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Ranking All 32 Defensive Lines

As we inch closer to training camp, TRO will be ranking all of the different position groups on both sides of the ball, starting first with every defensive line unit. Rankings will go from 32nd to 1st (worst to best).

via Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports


Good football teams are often built from the inside out, so it makes sense that TRO's first position group countdown begins with the big boys in the trenches. In order to build anticipation, TRO will start its position group countdown on the defensive side of the ball, working its way out to linebackers, and then to secondaries. After that we will switch to the other side of the ball, ranking offensive linemen, then tight ends, wide receivers, starting running backs, and concluding with starting quarterbacks.


Let's take a look at TRO's worst to best defensive line units entering the 2021 Season:



32) HOUSTON TEXANS

via Elizabeth Conley / Houston Chronicle


The Houston Texans had one of the worst defensive line units in the League last year. They allowed more rushing yards than any other team and had the six fewest quarterback pressures (which is a combination of hurries, hits, and sacks on the opposing team's quarterback). This was BEFORE losing J. J. Watt, who had a good 2020 season despite his teammates. Given the headache and turmoil that's unfolded on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, this unit will likely be faced with more adversity. They did not have many draft picks in this year's draft, and they had to use all of the ones they did have, except their latest pick, to fill other holes. One of the worst defensive line groups in the League only got worse from last year.


31) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

via Gary McCullough / Associated Press


Jacksonville's defensive line group finished the season near the bottom of the barrel in terms of most statistical rankings (which should not be a surprise for the team that ended up with the first overall pick). While Josh Allen (not to be confused with the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills) and K'Lavon Chaisson certainly could develop into fine defensive linemen to anchor a solid unit, they still have a ways to go to reach that point. The Jags finished bottom six in passing yards allowed, allowed the third most rushing yards, and accumulated the third fewest quarterback hurries in 2020. They did not make any notable changes on the defensive line in free agency or through the draft, so there likely won't be much improvement in 2021.


30) CINCINNATI BENGALS

via David Richard / AP Photos


The Bengals lost defensive end Carl Lawson and defensive tackle Geno Atkins this offseason to free agency. While they managed to sign Trey Hendrickson from the New Orleans Saints, he will likely be a downgrade from Lawson. Bank on Hendrickson seeing a dip in production this year as he won't have the luxury of playing opposite of Cameron Jordan in Cincinnati. Last year, the Bengals were second only to the Detroit Lions in quarterback pressures and allowed the fourth most rushing yards. While they will get a healthy D. J. Reader back in action, we can expect this unit to be one of the weaker ones in the NFL in 2021.


29) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

via Getty Images


As good as a football team the Seattle Seahawks have been in recent memory, they've seemingly struggled to figure out defensive line play. They simply cannot generate quarterback pressures and obtain sacks from the trenches. In order to do so, they have to sacrifice coverage, and get overly creative in their defensive schemes. In fact, safety Jamal Adams was the team's most productive member at getting after the quarterback, leading the team in hurries. They need more help up front, and while they did make some moves this offseason (adding Carlos Dunlap and Kerry Hyder), they will likely depend on the development of the younger members of the line to make any noticeable improvement, which won't happen overnight.


28) ATLANTA FALCONS

via Danny Karnik / The Associated Press


To say that the Atlanta Falcons have had a tough time getting production out of their defensive line in both the pass and run game would be an understatement. While Grady Jarrett is a tremendous football player on the interior, he's a one man show. All of the edge experiments in recent years have seemed to flop, including last year's signing of Dante Fowler, Jr., who seems to not be the same player without Aaron Donald eating up double and triple teams in the middle (go figure). There just doesn't seem to be any improvement on this line from last year, and as a result, they likely will be one of the League's bottom units in 2021.


27) DETROIT LIONS

via Leon Halip / Getty Images


Last season, the Detroit Lions allowed the most yardage to opposing teams in the NFL. They forced the second fewest turnovers, and had the fewest quarterback hurries in the entire League. The only reason they've made it out of the 30s in TRO's defensive line rankings is that they will have a healthy Trey Flowers and added Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill. They will almost look like an entirely new unit this coming season, but those guys have a lot of ground to make up.


26) DALLAS COWBOYS

via InsidetheStar


The Cowboys hired Dan Quinn as their Defensive Coordinator, and while his defense faltered while he was Head Coach in Atlanta, he should have more defensive success as he returns to coaching solely a defensive unit, where he can direct his focus all to one side of the ball. Randy Gregory has been an intriguing player for Dallas, seemingly having his production routinely trending upward, and he will have his first chance to start opposite of Demarcus Lawrence, making for a formidable duo. The unit needs to mesh together to improve from last year's standings where they finished in the bottom 10 in quarterback pressures, and allowed the second most yards on the ground.


