Best Defensive Tackles in the NFL 2023: Jeffery Simmons, Quinnen Williams, and Dexter Lawrence Battle Atop Rankings

Looking for the best defensive tackle in the NFL isn’t as cut and dry as it was even just a year ago. Here are the rankings for the top DTs heading into 2023.

Best Defensive Tackles in the NFL 2023: Jeffery Simmons, Quinnen Williams, and Dexter Lawrence Battle Atop Rankings

There is no question who reigns as the best defensive tackle in the NFL. And until his production and presence on the field dip to a level where his ranking amongst his peers is undeniable, he’ll remain at the top. He’s earned that right.

It isn’t easy for defensive tackles to find consistent success at the NFL level. The position is much harder to assimilate to than many consider. It’s a rarity to see them shine immediately, and even if we see flashes early, they rarely stick around for the long haul.

It’s a much more cerebral position than we often give it credit for. Even true freaks like Quinnen Williams and Dexter Lawrence struggled early in their careers, and while injury slowed him down, Jordan Davis struggled to get going as an all-around difference-maker.

Who’s the Best Defensive Tackle in the NFL?

Aaron Donald is the best defensive tackle in the NFL. The gap isn’t as astronomical as it once was. In fact, Donald has probably relinquished his throne as the best player in the world on the defensive side of the ball.

But while he may not be the best anymore, Donald’s still an absolute menace on the defensive interior. A late-season injury kept him from remaining inside the top 10 in defensive pressures this past season, but Donald finished third in overall pressure rate, meaning he was still lethal on a per-snap basis.

He’s a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro, Hall of Fame 2010s Team, three-time DPOY, and DROY. When we discuss first-ballot Hall of Fame players, Donald is the standard.

Best Defensive Tackles in the NFL 2023: Jeffery Simmons, Quinnen Williams, and Dexter Lawrence Battle Atop Rankings

Defensive Tackle Rankings 2-11

The younger generation surged in 2022, with four of the top 10 still on rookie deals. However, the old guard remains, and the battle for the top is closing as Donald flirts with retirement.

2) Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

Chris Jones is coming for the throne. The Chiefs’ hybrid pass rusher is a menace in any alignment. He finished with 14 more pressures than any other primarily interior rusher (77) and with the highest win rate.

MORE: QB Power Rankings 2023: Patrick Mahomes Sits at the Top, Jalen Hurts Nearly Elite

Jones has been one of the best defensive players in the NFL for a half-decade now. The terrifying thing about him is that he’s still improving, and he’s only 28. Jones is a match made in heaven with Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive mastermind who toys with concepts for half the regular season before really nailing down the defense to the point where they’re above average by Week 17 and the playoff run.

3) Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans

Jeffery Simmons is a rare breed. He’s one of the few defensive tackles able to find production immediately at the NFL level. While he didn’t quite produce at the same level he had in 2021, Simmons still hovered around the top 10 in most statistical categories on the defensive interior.

His 53 pressures ranked seventh in the league, and his 7.5 sacks ranked eighth. Simmons is also one of the best run defenders you’ll find at defensive tackle, despite not being a 330-pound behemoth. He possesses outrageous power in his hands and is an immediate processor.

4) Quinnen Williams, New York Jets

The arrival of Quinnen Williams was immediate. Adam Gase never gave him an introductory press conference, but his smile exuded charisma. But after three seasons with the team, trade rumors and hypotheticals began surfacing among media outlets. Then, 2022 happened.

Williams’ 12 sacks ranked second in the NFL, and his 52 pressures were good for eighth in the league. Along with being a solid run defender as it relates to helping the team on a consistent basis (aka doing his job), Williams was also a playmaker. His 32 stops snuck him into the top 10.

5) Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants

What makes these rookie contract guys so special is the wholeness of their game. None of them are simply run stuffers or pass-rush specialists. They do it all. While Dexter Lawrence isn’t the best among them, he might be the most impressive.

Lawrence was an outrageous athlete leaving Clemson, but he was underdeveloped as a pass rusher and run defender. It took him a while to sharpen his physical skill set into what we see now, but his season was absolutely outrageous.

Lawrence didn’t put up the same kind of sack numbers Jones or Williams did, but he finished second in pressures for the season while also proving himself as one of the more disruptive run defenders in the game.

Doing all of this at 340 pounds is horrifying for offensive linemen and quarterbacks.

6) Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

It physically pained me to put the youngsters ahead of Cameron Heyward. If there were a tiering system associated with this, Jones and Donald would be in Tier 1, and Tier 2 would include the next five players. I wouldn’t argue with anybody who would want to put the veteran at No. 3. All four players are unbelievable.

