of their depth of edge rushers thanks to their status as a 3-4 defense. However, this defensive line still features plenty of exceptional talent.

The headliner of this defensive line is defensive end Justin Madubuike. The 2020 third-round pick was a rotational player for his first two years in the NFL before earning a full-time role in 2022. During that season, he showed that he was at least an above-average defensive lineman. However, nobody could have predicted his massive growth ahead of 2023. Madubuike played just 102 more snaps in 2023 but doubled both his pressures (64) and sacks (13.5). He rightfully earned a massive extension this offseason. 

Arguably even more crucial is the steady play of veteran nose tackle Michael Pierce. As a nose tackle, he doesn’t have massive counting stats (31 pressures, 1.0 sacks and 30 tackles), but his role as a space eater that keeps Baltimore’s linebackers free is undeniable. He finished 2023 with a 77.0 PFF grade. 

The biggest reason why Baltimore isn’t higher is the underwhelming play of fourth-year pro-Broderick Jones. Jones tied his career high in pressures (17) but finished with the second-lowest PFF grade of his career in 2023 (43.8). Baltimore doesn’t have much depth behind their starters, so Washington will need to have an unforeseen leap in his development. If that doesn’t happen, it will be hard for this unit to consistently crack the top 10 of defensive lines. 

12. Atlanta Falcons (3-4)

DE: Grady Jarrett, NT: David Onyemata, DE: Zach Harrison

ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 20: Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett #97 of the Atlanta Falcons during intros for the Week 15 NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on December 20, 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

Atlanta’s defensive line is composed of three solid to very good options who can disrupt within the team’s 3-4 defense. Atlanta got only eight healthy games from Grady Jarrett in 2023, but they were quality games. He isn’t the disruptive force that he was in his younger years, but he still finished the season with 16 pressures and 1.5 sacks in 195 pass-rush snaps. Additionally, he has only one career season with a run defense grade below 61.0 in his career.

In Jarrett’s absence, the team got an excellent season from nose tackle David Onyemata. In his first season with the Falcons, Onyemata delivered an 83.3 PFF grade with 34 pressures and 4.0 sacks from the interior position. He now has four straight seasons with 30-plus pressures and has accrued 20 sacks during that time. He’s also posted at least a 76.0 run defense grade in three of the last four seasons. 

Zach Harrison is a solid starter but doesn’t stand out compared to his linemates. Atlanta spent a 2024 second-round pick on Clemson’s Ruke Orhorhoro and a fourth-round pick on Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus to develop depth on the defensive line. Orhorhoro has plenty of traits but lacked production at Clemson while Dorlus had 46 pressures in his final season with the Ducks. 

The Falcons have solid starters and nice depth, but there isn’t enough star power in this unit to push them into the top-5 teams. A better-than-expected start from either of their rookies could be enough to vault them into the top 10 though. 

13. Houston Texans (4-3)

DE: Will Anderson Jr., 3T: Denico Autry, 1T: Foley Fatukasi, DE: Danielle Hunter

Houston shocked many when they traded back into the top five in 2023 to select Will Anderson Jr. in the draft. Based on his rookie season, it was an extremely smart move. 

Anderson made an immediate impact in his first season, leading the Texans in pressures (59) and finishing tied for second in sacks (7.0) while winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. The rookie posted a PFF grade above 77.0 in both pass rushing and run defense in his first season.

The Texans were able to identify the linchpin of their defense with Anderson, but the rest of the supporting cast will be different in 2023. Gone are Jonathan Greenard (48 pressures and 12.5 sacks) and Maliek Collins (45 pressures and 5.0 sacks). They were replaced by veteran options in Denico Autry, Foley Fatukasi and Danielle Hunter. 

The Texans will hope shifting Autry into a 3-technique role will allow him to generate pressure on the interior. He’s played as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense with the Titans but has three straight seasons with 50-plus pressures and at least 8.0 sacks. 

