We already ranked the best secondaries in the NFL earlier this offseason, and now I’m looking to the players up-front with my front seven rankings. A handful of teams in the mix here play in the nickel as their base formation, so you will only see six starters listed for those teams. Weighing between individual elite talent and overall team projections was the most challenging part of these rankings, and as always, hit me up on Twitter if you disagree with any of my takes.
*Depth charts sourced from Ourlads and advanced metrics from PFF
#1: Los Angeles Rams
Starters: DE A’Shawn Robinson, DT Greg Gaines, DE Aaron Donald, OLB Justin Hollins, ILB Bobby Wagner, ILB Ernest Jones, OLB Leonard Floyd
There were only two teams to rank inside the top ten for both PFF’s run defense and pass-rush team grades – the Rams were in first place in both. They can thank Aaron Donald for that standing as he has been PFF’s highest-graded defender in every season since 2015. The Rams will have to contend with the loss of Von Miller off the edge, but Leonard Floyd has double-digit sacks in each of the last two years. The Rams added future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner, who was PFF’s top-graded linebacker in run defense as recently as 2020. A’Shawn Robinson was one of the unsung heroes of the Rams’ Super Bowl run, as his PFF grade through four postseason games would have ranked fourth among defensive tackles during the regular season. Continued development from Greg Gaines, Justin Hollins, and Ernest Jones will help this front seven stay at the top of the league.
#2: San Francisco 49ers
Starters: DE Nick Bosa, DT Arik Armstead, DT Javon Kinlaw, DE Samson Ebukam, LB Dre Greenlaw, LB Fred Warner
The 49ers have three of the best defenders in the NFL in their front seven – Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Fred Warner. Bosa ranked fifth in PFF’s pass-rush grade last year and finished with 16 sacks on 75 total pressures. Arik Armstead is an incredibly refined and intelligent defender with inside-out versatility. Fred Warner is elite across the board with transformative coverage capabilities, and lights-out run defending. The losses of D.J. Jones and Arden Key loom large, but Javon Kinlaw is a significant breakout candidate as the former first-round pick should finally get a healthy season with a healthy Bosa and Armstead next to him. Dre Greenlaw was limited to three games last year, and he’ll hope to make more of an impact.
#3: New Orleans Saints
Starters: DE Cameron Jordan, DT David Onyemata, DT Shy Tuttle, DE Marcus Davenport, LB Demario Davis, LB Pete Werner
The Saints had the third-best defense in the NFL last season by DVOA and ranked first in run defense DVOA. Surprisingly, rookie Pete Werner was the team’s highest-graded run defender by PFF and the second-highest graded run defender at the linebacker position. Werner had an uncharacteristically smooth transition to the NFL that we don’t typically see for rookies. It helped that he played next to Demario Davis, one of the most quietly consistent producers at linebacker in the NFL – he ranked top-ten in run defense and coverage by PFF again last season. Cameron Jordan is one of the best edge defenders in the NFL, and he has averaged 11.2 sacks per season in the previous ten years. Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, David Onyemata, and Shy Tuttle have also produced at a high level.
#4: Green Bay Packers
Starters: DE Dean Lowry, DT Kenny Clark, DE Jarran Reed, OLB Preston Smith, LB Quay Walker, LB De’Vondre Campbell, OLB Rashan Gary
While the Packers will miss Davante Adams on offense, their defense is quickly turning into perhaps the best in the NFL. Rashan Gary is quickly turning into one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and he had the second-best pass-rush win rate among edge defenders on his way to 12 sacks and 87 total pressures last year. Preston Smith wasn’t far behind with the 12th-best pass-rush win rate. De’Vondre Campbell earned a First-Team All-Pro nod in his first season in Green Bay, and first-round pick Quay Walker will provide even more rangy playmaking and coverage in the middle of the field. Kenny Clark earned PFF’s sixth-best pass-rush grade among interior linemen last year and is perennially underrated. Look out for rookie Devonte Wyatt to make a big impact as an interior pass-rusher.
#5: Pittsburgh Steelers
Starters: DE Chris Wormley, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Cameron Heyward, OLB T.J. Watt, ILB Devin Bush, ILB Myles Jack, OLB Alex Highsmith
T.J. Watt is coming off a Defensive Player of the Year season in which he tied the sack record with 22.5 in 15 games, but believe it or not, he wasn’t even PFF’s highest-graded defender on this team. That would be Cameron Heyward, who only had 11 sacks but was the second-highest graded run defender among interior defensive linemen, behind only Aaron Donald. Devin Bush has been a disappointment as a former first-round pick who the Steelers traded up for, and it could be the last chance saloon for him this year. In my recently published article, Alex Highsmith was my breakout candidate for the Steelers. The addition of Larry Ogunjobi could also pay dividends with his quick burst off the line of scrimmage.
