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    Who has the best defensive line in the nfl

    Although we at pff have argued that coverage is more valuable than pass rush, elite running backs are more reliable from year to year than elite coverage defenders. the defensive line is at the center of both the pressing unit and the run defense unit. As a result, it’s hard to put up a great defense with a below-average defensive line.

    these are pff’s top defensive lines heading into the 2021 nfl season, with 3-4 outside linebackers included, as they fall under the edge defenders tag.

    Reading: Who has the best defensive line in the nfl

    see pff standings in 2021: qb | rb | wr | you | ot | og | do | say | edge | pounds | scbs | ocb | s

    1. pittsburgh steelmakers

    You would think Pittsburgh’s defensive line is scheduled to take a step back after replacing Bud Dupree with Alex Highsmith. but that step might not be as big as many hope. Highsmith finished his rookie season with a higher pass rush win rate (16.5%) than Dupree (13.7%) last year. he joins a group that already has t.j. Watt, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tweett and Tyson Alualu, who all made PFF’s list of the top 32 players at their respective positions ahead of the 2021 NFL season. that group will be looking to match a league-leading 45.1% pressure rate in 2020.

    2. washington football team

    When a team spends four consecutive first-round picks in one unit, this is the result they expect. Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sudan and Chase Young all seem to be impact starters in the early stages of their NFL careers. Allen and Sweat, in particular, made clear strides last season.

    Allen’s 2020 campaign was somewhat overshadowed by Washington’s starting point tandem, but he was excellent when he rushed the passer. his 17.1% pass rush win rate was a top 10 mark among all interior defenders. Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle also provide the football team with additional inside pass rush threats beyond the starters.

    3. tampa bay buccaneers

    general manager jason licht managed to bring back all the starters from last year’s championship team this offseason. That includes key players along the defensive front in Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh. It was a unit that played both the run and the pass at the elite level in 2020. The Buccaneers ranked fifth in the NFL in team rushing rate (37.1%) and first in rushing yards allowed before contact per attempt (1.0 ). those numbers could even improve with a healthy vita see season in 2021.

    4. rams of the angels

    The Rams don’t have the same depth quality as the other top five defensive lines in this ranking. But does it matter when they have the most disruptive force in the NFL? Aaron Donald’s 456 pressures over the past five seasons is 86 more than any other defender, even though he saw a constant barrage of double and triple teams. The attention he commands frees up other players to enjoy career years, like Dante Fowler Jr. and leonard floyd can attest. Los Angeles will have to replace Michael Brockers, whose 5,658 snaps in the regular season since he joined the Rams in 2012 ranks ninth among all players in the position.

    5. philadelphia eagles

    philadelphia’s defensive line has always been one of the best in the nfl for building pressure without bombing. That was the case again last season, as the Eagles were one of only two teams with a pressure rate above 40% without the help of the blitz.

    The pairing of fletcher cox and brandon graham has been the core of the unit for nearly a decade, but the addition of javon hargrave in free agency last offseason gives philadelphia another player on the inside with which to fight. offenses must deal on the passes. Hargrave ranks in the 91st percentile of rated interior defenders in passing grade since 2019.

    6. chicago bears

    despite what his sack totals in recent seasons may suggest, khalil mack remains the most dominant edge defender in the nfl on every play. He was the league’s most valuable edge defender last season based on pff wins above the replacement metric, and he holds the same title in all three of his seasons with the Bears.

    The unit loses roy robertson-harris and brent urban heading into 2021, but returns nose tackle eddie goldman from an opt-out. Goldman’s run defense rating during the 2018 and 2019 seasons ranked in the 92nd percentile among all players at the position.

    7. new york jets

    the jets were not a good football team in 2020, but they had several promising seasons from young defensive linemen, namely quinnen williams, folorunso fatukasi and john franklin-myers. Those three finished among the top 35 inside defenders in the NFL in overall rating last season.

    new york proceeded to add sheldon rankins, vinny curry and carl lawson to the group in free agency, with an emphasis on improving the unit. lawson should provide much-needed passing ability off the rim. no edge defender rated pass-rusher on true pass-rush plays better than he did in 2020.

    New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) celebrate after a quarterback sack against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    8. New Orleans Saints

    Last offseason, trey hendrickson’s departure wouldn’t have been a huge loss. But he’s doing it now after his 50-pressure season in 2020. Whether the unit misses a beat in 2021 depends on the health of Marcus Davenport, who has been the opposite of dependable for much of his NFL career.