The real crown jewel of this free agent class was getting Danielle Hunter to line up opposite Anderson. The former Viking has four straight seasons with a PFF grade above 78.0. In his last three healthy years, he’s accrued at least 70 pressures and 10.5 sacks. He’s coming off arguably the best pass-rushing season in his illustrious career with 16.5 sacks in 2023. 

Houston has excellent edge-rushing talent, but the interior of the defensive line is far more questionable. If Autry can maintain his excellent pressure stats on the interior, then this unit should have no problem leaping into the top seven on this list. 

14. Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)

DE: George Karlaftis, 3T: Chris Jones, 1T: Derrick Nnadi, DE: Mike Danna

KANSAS CITY, MO – JANUARY 01: Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis (56) before an NFL game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs on January 1, 2023 at GEHA Field at.Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

Kansas City’s defensive line has always revolved around the exceptional disruption abilities of Chris Jones as the three-technique. 2023 was no different. Jones missed the first game of the season due to a contract holdout but returned in Week 2. In 16 games, he generated 75 pressures and 10.5 sacks. He finished 2023 with his seventh straight season of a PFF grade above 82.0 or higher. 

The Chiefs also found a solid complement to Jones on the edge in second-year player George Karlaftis. Karlaftis finished his second season tied for the team lead in sacks (10.5) and second in pressures (64). He also saw his PFF run defense grade increase from 43.5 in his rookie season to 58.2 in his second year. 

The other players on the defensive line are far less reliable. Defensive tackle Derek Nnadi has posted three straight seasons with a PFF grade under 53.0. He struggles equally as a pass rusher (nine pressures) as he does as a run defender (40.9 run defense grade).

Mike Danna is a solid veteran who set career highs in snaps (745), pressures (41) and sacks (6.5). He will likely rotate again with veteran Charles Omenihu (29 pressures and 7.0 sacks) and 2023 first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah (11 pressures on 149 pass rush snaps) once again in 2023. 

Having Chris Jones is an automatic advantage for Kansas City and the emergence of George Karlaftis adds another element to this defensive line. However, there isn’t much else that is reliable on this team’s depth chart. 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)

DE: Cam Heyward, NT: Keeanu Benton, DE: Larry Ogunjobi

BALTIMORE, MD – JANUARY 01: Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) talks to media after the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens on January 1, 2023 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire)

If we could include the edge rushing duo of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers would be firmly in the top three. However, those players are outside linebackers, so they don’t factor into the Steelers’ defensive line. Still, this is a good to great grouping of players depending on Cameron Heyward’s health. 

Heyward was limited to just 442 snaps in 2023, the first time since 2016 he has played fewer than 780 snaps. From 2016 to 2022, Heyward logged six straight seasons with a PFF grade above 84.0 and five seasons with double-digit sacks. The injury limited him from a production standpoint (2.0 sacks on 275 pass pro snaps). 

The Steelers also got solid seasons from Larry Ogunjobi (59.2 PFF grade) and have to be pleased with the play of 2023 second-round rookie Keeanu Benton (74.4 PFF grade). Neither player is a disruptive force, but both have shown to be solid pass rushers (57 combined pressures) with adequate chops in the run game.

This ranking hinges on Heyward’s health. If he’s back to his disruptive ways in 2024, he will certainly take pressure off Benton and Ogunjobi. However, if he’s still limited (or gets injured again), it seems likely that this team will drop closer to the 20’s. 

16. Seattle Seahawks (3-4)

DE: Leonard Williams, NT: Jarran Reed, DE: Dre’Mont Jones

Seattle’s trade for Leonard Williams paid off in 2023. Williams joined the Seahawks in Week 9, playing 10 games with Seattle. During that time, he logged 32 pressures and 4.0 sacks and finished with a 78.2 PFF grade. The team was wise to bring him back on a big extension this offseason as he has the game-breaking ability to dominate as the 5-tech in this defense.