TJ Watt is terrifying pic.twitter.com/4kn0zXv1TQ
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 4, 2022
#6: Los Angeles Chargers
Starters: DE Jerry Tillery, DT Austin Johnson, DE Sebastian Joseph-Day, OLB Joey Bosa, ILB Kenneth Murray Jr., ILB Drue Tranquill, OLB Khalil Mack
Despite the presence of Joey Bosa, the Chargers ranked just 13th in PFF’s team pass-rush grade last season. If Bosa and the new addition Khalil Mack can stay healthy, they will be ranked much higher. In 2020, Mack and Bosa were PFF’s first and second-ranked pass-rushers off the edge. The Chargers also added Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day, who should help shore up the third-worst run defense in the NFL last year by DVOA. After struggling as a rookie, Kenneth Murray’s second year was derailed by an ankle injury, but the Chargers are hopeful he can produce at a higher level this season.
#7: Buffalo Bills
Starters: DE Gregory Rousseau, DT Ed Oliver, DT DaQuan Jones, DE Von Miller, LB Matt Milano, LB Tremaine Edmunds
The Bills had arguably the most significant offseason addition on defense this year with two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller. Despite turning 33 years old in February, Miller was dominant in the playoffs with 22 pressures and four sacks through four games per PFF. He should elevate Gregory Rousseau, who already had a strong rookie season with four sacks and 32 run stops, the most in the NFL among edges. DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle were signed to provide more beef up front, and Ed Oliver will continue to be one of the better pass-rushing three techniques in the league. Finally, Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds earned top-12 run defense grades from PFF among linebackers.
#8: Washington Commanders
Starters: DE Chase Young, DT Daron Payne, DT Jonathan Allen, DE Montez Sweat, LB Jamin Davis, LB Cole Holcomb
Chase Young’s sophomore season didn’t live up to his rookie success and draft billing, as he finished with just two sacks in nine games before a torn ACL ended his season. The early results haven’t quite been up to par for Young, but the talent is obvious, and a breakout could be coming. Jonathan Allen is a game-wrecker who had ten sacks and 67 pressures which ranked second behind only Aaron Donald among defensive tackles. With Daron Payne and Montez Sweat also providing high-level pass-rush reinforcement, the Commanders could have a dominant defensive line this year. With second-year improvement from Jamin Davis, the Commanders could shoot up this list.
#9: Minnesota Vikings
Starters: DE Armon Watts, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Harrison Phillips, OLB Za’Darius Smith, ILB Jordan Hicks, ILB Eric Kendricks, OLB Danielle Hunter
Over the offseason, the Vikings added Za’Darius Smith. He tied for third in his last fully healthy season with 13 sacks in 2020. Smith’s presence should make Danielle Hunter’s return to former success easier – Hunter has played just seven games in the previous two years after back-to-back 15-sack seasons in 2018 and 2019. Minnesota also added linebacker Jordan Hicks who should help shore up what was the 25th-ranked run defense by DVOA last year. The loss of Michael Pierce stings, but Dalvin Tomlinson will help mitigate the damage along with new addition Harrison Phillips who ranked fifth in PFF’s run defense grades among interior linemen last year. This front seven should be massively improved between returns to health and new signings from last year.
#10: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starters: DE Logan Hall, DT Vita Vea, DE Akiem Hicks, OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, LB Devin White, LB Lavonte David, OLB Shaquil Barrett
The Buccaneers have lost Ndomakung Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul from the Super Bowl defense that made life miserable for Patrick Mahomes, but this front seven is still in great shape. There aren’t many pass-rushers consistently more productive than Shaquill Barrett, and he tied for fourth with 75 total pressures last year. Vita Vea ruins opposing offensive lines with his absurd size-speed combination, and he should be even better this year as he’s further removed from the injury. Akiem Hicks has been a stalwart defensive lineman over the past decade, and he’s a seamless replacement for Suh. Lavonte Davis is arguably a future Hall of Famer who has never received enough praise. He forms one of the most formidable linebacker tandems in the league with Devin White. If rookie Logan Hall and second-year Joe Tryon-Shoyinka can hit the ground running, this front seven will be very dangerous.
