With defenses focusing more and more on developing edge rushers and safeties, interior defensive linemen have been given the shaft when it comes to building a defense. Over recent years, however, there have been some studs that play on the inside that have forced defensive coordinators to rethink their schemes. 300+ pound mammoths terrorizing the backfield play after play may have a bigger impact than a lockdown corner, or a pure pass rushing edge player.
Similar to edge rushers, I will be using pass rush productivity (PRP) as one of my main metrics for this ranking, but I will put a heavier weight on run stop percentage as well. The average PRP and true pass set PRP for all IDL is 3.5 and 5.9 respectively. As long as they had over 400 total plays, they'll have a shot at making the cut on this years PRR for interior defenders!
Photo: Buffalo Bills/Bill Wippert
12. Ed Oliver (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 70.9 (24th)
The former top 10 pick has stumbled out of the gate to start his NFL career, but it finally looks like he hit his stride this season. On 40 pressures, he posted 4 sacks and a PRP of 6.1, tied for 9th in the league. He also tied for 14th in true pass set PRP at 9.6, while adding a batted pass. While he looks to improve his pass rushing, it's his run defense that set him apart this year. He had 24 stops and a stop rate of 11.2%, ranking 6th among IDL, as well as 10 TFLs. He should do better with Von Miller taking attention away from him, but he needs to out perform this season if he hopes to live up to his potential.
11. Christian Wilkins (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 83.3 (5th)
Another former first rounder finally had the big year he was waiting for. He still has some work to do in his pass rush, as he recorded 31 total pressures and 4.5 sacks, to the tune of a 5.0 PRP, both ranking 33rd and 30th respectively. Against a true pass set, however, his PRP nearly doubled to a 9.0 rating, and he batted down 4 passes, tied for 4th most among IDL. Like the other tackles on this list, he excelled against the run, tying for the most stops among IDL with 35, and a solid run stop rate of 10.6%. With an addition of 10 TFLs, Wilkins looks to improve and make his name known across the league next season.
10. Arik Armstead (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 77.9 (10th)
After moving inside and outside for most of his career, Arik found his home inside the tackles and had a great year. He had 52 pressures, ranking 8th among IDL, 6 sacks and a 6.1 PRP. He also ranked 10th in true pass set PRP at 10.1, while getting 39 of his pressures on true pass sets. His run defense was good as well, as he record 22 stops, 7 TFLs, and a stop rate of 7.7%, paired with a missed tackle rate of 5.6%. He looks to be more comfortable inside the tackles, and that was put on display in his numbers.
Photo: Getty Images/Quinn Harris
9. David Onyemata (Last Season: #7)
PFF Grade - 81.9 (7th)
David had another underrated year, but missed 6 games due to a suspension. In 11 games, he had 32 pressures and 2 sacks, while posting the 6th highest PRP for IDL at 6.6. His true pass set PRP ranked 8th in the league at 10.9, and he posted a 25.2% pass rush win rate, 5th highest among IDL. He had 9 run stops and a stop rate of 6.3%, but only missed 1 tackle on the year. Add in 2 TFLs, and Onyemata performed above expectations, even while being limited to just over half the season.
8. DeForest Buckner (Last Season: #2)
PFF Grade - 71.9 (T-20th)
After a career year after moving to Indy, DeForest took a small step back this season. He had 49 pressures and 7 sacks, while posting a PRP of 5.6. He did a little better in true pass set situations, as he graded out at a 8.8 in that category. He totaled 22 run stops at a 7.7% run stop rate, and added 10 TFLs.
7. Kenny Clark (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 74.9 (T-13th)
Kenny came unglued this season, generating the 4th most pressures at 64, 4 sacks, and the 5th highest PRP among IDL at 6.7 across 16 games. He dominated on true pass set plays, as he generated a 10.5 rate, 9th among IDL. He did well against the run, as he had 23 run stops and 6 TFLs. He came back to life in 2021, and looks to improve on these numbers in 2022.
