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PFF: Mason Graham Tabbed As No. 1 Interior DL In Nation

Powerful Michigan DT Mason Graham is already receiving accolades ahead of his junior season.
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Time and time again, Michigan defensive lineman Mason Graham proved to be a menace for opposing blockers in 2023. Last season, Graham ripped, shoved, spun and dashed his way towards a second-team All-American selection, and analysts are already singing his praises ahead of his junior campaign.

According to Pro Football Focus, Graham is ranked as the top interior defensive lineman in the country, and PFF’s Max Chadwick was overtly bullish regarding his combination of strength and skill.

“Graham was excellent in his first year at Ann Arbor, leading all FBS true freshmen interior defensive linemen with an 80.3 PFF grade. He took his game to a whole new level as a sophomore. According to PFF's wins above average metric, he was the fourth-most valuable defensive tackle in the nation and was sixth in that same group with a 15.9% pass-rush win rate. Graham was one of only two interior defensive linemen in the country to finish with top-10 grades as both a pass rusher and run defender. The other was Texas’ T’Vondre Sweat.”

“The rising junior has a relentless motor to combine with ridiculous agility that makes him nearly unblockable. Even if an offensive lineman gets a clean shot on him, he has great power at 6-foot-3, 318 pounds to shed the block and find the ball carrier. Graham’s a nearly complete defensive tackle who’ll continue terrorizing Big Ten offenses on his way to likely becoming a high selection in the 2025 NFL Draft. If he was eligible for the 2024 Draft, he’d likely be the first defensive tackle off the board.”

Playing alongside a host of other pass rushers and run stuffers, Graham rotated in and out of games often last year. However, that approach introduced Graham to a variety of in-game situations, and he should step into a larger role for the 2024 season. But even while splitting time, Graham compiled 36 tackles, seven and a half tackles for loss, three sacks, three hurries, one pass deflection, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery en route to the Wolverines’ undefeated National Championship run.

After such a dominant season, Graham left a long trail of clues as to how he’s become the nation’s top returning defensive tackle. Last year against Minnesota, Graham logged six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack during Michigan’s 52-10 win over the Golden Gophers, which included this shear display of force and outright will. After shedding his initial blocker, Graham splits the late double team and punishes Minnesota for a big sack in the second half. 

Later on in the season, Graham once again rose to the occasion, stuffing Alabama for a loss during overtime of the College Football Playoffs semi-finals. On this play, Graham immediately explodes off the ball with season hanging in the balance and drops the Crimson Tide ball carrier for a loss.  

With 18 total Wolverines invited to the NFL Combine, Michigan is tasked with replacing a boatload of talent on both sides of the ball, but expect Graham to anchor what was the country’s No. 1 defensive unit a year ago. 

Also of note: Kentucky’s Deone Walker checked in at No. 2 on PFF’s ranking. Walker is a native of Detroit’s Cass Tech, and Michigan was a prominent player in Walker’s recruitment with the Wolverines receiving an official visit on Dec. 8, 2021 according to 

Instead, expect Kenneth Grant to start alongside Graham when Michigan trots out a four-down lineman set. 

What were your thoughts on Mason Graham’s 2023 season? Can he become even more of a force this fall? Let us know at @EricJRutter on Twitter.