NFL games are often won in the trenches, which means it’s good to get to know the best defensive linemen for 2023 before the season starts.
Even compared to other football positions, it can be hard to win without good defensive linemen on the roster. So who are the best defensive linemen in the NFL right now?
Ranking of the top 10 defensive linemen in the NFL in 2023
It’s not easy to single out the best defensive linemen in the NFL. Some are inside players who never seem to get enough credit, while others are forward running backs who always enjoy taking credit.
We’ve done everything we can to balance those two positions on a list of the top 10 defensive linemen in 2023.
As he heads into his fifth season in the league, Maxx Crosby looks set to take another step forward and prove he’s one of the NFL’s elite pass-rushers. He will note that he had 10 sacks as a rookie in 2019.
While he couldn’t match that production over the next two years, Crosby shined again in 2022 with 12.5 sacks and 88 tackles. She doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of an elite pass-rusher, but the numbers speak for themselves. Crosby has been a Pro Bowl invitee in each of the past two seasons, a trend 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, taking a big step forward in 2022. The Commanders appropriately rewarded him with a four-year, $90 million extension, making him one of the richest defensive linemen in the league. Now it’s up to him to prove that he can remain one of the NFL’s elite defensive tackles for years to come.
8. Dexter Lawrence
Dexter Lawrence made the Pro Bowl and was named Second Team All-Pro for the first time last season, and the Giants expect more of the same from him in 2023.
The Giants actually gave him a four-year extension earlier this season, so they’re hoping last season is just the start 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 come as a surprise. The 25-year-old might still be scratching the surface of his full potential.
There’s nothing like a 12.5-sack season to make it clear you’re one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Of course, Brian Burns has been heading in the right direction during his four seasons in the league. But now, with 38 career sacks for him and back-to-back Pro Bowl invites, it’s clear that Burns is getting closer to being a household name for being one of the best pass-rushers.
Keep in mind that Burns is a former first-round pick, so he’s only making good on his promise. With free agency looming, he’s likely to have another big year in 2023.
The Jets are expected to be strong defensively this year, and Quinnen Williams is a big reason for that. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 with 12 sacks and tied 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 sure bet to be among the best defensive linemen in 2023.
Jeffery Simmons is a great example of a defensive lineman who has improved year on year and is now among the best defensive linemen in football heading into 2023. The league has noticed Simmons going to the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons.
The Titans also took notice by giving him a four-year, $93 million contract extension earlier this year. As an interior lineman, the sack numbers won’t always be there and won’t always tell the full story for a player like Simmons. However, 16 of his 21 career sacks have come in the past two seasons, so Simmons is finding a way to get into the backfield and wreak havoc at defensive tackle.
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 Kansas City’s defense in recent years. Even from his inside position, Jones had 14.5 sacks last season and two more in the playoffs.
That shows the potential Jones has in the trenches. He finally earned First Team All-Pro honors for the first time last season in addition to being selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight time. 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 best defensive linemen in NFL history. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, Donald earned Defensive Player of the Year honors three times. His resume speaks for itself, including the fact that he’s been 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 leading up to last year, he averaged 14 sacks a year. It’s a safe bet that Donald will be able to bounce back in 2023 and return to performing at an elite level.
The Browns have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but drafting Myles Garrett first overall isn’t one of them. He’s becoming the elite pass-rusher the Browns envisioned him becoming when they drafted him. Garrett may not be the best pass-rusher in the league because the guy in front of him is just ridiculous.
However, he has amassed 16 sacks in consecutive seasons, earning First Team All-Pro honors both years. He’s now been to the Pro Bowl four of the last five years and had at least 10 sacks in five straight seasons, so there’s no doubt he’ll be one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL again this year.
Let’s not pretend that there is someone close to the level of Nick Bosa right now. He was the Defensive Player of the Year last season after leading the league with 18.5 sacks.
Since playing just two games due to injury in 2020, Bosa has racked up 34 sacks in two seasons, not including the four sacks he’s had in the playoffs in the past two years. He has a lot of help around him in a standout defense for San Francisco.
But part of that is Bosa’s production and the fact that opposing teams have to pay close attention to him. He remembers that Bosa is just 25 years old going into the 2023 season and already has 43 career sacks for him, putting him on track to become one of the greatest pass-rushers of all time.