#11: Indianapolis Colts
Starters: DE Kwity Paye, DT DeForest Buckner, DT Grover Stewart, DE Yannick Ngakoue, LB Darius Leonard, LB Bobby Okereke
Darius Leonard earned his fourth All-Pro nod in 2021, and there’s a solid case to be made that he’s the best linebacker in the NFL. He finished as the top-graded run defender at his position on PFF and third overall. DeForest Buckner didn’t have the same impact last year as he did in his first season with the Colts, particularly as he fell from the third-best pass-rush grade at his position to the ninth-best with fewer pressures and sacks in 17 games than he had in 15 games in 2020. Kwity Paye had a strong rookie season and should take another step forward, especially with Yannick Ngakoue, who is coming off a ten-sack season, now rushing opposite him.
#12: Miami Dolphins
Starters: DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Raekwon Davis, DT Christian Wilkins, OLB Andrew Van Ginkel, ILB Elandon Roberts, ILB Jerome Baker, OLB Jaelan Phillips
The Dolphins were PFF’s seventh-ranked run defense last year, and much of that was thanks to Christian Wilkins, who led defensive tackles with 35 run stops and ranked third in PFF’s run defense grade overall. Miami has Raekwon Davis listed as the starter next to Wilkins, but Zach Seiler is the unsung hero of this group with a top-12 grade in pass-rush and run defense in a part-time role. Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips both had double-digit sacks last season, and they added Melvin Ingram to the pass-rush rotation over the offseason. Phillips could be set for a massive breakout in his second season, and Miami has done an excellent job of developing home-grown talent in this group.
#13: Las Vegas Raiders
Starters: DE Bilal Nichols, DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Vernon Butler, OLB Maxx Crosby, LB Jayon Brown, LB Denzel Perryman, OLB Chandler Jones
Maxx Crosby has far outshined any pre-draft expectations as a former third-round pick, and in 2021, he earned his first All-Pro nod with a whopping 101 pressures, the most in the NFL by a margin of 20, and a league-leading 26.8% pass-rush win rate per PFF. The Raiders got him a running mate in Chandler Jones, who tied for fifth in PFF’s pass-rush grades last year. The additions of Vernon Butler and Bilal Nichols help solidify the interior of the defensive line in front of Denzel Perryman, who ranked sixth with 154 tackles last year. Jayon Brown is another intriguing pickup as he has allowed the third-lowest passer rating in coverage since 2017.
#14: Baltimore Ravens
Starters: DE Calais Campbell, DT Michael Pierce, DE Justin Madubuike, OLB Odafe Oweh, ILB Patrick Queen, ILB Josh Bynes, OLB Tyus Bowser
The Ravens ranked second in my secondary rankings earlier this offseason, but their front seven shouldn’t be slept on. Odafe Oweh should take a big step forward after already having a team-leading 49 pressures in a part-time role last year. Calais Campbell is set to turn 36 years old this year, but he still ranked as the 8th-best interior defensive lineman in the NFL last year per PFF grades. Baltimore added run-stuffing nose tackle Michael Pierce to the fourth-best run defense by DVOA from last season. Patrick Queen improved in Year Two, but he still struggled, and his 17.5% missed tackle rate ranked fourth-highest among linebackers.
#15: Tennessee Titans
Starters: DE Denico Autry, DT Teair Tart, DE Jeffery Simmons, OLB Bud Dupree, ILB David Long Jr., ILB Zach Cunningham, OLB Harold Landry III
Jeffery Simmons is the star of the Titans’ front seven, and he finished with 14 sacks last year, along with three in the Titans’ one playoff game. Simmons was joined by Harold Landry III (14) and Denico Autry (11) as double-digit sack artists on this team. Zach Cunningham was also an underrated part of Tennessee’s defensive success as he had the fourth-best run defense grade among linebackers last year per PFF. I won’t lie that I’ve never fully understood the hype around Bud Dupree – aside from his 13-sack season in 2019, he’s been below-average every year by PFF, and the Titans are paying him like one of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Still, Mike Vrabel will always lead this group to great success.
What a man play by Jeffery Simmons to win the game. pic.twitter.com/t275xh6EqE
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 19, 2021
#16: Cleveland Browns
Starters: DE Myles Garrett, DT Jordan Elliott, DT Taven Bryan, DE Jadeveon Clowney, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Anthony Walker Jr.
