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2023 NFL Midseason Defensive Line Rankings

Dallas Cowboys Micah Parsons DeMarcus Lawrence
Oct 23, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we ranked the NFL’s offensive lines. So, this week we’re going over the fellas near and dear to my heart, the defensive line. Again, with half the season past, give or take, this is the perfect time to go through what’s been put on film and adjust our priors, ranking all 32 defensive lines in the NFL. 

Below, you’ll find those rankings with notes on the things that show up on the film that helped slot each team where they are.

Key injuries consider players currently on injured reserve because it is assumed all other injuries reported will see the player return soon. 

2023 Midseason Defensive Line Rankings

1. Dallas Cowboys

Edge Interior
Micah Parsons Jonathan Hankins
DeMarcus Lawrence Osa Odighizuwa
Dorance Armstrong Neville Gallimore
Dante Fowler Jr. Mazi Smith
Sam Williams Chauncey Golston

Key Injuries: None

The first thing that shows up on film when watching the Dallas Cowboys defensive front is how fast they play. They’re relentlessly moving toward the passer or the ball. For a line without the talent they have, that effort can cover up a lot of other issues. However, for a group of the Cowboys’ caliber, it allows them to impose their will.

They can win reps outright with their talent — they have a guy in Micah Parsons who was in the MVP conversation for a bit — but it becomes truly demoralizing for an offense when you think you won a rep and it gets canceled out by uncommon effort. It also doesn’t hurt to have the position versatility the Cowboys have to disguise where pressure is coming from.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Edge Interior
Haason Reddick Fletcher Cox
Josh Sweat Jordan Davis
Brandon Graham Jalen Carter
Nolan Smith Milton Williams
Derek Barnett

Key Injuries: None

The Philadelphia Eagles do a great job of striking and restricting gaps, building a wall of humanity that is tough for any ball carrier to squeeze through. Coaches often talk about earning the right to pass rush by shutting down the run and forcing passing situations, and no team does that better than the Eagles.

Despite not having their bye (it’s this week), they’ve seen the fewest rush attempts run against them in the league, whether due to game situation or lack of desirability to run against such a stout front. Once in those pass situations, you see Philadelphia pin its ears back and rotate fresh rushers through.

Tired of Jalen Carter’s strength? Here’s Jordan Davis. Thought you’d get a break from Haason Reddick’s speed? Here’s Nolan Smith. Ultimately, this is a talented and deep front that gives its opponents all kinds of trouble. 

3. San Francisco 49ers

Edge Interior
Nick Bosa Javon Hargrave
Chase Young Arik Armstead
Clelin Ferrell Javon Kinlaw
Drake Jackson Kevin Givens
Randy Gregory

Key Injuries: None

If you’re looking at sack totals as a proxy for a defensive line’s effectiveness, the San Francisco 49ers you’d likely be disappointed in the 49ers, given their talent. However, the eye in the sky doesn’t lie, and when you get the video rolling, you can see them putting their fingerprints all over the game.

You see it consistently in the run game — they reset the line of scrimmage, replace the offensive line’s heel line pre-snap and are disruptive in the backfield. On pass plays, even when the 49ers aren’t hitting home, they are moving the quarterback off of his spot and forcing him to adjust to make a play.

The front office got Nick Bosa some friends, adding Chase Young and Randy Gregory midseason, giving San Francisco elite depth at edge. This allows for some really interesting sub-packages when they can force obvious passing situations. Some have forgotten how good this group is because of the team’s losing streak, but this front is still capable of turning a game on its head.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

Edge Interior
T.J. Watt Cameron Heyward
Alex Highsmith Larry Ogunjobi
Markus Golden DeMarvin Leal
Nick Herbig Montravius Adams
Keeanu Benton
Armon Watts

Key Injuries: None

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line is one that you rarely see moving backward, works well off each other with movement, and does a good job of using their hands to get off of blocks and finish the play. They’ve been put behind the eight ball plenty of times, be it when their offense is stuck in the mud or when their secondary is a bit leaky, and through it, they play to their standard.