The Seahawks also have solid pieces surrounding Williams in Jarran Reed and Dre’Mont Jones. Reed and Jones each finished 2023 with PFF grades above 61.0, combining to generate 86 pressures and 11.5 sacks on the defensive line. The Seahawks were able to mix and match Reed, Jones and Williams based on situations to cause the most possible disruption in the middle.

Seattle also has an interesting blend of experience and youth as their depth on the defensive line. The Seahawks signed Jonathan Hankins in free agency to help give interior depth. Hankins’s best days are behind him, but he still can function as a solid run stuffer who gets the occasional pressure. More intriguing is 2024 first-round pick Byron Murphy from Texas. Murphy was arguably the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in college football in 2023, posting a 91.5 pass-rush grade and 91.1 PFF grade while lining up almost exclusively over opposing guards. He can easily have a three-down impact and should benefit from teams needing to focus on Leonard Williams on passing downs early in his career. 

The Seahawks have very interesting pieces on their defense, but the ability of Byron Murphy to acclimate to the NFL will be key to this unit climbing in the rankings. If he proves to be an impact player on day 1, then the top 12 isn’t out of the question for this unit. 

17. Cincinnati Bengals (4-3)

DE: Trey Hendrickson, 3T: B.J. Hill, 1T: Sheldon Rankins, DE: Sam Hubbard

CINCINNATI, OH – JANUARY 08: Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91) looks at the scoreboard during the game against the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals on January 8, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The Bengals’ defensive line is fueled by the stellar play of Trey Hendrickson on the edge. Hendrickson was a force in 2023, finishing with an 82.5 PFF grade and a 90.0 pass rush grade. He generated 79 pressures and converted 17.5 of them into sacks. 

The rest of this defensive line is solid but unspectacular after D.J. Reader left in free agency. B.J. Hill and Sam Hubbard each finished with a PFF grade above 61.0 and combined for 82 pressures and 10.5 sacks. Both players are good run defenders who are limited in their pass rush. Cincinnati will hope that Sheldon Rankins (64.2 PFF grade). Rankins is an explosive pass rusher who struggles in run defense, so the fit will be interesting alongside Hill.

The Bengals also have some young depth on their defensive line. 2023 first-round pick Myles Murphy played just 304 snaps in his rookie season, producing 15 pressures and 3.0 sacks. The team also drafted defensive tackle Kris Jenkins in the second round of the 2024 NFL draft. Jenkins posted an 82.3 PFF run defense grade at Michigan last season and could form a nice rotation with Rankins. 

Bengals are a middle-of-the-road defensive line that lost arguably their best player in free agency. Trey Hendrickson’s production probably isn’t sticky, so they could struggle to entrench themselves in the top 15.

18. Los Angeles Rams (3-4)

DE: Kobie Turner, NT: Bobby Brown III, DE: Braden Fiske

The Rams were always going to take a significant hit thanks to the retirement of Aaron Donald. The veteran defensive tackle never had a season with a PFF grade below 90.0. He had at least eight sacks in nine of 10 seasons and generated at least 79 pressures eight times. There truly is no replacement for a player of that caliber. 

One positive was that the Rams may have found a next great defensive lineman in Kobie Turner, the 2023 third-round pick. Turner posted an 83.2 PFF grade and amassed 50 pressures and 9.0 sacks in his first NFL season. He will now need to learn how to operate as the focal point of the defense. The Rams also drafted Florida State’s Braden Fiske in the second round of the 2024 NFL draft. During his last two seasons at Florida State, Fiske had 14 sacks and 54 pressures. 

Bobby Brown III is set to reprise his role as the team’s nose guard after he had a career-high 22 tackles in the middle of the defense. Brown doesn’t offer much in the passing game (11 career pressures on 247 pass rush snaps), but he is a good plugger in the middle of the defense.