25) TENNESSEE TITANS

via AtoZSportsNashville


Similar to the Seattle Seahawks, the Tennessee Titans are a good football team that has struggled in generating quarterback pressures with its defensive line. The also team lost DaQuan Jones in free agency this Offseason, removing a staple and model of consistency on the interior. This could affect the team's ability to stop the run, which it already was in the bottom half of the League in terms of yards allowed on the ground last year. The Titans did go out and lock up Bud Dupree and Denico Autry. Dupree was having a monster season last year before picking up the season-ending knee injury. Only time will tell if he can translate the same production to Tennessee where he won't have the luxury of playing on the same line as T. J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and company.


24) LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

via Heidi Fang / Las Vegas Review-Journal


The Raiders have seemingly remained in the bottom third of the League in terms of the production of their defensive line, especially after the Khalil Mack trade. They have not been able to consistently get after the quarterback, and have seemingly drafted OK players to develop, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby are good rotational edge players, but Las Vegas has not been able to haul in any real star power on this line. They did go and get Yannick Ngakoue, so maybe he can help push this line over the hump.


23) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

via Maddie Meyer / Getty Images


Last season, the defensive line of the New England Patriots was one of the team's biggest weak points. The Pats allowed the seventh most rushing yards in the league, and had the fifth fewest sacks. They generated an average amount of quarterback pressures, but that "success" came more from Bill Belichick's schemes, and not so much the talent on the line. The Pats simply lacked the firepower down in the trenches. They made addressing that void a priority this Offseason, and they went and signed Matthew Judon, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Montravius Adams, Christian Barmore, Ronnie Perkins, and brought back Kyle Van Noy. This emphasis on improving the defensive line should certainly make a difference, only time will tell how quickly it takes shape.


22) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

via ChiefsWire


Despite having elite production coming from Chris Jones, Frank Clark has not lived up to the hype he generated. Outside of these two, the Chiefs lack a lot of depth and help on the defensive line. Thankfully their offense can stay on the field and put enough points on the board to make up for their slightly below average defensive line play.


21) BALTIMORE RAVENS

via Karol Merton Ferron / The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Ravens have a trifecta of mammoths holding down the interior portion of the defensive line: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, and Derek Wolfe. They helped allow the seventh fewest rushing yards in the League last year. This unit will take a step back in the pass rushing front, after losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. The Ravens were top four in quarterback pressures last season and fourteenth in sacks, largely due to these two. They should drop back noticeably on that front, but still be a decent unit, with a strong interior presence.


20) MIAMI DOLPHINS

via Charles Trainor, Jr. / Miami Herald


The Miami Dolphins have a very good defense. They were at least average to good at most every statistical defensive category last year. They are a well coached and cohesive unit. However, the fact that they play such great complimentary football, masks the fact that under a microscope, and standing alone, their defensive line is rather average. The dolphins gain success because they have Xavien Howard and Bryon Jones in the secondary, allowing them to send various blitz packages to opposing teams more often than most teams around the League are able to. The production from this defense is more of a product of the secondary rather than it is the defensive line. First round draft pick Jaelan Phillips could develop into a nice prospect to boost this defensive line unit, but we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.


19) BUFFALO BILLS

via Buffalo Bills


The Buffalo Bills have a good, but not great defensive line. Last year, the Bills were 16th in rushing yards allowed and 18th in quarterback hurries. They rely on a lot of veteran guys for production. Guys like Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison certainly have shown that can they can get the job done, but at the same time, they are not the spry young chickens they once were. Hopefully the additions of Gregory Rousseau, A. J. Espinosa, and Carlos Basham, Jr. will provide the Bills with the youth movement and rotational depth to keep this unit productive. Until those guys can prove their worth, the Bills defensive line will be ranked slightly below the midway point.


18) NEW YORK JETS

via Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press


The New York Jets did not do many things right during the 2020 season, but one of the few bright points of last year's team was its interior defensive line. Lead by Quinnen Williams, the Jets defensive line has good foundational pieces to build off of. In 2020, the Jets were actually a tough team to successfully run the football against, which is largely due to the play of their interior defensive line, but they struggled in the ability to get after the quarterback. To address that, they added Sheldon Rankins, Carl Lawson, and Vinny Curry this offseason. In doing so, they added some outside help to their strong interior. The Defensive line might be the best unit on the Jets's roster.



17) LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

via BuckeyesWire


Joey Bosa is one of the greatest pass rushing players in the entire NFL. The problem for the Chargers is that they don't have much notable help besides him. He's good enough to keep this unit ranked around the middle of the pack, but he's only one man and can't push them over the hump alone. Bosa missed six games last year, and the Chargers struggled to register quarterback hurries and sacks. They could use some additional help around the line, but as long as they have Bosa, they will be somewhat productive.


16) NEW YORK GIANTS

via Bill Kostroun / AP Photo


The New York Giants have an outstanding duo holding down the interior portion of the defensive line in Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. The Giants allowed the tenth fewest rushing yards and finished eighth in quarterback pressures last season. This unit thrives off of the production of this dynamic duo in the middle, and if they can continue to improve their pressure off the edge and give James Bradberry the help he needs to lock down the secondary, they can find themselves ranked among the top units in the league in no time.


15) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

via Mark J. Terrill / AP Photo


Cameron Jordan has been a model of consistency for the New Orleans Saints at the defensive end position. If the team can keep Marcus Davenport healthy, then they will have an above average defensive line unit for the 2021 season. This team won't be hurt by the departure of Trey Hendrickson as much as the statistics suggest because Hendrickson's success hinged on the attention drawn by Jordan. Last year this unit allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards and was ninth in quarterback pressures. This team will likely hover around those rankings again going into 2021.


14) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

via Associated Press


The Indianapolis Colts have an intriguing defensive line unit. They were unimpressively average in rushing the quarterback last year, but they managed to allow the second fewest rushing yards in the League. DeForest Buckner seemed to fit right in, dominating the interior portion of the trenches. TRO believes that the Colts landed the most refined pass rusher in this year's draft class in Kwity Paye, and as a result, they will maintain an above average defensive line unit going through the 2021 season.


13) GREEN BAY PACKERS

via Quinn Harris / Getty Images


The Green Bay Packers have tremendous talents in Za'Darius Smith and Kenny Clark. Those two seem to wreck enough havoc to keep this defensive line relevant. If last year's first round pick, Rashan Gary, can take a much needed second year leap, the Packers might find themselves in the top ten, but until the supporting cast makes those essential strides, they'll remain on the fringe.


12) DENVER BRONCOS

via MileHighSports


Von Miller has indicated that he is 100% and fully back in full force. When he and Bradley Chubb are coming off of the edges, opposing quarterbacks have to lose sleep at night. Despite not having the former Super Bowl MVP all of last year, the Broncos were seventh in quarterback pressures. The only thing holding this unit back is its interior presence to stop the run.


11) MINNESOTA VIKINGS

via Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports


The Minnesota Vikings might have made the biggest leap in terms of the quality of its defensive line from the 2020 season to the 2021 season. Last year, the Vikings allowed the 27th most rushing yards and were 29th in quarterback pressures. They were simply one of the worst units in the League. Since then, Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce have returned to the picture, and the franchise gained Sheldon Richardson and Dalvin Tomilson. The Vikings will essentially have an entirely new starting unit out on the field each week this season, and the difference will be dramatically noticeable.


10) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

via EaglesWire / USA Today


The Philadelphia Eagles are a team whose roster is riddled with holes. However, they seemingly have one of the more productive defensive lines in the NFL each year. This is becauase they are able to generate a multitude of quarterback hurries (sixth most in 2020), and that production comes almost exclusively from their down linemen. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, and the addition of Javon Hargrave will likely keep this unit productive in 2021, despite the rest of the team's potentially impending struggles.


9) CAROLINA PANTHERS

via PanthersWire / USA Today


This Panthers's defensive line is on the verge of exploding into one of the top units in the League. This unit didn't start last year off so hot, but they really turned it on in the final six or seven games of the season, against some of their toughest opponents. From a film study and an analytics perspective, Derrick Brown is coming off of a tremendous rookie year, and the Panthers just went and got DaQuan Jones who will free Brown of a lot of double teams on the interior. Brian Burns is on the verge of being a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and perennial Pro-Bowler. While he was on the field last year, Yetur Gross-Matos looked like a promising young player. Carolina also added Haason Reddick, who is coming off of a 12.5 sack season, to play opposite of Burns. Guys like Morgan Fox, Marquis Haynes, and Christian Miller will make solid rotational pieces as well. This unit is young, ferocious, and here to stay.