While T.J. Watt has taken over the mantle of the best player along the Pittsburgh defensive line, the Steelers have done this without 13-year vet and multiple All-Pro Cameron Heyward, who returned to play just last week after missing the bulk of the season’s first half. As he ramps up, expect to see a unit that has put the team on its back and win games become true nightmare fuel for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators alike. 

5. Cleveland Browns

Edge Interior
Myles Garrett Dalvin Tomlinson
Za’Darius Smith Jordan Elliott
Ogbo Okoronkwo Maurice Hurst II
Alex Wright Shelby Harris

Key Injuries: None

It all starts on the edges for the Cleveland Browns, who have an elite-tier defender in Myles Garrett on one side and Za’Darius Smith, a guy whose motor I’ve never seen run cold in his career, on the other. Smith’s playstyle complements Garrett’s well because that kind of effort will make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to escape the pocket without taking additional depth in the pocket, which puts them right in Garrett’s hunting path.

On the flip side, if Garrett can flush the quarterback from the pocket on the other side, Smith is the type of player to track the quarterback down like a bloodhound. Aside from those two, the group plays aggressively, getting penetration and rarely allowing the offensive line a free run at their linebackers.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

Edge Interior
George Karlaftis Chris Jones
Mike Danna Derrick Nnadi
Charles Omenihu Tershawn Wharton
Malik Herring Matt Dickerson
Felix Anudike-Uzomah

Key Injuries: None

The Kansas City Chiefs defense has been a much bigger part of the team’s success this year than at any other time during the Patrick Mahomes era, and the front is a big reason why. Chris Jones’ gravitational pull helps out his teammates in a big way because if a team leaves him single-blocked, Jones will win that matchup more often than not.

His absorbing (and still occasionally winning) double teams give freedom to the rest of the group, which is something they’ve taken advantage of, consistently generating pressure on the opponent’s quarterback.

It is often supplemented with the blitz, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known to do throughout his career. Still, the result is a defensive front that makes it tough on anybody they face.

7. New York Jets

Edge Interior
Jermaine Johnson Quinnen Williams
John Franklin-Myers Quinton Jefferson
Will McDonald IV Solomon Thomas
Bryce Huff Micheal Clemons
Carl Lawson

Key Injuries: Al Woods

When it comes to the New York Jets, two things stand out: their depth and ability to slant and stunt. While they don’t have an A-tier star, they have a lot of quality depth that can rotate in without much drop-off. That is particularly important given they are in the bottom quartile of the league in time of possession.

With those slants and stunts, though, it just sticks out how well they move laterally while still gaining ground with power. Confusing the opposing offensive line, or at least changing their aiming point, has led to some positive plays by the Jets’ defensive line. 

8. Baltimore Ravens

Edge Interior
Odafe Oweh Justin Madubuike
Jadeveon Clowney Michael Pierce
Kyle Van Noy Broderick Washington
Taivius Robinson Brent Urban
Travis Jones

Key Injuries: Tyus Bowser, David Ojabo

A common saying among defensive linemen is, “Sacks get stacks,” and if this is held to be true, then Pass Rush Guru and new Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach Chuck Smith and his crew are getting paid with a league-leading 35 sacks through Week 9.

Despite leading the league in snaps, I would like to see the pressure more consistent. A significant part of their sack total is coming from them getting the quarterback on the ground on a high percentage of their pressures.

In any case, they have outperformed my expectations coming into the season as their personnel suggested a defensive line that was more equipped to lean towards run defense. They also do a good job of with those big fellas in the middle holding up at the point of attack.

9. Buffalo Bills

Edge Interior
Von Miller Ed Oliver
Greg Rousseau Tim Settle
Leonard Floyd Jordan Phillips
AJ Epenesa Poona Ford
Shaq Lawson Linval Joseph

Key Injuries: DaQuan Jones

The Buffalo Bills defensive line brings it at you in waves, especially from the edge, and they’re only getting better as future Hall of Famer Von Miller ramps up. I am probably a bigger fan of DaQuan Jones than most. I love his violence at the position, and his presence as a bit of a tone-setter is missed.

