Ranking the NFL’s top 10 inside defensive linemen: Who follows Aaron Donald?

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Previously a college football reporter for CBSSports.com
  • University of Florida graduate

To preview the 2020 NFL season, we asked more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 positions (sorry, special-teamers). The results might surprise you. They surprised me.

Here’s how it worked: Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research. We had several ties, so we broke them by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.

The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2020. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who’s the best today? Pretty simple.

We’ll roll out a position per day over the next 11 days. Here’s the schedule:

Week 1: tight ends (July 7); quarterbacks (July 8); running backs (July 9); wide receivers (July 10); offensive tackles (July 11)

Week 2: interior offensive linemen (July 12); edge defenders (July 13); interior defensive linemen (July 14); off-ball linebackers (July 15); cornerbacks (July 16); safeties (July 17)

The interior defensive line — which was basically a race for second, thanks to Aaron Donald — was complicated by age. Several players older than 30 are still performing at a high level, leaving little room for newcomers.

We tried to separate which players are living off rep (not many) and which are properly fending off the rest of the competition (many).

The No. 2 spot required a tiebreaker. The No. 10 spot required one, too. And somewhere in the middle is one of the game’s biggest superstars who desperately wants to shake durability issues. This ranking includes all defensive tackles, along with defensive ends in a 3-4 alignment.

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