19. Tennessee Titans (3-4)

DE: Jeffery Simmons, NT: T’Vondre Sweat, DE: Sebastian Joseph-Day

HOUSTON, TX – DECEMBER 29: Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (98) waits for the snap of the ball during the football game between the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans on December 29, 2019 at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The Titans jettisoned a lot of experience on their defensive line in a losing 2023 season, moving on from veterans like Denico Autry (61.7 PFF grade) and Teair Tart (57.1 PFF grade). That leaves Jeffery Simmons as the lone defensive lineman from a unit that has dominated for many years.

Simmons is still a disruptive playmaker on the defensive line, but he struggled with injuries in 2023. The five-year veteran played in just 12 games, generating just 47 pressures and 5.5 sacks. Simmons had the second-lowest PFF grade of his career (68.4) but remained an effective two-way defender. 

The veteran will be surrounded by new talent in 2024. The Titans surprisingly selected Texas’ T’Vondre Sweat in the second round of the 2024 draft. Sweat is a massive 6-foot-4, 362-pound nose tackle who had weight and conditioning concerns entering the NFL. When he was on the field at Texas he had a big impact as both a pass rusher (85.3 grade) and run defender (92.0 grade). Time will tell if he can stay on the field in the NFL. The Titans also dipped into free agency, signing Sebastian Joseph-Day to play as their opposite end. Joseph-Day split time between the Chargers and 49ers in 2023, logging 25 total pressures and 3.0 sacks on the season. He’s not an impact player, but he can provide solid play as a starting end. 

The Titans feature almost no experience behind their starters, which makes the health of this group paramount to the team’s success. If Simmons struggles to stay healthy again or Sweat isn’t ready for a big role on defense, then it could be a long year in the trenches for this unit. 

20. Chicago Bears (4-3)

DE: Montez Sweat, 3T: Gervon Dexter Sr., 1T: Andrew Billings, DE: DeMarcus Walker

Many expected the Bears to use their second pick in the top-10 to address their defensive line given the lack of edge rushing talent outside of Montez Sweat. However, the Bears decided to load up on offensive talent to try and ease rookie quarterback Caleb Williams’ acclimation to the NFL. That leaves the Bears with their defensive line as a clear weakness heading into 2024. 

The one bright spot on this defense is Montez Sweat. Chicago sent a second-round pick to Washington to acquire him during the 2023 season and he immediately made an impact. The veteran defensive end played in just nine games with Chicago but led the defense in sacks (6.0) and finished second in pressures (37). Sweat’s 71.2 PFF grade was also tops among the Bears’ defensive line.

Surrounding Sweat will be a bunch of situational role players lacking top-end talent. Nose tackle Andrew Billings (66.3) has historically made his mark as a run defender in the A-gap but had the second-most pressures in his career (23) last season. The team will also hope that 2023 second-round pick Gervon Dexter Sr. can develop after showing flashes throughout his rookie season. Dexter had 29 pressures and 2.5 sacks as a three-technique but struggled as a run defender in his first professional season (36.2 run defense grade).

The other defensive end will likely be a rotation of players to find somebody who can be consistently productive. Projected starter DeMarcus Walker set career-highs in snaps (714) and pressures (47) but produced just 3.5 sacks while finishing with a 59.1 PFF grade. The Bears also used a fifth-round pick on a developmental pass rusher, Austin Booker. The former Kansas Jayhawk needs to put on weight, but he was extremely disruptive in 2023, finishing with 27 hurries and 9.0 sacks in his first full season as a starter.

The Bears’ defensive line will go as far as Sweat can take them. Chicago desperately needs some of their young players to step up this year to climb into the top 15 of these rankings. 

21. Denver Broncos (3-4)

DE: Zach Allen, NT: D.J. Jones, DE: John Franklin-Myers

The Broncos’ defensive line features nobody who would be considered a “star” in the NFL. However, the unit is comprised of very solid players who do their jobs well.

Zach Allen is the headliner of this unit. After several years as a rotational piece for the Arizona Cardinals, he made an immediate impact in his first year as a full-time starter. Allen set career-highs in pressures (60) and tackles (38) while accruing 5.0 sacks in his first season with Denver. The Broncos also traded for veteran defensive end John Franklin-Myers from the Jets. Franklin-Myers was second in pass rush snaps in New York’s deep rotation (359). He’s produced four straight seasons with a PFF grade above 70.0, 50-plus pressures and three or more sacks. He also has three straight seasons with a 64.0 or higher run defense grade.