It is increasingly a passing league, though — even more so when you have an offense that can put up points — and the Bills are a nuisance to opposing passers. 

10. Los Angeles Chargers

Edge Interior
Joey Bosa Sebastian Joseph-Day
Khalil Mack Austin Johnson
Tuli Tuipolotu Nick Williams
Morgan Fox Scott Matlock
Chris Rumph

Key Injuries: None

The Los Angeles Chargers started slow but have turned it on lately. It comes as no surprise that one of the league’s elite edge duos, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, are the impetus of this turnaround. The defense as a whole is still struggling, but pressure makes great quarterbacks good, good quarterbacks average and average quarterbacks bad.

The Chargers have the juice up front to make that kind of a difference for the entire defense, but they’ll need to run hot to do it, given where that defense stands today. 

11. Detroit Lions

Edge Interior
Aidan Hutchinson Alim McNeill
John Cominsky Benito Jones
Charles Harris Isaiah Buggs
Romeo Okwara

Key Injuries: None

Much of what I said about the Detroit Lions last week when looking at their offensive line can be applied to their defensive line. It’s clear when you turn on the tape that what Bard Holmes and Dan Campbell have said about the team they want to be is not lip service.

They bring in guys that fit the organizational DNA, and it shines through. The Lions are a blue collar group that is always active, pressing forward and fighting to get back into the play if they’re out of it. It doesn’t hurt that Aidan Hutchinson is also emerging as a bonafide superstar. 

12. Green Bay Packers

Edge Interior
Rashan Gary Kenny Clark
Preston Smith TJ Slaton
Lukas Van Ness Devontae Wyatt
Kingsley Enagbare Karl Brooks
Colby Wooden

Key Injuries: None

The Green Bay Packers‘ defensive line plays a bruising style of football that plays well on a cold night at Lambeau Field late in the season. At the point of contact, you see the heads of multiple offensive linemen snapping back. There is purpose behind their pads, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there isn’t skill either.

Kenny Clark works well in the phone booth, and Rashan Gary and particularly Preston Smith have the type of repertoire that Lukas Van Ness should learn from. While power is the foundation of who the Packers are, they convert from it well.

13. New Orleans Saints

Edge Interior
Cameron Jordan Khalen Saunders
Carl Granderson Nathan Shepherd
Tanoh Kpassagnon Bryan Bresee
Malcolm Roach

Key Injuries: Payton Turner

The New Orleans Saints play a physical brand of football on defense, and it starts up front, where they consistently reestablish the line of scrimmage. You even see that physicality bleed through to the Saints’ offense, where Khalen Saunders moonlights as a fullback whom opposing defenders want no part of.

When the Saints defenders stick to their day job on defense, guys seem to have a knack for ending up around the ball. In particular, I’m excited about Bryan Bresee’s development. He’s been impressive so far, and his role will surely continue to grow. 

14. Miami Dolphins

Edge Interior
Bradley Chubb Christian Wilkins
Jaelan Phillips Zach Sieler
Andrew Van Ginkel Raekwon Davis
Emmanuel Ogbah Da’Shawn Hand

Key Injuries: None

The Miami Dolphins have some solid pieces on the defensive line, but they don’t quite yet sport a group that will scare most teams. It’s a good group, but they’re missing a true calling card.

There is still time to develop that X-factor, though. To win a title in this sport, you have to get hot at the right time. If that happens, it will be on the backs of ascending talent Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb, who have already started to step up a bit recently. 

15. Seattle Seahawks

Edge Interior
Boye Mafe Leonard Williams
Darrell Taylor Jarran Reed
Frank Clark Dre’Mont Jones
Derrick Hall Mario Edwards Jr.
Cameron Young

Key Injuries: Uchenna Nwosu, Mike Morris

The Seattle Seahawks under Pete Carroll are known for their ultra-competitive approach to practices, which shows up when players finally go against somebody wearing the other uniform. That continues to be the case, as you see a Seattle front that plays fast regardless of its opponent. Sometimes, it is outmatched, which happens. The other guys get paid, too, after all. However, the Seahawks aren’t a team that will have its will break.