Death, taxes, and Cam Heyward being near the top of every major statistical category for interior defenders in the NFL. He finished third in pressures, fourth in win rate, and his 10.5 sacks ranked fifth. Although he didn’t have the same usual production, Heyward’s known as one of the best at knocking passes down at the line of scrimmage.

When it comes to savvy veteran prowess, no name in the NFL is more synonymous with that description than Heyward. Although he’s a better athlete than how he tested all those years ago before turning pro, he’s far from a freak. Heyward’s a technical wizard that somehow has shown no signs of slowing down, even as he enters his age-34 season.

7) DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

Nobody is like DeForest Buckner. Nobody in the league has the ability to win high the way he can. It doesn’t make sense as a concept, but the practice is undeniable. Buckner stands at 6-foot-7, making it practically impossible not to weave in Lil’Wayne lyrics into each blurb about the interior pass rusher.

There may be more well-rounded defensive tackles in the NFL today, but none have a more dominant go-to move than Buckner’s arm-over or “swim” technique. His build and slippery stature make him a tough target to nail down for blockers.

Buckner finished fifth in pressures, and his 47 stops ranked second in the entire NFL.

8) Jonathan Allen, Washington Commanders

Speaking of go-to moves, Jonathan Allen is right up there with Buckner. His ability to cross a blocker’s face off the snap and cross-chop to get through their shoulder is as aesthetically pleasing as a pass rush comes.

But Allen’s not just a fitness rusher. He also deploys the “run through your face” tactic to produce pressure. His ability to generate speed to power gives him a three-way go attacking QBs.

Jonathan Allen falls below that second tier of defensive tackles because he doesn’t bring the same all-around game the top guys bring, even if he might be a more dominant pass rusher than a few of them.

Allen ended up finishing lower than teammate Daron Payne in pressures, but Allen’s pressure rate was still higher, and he’s a more consistent run defender than his college and pro teammate. If Allen can continue to show growth as a run defender the way he did this past season, he’ll be among those in Tier 2 by this time next year.

9) Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers

Kenny Clark wasn’t able to reproduce the season he had in 2021, but the Packers’ seemingly talented defense struggled in 2022 as a whole.

Still, Clark finished just outside of the top 10 with 45 pressures. He had more sacks in 2022 than the prior season, but he didn’t have the same overall production as a pass rusher. Nevertheless, his club-and-rip is still a thing of beauty.

Injuries along the front seven didn’t help relieve pressure off the veteran interior defender. But Joe Barry’s defense as a whole struggled in 2022.

10) Christian Wilkins, Miami Dolphins

Christian Wilkins is the class clown. He’s a “Mic’d-Up” legend with a mean split and one of the best personalities in the game. He’s also one of the most ferocious competitors in the league.

And in 2022, the hard work paid off. Wilkins led the league with 55 defensive stops, but his ridiculous effort in making tackles well outside his area of operation is remarkable.

Wilkins has come into his own recently, giving us one of the best individual performances of the season against the Chargers and 49ers in consecutive weeks. He possesses great lateral quickness, but his flexibility gives him an even greater advantage when anchoring against blockers. He’s one of the best pure run defenders in the NFL.

11) D.J. Reader, Cincinnati Bengals

Honestly, 11th feels disrespectful to D.J. Reader, considering the caliber of player he is. And while there is no denying he can make an impact as a rusher, particularly in collapsing the pocket, he doesn’t bring that same pop that someone like Vita Vea does at nearly 350 pounds.

But he’s ahead of Vea for two reasons. First, he is one of, if not the very best, run-defending defensive tackles in the NFL. The mental side of the position is often disregarded when discussing it. It is not just “big guy not move” when defending the run. The mental trigger necessary to process blocking schemes as you’re crashing into opposing 300-pound blockers is an absurd task. But Reader does it, which consistently puts him in the right place at the right time. His athleticism and power also aid in his run-stuffing ability.

Top Defensive Tackles Remaining

It’s crazy to think about just how much talent has been concentrated at the position over the past decade or so. Some of the names that fall outside of the top 10 could have the odd All-Pro caliber season.

12) Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Few figures in the sport are more terrifying than Vita Vea. The natural power Vea has in his lower half allows him to displace blockers with ease when he’s able to use his patented hump move. He’s also quite explosive, particularly for his size.

Vea’s never really molded into a huge difference-maker as a pass rusher, but he continues to collapse interior blockers into the lap of their quarterback with relative consistency with menacing speed to power.