8) CLEVELAND BROWNS

via David Richard / AP Photo


Anytime you have Myles Garrett, you won't find yourself too far down the defensive line rankings. While they lost Olivier Vernon despite him having a productive year, they managed to pick up Jadeveon Clowney, who TRO believes will have a full blown resurgence in Cleveland. Opposing offensive lines will have to either scheme to focus more attention on Garrett or Clowney. Either way, teams will be picking their poison, and the other player will benefit greatly from it. This unit is primed to thrive next season.


7) ARIZONA CARDINALS

via Arizona Cardinals


Chandler Jones has been in a league of his own in terms of consistent production at getting after the quarterback off of the edge. Jones only played five games last year, but if you look at the three years before that, he respectively finished each of those seasons with 19 sacks (2019), 13 sacks (2018), and 17 sacks (2017). This team finished fifth in quarterback pressures last year despite Jones's extended absence. Although this team lost his counterpart. Haason Reddick, they gained NFL legend J. J. Watt. This unit will have no trouble dominating the point of attack in 2021.


6) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

via Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images


This unit disappointed in 2020, but they were without Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for most of the year. Having both of them healthy surges them up towards the top 10 in its own right. Interior linemen Javon Kinlaw should make a noticeable second year leap with the extra help Bosa and Ford will bring off the edge as well. The 49ers have some stout rotational depth they can throw at opposing offensive lines to keep this unit among the League's best.


5) CHICAGO BEARS

via BearsGogglesOn


The Bears defense may have been down statistically (by their standards) in terms of sacks, quarterback hurries, and run yardage allowed in 2020, but TRO will not bet against Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. The presence of these two goes beyond statistics, as they dominate and pop on film. Chicago's defense carried the team last year, and a large part of that can be credited to this unit. The Bears will also have the return of one of the premier run-stoppers in the League to look forward to, as Eddie Goldman was a 2020 season opt-out. The Defensive line was asked to do a lot last year, and they delivered more than the statistics show. They will be primed to put forth an even better effort in 2021, and it will only be a matter of time before it translates into tangible statistics.


4) LOS ANGELES RAMS

via RamsWire / USA Today


Aaron Donald is arguably the best overall football player in the entire NFL. His ability to routinely toss around 300 lb linemen like rag dolls, blow up plays in the backfield, and menace opposing quarterbacks easily will place this unit inside TRO's top five. Donald is such a force, that if he's not the one ending up with the sack or the tackle for loss, he's usually caused enough disruption to where someone else on the Rams does. Last season, the Rams finished second in sacks and allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the League. With the departure of Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox, look for A'Shawn Robinson to have a much larger role in 2021. However, with the changes in the supporting cast, expect a very slight dip in production from last year. As a result, TRO couldn't rank the Rams any higher than four until the new faces earn their keep.


3) PITTSBURGH STEELERS

via Pintrest


It's hard to beat out Aaron Donald for the Defensive Player of the Year award, but T.J. Watt sure did come close in 2020. If he had been given the award, there would not have been much pushback, if any at all. He's one of the most menacing and versatile edge players in all of the League. Last year he helped lead the Steelers to a League best 213 quarterback pressures and 56 sacks. Outside of Watt, Cameron Heyward is one of the most consistently great down linemen in the NFL, and Stephon Tuitt is a force in his own right. The Steelers did lose Bud Dupree to Free Agency, but this unit still should have no problem putting together another tremendous year.


2) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

via Pewter Report


The Super Bowl Champs returned all 22 offensive and defensive starters. This defensive line unit not only played a vital role in securing the Lombardi Trophy, but it also helped the team finish fourth in sacks, second in quarterback pressures, and first in fewest rushing yards allowed. We can't forget to mention that they will have the addition of a healthy Vita Vea anchoring the middle, which they did not have for most of the season last year, freeing up Ndamukong Suh. Pair that addition with the swagger of winning a Super Bowl, this very talented defensive line is going to come storming out the gates loaded with confidence. Look out for this unit to be among the top of the charts in 2021.


1) WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

via WashingtonFootballWire / USA Today


This is a defensive line headlined with four young first round draft picks: Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year - Chase Young. This unit helped the Washington Football Team finish sixth in sacks and eleventh in quarterback pressures. The Football Team improved greatly from the Draft and Free Agency, which will lower the burden this unit had to shoulder last season. Defensive minded coach Ron Rivera, after kicking his cancer diagnosis to the curb, will be in a position to help each of these talented down linemen take those essential second and third year developmental leaps to really set their careers off. TRO believes that this unit will be the most impressive of the bunch in 2021.



Come back and check out TRO's worst to best line backing corps rankings going into the 2021 season!

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