The additions of Leonard Williams and Frank Clark bolster the Seahawks’ talent level and experience and will surely decrease the frequency with which they will be outmatched. They flow fast to the ball, and good things happen when you’re around the football. 

16. Tennessee Titans

Edge Interior
Harold Landry Jeffery Simmons
Arden Key Denico Autry
Rashad Weaver Teair Tart
Trevis Gipson Kyle Peko
Naquan Jones

Key Injuries: None

The Tennessee Titans have a defensive line that, at times, looks dominant: fast, physical and imposing. At other times, it looks more passive than you’d like to see. While often assignment sound, the Titans slip out of that “attack” mentality.

Being assignment sound always gives you that chance to win, so that shouldn’t be discounted; it’s frustrating they’re not more dominant because they’re capable of it. 

17. Atlanta Falcons

Edge Interior
Bud Dupree Calais Campbell
Arnold Ebiketie David Onyemata
Lorenzo Carter Zach Harrison
Ta’Quon Graham

Key Injuries: Grady Jarrett

The Atlanta Falcons brought in a handful of veterans who have had varying levels of success in this league, Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree and David Onyemata, to supplement what they had in-house. Largely, that group has been successful this year. However, losing Atlanta mainstay Grady Jarrett to a season-ending ACL injury will hurt.

Still, as you’d expect with a more veteran group, Atlanta has some war daddies — tough guys that can play through the bumps and bruises of an NFL season and just flat-out ball. The Falcons’ defensive line isn’t a flashy unit; it won’t make sexy plays, but it makes the right play. It’s a dependable front that makes the job of everybody behind them easier.

18. Houston Texans

Edge Interior
Will Anderson Jr. Maliek Collins
Jonathan Greenard Sheldon Rankins
Jerry Hughes Khalil Davis
Dylan Horton Kurt Hinish

Key Injuries: Hassan Ridgeway

Even when they get stuck on long drives, it’s tough to find a Houston Texans defensive lineman loafing on the field. Put another way, they bring their best every play. DeMeco Ryans is establishing a new culture in Houston, and if the defensive line is any indication of what he is putting together, a winner is brewing.

The Texans are doing the things that don’t take talent — being where they are supposed to be and putting forth high effort. When you marry that type of identity to the talent, you get something special, and the Texans are well on their way.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars

Edge Interior
Josh Allen Roy Robertson-Harris
Travon Walker Adam Gotsis
K’Lavon Chaisson Folorunso Fatukasi
Dawuane Smoot Angelo Blackson
Jerimiah Ledbetter

Key Injuries: None

The Jacksonville Jaguars are generally steady against the run, where they are supposed to be, and good at limiting the explosives. Against the pass, they go through extended stretches where they aren’t affecting the quarterback.

A big part is that they rely on Josh Allen and, to a lesser extent, Travon Walker to generate pressure. If either of those two are off the field, they struggle to generate pressure. 

20. Cincinnati Bengals

Edge Interior
Trey Hendrickson DJ Reader
Sam Hubbard BJ Hill
Joseph Ossai Zach Carter
Cam Sample Josh Tupou
Myles Murphy

Key Injuries: None

The majority of the rotation for the Cincinnati Bengals remains unchanged since last year. So, the same last year’s problem is showing up again: any time Trey Hendrickson is not on the field, they sorely miss him. Whether it was for entire games like last year or a few snaps, the Bengals aren’t the same without him.

They sorely need somebody else who can generate pressure consistently. That said, even with Hendrickson, the Bengals still have their flaws. Too frequently in the run, the line of scrimmage is re-established in the offense’s favor, and they can struggle to get off of blocks. 