Myles Garrett is a uniquely dominant force off the edge who ranked first in PFF’s pass-rush grade last year and has been no worse than sixth in that category since 2018. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is closer to being the second-best player in this group than many realize, and he ranked 16th in coverage and sixth in run defense last year per PFF before his high-ankle sprain. Anthony Walker is also gifted in coverage – he ranked third among linebackers last year. Jadeveon Clowney returns after an 11-sack season, and Chase Winovich provides solid pass-rush depth. However, the Browns ranked just 23rd in run defense DVOA last year and didn’t do enough to improve their defensive tackle rotation.
#17: Dallas Cowboys
Starters: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Neville Gallimore, DT Osa Odighizuwa, DE Dorance Armstrong, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Micah Parsons
As a rookie last season, Micah Parsons was PFF’s top-ranked linebacker and sixth-ranked defender. Parsons had a 26.2% pass-rush win rate that ranked behind only Maxx Crosby and ranked 12th among linebackers in coverage. The Cowboys lost Randy Gregory and his 43 pressures from last season (second behind only Parsons), but DeMarcus Lawrence should return to health and play closer to his level from 2020, when he had PFF’s seventh-highest pass-rush grade. Leighton Vander Esch was terrible through the first six weeks last year, but he was PFF’s ninth-ranked linebacker in the NFL over the final eleven weeks. If he can return to rookie production levels, this front seven would be elevated overall.
#18: Philadelphia Eagles
Starters: DE Brandon Graham, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Javon Hargrave, DE Derek Barnett, LB Kyzir White, LB T.J. Edwards, LB Haason Reddick
Much is made of the Eagles never addressing the linebacker position. Still, T.J. Edwards quietly had an excellent year in which he ranked top-ten on PFF in run defense (4th), coverage (9th), and overall (7th) at his position. Haason Reddick has 23.5 sacks over the last two years and brings more pass-rush juice to the defense. Rookies and former Georgia Bulldogs Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean aren’t listed as starters on Ourlads, but they should be expected to be significant contributors this season. Dean, in particular, has a massive chip on his shoulder after he plummeted down draft boards due to injury concerns. The Eagles have an enticing blend of youth and established talent in this group.
#19: Denver Broncos
Starters: DE Dre’Mont Jones, DT D.J. Jones, DE DeShawn Williams, OLB Bradley Chubb, LB Josey Jewell, LB Alex Singleton, OLB Randy Gregory
Dre’Mont Jones is one of my favorite breakout candidates this season after he ranked 14th among interior linemen with a 14.8% pass-rush win rate last year. The loss of Shelby Harris should be offset by the introduction of D.J. Jones, a stout run defender who had the second-most run stops among defensive tackles last year. Bradley Chubb has struggled to stay healthy, but the former first-round pick’s upside is undeniable, and he should benefit from the presence of Randy Gregory across from him. Josey Jewell only played in two games last year, and while he’s a young ascending talent, the Broncos’ starting inside linebackers are yet to be determined.
#20: Carolina Panthers
Starters: DE Brian Burns, DT Derrick Brown, DT Matt Ioannidis, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, LB Shaq Thompson, LB Damien Wilson, LB Frankie Luvu
Brian Burns is set to become one of the higher-paid edge rushers in the NFL, and his 107 pressures over the last two seasons rank 11th among edge defenders per PFF. Fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance, Burns will be hoping for even more success in his contract year. Haason Reddick’s and Morgan Fox’s losses put more pressure on Yetur Gross-Matos to provide more of an impact in his third season. Veteran Shaq Thompson finished with 100+ tackles for the third year in a row in 2021, and his leadership is essential for this unit. His coverage grade also finished sixth-best among linebackers per PFF. Outside of Thompson, the linebacker room is unproven.
#21: Kansas City Chiefs
Starters: DE George Karlaftis, DT Derrick Nnadi, DT Chris Jones, DE Frank Clark, LB Willie Gay, LB Nick Bolton
Chris Jones continues to be one of the best defenders in the NFL, and his 65 total pressures were the third-most among all defensive tackles last year. Jones has 47.5 sacks in the previous four seasons, the seventh-most among all defenders. Frank Clark has been underwhelming in most regards, but he ranked second on the team with 46 pressures last year, and the addition of rookie George Karlaftis should boost the pass rush. Nick Bolton’s paltry 2.8% missed tackle rate last year ranked as the lowest at his position despite being a rookie, and Willie Gay is a solid running mate for him. The Chiefs ranked 20th in run defense DVOA last year, but we should expect a slight improvement.