Denver doesn’t have a big presence in the middle of their defensive line. Veteran nose tackle D.J. Jones is a solid contributor who brings some occasional juice in the pass rush (four straight years with double-digit pressures and at least two sacks). He’s the quintessential space-eater in the middle of the defense.

Denver lacks the talent to push much higher than 15 on this list, but the tandem of Zach Allen and John Franklin-Myers is interesting due to their high motors and pass-rushing acumen. 

22. New Orleans Saints (4-3)

DE: Carl Granderson, 3T: Khalen Saunders, 1T: Nathan Shepard, DE: Cameron Jordan

JACKSONVILLE, FL – OCTOBER 13: New Orleans Saints Defensive End Cameron Jordan (94) stands during the National Anthem before the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 13, 2019 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)

The Saints are running back a defensive line that features a strong edge-rushing presence and questionable talent on the interior. The combination of Carl Granderson (74.1 PFF grade) and Cameron Jordan (73.5 PFF grade) was once again solid in 2023, combining to generate 103 pressures and 10.5 sacks. Both players played at least 770 snaps and finished the season with PFF pass rush grades above 63.0 and run defense grades above 70.0. 

Things are far less certain on the interior. Three different defensive tackles played at least 500 snaps for New Orleans in 2023, but only one of them (Khalen Saunders) finished with a PFF grade above 48.0. Saunders doesn’t offer much in the pass rush department (14 pressures in 2023), but he’s the best-run defender on the interior defensive line. New Orleans will need 2023 first-round pick Bryan Bresee to take a significant step in his second season. Bresee logged 539 snaps as a rookie and provided good pass-rushing acumen (31 pressures and 4.5 sacks) but finished with a paltry 30.1 run-defense grade.

The only major addition the Saints made this offseason was signing Chase Young to a free-agent deal. Young will be coming off a neck surgery this offseason but was effective as a pass rusher last season splitting time between Washington and San Francisco. He had 7.5 sacks during the 2023 season and completed his fourth straight season with a PFF grade above 74.0. 

The Saints will have a good trio of pass rushers, but desperately need Bresee to develop into a well-rounded play on the interior. Without that, it is hard to see this unit climbing into the top 15. 

23. Washington Commanders (4-3)

DE: Dorance Armstrong, 3T: Daron Payne, 1T: Jonathan Allen, DE: Clelin Ferrell

The Commanders jettisoned their top-edge rushers in 2023, deciding to build around their disruptive defensive tackle duo instead. 2024 will give us our first true chance to see if that is a process that can work in a league that is so skewed toward passing. 

The combination of Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen struggled (relative to their standards) last season. Both players set career lows in PFF grade (59.7 for Allen, 61.2 for Payne). The tandem combined to produce 84 pressures and 9.5 sacks despite fighting through constant double teams after the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Neither Allen nor Payne provides a significant presence in the run game, but both are above-average pass rushers for their position.

The Commanders prioritized edge rushers on the free agent market, signing former Cowboy Dorance Armstrong and former 49er Clelin Ferrell. Armstrong spent his six-year career with the Cowboys in a rotational role, never logging more than 550 snaps. However, he’s emerged as a reliable two-way player with upside as a pass rusher given his three straight seasons with at least 34 pressures and 5 sacks. 

Similarly, Ferrell joins the Commanders fresh off a rotational role with the 49ers. Ferrell hasn’t played over 500 snaps since his rookie season with the Raiders but has found a way to carve out a role as a solid edge rusher in a specialized role. He has at least 23 pressures in four of five professional seasons despite logging over 300 pass-rushing snaps just one time.

