Top 10 defensive lines entering Week 6

John Breitenbach ranks the top 10 NFL defensive lines based on this season's performance.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Top 10 defensive lines entering Week 6


After ranking all 32 offensive lines last week, the team at PFF decided to take on a new challenge: identifying the top 10 defensive lines, based on their performances so far this season.

Editor’s note: For this ranking, we’ve included edge defenders as part of the D-line. When analyzing the grades, we also excluded players with fewer than 80 snaps.

1. Denver Broncos

Combined run defense grade: +10.8

Combined pass rush grade: +45.5 

The Denver Broncos have, without a doubt, the best group of pass rushers in the NFL. There is no better duo of edge rushers than Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Miller and Ware occupy the first and second spots in pass rush productivity amongst outside linebackers. Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray offer potential off the bench. Malik Jackson (+8.4) is the interior anchor, having graded positively in every game. He’s been able to push the pocket on passing downs, as well as making plays in run defense. The return of Derek Wolfe from suspension will likely help with defending the ground game, considering he recorded a +14.5 grade in that facet in 2014. Rounding out the group, Sylvester Williams and Vance Walker are also good two-down players. Antonio Smith, meanwhile has performed his nickel rusher role well.

2. St. Louis Rams

Combined run defense grade: +30

Combined pass rush grade: + 28

The Rams defensive line doesn’t have a player with a negative run defense grade. Unlike for the Broncos, the star is found in the middle of the line, in the form of Aaron Donald. His grade exceeds all other interior defenders (3-4 DEs, DTs and NTs). After a truly historic 2013, Robert Quinn has reverted to just very good (10th in pass rush productivity). Chris Long appears a little passed his best form, at least as a pass rusher, but backup William Hayes has starting ability. Finally, Michael Brockers is a good run stuffer, who matches Donald’s +9.1 run defense grade exactly. When Nick Fairley can only get on the field for about a third of snaps, you know you have a good unit.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Combined run defense grade: +30.5

Combined pass rush grade: +13.2

Although not at the same level as Miller as a pass rusher, Justin Houston is probably the most complete outside linebacker. He’s first in run stop percentage, and sixth in pass rush productivity. Partnering him, Tamba Hali is probably on the downside of his career, but remains productive (20 overall pressures). Backup Dee Ford is having to wait for his opportunity, but was highly regarded coming out of Auburn. On the interior, Jaye Howard has broken out in his fourth year in the league. He leads all 3-4 DEs in run stop percentage, having made 18 stops in 91 snaps. Mike DeVito and Allen Bailey are good two-down run stuffers, while Dontari Poe’s 2013 season suggests his slow start is mostly due to the back surgery he had in the offseason.

4. Oakland Raiders

Combined run defense grade: +24.5

Combined pass rush grade: +15.6

Four of the Raider’s five starters on the defensive line are excellent players. Khalil Mack is the standout, with top-3 grades as both a pass rusher and run defender. The Aldon Smith signing was a risk, but he’s been productive. It seemed reasonable to expect a few growing pains for Justin Tuck, as he moved inside in the 3-4, but if anything, his performances have improved. The addition of Dan Williams was one of the more underrated free agency acquisitions. You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find a game where he recorded a game grade under -1.0. Where Oakland does suffer is its lack of depth—defensive ends Denico Autry and Stacy McGee have not played well so far.

5. Seattle Seahawks

Combined run defense grade: +22

Combined pass rush grade: +21.2

The Seahawks have studs at both defensive end spots. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett occupy the first and second spots in pass rush productivity amongst 4-3 DEs. They don’t sell out to get to the quarterback, either, combining for better than a +10 grade in run defense. Seattle does lack an interior pass rusher on early downs, because Ahtyba Rubin, Jordan Hill, Brandon Mebane, and Frank Clark are predominantly run stuffers. Only Clark has a positive pass rush grade. Bennett does shift inside in the nickel, allowing Bruce Irvin to rush off the edge.

6. Cincinnati Bengals

Combined run defense grade: +13.7

Combined pass rush grade: +15

After Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins has been the best interior defender in 2015. He’s recorded grades of at least +2.5 in every game this season, ranking top in pass rush productivity and fourth in run stop percentage. Out on the edge, Carlos Dunlap is very disruptive in both facets of play. Dunlap is on a hot streak too, having recorded just a single negatively-graded game in his last 13 outings, dating back to 2014. A return to where he’s made his career has also helped Michael Johnson become a serviceable player once again. Aside from those three, the Bengals don’t have a huge amount of talent. Wallace Gilberry and Domata Peko aren’t liabilities, but they’re not difference-makers either.

