The top 20 NFL interior defensive linemen heading into the 2020 season

Pro Football Network analyst AJ Schulte breaks down the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

The defensive tackle position is one of the deepest positions in the NFL today and is full of young emerging talent. Eleven of the 20 players on this list all joined the league in the last five years. A defensive lineman on the interior who can rush the passer, as well as stuff the run, has become a priority for every NFL team. These guys alter the approach of every offensive gameplan by merely their presence on the field. While my specialty is more for offensive linemen, it’s important to understand the players they line up against every snap. After spending the last several weeks studying these players, I’m ready to rank my top interior defensive linemen in the NFL heading into the 2020 season.

There are players who some consider interior defensive linemen that aren’t on this list, as I consider them EDGE, such as Calais Campbell and JJ Watt. There is also an honorable mention section near the end of the list.

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Top 20 interior defensive linemen in the NFL

20. Jarran Reed, Seattle Seahawks

Kicking off this list is a young star on the verge of leaping into the top-tier of players at the position. Reed was Seattle’s second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and quickly established himself as one of the best interior pass rushers in the game. He seemed bound for superstardom after his 2018 season, where Reed posted 10.5 sacks, 31 pressures, 24 QB hits, and 12 tackles for loss.

However, Reed was suspended for the first six games of 2019, and it took some time to knock off the rust, causing his stats to dip significantly. Reed did play better as the season went on, but he’ll look to bounce back to his 2018 form.

19. Jonathan Allen, Washington Redskins

Next on this list is a young stud interior rusher that the Redskins stole in the 2017 NFL Draft. Allen’s career got off to a rocky start after being placed on IR his rookie year from a Lisfranc injury, but he’s rebounded to play in 31 games the last two seasons and has logged 14 sacks, 43 pressures, 31 QB hits, and 18 tackles for loss. Allen is on the cusp of breaking out into one of the game’s youngest superstars.

18. Sheldon Richardson, Cleveland Browns

Richardson has established himself as one of the most well-rounded defensive linemen in the NFL, who is equally as stout against the run as he is the pass. Richardson uses his speed and strength to wreak havoc against the run. He can play multiple alignments and gaps along the line. His 36 pressures the last two seasons are a testament to his ability to impact the passing game with his impressive toolbox of pass-rushing moves.

17. Michael Pierce, Minnesota Vikings

Michael Pierce is a name that many people won’t recognize because he doesn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he does make a huge impact in the run game. Pierce is arguably the best run-defending player on this list with elite play strength and powerful hands and leg drive. Pierce eats double teams with ease. He isn’t an outstanding pass-rusher, but he does show off a thunderous bull rush that often collapses the pocket in the middle.

16. Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles

Hargrave is another young player on the verge of becoming a superstar and should be next to Fletcher Cox. Hargrave’s quickness as a pass-rusher is near elite, and he slips off blocks with ease. He’s an outstanding run defender who has taken significant strides to grow as a pass-rusher. Hargrave’s stats don’t do his play justice, but those should grow in a more full-time role with the Philadelphia Eagles.

15. Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Free Agent

Make no mistake – Snacks is still one of the best in the game. He had a poor 2019 season, but what Snacks does as the best pure run-defender is invaluable. Snacks eats up double teams for breakfast. He has had over 50 run stops in just three seasons. Offensive linemen struggle with his pure power and freakish lower body quickness for his size. There isn’t a player like Snacks in the NFL at the moment.

14. Matt Ioannidis, Washington Redskins

Ioannidis might be a surprise addition on this list to many, but he’s been one of the most underrated players in the NFL over the last two seasons. Ioannidis is one of the best pass-rushers on this list, despite not possessing the elite physical traits of other players. He was double-teamed on 65% on his snaps last year but still managed to capture 8.5 sacks, 11 TFLs, 35 pressures, and 16 QB hits.

13. Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Don’t be surprised to see Vea this high this early on in his NFL career. Vea was picked 12th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and his career has gotten off to a quick start. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had him playing as 0 to 1-technique in Tampa, and Vea began to assert his dominance on the field. He’s a freakish athlete with incredible power.

He isn’t asked to full-time rush the passer even though he certainly can. Vea’s job is to stuff the run and collapse the pocket to help edge rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. Vea’s on the verge of becoming an elite player at his position that many envisioned he could be coming out of the University of Washington.

12. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers

Mike Daniels overshadowed Clark for the first few seasons of his career in Green Bay. The last two seasons, however, Clark has stepped up as one of the best at his position. Clark lines up mainly as a nose tackle for Mike Pettine but has often played 3-tech as well, demonstrating an ability to shift all over the defensive front.

Clark’s quickness is matched by his power – he can move around offensive linemen with just as much ease as he does going through them. Clark’s beginning to turn into a superstar player and is entering his prime in Green Bay.

11. DJ Reader, Cincinnati Bengals

Reader’s career has steadily improved from year to year as he’s grown as a pass-rusher. Reader hit 13 QB hits this season after 11 combined his first three seasons. He lined up in multiple roles at Houston – varying from nose to 2i to 5T, displaying incredible versatility. Reader snuffs out the run with ease, shedding blocks, and double teams with his great pad level, hand usage, and power.

Reader’s motor is possibly the most impressive thing about him, as he goes 100% on every snap and has stuffed out runs in the open field or on the backside of plays. Reader next to Atkins, another player mentioned on this list, is a scary duo for opposing offensive linemen to think about.

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