With a four-year, $72 million extension inked last January, Vea is one of the few Buccaneers defenders who will be returning for 2023.
13) Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

Grady Jarrett is still one of the best interior pass rushers in the entire league. Arguably nobody has a better combination of pass-rush moves in their repertoire combined with accurate and explosive hands and a great plan. The problem is he’s a lone ranger on the Falcons’ defensive front and largely on the entire defensive roster, aside from A.J. Terrell.

Jarrett is also a good and explosive run defender that consistently makes a difference in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage.

14) Daron Payne, Washington Commanders

The Commanders made sure to lock Daron Payne up for 2023 by using the franchise tag. This keeps their fearsome foursome of first-round picks on the defensive line intact for the first time in 2023. Having a full season of him, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young is imperative to their overall defensive success, given the massive snap counts the Washington defensive linemen play and the lack of depth the team has.

Payne is one of the league’s most talented pass rushers, but he falls short of the top-10 defensive tackles list because he is a consistently inconsistent run defender. While endlessly disruptive against the run, he can also lose gap integrity in the process, creating lanes a semi could drive through.

15) Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles

Javon Hargrave remains one of the league’s premier interior pass rushers. Although Hargrave is a free agent, he’s likely one of the core Philadelphia defenders that won’t be donning a different uniform in 2023.

Because of restructurings, he’d cost the Eagles nearly $12 million in dead cap money in 2023, whether on the roster or not. The vaunted pass rusher will likely remain an Eagle, terrorizing NFC East interior blockers over the next few seasons.

16) Grover Stewart, Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts’ defense has its fair share of incredibly underrated players. It started with Kenny Moore’s perpetual underratedness, but both Grover Stewart and Isaiah Rodgers are among the most underrated players in the entire league.

Allen and Payne are a dynamic duo, but the dichotomy between Stewart and Buckner may make for the best tandem in football on the defensive interior. Stewart is an outrageous run defender. His 38 stops were seventh-most in the NFL, tied with Dexter Lawrence.

17) Leonard Williams, New York Giants

Lawrence has taken some of the thunder away from Leonard Williams, but the gap-slicing 300-pounder remains one of the most dangerous interior rushers in the game. His overall production dropped a bit this season, but he played over 100 snaps fewer than he’d ever played before.

Williams missed five games in 2022, and the Giants have a decision to make. Williams is currently slated to take up 14% of the Giants’ cap space with his $32 million hit in 2023. Extending him could alleviate much of that, but they’re also staring down the barrel of a massive extension for their 340-pound defensive tackle, who enters the final year of his rookie deal.

18) Dalvin Tomlinson, Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Tomlinson is one of the few players outside of the top 10 who is a jack of all trades. Many of the players in this area are outstanding pass rushers or run defenders. Tomlinson sits somewhere in the middle of all that as someone who provides juice to the interior rush and defends the run at a high level.

The free agent defensive tackle should have no problem finding potential employers, given his outstanding versatility. He can survive in any defensive scheme from multiple alignments.

19) Dre’Mont Jones, Denver Broncos

Dre’Mont Jones was never going to be a good run defender on the defensive interior. He left Ohio State as a tweener, stuck in his 280-pound frame somewhere between an edge rusher and a defensive tackle.

Luckily for him, fronts continue to expand at the NFL level as the spread continues to … spread. Jones has always had double-digit sack potential, and his pressure rates continue to rise every season as he sharpens his pass-rushing skills.

20) David Onyemata, New Orleans Saints

Like most of the Saints’ defensive front, David Onyemata had a suspiciously quiet campaign in 2022. While his overall pass-rush production actually received an uptick this season, Onyemata is no longer the youngster he once was. We didn’t see the impact from him as a run defender that we had in the past.

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He still has one of the best rush plans in the game, and his hands are as advanced as they come. Playing him on fewer snaps but more specialized as a pass rusher may be exactly what the doctor ordered for Onyemata.

21) D.J. Jones, Denver Broncos

Maybe it’s difficult to underrate someone making $10 million on average with his new contract, but Jones remains a name that doesn’t get brought up enough when discussing the best run defenders in the game.

Few play with better leverage and few have a better understanding of what’s going on in front of them than Jones. He flashed as a pass rusher during the 49ers’ playoff run in 2021 and then followed it up with what was by far his most productive regular season rushing the passer.

22) Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers

Like many defensive tackles transitioning from the college to the professional level, it’s taken Derrick Brown some time to find his footing. After running into some issues playing consistent football against the run early on, given how often he was on the field, he’s found the conditioning necessary to play a massive amount of snaps at a high level.

If Brown can continue his upward trajectory, not just as a run defender but as a pass rusher as well, the former seventh-overall pick could definitely ascend into one of the league’s most dangerous interior defenders.

