Each week of the 2022 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking, meant to spotlight the top performances among a specific group of players. This week, we’ve assembled a list of the top 10 defensive lines heading into Week 5.
Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology in this series: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how players are performing relative to their peers. In today’s exercise, the formula uses each defensive line’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which units have performed best.
NOTE: Defensive line percentiles are based on components measuring each team’s pass rush AND run defense. The metric and overall scores draw from each unit’s performance in Weeks 1-4.
DeMeco Ryans’ defense has been an overwhelming force through the first four weeks of the 2022 season, limiting opposing offenses to a paltry 11.5 points per game. While there is still plenty of football left to be played, this would be the second-lowest ppg average in a season since the illegal contact rule was introduced in 1978, trailing only the vaunted 2000 Ravens defense (10.3).
This iteration of San Francisco’s defense has playmakers at every level of the field, but the foundation is built in the trenches. The 49ers’ defensive line is a brick wall against the run, allowing just 0.3 yards before contact on average (second-lowest in the NFL, trailing only Indianapolis). The defensive front is loaded with talent, allowing the Niners to play sound zone coverage without sacrificing their ability to get after the QB (SEE: league-high 35.0 percent pressure rate on four-man rushes). It certainly helps having the NFL pressure (22) and sack (6) leader in Nick Bosa too.
The 49ers pressured Matthew Stafford on 23 dropbacks in their Week 4 win, the 2nd-most pressures allowed by the Rams in a game under Sean McVay.
Nick Bosa generated a career-high 12 QB pressures and now leads the NFL with 22 QBP this season.#LARvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/NGafrcMGkh
Buffalo’s depth along the defensive front is a testament to the organization’s roster construction and player development. For the second straight season, the Bills have at least eight defensive-front players logging between 20 and 60 percent of defensive snaps. This rotation helps keep their pass rushers’ legs fresh, an approach which has unleashed veteran offseason addition Von Miller. The future Hall of Famer has generated 18 pressures this season (tied for second-most in the NFL), despite having just 78 pass rushes (tied for 94th).
Unencumbered by fatigue, Buffalo’s pass rush has generated the third-highest pressure rate this season (33.1 percent). This is even more impressive when you consider that Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier rarely send any extra bodies — the Bills have blitzed on just 11 percent of dropbacks this season, the only defense with a blitz rate under 16 percent.
There have only been three games where a defense did not blitz in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016), and all three have been the Bills under Sean McDermott:
🔹 Week 6, 2020 vs KC
🔹 Week 5, 2021 vs KC
🔹 Week 1, 2022 vs LAR#BillsMafia
After Tennessee lost star edge defender Harold Landry to a season-ending injury prior to Week 1, expectations were certainly tempered for the Titans’ defensive front. But Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry have picked up the slack, generating 13 pressures apiece so far this season.
Tennessee’s front has been especially successful in getting after quarterbacks before they are able to go through their progressions, with 15 pressures within three seconds of the snap on non-blitzes this season (tied for second-most in NFL). Like many teams on this list, the Titans have been able to create havoc while relying on a four-man rush, which they use on 73 percent of dropbacks (third-highest rate in the NFL).
The revamped Chargers pass rush started off this season with a bang, pressuring Derek Carr on over half of his dropbacks in Week 1. Unfortunately, horrible injury luck struck the organization once again when Joey Bosa hurt his groin in Week 3 and was placed on injured reserve.
Fortunately for the Chargers, a pair of offseason additions have helped the defense stay resilient in the face of roster attrition. Morgan Fox and Khalil Mack have generated 13 pressures each this season, with the former leading all interior defensive linemen with a 15.1 percent pressure rate (min. 60 pass rushes). The reinforcements have also made a big impact against the run — the Chargers rank seventh in defensive success rate on run plays this season (64.2 percent) after ranking 31st last season (52.7 percent).
The Commanders have spent four of their last seven first-round picks on defensive linemen, and the investment has paid off handsomely. Even without former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, who’s still working back from last season’s torn ACL, this defensive front has generated the second-highest pressure rate with a four-man rush in 2022 (34.5 percent).
