NFL Position Rankings: Evaluating League’s Best Defensive Lines

NESN.com is breaking down the NFL’s best positional groupings on both sides of the football, ranking teams in order of worst to first.

Today, we rank the best defensive lines in the NFL.

Of note, this is not a ranking of the best individual lineman, as teams were evaluated on the overall position, including both interior linemen and defensive ends. The top six (for 3-4 defense) or eight (for 4-3 defense) linemen on each team’s depth chart, courtesy of ESPN, were included.

Position Key:
DE = Defensive ends; DT = Defensive Tackles (in 4-3); NT = Nose Tackles (in 3-4).

32. Arizona Cardinals: (DEs Zach Allen, Corey Peters, Michael Dogbe, Jonathan Bullard; NTs Jordan Phillips, Leki Fotu)
Phillips is coming off a career year in Buffalo with 9.5 sacks, but the Cardinals don’t have much else to offer on the defensive line.

31. New York Jets: (DEs Henry Anderson, Quinnen Williams, Nathan Shepherd, John Franklin-Myers; NTs Steve McLendon, Folorunso Fatukasi)
Williams was the No. 3 pick in 2019 and will benefit from a second, and hopefully full, season in New York.

30. Miami Dolphins: (DEs Avery Moss, Christian Wilkins, Zach Sieler, Jonathan Ledbetter; NTs Davon Godchaux, Raekwon Davis)
Wilkins is a 2019 first-round pick who played 16 games, and he’ll look to further develop in his second year under head coach Brian Flores.

29. Tennessee Titans: (DEs Jeffrey Simmons, Isaiah Mack, Matt Dickerson, Jack Crawford; NT DaQuan Jones)
Simmons was the No. 19 pick in 2019, and Tennessee hopes he can elevate to his potential after just nine games (2.0 sacks) last season.

28. Green Bay Packers: (DEs Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Jonathan Garvin, Kingsley Keke; NTs Kenny Clark, Montravius Adams)
Clark continues to come into his own, entering his fifth season after a Pro Bowl year in 2019.

27. New York Giants: (DEs Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Austin Johnson, B.J. Hill; NTs Dalvin Tomlinson, Chris Slayton)
The Giants boast the 2019 first-rounder Lawrence and 2015 first-rounder Williams, whom they traded for in the middle of last season and franchise-tagged this offseason.

26. Detroit Lions: (DEs Romeo Okware, Trey Flowers, Julian Okwara, Jonathan Wynn; DTs Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Frank Herron, John Atkins)
A pair of ex-Patriots in Flowers (7.0 sacks in 2019) and the recently signed Shelton — coming off a breakout year in New England — will help the group in Detroit.

25. Houston Texans: (DEs J.J. Watt, Charles Omenihu, Angelo Blackson, Carlos Watkins; NTs Brandon Dunn, Ross Blacklock)
Watt missed eight more games in 2019, the third time in four years he’s been limited due to injury. He’ll look to regain his All-Pro form, as he posted 16.0 sacks in 2018.

24. Chicago Bears: (DEs Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban; NTs Eddie Goldman, John Jenkins)
The Bears certainly hope Hicks can return to his 2018 Pro Bowl production after injury limited his 2019 season to five games.

More NFL: Evaluating League’s Best Running Back Groups

23. Atlanta Falcons: (DEs Takkarist McKinley, Allen Bailey, Charles Harris, Steven Means; DTs Grady Jarrett, Tyler Davison)
Jarrett is coming off a 2019 season in which he earned second-team All-Pro honors after 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. McKinley, a 2017 first-rounder, could be a nice piece, too.

22. Carolina Panthers: (DEs Stephen Weatherly, Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes; DTs Kawann Short, Derrick Brown, Woodrow Hamilton, Bravvion Roy)
The Panthers lost four of their top five sack leaders from 2019, leaving Burns (7.5 sacks in 16 games) while Short will look to regain his 2018 Pro Bowl form after playing just two games last season.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (DEs Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Jakeem Nunez-Rochers, Jeremiah Ledbetter; NTs Vita Vea, Khalil Davis)
Suh may be far removed from his All-Pro days, but he still was productive (16 starts) in his first year with the Bucs. And with Vea among the better interior lineman, Tampa should have a solid complement up front.

20. Seattle Seahawks: (DEs Bruce Irvin, Benson Mayowa, L.J. Collier, Darrell Taylor; DTs Jarran Reed, Poona Ford, Demarcus Christmas, Bryan Mone)
Reed was limited to 10 games in 2019, after a productive 2018 season (10.5 sacks). He’s joined by Irvin (8.5 sacks) and Mayowa (7.0 sacks), who are each coming off productive seasons.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars: (DEs Josh Allen, Yannick Ngakoue, Aaron Lynch, K’Lavon Chaisson; DTs Al Woods, Taven Bryan, Abry Jones, Rodney Gunter)
Chances are that Ngakoue, the Jaguars’ best defensive end, likely won’t be on the roster when the 2020 season gets underway. But with Allen (10.5 sacks in 2019) and the first-rounder Chaisson, the Jags could be in worse shape.

18. New England Patriots: (DEs Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Courtney Wallace, Nick Thurman; NTs Beau Allen, Adam Butler)
The Patriots lost defensive tackle Danny Shelton in free agency, but the addition of Allen could work well with Guy and Butler, who each impressed in New England’s 3-4 defense last year.

More NFL: Patriots’ Defensive Line Will Feature Wide-Open Roster Battle 

17. Buffalo Bills: (DEs Trent Murphy, Jerry Hughes, AJ Epenesa, Mario Addison; DTs Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson)
Both Murphy and Hughes had productive 2019s while the second-rounder Epenesa could help the edge rush leaving the 2019 first-rounder Oliver to make plays up the middle.