23) Ed Oliver, Buffalo Bills

We see ridiculous player comps all the time. Every year the anime meme with the butterfly floating away shows up, “is name redacted the next Patrick Mahomes?” The same happened to Ed Oliver when during the draft cycle he was endlessly compared to Aaron Donald. It didn’t help that Oliver leaned into it, saying he could be Donald and more at the NFL level.

It’s great to have confidence, but those expectations were patently ridiculous at the time, and they look downright silly now. Donald is the greatest defensive tackle we’ve ever seen, and Oliver is a decent player. Oliver may still round into one of the most dangerous interior rushers in the game, but heading into Year 5, he’s not lived up to his lofty expectations.

24) Harrison Phillips, Minnesota Vikings

Every offseason, Harrison Phillips heads back to his high school to train with the team’s wrestlers. His wrestling background was a huge talking point while playing at Stanford, and it shows up endlessly on his tape as a run defender.

Phillips is not an outrageous athlete, but he possesses outstanding flexibility and control, which allows him to play with impressive leverage against the run. While he rarely gives the quarterback a scare, he makes more than enough plays against the run to justify the contract Minnesota gave him last offseason.

25) Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens

Defensive players don’t play for 15 years in the NFL. But the NFL’s resident beanstalk was already an anomaly, so why wouldn’t he double it?

Being 6-foot-8 is not an advantage in the NFL, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. There are 6-foot-8 offensive tackles that survive and even thrive, but we never see defensive linemen that size have the type of success Campbell has had.

But the former second-round pick with lackluster athleticism has used every bit of his nearly 36-inch arms to their fullest extent over the years. It also helps that he has positional flexibility. He’s played everywhere from over the center to outside of the offensive formation, and he is still providing Baltimore with solid reps on the defensive interior at 35.

26) Al Woods, Seattle Seahawks

Al Woods is well beyond his athletic prime, but he’s so mentally sharp that he’s able to remain a high-level run defender well into his 30s. He took a bit of a backseat in 2022, playing only about 60% of the snaps he had the season before, but his massive frame continued to show up on film for an up-and-down Seattle defense.

There’s no guarantee he’ll be back with Seattle for his 13th NFL season, or if there even will be a 13th NFL season. But if he does return, there’s a good chance he’ll look like the Seahawks’ best interior run defender once again.

27) Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks

Poona Ford has been a player that every coach should want on their football team, dating back to his days at the University of Texas. The 5-foot-11, 310-pound defensive tackle plays like his pants are on fire, down in and down out.

He’s played far more snaps farther from the center over the past two seasons. While he’s been productive in that role, he’s better suited to playing as a true nose or as a 2i. He’s an outstanding presence in the center of a defense in a one-gap or two-gap role, but the closer he plays to the center, the better.

28) Christian Barmore, New England Patriots

Christian Barmore should probably be higher on the list, but the second-year player could only manage a tick over 300 defensive snaps in 2022 due to injury.

The interior rusher in Bill Belichick’s defense amassed nearly 50 pressures as a rookie, proving to be one of the few interior defenders who could play the position at a high level right away, which is interesting considering he was seen as a bit of a raw, inexperienced prospect coming out of Alabama.

29) B.J. Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

The names at the bottom of this list are all really good football players. B.J. Hill is a solid run defender who brings a little juice as a pass rusher. But he also played a ridiculous 815 snaps for the Bengals’ defense in 2022.

Big men get tired. It’s impossible not to lose a bit of steam throughout the course of a game and season when one is being subjected to that many crashes into opposing 300-pounders. To stay healthy is a feat in and of itself.

30) Folorunso Fatukasi, Jacksonville Jaguars

If your team needs a run-defending player in the B gap on early downs, few are a better option than Folorunso Fatukasi. The former Jet has made a living defending the run. He offers essentially nothing as a pass rusher but is an outstanding, technical run defender.

He was unable to reproduce the backfield production he’d accumulated over the previous two seasons in 2022, but Fatukasi was an integral part in the Jaguars’ ascension from AFC South basement-dwellers to division champions.

31) DaQuan Jones, Los Angeles Rams

DaQuan Jones is another one of the league’s underrated interior defenders. He posted a career-high 30 pressures in 2022 while continuing to contribute his usual high-end run defending. There are few true nose tackles in the NFL these days, but Jones is one of the few. But Jones can align all over the defensive line as a run defender.

32) Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles

Jordan Davis could soon become one of the most dominant figures in the NFL. The Eagles first-round pick played limited snaps behind Hargrave and Cox, and he needs to sharpen his pass-rush repertoire, but the Eagles’ top draft pick is a freak athlete with all the potential in the world.