With the first day of the 2023 NFL calendar now just three months away, it's time for most teams around the league to turn their attention to NFL free agency in a bid to improve their rosters for a new campaign.
Here are the top free agents at interior defensive line, taken from PFF's list of the top 50 players set to enter free agency.
Click here to jump to a position:
Hargrave moved from western Pennsylvania over to the East Coast during 2020 free agency and has been a force in Philadelphia, blossoming into one of the elite interior pass-rushers in the NFL over the past few seasons. Since 2020, Hargrave’s 92.2 pass-rush grade trails only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones at the position, with his 18.8% pass-rush win rate also ranking third.
Hargrave will be 30 years old for the 2023 season, but we’ve seen many interior defenders maintain longevity well into their 30s recently. Hargrave is also intriguing, as different responsibilities between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have led to interesting splits as a run defender or pass rusher. His run-defense grades were much better in his first stop, but it seems he can excel at whatever is asked of him, which is good to know for interested teams that likely don’t frequently deploy a five-man front and do a lot of the other exotic things Philadelphia does up front.
2. DI DARON PAYNE, WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
Free agent rank: 11
Payne showed early in his NFL career that he could be a stout run defender from the nose tackle position, with his 86 defensive stops against the run the most in the NFL from 2018-20. And he has now continued to build on his pass-rush arsenal to the point where he’s a problem for interior offensive linemen trying to keep their quarterback upright. Payne has 95 quarterback pressures since the start of 2021, 10th most among interior defenders, with his 11.8% pass-rush win rate over the same span a very respectable figure on the inside.
Payne still needs to put all his tools together for a complete season where he’s a positive factor in both facets, and he’s shown he has the talent to do just that.
Free agent rank: 15
Tomlinson has been shuffled around on the interior after playing mostly nose tackle with the New York Giants to start his career, with Minnesota lining him up more as a three-technique when playing alongside Michael Pierce (in 2021) or Harrison Phillips. Tomlinson has never missed more than five tackles in a season, and his 83.0 run-defense grade since 2017 is a top-16 mark at the position.
While Tomlinson missed Weeks 9-12 due to injury, he managed to post a career-best 79.1 pass-rush grade and a sixth straight season to start his career grading above 74.0 overall. He’s a better fit as a zero- or one-technique, with his 55 tackles for loss or no gain since 2017 the third-most among interior players and with his pass-rush upside better deployed as an added benefit but not the primary feature.
4. DI DRE'MONT JONES, DENVER BRONCOS
Free agent rank: 20
Jones still has room to round out his game, but the value of an interior pass rusher has never been more apparent than during the 2022 season, and that’s exactly where Jones wins. Since he entered the league in 2019, Jones’ 138 quarterback pressures are tied for the 19th most among interior defenders, with his 14.5% pass-rush win rate ranking 11th best over the span.
Jones set career highs in snaps played, quarterback pressures and stops this season. Players with his skill set don’t hit free agency too often, and teams looking for a 3-4 defensive end will be very interested in bringing him aboard this March.
5. DI ZACH ALLEN, ARIZONA CARDINALS
Free agent rank: 23
Allen has taken advantage of mentorship from future first-ballot Hall of Famer J.J. Watt early in his career, and he took a big leap in 2022. Allen earned his first run-defense grade above 60.0 and first pass-rush grade above 70.0, with a career-best 35 quarterback pressures and 8.3% pressure rate.
Allen could be a big benefactor of the pending market explosion among interior defenders, though he will land in the second or third tier of the position group.
6. DI SHELDON RANKINS, NEW YORK JETS
Free agent rank: 43
Rankins signed a two-year deal with the Jets after the former first-rounder’s rookie contract expired in New Orleans. He had a strong start to the 2022 season before briefly going down with an injury but returned to finish the year on a stout Jets defensive front. Rankins’ 73.1 overall grade is the second-best mark of his career, with his 33 tackles a new high watermark. Rankins is solid both as a run defender and pass rusher but isn't special in either facet. Nevertheless, he’s a solid target this offseason as a cheaper interior defender with the top of the market set to explode to new heights.
7. DI DAVID ONYEMATA, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Free agent rank: 47
Onyemata started the 2022 season serving a six-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, and it’s fair to wonder if that had something to do with his 2020-21 season grades both being over 80.0 before earning his 64.0 mark in 2022. Nevertheless, Onyemata continued to be a very effective pass rusher from the interior, racking up 35 quarterback pressures. Over the past three seasons, Onyemata’s 11.4% pressure percentage ranks 11th among interior defenders, and he was still just shy of 10% in 2022. Onyemata turned 30 years old this season but still has some good football left in him.