6. Javon Hargrave (Last Season: Unranked)
PFF Grade - 67.1 (30th)
Hargrave had a career year where he posted 61 pressures, 7.5 sacks, and the 3rd highest PRP among IDL at 8.1 across 16 games. He also posted a 12.9 true pass set PRP, ranking 2nd among IDL, and a 21.1% and 30.4% pass rush win rate against all plays and true pass sets respectively, both ranking 2nd among IDL. He did have an awful run defense grade of 30.6, but he had 22 stops and only missed 1 tackle. Compared to his 91.5 pass rush grade, it's clear to see what Javon's strong suit is. Add in 9 TFLs and a batted pass, Javon took his play to another level this past season.
Photo: Getty Images/Mitchell Leff
5. Chris Jones (Last Season: #3)
PFF Grade - 82.8 (6th)
Chris Jones continues to prove he's one of the best IDL in the league. In 14 games, he had 65 pressures, 9 sacks, and led all IDL with a 9.4 PRP. He also generated a 12.9 true pass set PRP, tied for 2nd among IDL, and he batted down 5 passes. Despite a decent run defense grade of 66.7, he only had 8 stops and posted a 15.0% missed tackle rate. He did have 8 TFLs, which does help his case slightly. His sheer dominance in the pass game, however, is good enough to land him a spot in the top 5.
4. Jeffery Simmons (Last Season: #9)
PFF Grade - 71.9 (T-20th)
In terms of breakout years, Simmons had the best one out of all IDL. Despite a low PFF grade, he dominated opposing lines, as he posted 62 pressures, 8.5 sacks, and a 6.1 PRP. He also had a true pass set PRP of 9.7, and he batted down 5 passes as well. He was great against the run as well, as he had the 5th highest run stop rate at 11.4% and he tied for the 7th most run stops at 32. The tape doesn't lie, Simmons terrorized opposing offenses all year, and he looks to take an even bigger leap in a contract year.
3. Jonathan Allen (Last Season: #11)
PFF Grade - 84.9 (T-3rd)
Allen gets better every single season, and reached new heights in 2021. He had the 2nd most pressures among IDL with 67, 9 sacks, the 2nd highest PRP at 8.4, and the highest true pass set PRP of 13.6. He also ranked 3rd with a 20.0% and 28.2% pass rush win rate in both normal plays and true pass sets. He also posted 20 run stops at a 7.1% rate and 10 TFLs. Allen is the heart and soul of the Commanders defense, and he looks to perform even better in 2022.
Photo: Washington Post/Jonathan Newton
2. Cameron Heyward (Last Season: #4)
PFF Grade - 91.0 (2nd)
If not for Aaron Donald being one of the best defensive players of all time, Cam might be considered one of the greatest interior defenders of all time. He consistently destroys opposing offenses, and this season was no different. He has 61 pressures, 10 sacks, a whopping 8 batted balls, and a PRP and true pass set PRP of 6.6 and 9.2 respectively. He also was fantastic in the run game, as he had 32 run stops and missed only 1 tackle. His ferocity was on full display this year, and he doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
1. Aaron Donald (Last Season: #1)
PFF Grade - 93.6 (1st)
I shouldn't have to breakdown why AD is #1 for a second season in a row, but I will anyways for the new people here. He led all IDL with 86 pressures and 12.5 sacks, as well as ranking 4th in both PRP and true pass set PRP with a 8.0 and 12.2 respectively. He also batted down 4 passes and forced 4 fumbles, all while recording 35 run stops and 19 TFLs, both tied for most among IDL. He's a freak, he's a menace, he's the best player in the NFL, and he continues to show why he should be in the conversation for the best defender in NFL history.
Photo: Getty Images/Focus on Sport
Some guys who performed well and didn't make the list are Zach Sieler, Calais Campbell, Quinnen Williams, and Dexter Lawrence. All 4 did well at one thing, but struggled with the other. Some may be shocked I didn't include Vita Vea on the list, since his impact can't really be found in numbers, but I believe the 12 others above him made a bigger impact on their teams than he did.
Join me next time as I cover the best running backs of 2021!