Now that the NFL Draft is over and the lion’s share of free agency is done, it's time to look ahead to the 2022 NFL season. There are some free agents left on the market, but most team rosters are set for training camp.
Today we are focusing on the defensive line. This has been the focus of many teams' offseason team-building strategy, as getting after the quarterback seems to get more important every year. We’ll be ranking the defensive lines around the league 1-32.
Note: Some teams run a 3-4 defensive front, meaning their edge rushers will be slated as linebackers. In our rankings, we did not include outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense. We will be releasing a linebackers ranking later this offseason.
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The 49ers breed defensive linemen. If I were a defensive lineman free agent and looking to resurrect your career, I would play for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek in San Francisco. He has done wonders for this team.
This is the best defensive line unit in the NFL, and it shouldn't even be an argument. They were without Dee Ford for most of last year, and he should be fully healthy for Week 1. Javon Kinlaw has the potential to take a step forward this year, and Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa are stars. This will be a scary unit in 2022.
The Rams' defense took over the Super Bowl, as they sacked Joe Burrow seven times. Aaron Donald had two of those sacks, the last one being on the Bengals' final possession, which ultimately iced the Rams' game.
There have been some changes to this group, but as long as Donald is still on the roster, the Rams will have a top-five defensive line in the NFL. A'Shawn Robinson has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, creating one lethal duo of him and Donald.
The Saints' defense carried the team in 2021. A big part of that was the play of their defensive line. They finished fourth in rushing yards allowed and eighth in sacks. Cameron Jordan played out of his mind last year and should continue to lead this defense in 2022.
The Saints have a couple of young edge rushers that are very interesting. Marcus Davenport is only 25 years old and coming off a nine-sack season. I am expecting him to take another leap forward in 2022. Payton Turner only played in five games last season, but he has all the tools to turn into a solid pass rusher in the NFL. There is a reason why the Saints took him in the first round.
Matt Eberflus had the Colts as a top-10 defense in the league in all four years of his tenure as defensive coordinator. His departure could be a problem, but he is being replaced by Gus Bradley, an established defensive mind in this league.
This is a scary good unit. Kwity Paye is set to take a big leap forward in year two, and the Colts acquired Yannick Ngakoue, who is still only 27 years old. DeForest Buckner is one of the best defensive linemen in the league, and Grover Stewart had a solid season for the Colts last year. This unit has the potential to compete with the 49ers for the best defensive line in football.
The Eagles' defensive line was a bit of a disappointment in 2021. The sack numbers were not there, as they finished 31st in sacks, only ahead of the Atlanta Falcons. The season-ending injury to Brandon Graham in Week 2 forced Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan to get more playing time, and they combined for only two sacks.
The 2022 defensive front is going to look a lot different. The Eagles signed Haason Reddick to a big deal in free agency and drafted Jordan Davis with the 13th overall pick. Graham will be returning fully healthy, and rising star Josh Sweat should take another step in his development. There is a lot of talent on this defensive line, and their sack numbers last year did not match their pressure statistics. The Eagles finished fourth in pass rush win rate last season.
Washington's defensive line was the most disappointing positional unit in the NFL last year. They finished in the middle of the pack in sacks, which is disappointing considering this group's talent. Chase Young went down with a season-ending injury Week 10, but he only has 1.5 sacks in the previous nine games.
It is fair to think this unit will bounce back in 2022. Young will be back fully healthy for Week 1, and depth pieces like James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill should take a jump as they are both under 25 years old. This unit still has a ton of upside and should be better in 2022.
The Packers run a 3-4 defense under Joe Barry. In Barry's first season, the Packers' defense took a step forward from 2020 and held the 49ers to only 13 points in the Divisional Round. It was not the defense's fault they didn't make it to the Conference Championship.
In the first round, the Packers added Devonte Wyatt to an already stacked defensive line. Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry were two of the best defensive tackles in the league last season. This list does not include Rashan Gary, as he plays an outside linebacker role on this defense, but he has emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the league.
The Panthers' defense was underrated in 2021. Yes, the team struggled, but the offense holds the majority of the blame. The Panthers' defense finished 15th in DVOA and was middle of the pack in sacks. The defensive line did a good job getting pressure as they finished second in pass rush win rate.
This unit has a ton of upside heading into 2022. Brian Burns is a star in the making, and Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos have the potential to break out. There is not a ton of depth, but watch out if the starters stay healthy.
A defensive line with Myles Garrett on the roster will be a top-10 unit, but there are some question marks.
Taven Bryan will start in the interior, and he has been a rotational guy in Jacksonville over the last four years. Jordan Elliott has some upside and is only 24 years old, but he has to take a big step forward. They drafted Perrion Winfrey, a solid prospect, but it is unfair to expect a lot of him in year one. Garrett and Chase Winovich will carry this unit.
Going into 2021, I would have ranked this unit a lot lower. But after a spectacular 2021 season, it isn’t crazy to think they can replicate their 2021 success.
Trey Hendrickson has emerged as a star in this league. He has 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons and is only 27 years old. Sam Hubbard finished first in run stop win rate last season and will be a top run defender in the league in 2022. D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill are a solid interior defender duo and will complement the outside guys nicely.