The Commanders also added another interior lineman in the second round of the draft, selecting Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton with the 36th pick. Newton was arguably one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the country over the last two seasons and would have been a justified first-round pick. However, foot injuries at Illinois that required surgery may slow his ability to contribute in his first season. He racked up 11 sacks and 65 hurries in his last two seasons in the Big10. 

If Payne and Allen can absorb double teams (while continuing to add interior pressure), this unit can provide an environment for two role players on the edges to have success in one-on-one matchups. If not, then it may be a long season (again) on the Commanders’ defense. 

24. New England Patriots (3-4)

DE: Keion White, NT: Davon Godchaux, DE: Christian Barmore

The Patriots defensive line struggled to get after the quarterback in 2023. The highlight of the defense was 2021 second-round pick Christian Barmore, who has seemingly developed into the disruptive force the Patriots were hoping for when they drafted him. Barmore set career-highs in snaps (750), run defense grade (67.8), pass rush grade (84.9), pressures (49) and sacks (8.5) in his third season. If he can give that production consistently, then he will have to start entering the conversation for one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. 

The Patriots also got a solid season from 2023 second-round pick Keion White. White finished his first season with a 64.8 PFF grade thanks to his ability as a run-stopping defensive end (67.8 grade). He didn’t offer much as a pass rusher (20 pressures on 301 pass rush snaps), but that is a skill he can develop. His evolution into a more well-rounded player would create a nice, young tandem between him and Barmore. 

The biggest weakness on this defense is nose tackle Davon Godchaux. The seven-year veteran had the lowest PFF grade of his career in 2023 (50.2) and generated just seven pressures. His overall grade, run grade and pass rush grade were all below 52.0 last season. He is purely a space eater on the defensive line.

If Barmore can continue his upward trajectory and White can develop in his second year, this is likely a top-20 defensive line. However, the lack of a true presence in the middle of the defensive line will make it difficult for this unit to break into the top 15. 

25. New York Giants (3-4)

DE: Jordan Phillips, NT: Dexter Lawrence, DE: Rakeem Nunez-Roches

Having Dexter Lawrence in the middle of this defensive line is enough to keep the Giants from bottoming out on this list. Lawrence finished 2023 as the Giants’ highest-graded defender (92.9) and had 20 more pressures than the next-closest player on the defense (65). He finished third on the team in sacks (4.5), which is impressive given the fact that he was operating primarily in the A-gap and seeing consistent double teams. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to write home about on this defensive line. Rakeem Nunez-Roches had an unremarkable first season with the Giants, finishing with a 46.3 PFF grade and generating just seven pressures. He also posted the lowest run defense grade of his career (43.8). The Giants also will try to fill the vacancy left behind by Leonard Williams with free agent Jordan Phillips. Phillips played just 391 snaps with Buffalo in 2023 and posted the lowest PFF grade (35.8) and run defense grade (30.0) of his career. 

The Giants would certainly be higher on this list if we could include their outside linebackers, but since we can’t this unit suffers greatly. Still, it is hard to leave them outside of the top 25 based solely on the presence of Dexter Lawrence. 

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)

DE: Logan Hall, NT: Vita Vea, DE: Calijah Kancey

TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 07: Vita Vea (50) of the Buccaneers rushes the passer during the Super Bowl LV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on February 7, 2021 at Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

Similarly to the Giants, the Buccaneers’ defensive line revolves around a disruptive force planted firmly in the middle of the defense. Vita Vea continues to be the stabilizing force on this defensive line. In 2023, Vea played over 600 snaps for the third time in his six-year career. He finished with his third-highest PFF grade (78.5) and had his fourth season with 30 or more pressures. He put together his sixth straight season with a pass rush grade over 69.0 and posted the second-highest sack total (5.5) of his career. 

Flanking Vea are two young, highly drafted defensive ends who will be relied on even more in 2024. 2022 second-year pick Logan Hall saw his PFF grade (54.2), run defense grade (44.1) and pass rush grade (62.0) all rise in his second season, but that was because he wasn’t very good as a rookie. He had the same number of pressures in his second season (17) but had zero sacks. The team got good contributions in the pass rush from 2023 first-round pick Calijah Kancey with 34 pressures (second on the team) and 4.0 sacks, but he was a liability in the run game (29.8 PFF grade). 

