I’ve been studying NFL football and specifically line play for the last seven years. And there hasn’t been a more talent-rich, deeper position group than the defensive line. The biggest, fastest athletes on the field naturally gravitate towards the defensive side of the ball early in their lives and it bleeds into the college and pro levels. Combined with as nuanced and refined of an approach as ever before relative to the technical development of the position, specifically pass-rush tactics, it has resulted in pass-protection being the most difficult (and arguably valuable) job in the NFL outside of playing quarterback.
These rankings will be useful in many ways. The most important component of picking a fantasy D/ST is their ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Start/sit decisions at quarterback and DFS projections should always include the opposing pass rush. In betting markets, line play is far more meaningful than the public believes.
My criteria for ordering all 32 pass-rushing DLs is predominantly based around film study, which included watching every game of the 2021 season at least once, focused strictly on the trenches. My process for evaluation is rooted in trait-based evaluations that assess skill sets, physical tools/traits, level of competition, production, and coaching. Combined with a preexisting knowledge of the majority of pass-rushers from previous seasons of film study, personal insights from many of the players themselves, and dissecting some advanced metrics, this list was born and will be updated each week during the regular season.
For my offensive line midseason rankings, click here.
Most teams have one defensive tackle that comes off of the field and/or an edge-rusher that kicks inside on obvious passing downs, so these lineups factor that in and represent the best rushers listed at each position.
TIER 1: ELITE PASS-RUSHING DEFENSIVE LINES
Edge – Jason Pierre-Paul
IDL – Ndamukong Suh
IDL – Vita Vea
Edge – Shaq Barrett
The Bucs’ defensive line has largely met expectations coming into the season as being a dominant front that can take over games (Ex: Patriots, Dolphins, Bears this season) while consistently impacting the quarterback from inside and outside pressure. Some of that comes from their high blitz rate, but Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh are arguably the best pocket-pushing duo on the interior in the NFL. They also have an explosive rookie in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka off the bench to spell Jason Pierre-Paul and an underrated penetrator in William Gholston inside to provide quality depth.
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