The Steelers run a 3-4 defense, so this list doesn’t include T.J. Watt. But even without him, this is a solid group.
Stephon Tuitt missed last season but is expected to be fully healthy for Week 1. His replacement last year was Chris Wormley, who was PFFs 28th-ranked interior defender. Tyson Alualu is the most significant question mark as he is 34 years old and coming off a broken ankle. I would expect a healthy rotation of Alualu and Montravius Adams at nose tackle. Even at his age, Cameron Heyward is still one of the best interior defenders in the league.
The Titans run a 3-4 defense, so Bud Dupree and Harold Landry are left off the list. Even without those guys, this is a talented unit.
Denico Autry had the best year of his career at 31 years old, racking up nine sacks, and was a huge reason why Landry had a career year. Jeffery Simmons has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in football and will only get better as he is 24 years old. Tart has had some issues staying healthy but has been very productive when available.
The Raiders' pass rush did an excellent job in the wild card round against Joe Burrow, and they decided to add some reinforcements this offseason.
They signed Bilal Nichols to one of the better deals in free agency, and he is one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league. Chandler Jones was their big acquisition on defense. He had another double-digit sack season, his sixth in the last seven seasons. He and Maxx Crosby make one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Mike Macdonald will replace Wink Martindale as defensive coordinator in Baltimore. He was the defensive coordinator of the Michigan Wolverines in 2021 and worked as an assistant in Baltimore from 2018 to 2020. He will continue to run a 3-4 defense in Baltimore.
Justin Madubuike is one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. He opens up the line for everyone else and should continue to get better. Michael Pierce and Calais Campbell will mesh well as their games nicely complement each other. This is a strong unit.
GM Joe Douglas is from the Eagles tree, so we know he likes to build in the trenches. That's how he won a Super Bowl in 2017. He has brought that philosophy to New York.
Carl Lawson is returning from a torn Achilles and is still only 26 years old. He should be able to bounce back nicely. Sheldon Rankins and Quinnen Williams are a solid duo in the interior, and they added Jermaine Johnson late in the first round. This is the best defensive line the Jets have had in a very long time.
The Buccaneers play a 3-4 defense under Todd Bowles, so most of their pass rush productivity will come from outside linebackers in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaquil Barrett. The Buccaneers' defensive line is focused on stopping the run and opening up gaps for their linebackers to get after the quarterback.
Having said that, the Buccaneers' defensive line has some star power. Rakeem Nunez-Roches was one of the best run defenders in the league last year, and Vita Vea was a wrecking ball in the interior. Logan Hall is an exciting prospect who has some pass-rush ability. This is a solid unit.
The Bills' issue in the Divisional Round was their lack of pressure on Patrick Mahomes. They went into this offseason with holes at cornerback and edge rusher, and they did an excellent job of filling both.
The Bills signed Von Miller to a massive contract in free agency and should provide instant juice to this defensive front. Even at 33 years old, he can still get it done, as he had two sacks in the Super Bowl. The Bills have a ton of youth at the position as well. If Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham can take steps forward, this has the potential to be a strong unit.
Vic Fangio is out as head coach, but the Broncos will continue to run a 3-4 defense. This leaves Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory off the list. Ejiro Evero steps in as defensive coordinator after spending his last four years in Los Angeles. He will bring a very similar scheme to what Fangio ran the previous three years.
D.J. Jones was a massive pickup for this defense. He had a great season in San Francisco and should provide some juice for the interior of this unit. This is the definition of an average group.
Last season, the Lions only had 30 sacks, which ranked 29th in the league. Head coach Dan Campbell wants to play physically and win in the trenches, so I know their lack of sacks in 2021 has been bugging him this offseason.
This should be a much-improved unit in 2022. Romeo Okwara only played in four games last year and had 10 sacks in 2021. They selected Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick, and he can bring instant production. Alim McNeill is an exciting defensive tackle prospect and will be one of the better run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league in 2022. Watch out for the Lions' defensive front this season.
This is the most "boom or bust" defensive line in the NFL. There is a ton to like here, but there is also a lot of uncertainty.
George Karlaftis was taken with the 30th overall pick of April’s draft and adds a physical element to the edge of the defense. Chris Jones is arguably the best interior defender not named Aaron Donald, and Frank Clark has the tools to bounce back to his 2018 form. Having said that, Karlaftis is a rookie, and Clark hasn't had double-digit sacks in his three-year tenure in Kansas City. This could be an underwhelming group if those two guys don't pop.
Bill Belichick runs a bunch of different defensive fronts and likes to have a deep defensive line rotation.
The Patriots have some solid players upfront. Deatrich Wise has turned into someone Belichick can trust. He's played in 68 of 71 games over the last five years and has anchored the defensive line over that stretch. Christian Barmore will be entering his second season and have a more significant role in the defense and was picked 38th overall in 2020. They also have Matt Judon, but he plays an outside linebacker role.