21. New York Giants

Edge Interior
Kayvon Thibodeaux Dexter Lawrence II
Jihad Ward A’Shawn Robinson
Boogie Basham Rakeem Nunez-Roches
DJ Davidson

Key Injuries: Azeez Ojulari

The New York Giants would rank higher if they still had Leonard Williams. There is a lot that hasn’t gone according to plan for the Giants this year, but they did not have to worry about that interior duo of Williams and Dexter LawrenceSince the latter part of the season last year, Lawrence’s play has put him in the elite tier of interior defenders.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, while not at the same level as Lawrence, has also been productive in spurts. The biggest problem with the Giants is their consistency in playing as a unit. Too often, one guy isn’t where he needs to be, and that allows an escape route for the quarterback or a rushing lane for a running back on a play that would otherwise be bottled up. 

22. New England Patriots

Edge Interior
Deatrich Wise Jr. Lawrence Guy Sr.
Anfernee Jennings Davon Godchaux
Josh Uche Christian Barmore
Marte Mapu Sam Roberts
Keion White

Key Injuries: Matthew Judon

The New England Patriots have been solid against the run, stalemating and creating good run-throughs for their linebackers. Still, they’re missing one of the NFL’s most underrated pass rushers, Matthew Judon.

That isn’t to say they haven’t found ways to generate pressure in his absence, but a certain part of is sending extra men into the rush.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Edge Interior
Shaquil Barrett Vita Vea
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka Calijah Kancey
Anthony Nelson Logan Hall
Yaya Diaby Mike Greene
Greg Gaines
William Gholston

Key Injuries: None

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do a solid job against the run, something it feels like we said since Vita Vea arrived. However, they haven’t found a reliable pass rusher this year. Shaquil Barrett was that in recent years, but so far, he hasn’t resumed that role.

The Buccaneers do a solid job of maintaining their rush lanes, making it tough on scrambling quarterbacks to find room, but that move at the top of the rush that gets them free to hit home is elusive. Tampa Bay is a stout front lacking dynamism.  

24. Washington Commanders

Edge Interior
Casey Toohill Jonathan Allen
James Smith-Williams Daron Payne
Efe Obada John Ridgeway
Andre Jones Jr.

Key Injuries: None

Coming into the season, the Washington Commanders were home to one of the better starting defensive line groups in the league. It was a bright spot on a team without much optimism around it from the public.

The trade deadline saw them ship off both starting edge defenders. Now, their depth gets a chance to make an impression ahead of a 2024 offseason where the front office will have to make some decisions about how to address the position. It’s a bit early to say who this new group is one way or the other, but what’s constant is they will be solid up the middle.

25. Los Angeles Rams

Edge Interior
Byron Young Aaron Donald
Michael Hoecht Kobie Turner
Zach VanValkenburg Jonah Williams
Larell Murchison

Key Injuries: Bobby Brown III

Not a ton was expected heading into the season for a roster stripped of much of its supporting talent, but for the Los Angeles Rams, the biggest problem is their consistency outside of Aaron Donald.

On some days, they look like world beaters, and on other days, they look just like that team we expected to start the year. In fact, that can probably be extended to “on some drives” rather than “on some days.” There seems to be a trend of starting games hot and fading as the game continues.

26. Las Vegas Raiders

Edge Interior
Maxx Crosby Jerry Tillery
Malcolm Koonce Bilal Nichols
Tyree Wilson John Jenkins
Adam Butler
Byron Young

Key Injuries: None

There was a different swagger about the Las Vegas Raiders last week after the shakeup in their coaching ranks, but time will tell if that’s a sign of things to come or if the strength of their opponent had something more to do with it.

It’s tough to rank Las Vegas here because it has one of the best cornerstone defensive line pieces in the league in Maxx Crosby. Crosby is supremely talented and always going 100 miles per hour. However, he hasn’t pulled his teammates up to that standard, so the Raiders’ defensive line has struggled to put its stamp on any game this year.

