The Top 10 NFL Defensive Lines for 2021

Stoney Keeley continues his look at the NFL as the 2021 season approaches. Today, we're looking at the top 10 NFL defensive lines.

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It’s summertime offseason content time! As the season approaches, I’m going to be taking a look at the landscape of the NFL, position by position, over the course of the next several weeks. We’ll be talking about the who’s who of the NFL in our own little version of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” bit they do every year. Up next, we’re talking about the top 10 NFL defensive lines for 2021!

Last week, we looked at the big pot roast boys on the offensive side of the ball. This week, we’re shifting gears and looking at the big boys that do it on defense. Like the offensive line, my rankings are more about being a complete unit than they are individual talent, with the exception of the Los Angeles Rams….because let’s face it…Aaron Donald is a transcendent talent. They might be able to put him out there alone on the defensive line and he’d still produce. If you have a guy like that, you’re going to be in the top 10. Otherwise, I looked at teams with a solid rotation of defensive linemen, and picked between ’em.

Up first, let’s get some honorable mentions out of the way. Like their offensive line, the Arizona Cardinals have quietly assembled a solid collection of veteran talent in J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, and Markus Golden. The Cleveland Browns won this year’s Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes, and he joins Myles Garrett for what could potentially be a solid pair of bookend defensive ends. The Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers both have two of the most promising young defensive lines in the game, and we can’t ignore the investments the New England Patriots made in the defensive line this offseason. They were the hardest team to cut from the following top 10 list.

The Top 10 NFL Defensive Lines for 2021

10. Chicago Bears – Getting Eddie Goldman back from an opt-out a season ago is huge for this defensive line, as Goldman has consistently been one of the best run-defending defensive tackles in the league over the last few seasons. The Bears have a fierce pass rusher in Khalil Mack, and a solid rotation of linebackers that will make this a solid defense. But, without Goldman, the defensive line looks average.

9. New York Jets – Nobody was busting down the doors to call the Jets good in 2020, but they quietly two of PFF’s 14 highest graded interior defenders on their roster in Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi. Factor in the promising John Franklin-Myers, the free agent addition of one of the best unheralded pass rushers in the game in Carl Lawson, and the addition of Robert Saleh (who coached some pretty damn good defensive lines as the 49ers DC) at head coach, and you’ve got a real sleeper unit for 2021.

8. New York Giants – The Giants defense was one of the big surprises of 2020, and the team was able to hold on to Leonard Williams this offseason. He and Dexter Lawrence could very well be the best 1-2 punch at DL in the NFL. They will continue to anchor the defensive front for the Giants, but until they can get more proven talent around them in the pass rush rotation, it might not matter.

7. New Orleans SaintsCameron Jordan has been one of the premier defensive ends in the league for quite some time now, and if Marcus Davenport can stay healthy alongside him, the Saints have quite the pair of disruptors on this defensive line. Once David Onyemata comes off of suspension after the first six games of the season, the Saints will also boast an intriguing pair inside in he and Shy Tuttle. This has quietly become one of the most complete defensive lines in the league (again….that’s assuming Davenport can stay healthy).

6. Los Angeles Rams – This Rams defensive line isn’t as deep as it once was, but look…if you have the best defensive tackle in the game on your squad, you’re going to pop up on this list. Aaron Donald isn’t just one of the best in the league right now, though – he’s approaching the elite level of his position in NFL history. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen such a gifted pure athlete along the defensive line. He makes the guys around him better – Leonard Floyd can attest to that.

5. Philadelphia Eagles – As long as Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are breathing, this Eagles defensive line is going to be among the best in thee NFL. Cox has long been one of the stalwarts at his position as one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the game. I don’t know that Graham has ever been fully appreciated as a pass rusher. But, these two have helped to make the defensive line a consistent strength for the Eagles organization.

4. San Francisco 49ers – This is admittedly more projection than it is based on production from 2020 – the 49ers were absolutely ravaged by injury last season. But, if you look at who’s coming back healthy, there’s no reason to think this won’t return to one of the most dominant defensive lines in the league. Getting Nick Bosa and Dee Ford back and healthy alongside Arik Armstead will be huge, but if the 49ers can get more out of former first round draft pick Javon Kinlaw, they’ll be elite.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For all the talk about Tom Brady and the Bucs offense, it was that defense that really served as the key for that legendary postseason run Tampa Bay went on en route to a Super Bowl title a season ago. Ndamukong Suh still has gas left in the tank. Vita Vea is finally starting to blossom into one of the best defensive tackles in the game, and perhaps the best collection of linebackers in the league means this unit isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers just seem to grow pass rushers on trees up there in Pittsburgh. T.J. Watt has become one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL, but it’s the beef inside that really solidifies the Steelers pass rush and allows those rushers to get after quarterbacks. Cam Heyward was voted 2nd Team All-Pro a season ago, and earned a Pro Bowl nod as well, as one of the best defensive linemen in the game. Tyson Alualu was PFF’s 9th ranked interior defender in 2020, and Stephon Tuitt isn’t too shabby either. The rushers get the sexy sack numbers, but the big boys up front make the whole engine go.

1. Washington Football Team – There’s just so much raw talent along this fearsome defensive front in Washington, and yes – that is exactly the word I would use: fearsome. Just look at this front: Jonathan Allen (stud), Daron Payne (stud), Montez Sweat (stud), Chase Young (stud). How do you attack that as an opposing offense? Who do you target? You can’t pick on anybody! Allen and Payne have developed into two of the most consistently great defensive tackles in the game, but by the time he hits his prime, it’s Young that could really strike fear into opposing offensive coordinators as the best pass rusher in the game. This is a relentless unit with no noticeable weakness.


Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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