There isn’t much depth on the Buccaneer’s defensive line depth chart, so the team will need both Kancey and Hall to develop this offseason. Both players should get advantageous matchups due to the presence of Vita Vea in the middle of the defense, they just need to develop the tools to take advantage of them. 

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)

DE: Arik Armstead, NT: DaVon Hamilton, DE: Roy Robertson-Harris

Jacksonville figures to run multiple defensive fronts that will utilize the versatile pieces in their front seven. However, their “base” defense will likely be a three-down front, so that is how we will assess them. 

Veteran defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris is a solid defensive end/5-tech who can generate pressure thanks to his motor and plays a factor in stopping the run. Over his last three seasons with the Jaguars, he’s had at least 30 pressures (with a career-high 42 in 2023) and 3.0 sacks per season. 

The big addition on this defensive line was former 49er Arik Armstead. The veteran defensive lineman has struggled with injuries the past two seasons but has been highly productive when he’s on the field. He played just 509 snaps in 2023, racking up 42 pressures and 5.0 sacks. He’s taken a bit of a step back in the run game but is still capable of dominating play for stretches. 

Injuries limited DaVon Hamilton to just 190 snaps in 2023, leading to career lows in PFF grade (36.2) and pressures (4). Jacksonville has to be hoping that Hamilton can repeat his play from 2022 (74.9 PFF grade on 610 snaps) to fortify the middle of their defensive line. The Jaguars hedged their bets on that by selecting Maason Smith in the second round of the 2024 NFL draft. Smith, an LSU product, struggled with injuries in college but has freakish size. 

There are serious injury concerns on this defensive line. If they stay healthy, they can easily fall between the top 15 or 20 units in the league. But if the injury bug continues to hit, then they could struggle mightily.

28. Miami Dolphins (3-4)

DE: Zach Sieler, NT: Teair Tart, DE: Da’Shawn Hand

The Dolphins’ cap woes cost them dearly on the defensive line. They were forced to watch veteran defensive tackle Christian Wilkins leave in free agency, which left them scrambling for discount options to try and replicate his production.

Zach Sieler has continued to maintain his play as he earns a bigger role on Sundays. Seiler posted his second straight season with 800-plus snaps played. He set career-highs in pressures (56) and sacks (10.0) in his fourth season with Miami. The veteran now has five straight seasons with at least a 68.0 PFF grade, 63.0 run defense grade and 57.0 pass rush grade. 

Miami seems content finding out if six-year veteran Da’Shawn Hand’s strong play can extrapolate beyond a reduced role. Hand played just 199 snaps for the Dolphins last season but finished with an 85.0 PFF grade and generated nine pressures on 112 pass-rush snaps. He hasn’t played more than 400 snaps since his rookie season, but he’s first in line to try and replace Wilkins. 

The Dolphins will also hope that Teair Tart can return to his 2022 form after an injury-plagued 2023. In that season, he posted his only year with a PFF grade above 60.0 and generated a career-high in pressures (26) and sacks (1.5). 

There isn’t much depth behind this starting group. Miami is hoping veterans Jonathan Harris, Benito Jones and Neville Gallimore can provide experienced depth. However, none of these have historically been good starting options, so it could be a long season in the middle of the Dolphins’ defense. 