27. Minnesota Vikings

Edge Interior
Danielle Hunter Harrison Phillips
DJ Wonnum Dean Lowry
Patrick Jones II Jonathan Bullard
Khyiris Tonga

Key Injuries: Marcus Davenport

Nobody expected much from the Minnesota Vikings defense this year, and Brian Flores has seemingly gotten the most out of this group. The Vikings utilize blitz or show blitz and drop out, helping to force favorable 1-on-1 situations they can win.

While opposing offenses might need to get in the film room a bit more during Minnesota week, outside of Danielle Hunter, nobody strikes fear into you. 

28. Indianapolis Colts

Edge Interior
Kwity Paye DeForest Buckner
Samson Ebukam Taven Bryan
Tyquan Lewis Adetomiwa Adebawore
Dayo Odeyingbo Eric Johnson II
Jake Martin

Key Injuries: Grover Stewart (Suspended)

The Indianapolis Colts‘ defensive line gets pushed around too often, whether that direction is backward or bumped out of their assigned gap. This creates seams in their defense that leave the Colts vulnerable to explosive plays.

In the passing game, opposing quarterbacks look comfortable more often than they should. Indianapolis seems to feed off the positive emotion of a big play, which is a good thing, but it looks like the opposite is also true, where a play that goes the other way can deflate them.

29. Arizona Cardinals

Edge Interior
Zaven Collins Jonathan Ledbetter
Dennis Gardeck Kevin Strong
Cameron Thomas Leki Fotu
BJ Ojulari Roy Lopez
Dante Stills

Key Injuries: L.J. Collier, Carlos Watkins

Coming into the season, everybody left the Arizona Cardinals for dead, but if the film is your résumé. The Cardinals are out here letting the world know they are not who we thought they were. Nobody gets off the hook with an easy game against Arizona, and while the roster might be lacking upper-echelon talent, they won’t just lay down for anybody.

The Cardinals boast a feisty front that is frankly fun to watch. Additionally, the scheme flexibility you get from having versatile players like Zaven Collins and Dennis Gardeck opens up a bag of possibilities.

30. Chicago Bears

Edge Interior
Montez Sweat Justin Jones
Yannick Ngakoue Andrew Billings
DeMarcus Walker Gervon Dexter Sr.
Rasheem Green Zacch Pickens
Dominique Robinson

Key Injuries: None

There isn’t much consistency for the Chicago Bears defensive line, but there is one constant: opposing passers have had plenty of time to pick apart the secondary. While one might question the roster-building reasoning behind it, given they are much more than one pass rusher away, this is why the Bears went out and got Montez Sweat.

The pressure he will bring to this team will make them a better team today, but just how much of an impact is yet to be seen. 

31. Carolina Panthers

Edge Interior
Brian Burns Derrick Brown
DJ Johnson Shy Tuttle
Amare Barno DeShawn Williams
Nick Thurman
LaBryan Ray

Key Injuries: Justin Houston, Yetur Gross-Matos, Henry Anderson

The Carolina Panthers have some talented defensive linemen on the roster, but they don’t look like they are playing as a team right now. Injuries may play a part in this, as they’re down two edge defenders that would have been significant contributors in Justin Houston and Yetur Gross-Matos.

It’s possible that either of them, particularly Houston’s veteran influence, might help that chemistry. Still, right now, the Panthers look like four individuals going out there trying to make plays rather than working within the system to achieve a better team outcome.

32. Denver Broncos

Edge Interior
Nik Bonitto Zach Allen
Baron Browning Jonathan Harris
Jonathon Cooper DJ Jones
Ronnie Perkins Mike Purcell
Matt Henningson

Key Injuries: None

The Denver Broncos‘ defensive line is much better than at the start of the season. The problem is the baseline from the beginning of this season is so low they still have a ways to go. Too often, the Broncos get glued to blocks, allowing the offense to do what they want to at will.

This problem can also put the second level at risk when offensive linemen get cleaner releases up to those linebackers from combo blocks. It’s been a rough first half for Denver, but if the last few games are any indication, the worst should be behind them.


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