#22: Cincinnati Bengals
Starters: DE Sam Hubbard, DT D.J. Reader, DT B.J. Hill, DE Trey Hendrickson, LB Logan Wilson, LB Germaine Pratt
While the Bengals lost Larry Ogunjobi this offseason, they still have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in football. D.J. Reader was PFF’s seventh-ranked run defender among interior defensive linemen, while he and B.J. Hill both ranked inside the top-20 DTs overall. Trey Hendrickson was excellent in his first year with the team as he proved he wasn’t just a product of the Saints’ system on his way to 16 sacks and a 20.6 pass-rush win rate, the sixth-best in the NFL. Sam Hubbard isn’t nearly the pass-rusher Hendrickson is, but he’s a solid all-around player. The linebackers are more underwhelming, but Logan Wilson is an ascending talent.
TREY HENDRICKSON IS HERE
— PFF (@PFF) January 15, 2022
#23: New England Patriots
Starters: DE Deatrich Wise Jr., DT Christian Barmore, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Matthew Judon, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB Mack Wilson
The public sees Matthew Judon as the best player in this group, but Christian Barmore might take that mantle as soon as this season. I tagged Barmore as the Patriots’ breakout player this season after he finished with just 1.5 sacks despite having a 17.2% pass-rush win rate, the highest by a rookie defensive tackle since 2006. Judon ranked seventh among edge rushers with 14 sacks last year. This front seven is in transition after losing Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower, all of whom were starters last year, but Bill Belichick should get unproven talent like Mack Wilson and Josh Uche to step up this season.
#24: Detroit Lions
Starters: DE Aidan Hutchinson, DT Alim McNeill, DT Michael Brockers, DE Charles Harris, LB Chris Board, LB Alex Anzalone
Don’t look now, but the Lions have a deep defensive front. Charles Harris was rewarded with a new contract after he ranked 16th with a 17.5% pass-rush win rate last season and came through with eight sacks. Romeo Okwara is still on the roster, just two years after his ten-sack season in 2020. Aidan Hutchinson finished with 14 sacks in his senior season at Michigan and should make an immediate impact. Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike struggled as rookies, but they both flashed talent, and Michael Brockers is a solid veteran in the group. The linebackers need improvement, but this group is firmly heading in the right direction.
#25: Jacksonville Jaguars
Starters: DE Roy Robertson-Harris, DT Foley Fatukasi, DT Malcolm Brown, OLB Josh Allen, LB Foye Oluokun, LB Devin Lloyd, OLB Travon Walker
The Jaguars had one of the worst front sevens in the NFL last year, and they sought to change that wholesale this offseason as they signed Foley Fatukasi, Foye Oluokun, and Arden Key and drafted Devin Lloyd and Travon Walker in the first round. Oluokun led the NFL with 192 tackles last year and has made a tackle on 16.6% of his defensive plays since 2018, the highest rate in the league. Fatukasi has the third-highest run-stuff rate in 2021 per Next Gen Stats. Travon Walker has absurd athletic traits that the team’s coaches hope to mold, and Devin Lloyd is an ideal modern linebacker with range. While there’s plenty of talent in this group, it may be far-fetched to expect it to mesh immediately.
#26: Chicago Bears
Starters: DE Trevis Gipson, DT Angelo Blackson, DT Justin Jones, DE Robert Quinn, LB Nicholas Morrow, LB Roquan Smith, LB Matt Adams
The Bears traded away Khalil Mack this offseason, and Trevis Gipson is a big-time breakout candidate after his ten sacks last year. Robert Quinn had an excellent season with 18 sacks, tied for the second-most in the league. Quinn’s sack total will likely regress from that career-high mark, but Gipson could get 12+ sacks this year. The Bears will miss the run-stuffing prowess of Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols in the middle of their defense, and the linebacker corps is underwhelming outside of two-time All-Pro Roquan Smith, who ranked tenth in coverage on PFF last year. Overall, this is a front-seven in transition that will likely look very different heading into the 2023 season.
Good Lord, Robert Quinn pic.twitter.com/tIuK1uu3ik
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) October 20, 2021
#27: Seattle Seahawks
Starters: DE Shelby Harris, DT Al Woods, DT Poona Ford, DE Darrell Taylor, LB Jordyn Brooks, LB Coby Barton, LB Uchenna Nwosu
The loss of Bobby Wagner is momentous for any front seven, and Seattle will struggle to replace his production and leadership. However, Jordyn Brooks is coming off a breakout season where he ranked second in the NFL with 184 tackles. Cody Barton also had a whopping 18 tackles over the season’s final two weeks. On the line, the Seahawks added Shelby Harris in the Russell Wilson trade, and his versatility and leadership should help rookie Boye Mafe’s transition to the NFL. Darrell Taylor had 36 total pressures and seven sacks last year, and he is an excellent fit for the new defense in Seattle. This front seven has some intriguing building blocks for the future.