The strength of this unit comes from the inside, as the Commanders are the only team to have two interior defensive linemen with double-digit pressures this season. No IDL has heated up opposing quarterbacks more often than Daron Payne this season (14 pressures), and Jonathan Allen also ranks within the top 10 at his position (11 pressures, tied for ninth). These big-bodied stars clog up the middle in the run game, too: Allen leads his position in run stuffs (9) and is tied with New Orleans’ Shy Tuttle for the most defensive stops (17), while Payne is right behind with 14 defensive stops of his own.
2022 marked the start of a new era for the Jaguars in a lot of ways: new head coach, new No. 1 overall draft pick and a bevy of new veterans via free agency. But when it comes to the pass rush, the tip of the spear remains the same. The other Josh Allen is having perhaps his best season yet, currently tied for second in the NFL with 18 QB pressures, behind only Nick Bosa (22).
Truthfully, though, it’s the run defense that has the Jaguars ranked sixth on this list. Jacksonville has stuffed opposing offenses for a loss or no gain on 27.2 percent of carries this season, the third-highest rate in the NFL (behind only Miami and Arizona). New off-ball LB additions Foyesade Oluokun and Devin Lloyd have complemented the Jags’ defensive line to form a formidable front seven.
Getting pressure with four pass rushers has long been the Eagles’ defensive identity, and the start of the 2022 season has been no exception. Through Week 4, Philadelphia leads the NFL with 13 sacks and a 10.7 percent sack rate when not blitzing. The Eagles piled up a staggering seven such sacks when facing former Philly QB Carson Wentz in Week 3.
Franchise cornerstones Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have proven they can still be productive into their 30s, while new additions like Haason Reddick (who leads the NFL with three turnovers forced by QB pressure) and Jordan Davis have fit seamlessly into the rotation. In fact, the Eagles are the NFL’s only team boasting six players with at least eight QB pressures this season (Reddick, Cox, Graham, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and T.J. Edwards).
While Micah Parsons is the unquestioned face of this Cowboys defense, he’s simply one out of many Dallas pass rushers enjoying success early this season. The Cowboys are one of two teams (along with the Eagles) with at least five players owning eight-plus QB pressures (Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, Demarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler Jr. and Osa Odighizuwa). The Cowboys also have a league-high 17 QB pressures coming within three seconds of the snap when using four or fewer pass rushers.
While Dallas’ run defense has not performed up to the same level, the Cowboys’ deep and dangerous pass rush has kept the team afloat with franchise QB Dak Prescott on the shelf.
Consistency is the name of the game for the Jets up front, as they’ve proven equally effective against both the pass and rush. While the Jets have been a blitz-averse team (sending extra pass rushers on just 18.1 percent of dropbacks, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL), they rank sixth in the NFL by sacking opposing quarterbacks on 7.7 percent of dropbacks when not blitzing. Carl Lawson, who ranks second in the NFL behind Nick Bosa with a 17.3 QB pressure percentage (min. 80 pass rushes), has teamed with interior DL Quinnen Williams to give the Jets a powerful 1-2 punch in the trenches. In the ground game, the Jets have stopped rushers for no gain or a loss on 24.8 percent of runs this season, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL.
Though it’s still early, Year 2 of the Robert Saleh tenure is off to a better start than the debut season, when the Jets gave up an NFL-worst 29.6 points per game.
Trey Hendrickson has generated the second-most pressures in the NFL (92) since joining the Bengals in 2021, but it’s his counterpart on the left side of the line who has dominated this season. Sam Hubbard has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 17 dropbacks this season, trailing only Nick Bosa (22), Von Miller (18) and Josh Allen (18).
However, with the loss of D.J. Reader (placed on IR after Week 3 with a knee injury), this team could soon be on the outside of this list looking in, given his immense impact on the run game. While Cincinnati currently ranks fourth in the NFL by allowing -46 rushing yards over expected this season, Reader leads the team with a 6.8 percent run stuff rate (min. 30 run defense snaps), and the Bengals are currently without both of their starting defensive tackles from last year’s AFC championship squad. (Larry Ogunjobi signed with the Steelers in June.)
The Bengals run defense has struggled without D.J. Reader on the field over the last two seasons, allowing 0.6 more yards before contact per carry.
Reader has generated 10 defensive stops this season, tied for the 2nd-most among IDL.#RuleTheJungle https://t.co/KAh89pVvJl pic.twitter.com/gSfIgxKgoh
HONORABLE MENTION: Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns.
— Keegan Abdoo, Mike Band and Cole Jacobson contributed to this piece.
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