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.

10. Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers

Short’s 2019 campaign was cut short by injury, but that doesn’t diminish his place on this list. Short’s one of the most well-rounded defensive tackles – capable of lining up in multiple roles on the defensive line and is capable of wrecking offenses from any spot. Short has an elite combination of size, quickness, power, and hand usage, and he uses that to reset the line of scrimmage with ease. Short will be back to full strength in time for the 2020 season, and he’ll continue his elite level of play.

9. Jurrell Casey, Denver Broncos

How did Jurrell Casey only cost a seventh-round pick? I truly do not understand that trade in the slightest. Casey’s one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the league and so incredibly smart. He has demonstrated a phenomenal and rare blend of explosiveness and size.

Watching Casey wreck plays no matter where he lines up is a fun tape study. He’s been one of the league’s most underrated players for years, but in a bigger market with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, Casey’s going to make headlines this year as one of the top interior defensive linemen in NFL.

8. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

Atkins has been one of the league’s best since he stepped onto the field as a fourth-round pick in 2010. His multiple All-Pro nominations speak to that. Atkins’ 2019 tape was a dropoff from his last several seasons, but he also played a career-high in snaps. With new additions to the Bengals line, Atkins can rotate and stay fresher as the game goes on. He is one of the best in the game and looks to be an eventual NFL Hall of Famer if he returns to form.

7. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

The 2015 NFL Draft was only my second year scouting formally, and I thought I was going crazy when I saw Jarrett drop all the way to the fifth round. I learned later that it was because the NFL didn’t like his size, despite it helping him dominate on tape. Jarrett’s six-foot frame helps give him natural leverage working against offensive linemen, and Jarrett uses that to his complete advantage.

His elite quickness and hand usage make him one of the game’s best pass-rushers on the interior, as Jarrett won 22% of his pass-rushes last season. He’s produced 13.5 sacks and 54 pressures the last two seasons alone. Jarrett looks like one of the biggest steals of the decade.

6. Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

Heyward isn’t an elite physical phenom at his position like some of the other players on this list, but he makes up for it with an insane repertoire as a pass-rush technician. There isn’t a move Heyward can’t use, which has helped him become one of the game’s best pass-rushers. He can disrupt the play from any alignment with his quickness and power. Heyward is an underrated player who deserves to be mentioned among the top interior defensive linemen in NFL.

5. Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears

Hicks is a freakshow with his blend of power and absolute dominance. His tape was an incredible ride from start to stop, as his dominance shows itself from the get-go. He’s violent with his hands and uses that to knife through the double-teams that his presence commands. Hicks has compiled 38 pressures in the last two seasons and should return to being one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

4. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

Buckner’s game has grown exponentially every year, and it all came together last season for Buckner, where he amassed 7.5 sacks and became one of the leaders for the 49ers elite defense. Buckner was traded off to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a first-round pick. His explosiveness for his 6’7, 300+ pound frame is freakish and is a big reason why he is one of the best in the NFL.

3. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

Jones took to the new 4-3 defense in Kansas City with ease, and it helped him grow into one of the league’s very best. Despite being double-teamed on 70% of his snaps, Jones amassed nine sacks, 27 pressures, eight tackles for loss, and 20 QB hits. His game has evolved every year since he was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he’s in line to be the next highest-paid defensive player. Jones was a superstar last season who will only continue his dominance.

2. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

What can really be said about how good Fletcher Cox is? He’s been at the top of the league since he first put on an Eagles jersey. He’s an outstanding athlete who is simply devastating as a pass-rusher. Cox can win at any alignment with an elite blend of speed, power, leverage, and hand usage. He wrecks gameplans consistently.

Cox has made the last five Pro Bowls and has been an All-Pro every year since 2014. Unfortunately for Cox, there’s one player who simply defies the physics of the world that keeps him from the number one spot for the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

1. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

Aaron Donald is unhuman. Donald is the best player in the NFL, supported by back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors, a Defensive Rookie of the Year, and five consecutive first-team All-Pro nominations. He’s lightning-quick on the football field and has outstanding hand usage.

His speed and explosiveness as a pass-rusher make him virtually unstoppable. Donald was double-teamed on 68% of snaps last year (way too low), but despite that, he led the NFL in pass-rush win rate at 24%! He’s a future first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer, and there’s no other way to describe just how dominant he is on the field.

Honorable mentions

Linval Joseph
Ndamukong Suh
Gerald McCoy
Sheldon Rankins
Michael Brockers
Brandon Williams
Da’Ron Payne

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