    However, Davenport has impressed when he was in top form for the past two seasons. He ranks in the 82nd percentile of players at the position in pass rush grade and the 88th percentile of edge defenders in rush defense grade since 2019. The Saints need that performance over the course of a full season against the ever-reliable jordan cameron.

    9. San Francisco 49ers

    san francisco’s defensive line went from nearly unblockable in 2019 to disappointing in 2020. that was to be expected after the team traded one of the best interior defenders in the nfl (deforest buckner) and was without nick bosa and Dee Ford on all but 80 combined defensive snaps in 2020 due to injury. The return of Bosa and Ford to play alongside Arik Armstead could give the 49ers one of the best forward rotations in the NFL. San Francisco will also need Javon Kinlaw (54.1 pff grade as a rookie) to make a sophomore jump to get back into the elite group we saw two years ago.

    10. denver broncos

    von miller recently said he’s “still running around here beating everybody’s ass” when discussing his return to form after an ankle injury kept him out of the 2020 season.

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    the broncos could very well have the best leading duo in the nfl with bradley chubb and miller if miller returns to 100%. but that’s a great question, since he’s 32 years old. in 2019, she posted a season rating below 90.0 pff (79.3) for the first time in his career, ending an absurd streak of dominance. Even with Miller a notch or two below his peak, Denver has plenty of talent up front. Shelby Harris, who earned an 88.3 overall rating in 2020, is one of the most underrated interior defenders in the NFL.

    11. cleveland browns

    jadeveon clowney has seemingly gone from overrated to underrated in the span of a few seasons. Injuries hampered his impact in stops with Seattle and Tennessee, but he has still been disruptive when he was healthy. Over the past five seasons, Clowney ranks in the 86th percentile at position in passing grade and 97th percentile in run defense grade. Clowney’s presence should prevent teams from focusing all of their attention on Myles Garrett, creating more one-on-one opportunities for both players.

    jordan elliott is a name to watch in his second season out of missouri. He earned PFF ratings of at least 85.0 in each of his last two college seasons and could play a more prominent role on Cleveland’s defensive line in 2021.

    12. arizona cardinals

    between chandler jones, j.j. Watt and Markus Golden, the Cardinals have an impressive collection of players who can win from the rim. all three have logged at least 250 pressures since 2015 despite significant periods of time lost due to injury. The questions for Arizona come on the inside, where Watt should see more time than he has in recent seasons with Houston. Jordan Phillips didn’t make the kind of impact the Cardinals hoped for in 2020, earning a 54.4 overall rating before a hamstring injury cut his season short.

    13. green bay packers

    kenny clark and za’darius smith are tremendous individual talents. They rank 8th and 7th, respectively, in the PFF War in their positions since the start of the 2019 season. But the surrounding pieces of Green Bay prevent this unit from ranking inside the top 10. However, Rashan Gary raised his overall rating from 55.8 as a rookie to 68.1 last season. The Packers will need continued improvement from him next season against Smith.

    14. minnesota vikings

    The Vikings’ defensive line finished as one of the worst in the NFL in 2020. The group ranked 30th in aggregate expected points allowed per rushing play and had the lowest pressure rate in the league with and without burden. The 2021 version should look significantly different: Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce are expected to return from injury and an opt-out, respectively. Minnesota also signed Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency.

    pierce and tomlinson rank at least in the 83rd percentile of interior defenders in run defense rating over the past four seasons. The recent addition of Sheldon Richardson also gives them a more viable inside pressure threat than Pierce or Tomlinson. It remains to be seen if they have enough passing pressure outside of what hunter can provide.

    Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown (95) rushes the quarterback during the second half against the Detroit Lions at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    15. New England Patriots

    The Patriots’ defensive line and linebackers were problem areas last season. the team had few players who could create true consistent pressure while fielding one of the league’s worst defenses against the run. New England invested heavily in improving that group this offseason, adding Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Montravius ​​Adams, Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins in free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. be a much improved unit for next season.

    16. carolina panthers

    Youth is the central theme of Carolina’s defense. The defensive line is no exception, and the Panthers are expected to start Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos next season. Brown and Gross-Matos still have a lot of room to grow heading into 2021, but Burns already started showing signs of becoming one of the NFL’s elite pass-rushers last year. He improved his pass rush rating from 68.7 in an injury-plagued rookie season to 86.9 in 2020. The next step will be adding more power elements to complement his high-end burst and curveball.