29. Carolina Panthers (3-4)

DE: Derrick Brown, NT: Shy Tuttle, DE: A’Shawn Robinson

CHARLOTTE, NC – NOVEMBER 05:Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown (95) during a NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers on November 5, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire)

Derrick Brown is the singular reason why this defensive line creeps its way into the top 30. Brown set career-highs in snaps played (938), PFF grade (90.1), run defense grade (90.0) and pass rush (78.1). That led him to produce 41 pressures and 2.0 sacks. Brown has never been great at converting pressures to sacks, but he consistently finds his way in the backfield and is one of the better run-defending 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

Outside of Brown, there isn’t much to talk about on this defensive line. Shy Tuttle set career lows in PFF grade (52.9), run defense grade (52.8) and pressures (2) as the nose tackle for the Panthers in 2023. His PFF grade has decreased in four straight seasons. Likewise, the Panthers acquired former Giant A’Shawn Robinson in free agency. Robinson is a solid veteran who is more impactful as a run defender than in the passing game. At the very least, he can eat space and keep the linebackers free to make plays in the run game. 

This is not a very good unit, but Brown is so talented that it feels wrong to rank them lower on this list. Carolina will need to hope he can stay healthy if their defense has any chance of rebounding in 2024. 

30. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)

DE: Justin Jones, NT: Bilal Nichols, DE: Darius Robinson

The Cardinals were underwhelmed with the returns on their defensive line in 2023, leading them to roll into 2024 with three new starters. The problem is that none of these have been able to show that they are capable of producing in a full-time role. 

Justin Jones is coming off two consecutive seasons in Chicago that saw him play over 700 defensive snaps. Unfortunately, that play yielded two seasons with a sub-50 PFF grade and 63 pressures. As a positive, he did convert 7.5 sacks out of those pressures. 

Similarly, Bilal Nichols struggled in a full-time role with the Raiders over the last two seasons. The veteran defensive tackle has four straight seasons with 600+ snaps played, but his PFF grade has gone down in each of the last four seasons. During his time with Las Vegas, he posted consecutive PFF grades below 56.0 and run defense grades under 50.0. Over the last four years, he’s generated 111 pressures and 11.0 sacks. 

The wild card in this group is 2024 first-round pick Darius Robinson. Robinson was a tweener in college, playing one season as an edge rusher and another as an interior defensive lineman. He will likely stay on the defensive line in the NFL due to his size (6-foot-5, 290 pounds) and play strength. He has excellent versatility and produced 12.0 sacks over his last two seasons, but he may get swallowed up by bigger offensive linemen at the NFL level.

Arizona is gambling that they can get good production from players who haven’t produced at a high level in full-time roles. That is a dangerous gamble to make. 

31. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)

DE: Jonathan Bullard, NT: Harrison Phillips, DE: Jerry Tillery

There isn’t much to celebrate on the Vikings’ defensive line. Two starters return from a 2023 defense that had just one player (outside linebacker Danielle Hunter) generate more than 40 pressures. The combination of Jonathan Bullard and Harrison Phillips each played 17 games but amassed a combined 30 pressures and 5.0 sacks. As a positive, Harrison Phillips did finish the season with a run defense grade above 65.0 according to PFF.

The defense wasn’t made much better with the addition of veteran DL Jerry Tillery. The five-year veteran is coming off a career-best season in terms of PFF grade (67.7), run defense (63.1) and pass rush grade (67.5). Time will tell if that grade is an anomaly or the new normal considering he never surpassed a 50.0 PFF grade in any of his previous four seasons. 

The Vikings have a lot of inexperienced depth behind a very average starting defensive line. It’s hard to see them breaking into the top 25 units given the talent they have on their roster. 

32. Los Angeles Chargers (3-4)

DE: Poona Ford, NT: Otito Ogbonnia, DE: Morgan Fox

The Chargers have excellent pass rushers surrounding a very underwhelming defensive line. Los Angeles’ three projected starters combined to generate just six sacks and 54 pressures in 2023. 

The “highlight” of this defensive unit is free agent addition Poona Ford. Ford played just 151 snaps in 2023 and paced this group in pass rush (71.5), run defense (47.6) and overall grade (59.3). That just isn’t very good. 

Morgan Fox is a gritty, high-motor player with limited athleticism. That is great if he’s the third-best lineman on a defense. Unfortunately, he may just be the best the Chargers have to offer. 

There just isn’t much to celebrate with this position grouping. 

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