The interior defensive line position is becoming an increasingly important role in NFL defenses. These big men can push the pocket, stop the run, and the best of them can rush the passer. Having a complete defensive tackle that can do all three will change the complexion of any defense across the league. Let’s zoom in on each conference and even more specifically each division, and let’s predict who the best big men will be.
NFC North: 3-4 DE Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
TFL Projection: 14
Obviously everyone plays better the more talent around them but this is especially true for interior defensive lineman. On a line with Bilal Nichols, Khalil Mack, and Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks has quite a bit of talent around him. Hicks is a great athlete with a competitive fire like none other. I expect Hicks to return to his 2018 form this season and destroy interior offensive lineman.
NFC North Dark Horse: DT Levi Onwuzurike, Detroit Lions
NFC South: DT David Onyemata, New Orleans Saints
TFL Projection: 17
Onyemata was a co-starter last year with the recently departed Sheldon Rankins and still put up 6.5 sacks, 10 TFLs, and 16 QB Hits. Now that he is the full time starter in a defense that flows through the defensive line and through the pass rush, Onyemata is put in a prime position to thrive. On a line with Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and newly drafted Payton Turner, David is surrounded by a bevy of talent and is ready for his breakout season.
NFC South Dark Horse: DT Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
NFC West: 3-4 DE Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
TFL Projection: 20
This dude really ages like fine wine. The more he plays the better he gets. Watching him tear through triple teams to get to a quarterback is football art. Leonard Floyd is in his second year in LA and Terrell Lewis is coming into his own so Donald should have a slew of talent surrounding him. I think Donald is getting set for another MVP caliber season.
NFC West Dark Horse: DT Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers
NFC East: DT Jonathan Allen, Washington Football Team
TFL Projection: 14
This may be somewhat of an upset over Leonard Williams. Hear me out though. Allen is going to be playing in between two bonafide menaces off the edge and next to one of the premier one techniques in the league, where as Leonard Williams lost Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency and still doesn’t have another established pass rush presence around him. Allen is primed for a crazy year on the league’s best defensive line, not to mention he’s in a contract year. I expect some crazy stats from Jon.
NFC East Dark Horse: 3-4 DE Leonard Williams, New York Giants