Top 10 interior defensive linemen

Oregon's DeForest Buckner leads our ranking of the 10 best interior defensive linemen in college football.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Top 10 interior defensive linemen

At PFF, we love our edge rushers, but for this article we decided to show a little love for the big guys inside – our top-ranked interior defensive linemen.

Our criteria can be found at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, here are our top 10 interior D-linemen in the country:

1. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

Buckner is the clear No. 1 interior defensive lineman of 2015 thus far and one of the most physically imposing players in college football as well — a true “get-off-the-bus-first” player. Buckner tops many of our statistical categories for interior lineman, including pass rush grade, QB pressures (41 total, including 7 sacks), stops (30), and run-stop percentage for 3-4 DEs. In addition, he is tied for second nationally in batted passes with four.

2. Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame

Equally adept and consistent this season at defending the run and getting after the QB, Day is tied for second in pass-rush grade among interior linemen, and ranks sixth against the run.  In Notre Dame’s three biggest games, Day has stepped up his play in a big way, including an outstanding +7.7 grade against undefeated Clemson, six total QB pressures against USC, and another six total QB pressures, including a sack, against Temple in this past Saturday’s prime-time matchup. He has greatly increased his productivity from last season, when he ranked at just No. 155 among interior linemen.

3. Sheldon Rankins, DE, Louisville

Our run of Sheldons continues, as Rankins is coming on strong and looking to regain the top spot he held in 2014 when he was our highest-graded defensive interior lineman (+55.4 grade with 39 QB pressures). In 2015, Rankins has again shown his strength, quickness, and playmaking ability. Over the two-game stretch against Florida State and Boston College, Rankins had a +13.8 grade with 12 total QB pressures, including a scoop-and-score TD against BC in which he hurdled a player on his way to the end zone. Rankins is the third overall 3-4 DE in run-stop percentage and second in pass-rush productivity with 25 total QB pressures.

4. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

Collins has taken a giant leap forward this season. He has been equally dominant in both the run and pass game, as his grade ranks seventh in pass rush and fifth in run defense. He has been getting to the QB with high frequency due to the great quickness he has for his size – notching 30 total QB pressures thus far. Given his play against both the run and pass, Nebraska rarely takes Collins off the field.  He is currently No. 3 among all interior linemen in snaps at 575.

5. Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA

With the strength and stamina to continually take on double teams and still make plays, Clark does the dirty work inside for the Bruins, picking up where he left off last season. This year, Clark has the 10th-highest grade among interior linemen against the run, and with 24 total QB pressures, including two sacks against Cal star Jared Goff, he has already surpassed his 2014 total of 17 QB pressures. In addition, Clark is tied for first with Buckner with 30 stops.

6. Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

When you play on the same defensive line as the nation’s leader in sacks and PFF’s No. 4 edge defender, Carl Nassib, it’s easy to get overlooked.  Johnson, though, has dominated in his own way.  He is currently our fourth-highest graded interior lineman, with his primary work done in the run game. Johnson has the third-highest grade against the run and is second among defensive tackles in run-stop percentage at 9.3 percentage with 26 stops. Johnson only shifts down a couple of spots as he hasn’t been as productive a pass-rusher as those above, with just 14 total pressures.

7. Jonathan Bullard, DT, Florida

As Florida basically wrapped up the SEC East this weekend with its destruction of Georgia, Bullard continued his stellar play in the run game as he and his defensive teammates limited Georgia to only 69 rushing yards and 223 total yards. Bullard is currently the top-ranked interior lineman against the run, despite facing PFF’s No. 1 (LSU) and No. 5 (Tennessee) running games. He also has four sacks and 17 total QB pressures.

8. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama

The veteran anchor to Alabama’s No. 2 run defense, Reed uses both his size and athleticism to stand out among the Tide’s litany of rotating defensive linemen. He is another guy whose play has taken a definitive leap this year, as he has already doubled his 2014 grade. Reed is our No. 2 interior lineman against the run and has 22 stops. While he also gets to the QB (16 total pressures), his skill and strength against the run is going to vital in one of the biggest games of the season this week, as the Tide host Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette and LSU.

9. Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan

Just like Reed above, Wormley is the veteran anchor for a Michigan defense that is one of the top units in our PFF grades. The variability in Michigan’s defense sees Wormley on the edge in a four-man line, at defensive end in a three-man line, or even truly inside at defensive tackle. This past weekend was his best performance to date, a +6.0 grade and 5 total QB pressures as Michigan held on against Minnesota.

10. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech

Butler is another guy who has stepped up his game in 2015. After a solid 2014, he has already eclipsed both his grade and total QB pressure numbers. This season, Butler is our No. 8 interior lineman in pass rush and No. 12 in run defense. Staying quite consistent, he is also third in run-stop percentage and fifth in pass-rush productivity among defensive tackles. He uses good strength at the point of attack and superior quickness for his size to wreak havoc in the backfield.

Special honorable mention: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

The uber-talented Nkemdiche was nicked up and missed the majority of the Memphis game and the entire Texas A&M game, but came back this past weekend to dominate Auburn with five total QB pressures and four defensive stops. He is currently our No. 20 interior lineman.


Considered only those with 270-plus snaps (median of all graded interior linemen) for two reasons:

–Being available on a play-by-play and week-by-week basis is as much of a skill as quickness or strength

–This gives us interior linemen who typically stay on the field regardless of pass or run.


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