The Chargers run a 3-4 defense, leaving Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack out of the picture. When our linebacker rankings are published, I'm sure the Chargers will be high on the list.
Jerry Tillery had 4.5 sacks last season and did an excellent job of opening up gaps for the linebackers. They brought in Sebastian Joseph-Day from the Rams, one of the most underrated signings in free agency. He was pivotal to Aaron Donald's success in Los Angeles.
The Houston Texans are in a state of transition, so there is a lack of talent across the board. Lovie Smith did an excellent job with the talent he had, which ultimately got him the head coaching job.
Jonathan Greenard is the best young player on the Texans roster. He had eight sacks last season and is only 24 years old. He is a potential star in the making. They also signed Rasheem Green from Seattle, who had 6.5 sacks and is only 24 years old. This unit has some upside, but maybe 2023 is where they take off.
The Dolphins run a 3-4 defense under Brian Flores and get most of their pass rush from outside linebackers. The Dolphins surprisingly finished sixth in sacks last season and had the second-highest blitz frequency in the NFL.
With Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips as pass rushers, this unit has a ton of upside for the 2022 season. Phillips had 8.5 sacks as a rookie, and a big reason for that was the play of the front three. They did a tremendous job of opening up gaps for the linebackers.
The New York Giants finished 21st in sacks last year, which isn't terrible, but the sack numbers don't tell the whole story. They struggled to pressure the quarterback, as they finished 30th in pass rush win rate.
Adding Kayvon Thibodeaux into the lineup should inject much-needed juice into this starting front four. Leonard Williams had 11.5 sacks in 2020 and will get more one-on-one looks with Thibodeaux in the lineup. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is an expert at blitzing and should add more stunts to the defensive line front. This is an underrated positional unit heading into 2022.
Robert Quinn was the best player on the Bears last season and one of the best defensive players in the league. He finished with 18.5 sacks and was one of the few bright spots for the Bears in 2021.
The Bears are banking on Quinn to replicate his success in 2022. They did not make any upgrades across the defensive line. Trevis Gipson is only 24 years old and had seven sacks last season and has the potential to take a leap forward. Besides that, this is a mediocre unit at best.
The Dallas Cowboys' front seven carried the team in 2021, as rookie linebacker Micah Parsons exploded out the gate recording 13 sacks. Randy Gregory was the star on the defensive line and stepped in for Demarcus Lawrence, who only played in seven games.
The Cowboys' defensive line will look different in 2022. After turning his back on the Cowboys last minute, Gregory signed a big deal in Denver. They signed Dante Fowler to a one-year deal, but he only has 7.5 sacks over his previous two years and was the starter in Atlanta. The Cowboys will need players like Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore on the interior to step up and help a weaker edge rusher unit.
This is the definition of a mediocre unit. Fatukasi was signed to a big contract in free agency, so they will be looking for him to be a leader on this defense, but he only has three career sacks. Arden Key should also be involved in the 3 technique rotation. Roy Robertson-Harris was given a big deal last offseason and has failed to live up to the contract.
The Arizona Cardinals' defense has been severely underrated under Vance Joseph. They finished sixth in DVOA last season and eighth in 2020. They had some bad injury luck last season, as J.J. Watt only played in seven games.
The Cardinals play a 3-4 defense under Joseph, which makes the 3 technique defensive ends vital to the defense's success. Watt has had a tough time staying healthy toward the end of his career, so this unit could be in some trouble if he cannot stay healthy again. They will be banking on Rashard Lawrence, a fourth-round pick in 2020, to step up and play a more prominent role in 2022. Zach Allen is a player they like in Arizona, but he only has six career sacks and last year was his first year as a starter. Watt will ultimately dictate the success of this unit.
New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will take over one of the better defensive teams over the last decade. Even in Mike Zimmer's last season, the Vikings finished second in sacks with 51, only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Donatell is a Vic Fangio disciple and will run a 3-4 defense in Minnesota. That excludes Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith from this list. Tomlinson took a step back after an incredible 2021 season, and Harrison Phillips will step in after signing in free agency. This is a very underwhelming unit, but keep in mind their sack productivity will come from the linebackers.
The Seahawks are in transition and will most likely have a top-five pick in next year's draft. They have holes up and down the roster, which doesn't exclude the defensive line.
They signed Quinton Jefferson in free agency, who was with the Seahawks from 2016 to 2019. He had an excellent season in Las Vegas. Uchenna Nwosu was signed in free agency from the Chargers, and Darrell Taylor and Poona Ford will return. Taylor is the guy to watch, as he is only 25 years old and showed some upside last season. Other than Taylor, there is not much to get excited about.
The Falcons run a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dean Pees and had issues getting after the quarterback in 2021. They finished dead last in sacks and were 11 sacks behind the 31st place Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons only had 18 sacks in 2021.
I don't think much will change in 2022. The Falcons lost their sack leader Dante Fowler to the Cowboys and didn't find a worthwhile replacement. Grady Jarrett constantly threatens to get a pass rush from the interior and just signed a nice three-year extension, but he is 29 years old and on the decline. The Falcons' defensive line is one of the worst positional units in the NFL.