Pro Football Focus this week published its 2022 NFL interior defender rankings and tiers, and of the 25 players who made the list, four are former Clemson standout defensive linemen. Grady Jarrett of the Atlanta Falcons is the highest-ranked among …
Pro Football Focus this week published its 2022 NFL interior defender rankings and tiers, and of the 25 players who made the list, four are former Clemson standout defensive linemen.
Grady Jarrett of the Atlanta Falcons is the highest-ranked among the quartet of former Tigers, checking in at No. 5 overall in PFF’s rankings under the “Tier 2: Elite” interior defensive linemen.
Jarrett, who signed a three-year contract extension with the Falcons this offseason, completed his seventh season with the Falcons in 2021 after being selected by the franchise in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft (No. 137 overall). He has seen action in 110 games with 95 starts while totaling 359 tackles (198 solo), 26.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 89 quarterback hits.
“Prior to 2021, Jarrett rattled off four straight years with 80.0-plus PFF grades with the Falcons and established himself as one of the best all-around interior defensive linemen in the NFL,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “Jarrett fell off slightly from that level in 2021, but he still profiles as Atlanta’s only defensive lineman who offenses have to worry about. Jarrett’s 93 quarterback pressures since 2020 are over 50 more than any other player on the Falcons’ roster.”
D.J. Reader of the Cincinnati Bengals is the next-highest-ranked former Tiger, coming in at No. 11 in PFF’s ranking under the “Tier 3: Very Good” interior D-linemen.
Reader started the Super Bowl for the Bengals this past February and registered a sack in the third quarter, the second postseason sack of his career. During the regular season, he was credited with 43 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and seven quarterback hits. In the playoffs, he added 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and four quarterback hits.
“Reader — a seventh-year, 347-pound defensive tackle out of Clemson — isn’t the flashiest player at the position,” Linsey wrote. “However, it’s hard not to notice the impact that a healthy Reader had on Cincinnati’s defense last season after he missed much of his first year with the team due to injury. Reader ranked in the 92nd percentile of all qualifying interior defensive linemen in PFF run-defense grade on a per-snap basis in 2021. That’s been a consistent theme throughout much of his career.”
Former Tiger Christian Wilkins of the Miami Dolphins is ranked right behind Reader at No. 12 in the same tier.
In late April, the Dolphins decided to pick up the fifth-year option on Wilkins, guaranteeing him a salary of $10.753 million for the 2023 season.
Wilkins, who has played in 47 games while making 43 starts during his three-year NFL career (2019-2021), has 192 tackles (17 for loss), eight sacks, an interception and three fumble recoveries to go with two catches for two touchdowns.
The 13th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft is coming off a career season last year, when he posted 89 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, four passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a touchdown reception.
“The strides that Wilkins made in his third NFL season last year seemed to fly under the radar,” Linsey wrote. “Wilkins was one of the best run defenders at the position in 2021, but where he made the biggest stride was as a pass-rusher. The former first-round pick out of Clemson graded out in the 80th percentile on “true” pass rushes last season compared to the 29th percentile across his first two NFL seasons.”
The fourth former Clemson D-linemen to appear as one of PFF’s top interior defensive linemen is Dexter Lawrence at No. 19.
Lawrence, who had his fifth-year option picked up by the New York Giants in late April, was selected by the Giants with the 17th overall pick in 2019. He has played in 48 games across his first three seasons, starting 41 of them while recording 145 total tackles (81 solo), nine sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups in his career.
“Lawrence is a massive, 340-plus-pound presence on the interior who isn’t just a run stuffer,” Linsey wrote. “His 74.0 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2021 was the highest of his three-year career, as were his 43 quarterback pressures. Between Lawrence, Leonard Williams and young edge rushers such as Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, New York is putting together an intriguing collection of talent along its defensive front.”
–Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
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