2023 NFL player rankings: Defensive linemen

NFL games are often won in the trenches, meaning it’s good to know about the best defensive linemen for 2023 before the season gets underway.

Even compared to other football positions, it can be hard to win without good defensive linemen on the roster. So who are the best NFL defensive linemen currently?

Ranking 10 Best NFL Defensive Linemen in 2023

It’s not easy distinguishing the top defensive linemen in the NFL. Some are interior players who never seem to get enough credit while others are edge-rushers who always enjoy taking the credit.

We’ve done our best to balance those two positions into one list of the 10 best defensive linemen in 2023.

10. Maxx Crosby

As he moves into his fifth season in the league, Maxx Crosby looks ready to take yet another step forward and prove that he belongs among the elite pass rushers in the NFL. Keep in mind that he had 10 sacks as a rookie in 2019.

While he failed to match that production during the next couple of years, Crosby broke out again in 2022 with 12.5 sacks and 88 tackles. He doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of an elite pass rusher, but the numbers speak for themselves. Crosby has been invited to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, which is a trend that is likely to continue in 2023 and beyond.

9. Daron Payne

Almost out of nowhere, Daron Payne burst onto the scene in 2022, collecting 11.5 sacks and knocking down five passes. The former first-round pick had just 9.5 total sacks in the previous three seasons combined, so he took a huge step forward in 2022. The Commanders rewarded him appropriately with a four-year, $90 million extension, making him one of the richest defensive linemen in the league. It’s now up to him to prove that he can continue to be one of the NFL’s elite defensive tackles for many years to come.

8. Dexter Lawrence

Dexter Lawrence made the Pro Bowl and was named a Second-Team All-Pro for the first time last season, and the Giants are expecting more of the same from him in 2023.

The Giants actually gave him a four-year extension earlier this season, so they expect last season to be just the beginning of Lawrence being among the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Keep in mind that Lawrence was a five-star prospect in high school and an elite college player, so his success shouldn’t be a surprise. The 25-year-old still might be only scratching the surface of his full potential.

7. Brian Burns

There’s nothing like a 12.5-sack season to make it clear that you’re one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Of course, Brian Burns has been tending in the right direction throughout his four seasons in the league. But now with 38 career sacks and back-to-back Pro Bowl invitations, it’s clear that Burns is inching closer to being a household name who’s known for being one of the top pass rushers around.

Keep in mind that Burns is a former first-round pick, so he’s just living up to his promise. With free agency approaching, he’s likely to have another big year in 2023.

6. Quinnen Williams

The Jets are expected to be strong defensively this year, and Quinnen Williams is a big reason why. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 with 12 sacks while tying his career-high with 55 tackles.

For the first time, he lived up to his potential as the third overall pick in the 2019 Draft. Coming off his first Pro Bowl selection and a First-Team All-Pro selection, Williams is a safe bet to be among the best defensive linemen in 2023.

5. Jeffery Simmons

Jeffery Simmons is a great example of a defensive lineman who has improved year by year and is now among the best defensive linemen in football heading into 2023. The league has taken notice of Simmons going to the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons.

The Titans have also taken notice by giving him a four-year, $93 million contract extension earlier this year. As an interior lineman, the sack numbers aren’t always going to be there and won’t always tell the whole story for a player like Simmons. However, 16 of his 21 career sacks have come over the past two seasons, so Simmons is finding a way to get into the backfield and wreak havoc from the defensive tackle position.

4. Chris Jones

The Chiefs haven’t won two of the last four Super Bowls because of defense, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had some quality players on that side of the ball. Chris Jones has arguably been the star of the Kansas City defense over the last handful of years. Even from his interior position, Jones racked up 14.5 sacks last season and two more in the playoffs.

That shows the upside that Jones has in the trenches. He finally earned First-Team All-Pro honors for the first time last season on top of being selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in a row. Jones is still in the prime of his career, so he’s not going to slow down anytime soon.

3. Aaron Donald

Not only is Aaron Donald likely to be among the best defensive linemen in 2023 but he’s already one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, Donald has gone on to win Defensive Player of the Year honors three times. His resume speaks for itself, including the fact that he’s gone to the Pro Bowl in all nine seasons of his career.

Last season, injuries limited Donald to just 11 games and five sacks. But in the five years before last year, he averaged 14 sacks per year. It’s a safe bet that Donald will be able to bounce back in 2023 and get back to performing at an elite level.

2. Myles Garrett

The Browns have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but drafting Myles Garrett first overall isn’t one of them. He’s turning into the elite pass rusher that the Browns envisioned him becoming when they drafted him. Garrett may not be the best pass rusher in the league because the guy ahead of him is just ridiculous.

However, he’s collected 16 sacks in back-to-back seasons, earning First-Team All-Pro honors both years. He’s now been to the Pro Bowl in four of the last five years and had at least 10 sacks in five straight seasons, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL again this year.

1. Nick Bosa

Let’s not pretend that there is anyone close to Nick Bosa’s level right now. He was the Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the league with 18.5 sacks.

Since he played just two games because of an injury in 2020, Bosa has racked up 34 sacks over two seasons, not including the four sacks he’s had in the playoffs over the past two years. He has a lot of help around him on an outstanding San Francisco defense.

But part of that is Bosa’s production and the fact that opposing teams have to pay a lot of attention to him. Remember that Bosa is just 25 heading into the 2023 season and already has 43 career sacks, putting him on track to become one of the best pass rushers of all time.

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