16. Dallas Cowboys: (DEs Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory, Aldon Smith; DT Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill)
The Cowboys bolstered their group up front with the additions of McCoy, Poe and formerly suspended Gregory and Smith. Those pieces, along with dominant end Lawrence have the potential to be a very good group up front.

15. Cleveland Browns: (DEs Myles Garrett, Oliver Vernon, Adrian Clayborn, Chad Thomas; DTs Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Andrew Billings, Jordan Elliot)
Garrett (23.5 sacks last two seasons) and Vernon could make a formidable punch on the outside while Richardson has shown he can be productive up the middle.

14. Denver Broncos: (DEs Jurrell Casey, Shelby Harris, DeMarcus Walker, McTelvin Agim; NTs Mike Purcell, Kyle Peko)
The Broncos added five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey, who comes from Tennessee where he has started 14 games or more each of the last nine years. Harris is coming off the best year of his career (6.0 sacks) in 2019, too.

13. Las Vegas Raiders: (DEs Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Arden Key; DTs Maliek Collins, Jonathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall)
The Raiders have a young-but-talented tandem on the outside with Ferrell, the No. 4 pick in 2019, and Crosby (10 sacks in 10 starts). Collins joins Las Vegas after four years (55 starts) in Dallas.

12. Minnesota Vikings: (DEs Danielle Hunter; Ifeadi Odenigbo, Eddie Yarbrough, Anthony Zettel; DTs Michael Pierce, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes)
Hunter has posted monster numbers each of the last two years, recording 14.5 sacks in each en route to two Pro Bowls. But with the Vikings losing longtime defensive tackle Linval Joseph, their group up front could take a step back.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: (DEs Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Tim Ward Tanoh Kpassagnon; DTs Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Khalen Saunders, Mike Pennel)
Jones, a 2019 Pro Bowler after posting 9.0 sacks in 21 starts, and Clark (8.0 sacks, 12 tackles for loss) provide a nice combination for the Chiefs.

More NFL: Evaluating League’s Best Cornerback Groups

10. Cincinnati Bengals: (DEs Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, Khalid Kareem, Carl Lawson; DTs D.J. Reader, Geno Atkins, Josh Tupou, Ryan Glasgow)
The Bengals have three great pieces with the tackles Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler, and Reader, while Dunlap (17.0 sacks in last two seasons) has dominated on the end.

9. Indianapolis Colts: (DEs Justin Houston, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Ben Banogu, Kemoko Turay; DTs DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, Tyquan Lewis)
The Colts traded a first-round pick for Buckner, a 2019 second-team All-Pro, this offseason. Houston (11 sacks, 13 tackles for loss) found his old self during his first season in Indy, too.

8. Philadelphia Eagles: (DEs Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Genard Avery; DTs Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Anthony Rush, Malik Jackson)
Cox, a Pro Bowler each of the last five seasons, is one of the league’s best defensive tackles while Graham (8.5 sacks in 16 starts) provides the Eagles with a strong inside-outside complement.

7. New Orleans Saints: (DEs Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Trey Hendrickson, Zack Baun; DTs Sheldon Rankins, Malcom Brown, David Onyemata, Mario Edwards Jr.)
Jordan (15.5 sacks in 2019) was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and paired along with 2018 first-rounder Davenport (6.0 sacks in 13 starts), New Orleans has the potential to cause some havoc up front for the second year in a row.

6. Los Angeles Rams: (DEs Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Morgan Fox, Eric Banks; NTs A’Shawn Robinson, Greg Gaines)
Donald is arguably the most dominant player in the league. The five-time All-Pro is hands down the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL, following up a 20-sack season in 2018 with another 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2019. He’s complemented by a good player on the opposite side in Brockers.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers: (DEs Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu; NTs Dan McCullers, Lavon Hooks)
Perhaps Pittsburgh’s best pass rusher, T.J. Watt, isn’t included as a lineman, but with fellow first-team All-Pro Hayward (9.0 sacks, 11 tackles for loss in 2019) and Tuitt returning from injury after six games in 2019, it should still be a very good group on the line.

4. Baltimore Ravens: (DEs Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell, Justin Maduike, Patrick Richard, DTs Brandon Williams, Daylon Mack)
Baltimore made some great moves to bolster the defensive line this offseason adding Wolfe (from Denver) and Campbell (from Jacksonville). Williams gives the Ravens three legit players up front while Maduike adds even more depth and versatility.

3. Los Angeles Chargers: (DEs Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram III, Isaac Rochell, Jessie Lemonier; DTs Linval Joseph, Justin Jones, Damion Square, PJ Johnson)
Bosa and Ingram are arguably the best pair of defensive ends on one team, and with the Chargers adding the two-time Pro Bowler Joseph up the middle, it’s an exceptional group.

2. San Francisco 49ers: (DEs Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair III, Dee Ford; DTs Javon Kinlaw, Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones, Kentavius Street)
The 49ers caused havoc up front in 2019 (48 sacks), getting after the quarterback and earring the No. 1 ranked passing defense. They could miss DeForest Buckner, who they traded for a first-round pick, but they’re still four-deep on the end and have a pair of tackles in the first-rounder Kinlaw and Thomas.

1. Washington Redskins: (DEs Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams; DTs Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Caleb Brantley)
The Redskins were very deep on the line and then they added Young, the No. 2 overall pick, to a group that brings back their top six sack leaders (46 sacks) from in 2019. Young’s addition gives the Redskins three talented defensive ends with him, Kerrigan and Sweat, a 2019 first-rounder. Washington also bolsters three very good tackles with Allen, Payne and Ioannidis.

More NFL: Evaluating League’s Best Safety Groups

Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images

Picked For You