7. Washington Redskins

Combined run defense grade: +10.1

Combined pass rush grade: +25.1

Washington had quite a bit of turnover this offseason on the defensive line, but the moves they made have paid off. The biggest improvement, though, has come from incumbent Chris Baker. Baker has top-10 grades as both a pass rusher and run defender. While Jason Hatcher offers disruption in the passing game, where he holds the third-best pass rushing grade, Terrance Knighton can clog the middle on running downs. Stephen Paea is also a good player to call on to keep the starters fresh. On the outside, Washington has three players graded inside the top-20. Ryan Kerrigan hasn’t reached the pass rushing heights he achieved in 2014, but is still playing well. The Redskins’ second-round picks in back to back years, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy also know how to get to the quarterback. They’ve combined for four sacks so far in 2015.

8. Tennessee Titans

Combined run defense grade: +7.5

Combined pass rush grade: +20.2

The Titans don’t have any defensive lineman who can’t rush the passer. There are few interior defenders who have mastered that skill, as well as Jurrell Casey, as his top spot in pass rush productivity attests. He can defend the run too, with a team-high +5.1 grade. Aside from Casey, Tennessee has a solid group. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo both grade in the top 15 as pass rushers, while Al Woods and Karl Klug have positive run defense grades. Only DaQuan Jones’ performances has let them down a little.

9. Green Bay Packers

Combined run defense grade: +7.1

Combined pass rush grade: +21.1

It’s testament to the Packers’ depth that they have recorded such a good pass rush grade, despite the fact Clay Matthews is playing inside. Mike Daniels is the best player in his absence, with top-six grades as both a pass rusher and run defender. The only other player to have played enough snaps to qualify is B.J. Raji, who has looked improved on his return to the NFL. At outside linebacker, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, and Jayrone Elliot are all predominantly pass rushers, combining for a +12.5 grade in that facet of their play.

10. Minnesota Vikings

Combined run defense grade: +4.3

Combined pass rush grade: +18.6

There were a few candidates for the final spot, but by virtue of having played a game fewer, the Vikings have made the list. Only Everson Griffen grades negatively, and that’s only due to seven penalties. Griffen is Minnesota’s best pass rusher, ranking inside the top 8 in pass rush productivity. Brian Robison isn’t as effective when applying pressure but has a positive grade in run defense. Former Giant Linval Joseph, has the highest grade of the unit, currently ranking fourth overall amongst defensive tackles, with grades better than +5.0 as both a pass rusher and run defender. Rounding out the group, Sharrif Floyd (+0.7) and Tom Johnson are capable NFL players.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • techvet

    The Packers have played, or will play, #1 through #5 on this list + #10 (twice), along with the Panthers and Cardinals.

    • walker8084

      Rodgers will carve up every team on your list except Denver and maybe AZ. AP will make GB’s run D grade go way down.

  • Patrick Hogan

    The Denver Broncos have already played three of these teams (3,4 and 10). A good showing against the Browns could breath life into a struggling run game and a shaky young O Line. #9 and 6 are still on the schedule.

    • anon76returns

      Number 3 and number 4 are coming back around again, but at least in Mile High next time.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      really hoping we get the run going finally against CLE, but ty has been ruled out again this week so we’ll see

  • Gus

    The Giants have the best run defense I’m the league through week 5, yeah we’re terrible when it comes to pass rush but we at least deserve to be on the list

    • Scott Burns

      Wrong…Falcons have #1 rushing defense

      • Kevin

        Falcons are 9th overall in total run def grade while the Giants are 15th. They’re within 4 points of each other but less than a 1/3rd of the overall grade of the Rams who are #1.

        Gus- You’re right about their pass rush though. The Giants are sitting in dead last even though they have Cullen Jenkins who is having a good year getting after the QB IMO.

        • Scott Burns

          I went by average rushing yards allowed per game at 78.4. Not claiming we are even “best” in league, but a pleasant surprise.

    • Mark Turner

      it is the falcons, you can see all the rankings at
      http://www.nfl.com/stats/team

  • Thomas Dupkavich

    How is the jets not listed? well once sheldon comes back its game over

    • Zack23

      Game over? Why, did he get suspended again?

    • ArthurDented

      “How ARE the Jets not listed?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.willie.509 Joe Willie

    what about the fearsome foursome ?

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    • Douglass Pinkard

      Well, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Lamar Lundy are dead, while Rosie Grier has turned to Christian ministry. So, no.

  • jjthetraveler

    The Pack’s played 2,3 and 5 so far. Beat every one of ’em. Go Pack, go. PFF seems to have it in against the Pack cause they seem to not give credit where it’s due.

    • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

      I am eager to the see the DEN-GB game. I think that it will be a battle. Though I am a Denver fan, I would give a slight edge to GB just because the offense has too many 3 and outs, tiring the defense. That said, it won’t be easy for GB.

      • jjthetraveler

        I too am eager to watch. With both teams coming off a bye they’ll be well rested. Don’t know the spread, but as you say, it’ll be close.

      • Kevin

        Who would of thought a game against Rodgers and Manning would be more about the dominant defenses than the offenses.

        I think a lot of people expected Manning to reach this point of his career this year(I was one of them).