    17. buffalo bills

    a.j. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. all represent added youth and depth to the bills’ rotation of frontrunners. However, his 2021 contributions may be limited because Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are still in place as starters at defensive end. Hughes might be one of the most underrated running backs in the league based on sack totals. He hasn’t posted double-digit sacks in a season since 2014, but he ranks in the 81st percentile of all players at the position in pass-earned rate over the six years since.

    part of the reason buffalo sits just in the middle of the pack here is that ed oliver hasn’t produced at the level the bills expected when he was selected in the top 10 of the 2019 nfl draft. a 30.0 run defense rating in 2020.

    18. new york giants

    dalvin tomlinson won’t be replaced easily in the middle of new york’s defensive line. Fortunately for the Giants, the interior defensive line was their deepest position group last year. Leonard Williams (79.8 pff grade in 2020) and Dexter Lawrence (79.7) remain one of the best inside duos in the NFL. worries begin to surface at the edge. New York’s top four pressure producers in 2020 were all inside defenders. A lot of weight will fall on the shoulders of second-round pick Azeez Ojulari as he looks to contribute early in his NFL career.

    19. indianapolis colts

    deforest buckner was everything indianapolis hoped it would be last season. He earned a career-high 89.6 overall rating in 2020 and was the sixth most valuable interior defender in the league, according to PFF War. and due to the colts’ inexperience at the rim, he may need to lead the unit next season. Indianapolis will rely on rookie Kwity Paye and several players who have yet to produce at a high level in starting roles (Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Ben Banogu and Isaac Rochell).

    20. angel porters

    joey bosa may be the best pass rusher in the nfl other than aaron donald. His 22.0% win rate on pass rushes since he entered the league in 2016 is second only to Donald (23.4%). Bosa’s rate was even higher last season (23.5%) than his career average. Aside from that one-man demolition team, this defensive line has clear concerns heading into 2021. Jerry tillery has been the least valuable defensive lineman in the nfl for the past two seasons, worth -0.22 wins over a replacement-level player during that span. Los Angeles hopes new head coach Brandon Staley can get the most out of the former first-round pick.

    21. baltimore ravens

    Much of the Ravens’ passing success in recent years has been a function of scheme rather than individual talent. And Baltimore lost two of its best individual pass-rushers, Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon, to free agency this offseason.

    However, the trio of Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, and Derek Wolfe inside is an impressive collection of jams. all three ranked in the 83rd percentile or better at the position in the grade of defense against running last season.

    22. kansas city chiefs

    Clearly, this isn’t where a team paying two defensive linemen over $20 million would like to be ranked. chris jones has matched his contract with elite production. The only interior defensive linemen worth more wins above replacement than Jones last season were Aaron Donald and Cam Heyward.

    Frank Clark, on the other hand, hasn’t, earning pff ratings of 63.3 and 54.3 in his two seasons with the team. His inability to play at the level he played in Seattle has left Kansas City thin along the defensive line beyond Jones, even after the team signed Jarran Reed this offseason.

    23. tennessee titans

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    the titans paid bud dupree and denico autry a combined $23.7 million per year to upgrade this unit heading into the 2021 season. they needed more of a pass rushing presence after ranking 29th in the nfl in shooting rate team pressure a season ago. Their best defensive lineman, Jeffery Simmons, was rated over 10 points higher as a rushing defender than a pass-rusher in 2020.

    dupree will be asked to make up much of that slack, but his passing stats didn’t always accurately reflect his level of play in pittsburgh. he was the beneficiary of a favorable defensive environment where teammates drew much of the attention from opposing offensive lines. It will be a different story in Tennessee, putting more pressure on Dupree to improve his game.

    Lions defensive end Trey Flowers. Credit: © Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

    24. Detroit Lions

    Detroit’s defensive line unit finished the 2020 season ranked 30th in the PFF grade, ahead only of the Vikings and Texans. Several offseason additions inside, like Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, along with the return of a healthy Trey Flowers should improve things in 2021, but the Lions still have a ways to go to get back to average.

    It’s easy to forget, given Detroit’s poor defense the past two seasons, that Flowers is one of the best defensive linemen in the league when he’s healthy. he is coming off four straight seasons with overall ratings of at least 80.0.