#28: Arizona Cardinals
Starters: DE J.J. Watt, DT Leki Fotu, DE Zach Allen, OLB Devon Kennard,
ILB Isaiah Simmons, ILB Zaven Collins, OLB Markus Golden
The loss of Chandler Jones is massive for a team that ranked ninth in PFF’s team pass-rush grades last year, and Markus Golden will need to replicate his eleven sacks from last year for the pass-rush to survive. J.J. Watt isn’t the Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player anymore at 33 years old, and he only played in seven games last year. Recent first-round picks Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins have to produce at a higher level to boost the team’s run defense, especially after the loss of 2021 tackle leader Jordan Hicks. Zach Allen is healthier after ankle surgery following the season, and he’s entering a contract year, hoping to continue his improvement.
#29: New York Jets
Starters: DE Carl Lawson, DT Quinnen Williams, DT John Franklin-Myers, DE Jermaine Johnson, LB Hamsah Nasirildeen, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Quincy Williams
The 2021 season was rough for the Jets overall on defense as they ranked last in defensive DVOA, but there are reasons for optimism here. Carl Lawson’s recovery from an Achilles injury is reportedly going well, and his presence along with rookie Jermaine Johnson should give the team much more of a pass-rush identity. Quinnen Williams will benefit from the attention those two get on the edge, and a career year for the 2019 third overall selection shouldn’t be out of the question. C.J. Mosley hasn’t paid off on his massive contract, but he led the NFL with 43 run stops last year per PFF and is a sound tackler.
Jermaine Johnson is the only guy that Ekwonu struggled to handle this year. Though then again, *everyone* struggled with Johnson so it's not really a red flag to me.
Both should go top 10 imo. pic.twitter.com/6wSg2DGxVy
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 30, 2022
#30: New York Giants
Starters: DE Leonard Williams, DT Justin Ellis, DE Dexter Lawrence, OLB Azeez Ojulari, LB Tae Crowder, LB Blake Martinez, OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux
Not much went right for the Giants in 2021, and the front seven was no exception. The season-ending injury to Blake Martinez was highly disappointing as the linebacker had ranked top-three in the league in tackles each season since 2017. Azeez Ojulari finished with ten sacks and flashed big-play ability as a rookie, but he struggled on a down-by-down basis. Leonard Williams added eight sacks and a team-high 47 total pressures. Dexter Lawrence uncharacteristically ranked outside the top-50 in PFF run-defense grade among defensive tackles after being top-25 in the prior two seasons. If Lawrence and Martinez can bounce back and Kayvon Thibodeaux can hit the ground running, this front seven could rank much higher by the end of the year.
#31: Atlanta Falcons
Starters: DE Marlon Davidson, DT Ta’Quon Graham, DE Grady Jarrett, OLB Lorenzo Carter, ILB Mykal Walker, ILB Rashaan Evans, OLB Arnold Ebiketie
The Falcons generated 18 sacks last year, the fewest in the NFL by a margin of 11, and went into this offseason hoping to improve their pass rush. Lorenzo Carter has been a solid part-time pass-rusher, and rookie Arnold Ebiketie provides intriguing upside. Atlanta was able to negotiate a three-year extension with Grady Jarrett this offseason despite him coming off his worst PFF grade since 2016, and his 36 total pressures in 2021 were his lowest since his rookie season. With Deion Jones a potential cut or trade candidate and Foyesade Oluokun leaving in free agency, Mykal Walker will take on the most significant role of his career and hope to continue his rangy playmaking and coverage chops.
#32: Houston Texans
Starters: DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DT Roy Lopez, DT Maliek Collins, DE Jonathan Greenard, LB Christian Harris, LB Christian Kirksey, LB Garret Wallow
In my recent article, I labeled Jonathan Greenard as a breakout candidate, but that was sort of cheating as he already had eight sacks and the seventh-best pass-rush grade in the NFL last season while only playing 414 snaps. On more of a full workload this year, he should become more of a household name. Unfortunately for Greenard, the rest of this front seven is in bad shape. Maliek Collins was the team’s best run defender last year, but he ranked in that respect outside the top-25 defensive tackles. Christian Harris is an intriguing rookie prospect, but this unit has a long way to go before it’s even an average group.
Jonathan Greenard gets his first #NFL sack via the long arm.
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) November 23, 2020