        Packers have adjustments to make to life without Nelson, Cobb playing through the shoulder, Adams missing time(top 3 WR’s injured will hurt any team no matter who is the QB), plus you have OL injuries to add to everything else that has gone wrong.

        What not many people expected was for Denver and the Packers to have two of the best defenses in the NFL. Both are absolutely ferocious getting after the QB and locking down WR’s with great secondary play.

        It will be a great game. I’m not sure if the defense can make up for Mannings struggles against a team like the Packers though. Anything can happen but I see the Packers having more success shutting down the Broncos offense than Denver stopping GB’s Offense.

        • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

          Like I wrote originally, I think GB has the slight edge . . . but I also think that GB hasn’t been tested yet while each game for Denver has been a battle. So, I think it’ll be close.

      • Taylor Christian Vance

        Denver’s pass rush is crazy good, but Eddy Lacy can get the job done on the ground and Denvers run defense is not as good. I expect this game will be determined by GB’s run game and Aaron Rodgers doing a few special things along with the short passing game.

        I’m a Denver fan but I actually dont see this one being close. Something like 28-17 GB with the packers controlling the game.

        Hopefully Denver’s offense is much better by week 8. Come playoff time is when I expect Denver to be at their best, barring major injures.

    • walker8084

      Credit is due to Aaron Rodgers.

      • jjthetraveler

        Not much credit from PFF. AR throws for 5 TD’s and they call that just below average. Not his ave but league wide.

        • walker8084

          I remember. AP led league in rushing wk 2, had 192 all purpose yards and PFF rates him as worst RB in NFL that week. This was a good site, but their grading system is flawed. I think they’re contrarians half the time just for shock value.

    • The Mysteries of Bob

      Packer fans are really the Notre Dame fans of the NFL.

      So insecure.

      • jjthetraveler

        That is really a stupid comment.

  • Douglass Pinkard

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    • Richard

      The Jets have played 1 less game then all of these teams but the Vikings. Since the grades are cumulative, it would be hard for the Jets to be in the top 10. They did say the Vikings were given the 10th spot because they only played 4 games, so I’m guessing the Jets were around the 10th spot with the Vikings being a little higher.

      • Taylor Christian Vance

        Which is why they should use the average grade per game. Seems foolish to do it any other way.

    • Nik Hildebrand

      The Jets’ edge rushers have not been good (or even average). With these sub-par players included, and the team only having played 4 games, it’s not surprising that their cumulative grade didn’t crack the top 10. I’m a big Jets fan, but that’s the way I see it.

      • Douglass Pinkard

        Okay, only they’re on pace for 240 QB hurries, 140 actual hits, and 31 sacks. You want to say it’s all Buster Skrine (who PFF was ALSO wrong about)? Or do you want to say the D Line commands so much of the oppossing O Line’s attention that anybody ELSE who even so much as strolls in the general direction of the QB gets through untouched because it takes everything the center, guards, and tackles have to contain the three–THREE–guys up front? Oh, and this without their best pass defender, Sheldon Richardson, having played a down yet? No, it’s the PFF “system” which is mediocre, not the J’s D Line.

        • Taylor Christian Vance

          PFF does not account for game planning or opposition, plain and simple. They measure effectiveness in a vaccum. You should know this and use it to better understand what PFF’s grades mean.

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  • Kevin Howell

    The Eagles line is stopping everyone despite being on the filed all the time. You sure they are not top 10 quality?

    • Bryan Witherspoon

      If you don’t have a masters degree in research or something dealing with statistics, (it’s obvious who doesn’t among those above) you’d benefit by not wasting your precious time spitting out meaningless $hit to those of us who actually understand the difference as well as how to interpret objective and subjective data.

  • Chris Matthew

    We’re do you get the stats from used in your blog
    Meaning were did the you get the grades per player.

    • Johnny Rotten

      They watch every player on every play in every game. They have a point system and they either add or subtract points from a player if he does or doesn’t make certain plays. Certain types of plays can be worth more than others. For instance not all sacks are scored equally. If a player goes unblocked and gets a sack he gets a lower score than someone who had to shed blocks to get the sack. Same with tackles. A player gets a better score for the tackles they make behind or at the line of scrimmage than the tackles they make past the line of scrimmage. Then they’ll subtract points for missing tackles and things like that. Then they just add everything up an that’s how they grade players.

  • Black Power Ranger

    No Eagles?????

    • Andy

      the eagles had one good game. Let’s not jump the gun here.

      • Black Power Ranger

        No. The Birds D-Line has been great for two years now.

        Look, I’m not an analyst so maybe they aren’t good enough to crack the top-10 but I just thought they would be.

        • Andy

          If they beat the Giants, they will make this list. If they can stop Eli, they deserve at least that.

          • Black Power Ranger

            Fair enough. Last year, they destroyed him on that Sunday Night game though. I expect to see the same this time around.

  • blarney8

    jets?