NFL DT Rankings 2024: A New No. 1 After Aaron Donald’s Retirement, Thoughts on Top Rookies

With the 2024 season just around the corner, we've updated our NFL DT rankings. Who claimed the top spot, and did any rookies make the cut?

The NFL is entering a new era at defensive tackle. Aaron Donald held the title of “best defensive tackle” for the majority of his remarkable career with the Los Angeles Rams. But following Donald’s recent retirement, it’s time to crown a new best DT in the league.

With that in mind, and with some of the league’s best defensive linemen switching teams in free agency, we felt it was a good time to update our NFL DT rankings.

Offense: QB | RB | WR | TE
Defense: EDGE | CBS

Who Is the Best Defensive Tackle in the NFL?

Note: None of the defensive tackles selected in the 2024 NFL Draft made this list. However, we added a section highlighting top rookies at the end.

Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

You could’ve made the case that Chris Jones surpassed Donald over the last two seasons. But with Donald now out of the picture, Jones is free to take the top spot.

Excellent against the run and as a pass rusher, Jones posted at least 7.5 sacks in each of the last six seasons, including 10.5 in 2023 and two campaigns with 15.5 sacks. He’s one of the rare defensive tackles who has the ability to take over a game.

Yes, he’ll turn 30 in July, but Jones hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. The Kansas City Chiefs rightly gave him a massive new contract in free agency.

NFL DT Rankings

2) Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants

We thought about putting Dexter Lawrence at No. 1. He’s a tremendous all-around tackle and has only missed three games since entering the NFL in 2019. Lawrence actually finished 2023 as Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked tackle, but take those grades with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, Lawrence is a monster on the interior, a player for whom opposing offenses must game plan every week. And he still is just 26 years old.

3) Quinnen Williams, New York Jets

Similarly stout against the run and as a pass rusher, Quinnen Williams is the best player on the New York Jets defense — which says a lot. His sack totals dipped from 12 in 2022 to just 5.5 in 2023, but Williams still generated pressure at a relentless rate.

An easy choice at No. 3, Williams has proven durable after dealing with injuries early in his career. He played a full 17-game slate in 2023 and missed just one game the previous season.

4) Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers

Derrick Brown doesn’t generate many headlines, but make no mistake: He’s one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

Why’s he so underrated? It’s probably a combination of playing for the Carolina Panthers and not posing huge sack totals (just eight in four seasons). But Brown might be the best run-stuffing DT in the game and likely is headed for a massive contract in free agency next offseason.

5) Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans

Some would argue Jeffery Simmons probably should be lower on this list, as he’s coming off a relatively down season. Regardless, the Tennessee Titans’ star is a top-flight DT and is still just 26 years old.

Simmons is great against the run, but he’s especially problematic as a pass rusher. With 26.5 sacks in five seasons, Simmons is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing interior linemen.

6) Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

Cameron Heyward finally showed signs of aging last season, but he still belongs in the top five — for now.

Injuries certainly played a role in 2023, as Heyward missed six games and posted just two sacks, his fewest since 2012. However, when healthy, the 34-year-old (he’ll turn 35 in May) was a force against the run. Heyward probably will slide further down this list next year, but for now, he’s still considered one of the best DTs in football.

7) Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles

Think teams are kicking themselves for letting Jalen Carter slide in the 2023 NFL Draft?

The ninth overall pick was sensational as a rookie, posting 33 tackles and six sacks while playing 51% of Philly’s defensive snaps. It’s probably fair to assume that the usage rate will increase in 2024, as Carter is one of the position’s ascending talents.

8) DJ Reader, Detroit Lions

DJ Reader is one of the most consistent defensive tackles in the NFL. Year in and year out, he’s among the game’s best run-stuffing interior linemen. Injuries have been an issue, and he doesn’t post huge sack totals, but Reader is a very good player — and a great pickup by the Detroit Lions.

9) Christian Wilkins, Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders gave Christian Wilkins a four-year, $110 million contract in free agency, making the former Miami Dolphin one of the highest-paid DTs in football. Is he worth the money?

MORE: A Closer Look at the Dolphins’ Plan To Replace Christian Wilkins

It’s debatable, as Wilkins didn’t break out as a pass rusher until last season when he posted a career-best 9.0 sacks. However, he’s always been an effective pass rusher and a stout run defender. The Raiders probably overpaid, but signing a top-10 defensive tackle isn’t cheap.

10) Christian Barmore, New England Patriots

Christian Barmore showed huge potential as a rookie in 2021 before injuries limited him to just 10 games as a sophomore. But the Alabama product was a breakout star in 2023 when he easily was the best player on the New England Patriots.

Dominant nearly every week, Barmore finished with 8.5 sacks and showed huge improvements as a run defender. He has the size, talent, and work ethic to be Chris Jones 2.0 if he can stay healthy.

11) Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens

Talk about timing. After three seasons as a solid but unspectacular player, Justin Madubuike broke out in 2023 with 56 tackles and 13 sacks. That’s one way to play in a contract year.

For his efforts, Madubuike was rewarded with a four-year, $98 million extension. Now he just needs to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke — which we don’t think it was.

12) DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

Don’t tell DeForest Buckner that he’s getting old.

The 30-year-old was his usual, excellent self in 2023, finishing with 81 tackles and eight sacks while playing a full 17-game schedule. Buckner might not be an elite all-around tackle, but he’s undoubtedly one of the top pass-rushing linemen in the NFL.

13) Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Two things can be true: Vita Vea is a bit overrated, and Vita Vea is a very good player.

MORE: Highest-Paid Defensive Players of All Time

Some believe he’s a borderline top-five D-tackle. He’s not that, and he’s never been that. But Vea is dependable, great against the run, and consistently effective as a pass rusher (16 sacks in the last three seasons). And, at 29 years old, Vea still has plenty of good football left in him.

14) Jonathan Allen, Washington Commanders

Last season was a strange one for Jonathan Allen. The Washington Commanders star remained one of the better pass-rushing tackles in football with 5.5 sacks, but he was a liability against the run. In fact, he ranked 117th out of 130 qualifying tackles in PFF’s run-defense grades for interior linemen.

Nevertheless, we expect a rebound in 2024. Allen is too good of a player, with too strong of a track record.

15) Javon Hargrave, San Francisco 49ers

Javon Hargrave was good in his first season with the San Francisco 49ers, but did he live up to the hype created by his $84 million contract last offseason? You could argue either way.

Hargrave certainly was effective as a pass rusher, although his seven sacks were his fewest since 2020. But the problems were in run defense, an area in which Hargrave was inconsistent throughout the season. He’s still a good player, but his star has fallen a bit.

16) David Onyemata, Atlanta Falcons

It’s time to give this guy his flowers. David Onyemata might not be considered a star, but the underrated lineman is one of the better all-around DTs in football. Onyemata is great against the run, and he’s averaged four sacks per season over the last six campaigns. Give him his due.

17) Michael Pierce, Baltimore Ravens

We’re not bold enough to say that Michael Pierce is the best defensive tackle on the Baltimore Ravens, as that title belongs to Madubuike. But it’s not a crazy take.

Pierce is better against the run than Madubuike, and he has a longer track record of success. Yet, he’s more of a run-first defender — just 7.5 sacks in seven seasons — which doesn’t make him the sexiest player. Either way, he belongs on this list.

18) Alim McNeill, Detroit Lions

Alim McNeill, the 72nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has improved every season. But 2023 was his best year yet, as the NC State product established himself as one of the better young D-tackles in the NFL despite missing four games.

McNeill finished the campaign with five sacks, six tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble. He also was rock-solid against the run.

19) Arik Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars

Arik Armstead was one of the NFL’s most productive linemen from 2018 through 2021, a period in which he posted 22.5 sacks without missing any games. But injuries limited him to zero sacks in nine games in 2022 and five sacks in 12 games last season.

The 49ers released Armstead earlier this month, with the 30-year-old later signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He could be a great player for the Jags — if he can stay on the field.

20) Leonard Williams, Seattle Seahawks

As consistent of a defensive tackle as you’ll find, Leonard Williams enjoyed another strong season in 2023. He played the first eight games for the New York Giants before being sent to the Seattle Seahawks in a pre-deadline trade. In 10 games for Seattle, Williams racked up 41 tackles, four sacks, and one pass breakup.

KEEP READING: Who Are the NFL’s Highest-Paid DTs?

One fun note: Williams played in 18 regular-season games, as he left the Giants before they had their bye week and joined the Seahawks after they’d enjoyed their bye. The durability wasn’t surprising for a player who’s missed just seven games since entering the league in 2015, with five of the absences coming in 2022.

Best of the Rest

21. Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles
22. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers
23. Kobie Turner, Los Angeles Rams
24. Grover Stewart, Indianapolis Colts
25. Shelby Harris, Cleveland Browns
26. Daron Payne, Washington Commanders
27. Maurice Hurst, Cleveland Browns
28. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
29. Keeanu Benton, Pittsburgh Steelers
30. Zach Sieler, Miami Dolphins
31. Osa Odighizuwa, Dallas Cowboys
32. Dalvin Tomlinson, Cleveland Browns

Unranked Rookie DTs

  • Byron Murphy II, Seattle Seahawks
    The best interior defender available in the draft, Byron Murphy II was selected with the 16th overall pick. The Seahawks are getting a D-tackle who’s stout against the run and has significant pass-rushing upside.
  • Ruke Orhorhoro, Atlanta Falcons
    The Falcons drafted Ruke Orhorhoro with the third pick in Round 2. It was a wise pick, as Grady Jarrett is coming off a torn ACL, and Atlanta’s D-line is getting long in the tooth. Orhorhoro should provide a needed boost.
  • Jer’Zhan Newton, Washington Commanders
    Jer’Zhan Netwon, who prefers to go by “Johnny,” was considered by some to be a first-round talent. But he slipped to Round 2, where the Commanders selected him with the fourth pick. It was a head-scratching pick, as Washington already has Payne and Allen in the middle of its D-line. Nevertheless, Newton is a very talented prospect.

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