    25. cincinnati flares

    It’s not often that a team signs a defensive end to a four-year, $60 million deal in the offseason and gets worse at the position. We saw it this offseason in Cincinnati. trey hendrickson will likely be a downgrade from carl lawson, considering what he accomplished as a pass-rusher last season. DJ. However, the return of the reader should give Cincinnati a big boost inside. He posted a career-high 85.4 pff grade in 2019 with Houston before injuries cut short his Cincinnati debut in 2020 after just five games.

    26. las vegas raiders

    Raiders have had trouble generating any type of fast pass for years. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue and his 80th percentile rushing rating since 2017 should help in that department. Ngakoue, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby at least give Las Vegas an intriguing mix of cutting-edge young hunters. but raiders are rare inside. Johnathan Hankins, Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas as the top three options on the defensive tackle depth chart make up one of the weakest interior groups in the league following the release of Maurice Hurst.

    27. dallas cowboys

    randy gregory will finally get a chance to put it all together as the starting left back in dan quinn’s new defense in dallas. The first six years of his NFL career have been ups and downs and extended suspensions, but he was playing the best football of his career down the stretch in 2020, earning an 80.5 overall rating on his 270 defensive snaps. . he still needs to prove that he can play at that level as a starter over the course of a full season.

    although the punta de dallas group is promising, the team needs several interior players to take big steps forward. The Cowboys allowed 2.3 rushing yards before contact per attempt in 2020, a half-yard more than any other defense in the NFL.

    28. miami dolphins

    A team can lean more heavily into the blitz when their starting cornerbacks are Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Miami did just that, bombing at a 41.2% rate in the top five. The Dolphins still ranked 14th in team pressure rate, in part because there aren’t many above-average pass-rushers on their roster. Emmanuel Ogbah was their most productive pass-rusher in 2020, but even he finished the year with only a 64.5 pass-rusher rating.

    First-round rookie Jaelan Phillips could start to change that next season, following an 86.6 pff rating last season at the University of Miami.

    29. seattle seahawks

    The Seahawks’ inability to build pressure with their defensive line last season, especially earlier in the year, became a national story. safety jamal adams led the team in total pressures (25) through the first 13 weeks of the 2020 campaign. seattle has made several additions to help alleviate those issues, starting with trading carlos dunlap in 2020 and signing kerry hyder this season short. the success of this group next season will largely depend on the impact of younger players like l.j. Collier, Darrell Taylor, and Alton Robinson.

    The Seahawks will also need to replace Jaran Reed at the 3-tech position, but they don’t have any candidates they’re comfortable with as things stand. poona ford could get more time there in 2021.

    Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) runs the ball against Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson (45) during the first half at TIAA Bank Field. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

    30. Jacksonville Jaguars

    josh allen and k’lavon chaisson have the tools to become a cutting-edge dynamic duo, but 2021 may still be a year too early for that to take hold. Allen has already proven himself to be an effective pass-rusher during the first two years of his career, posting pass-rusher ratings between 70.0 and 75.0 in both 2019 and 2020. Chaisson grew stronger down the stretch last season, but posted just one 9.2% pressure rate overall. With work still to be done for those two and little to get excited about on the inside, this should be one of the lower grade units in the league again next season.

    31. atlanta falcons

    This ranking doesn’t feel fair to Grady Jarrett. He has been the sixth most valuable interior defensive lineman in the NFL for the past four years, according to PFF War. There just isn’t much around him on Atlanta’s defensive line. Dante Fowler Jr.’s First Year with the team was nowhere near what the Falcons expected when they signed him to a multiyear deal last offseason. he posted a run defense rating below 40.0 and a well below 10% pressing rate for the season.

    The Falcons will be eager to see better seasons from both Fowler and a healthy Marlon Davidson in his second season after posting a 58.1 rating in just over 100 snaps as a rookie.

    32. houston texans

    houston’s defensive line ranked last in overall pff rating as a unit (47.0) in 2020. and that was despite j.j. Watt earned an 85.4 overall rating over 1,000 defensive snaps. things are not looking up with watt no longer in town. the texans will need younger players like charles omenihu (52.1 overall rating in 2020) and ross blacklock (30.2) to make big strides forward if their defensive line wants to be anything other than the worst unit in the nfl next season.

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