Pass-rushers are extremely difficult to evaluate with the statistics available to the public. Every single website has a different calculation of the same statistic and there are virtually no free stats regarding run defense. So, this list is purely based on which edge defenders rush the passer the best; it has nothing to do with run defense.
There are four statistics at the foundation of this list: Hurries, when the quarterback is forced to throw earlier than expected or is chased out of the pocket, quarterback knockdowns (QBKDs), when the QB gets knocked to the ground after the throw, sacks, you all know what a sack is, and pressures, which are hurries + knockdowns + all sack plays (half and full). All of those stats are taken from Pro Football Reference because it’s free and reliable. I will use other statistics as well, but those four are the most vital to this list. So, let’s find out who a quarterback’s true worst nightmare is.
10. Robert Quinn, Chicago Bears
Robert Quinn took a brief sabbatical from elite status after his time in St. Louis ended, but man, did he get back on track last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys’ defensive line was one of the best in the league last year, largely thanks to Quinn. At face value, he did very well last season, finishing ninth in the league in sacks with 11.5, but the deeper you dive, the better his stats are.
In Quinn’s 404 pass-rush snaps, he created 12 hurries, 11 QBKDs, and 35 pressures. That means he had a hurry percentage of 3.0%, a QBKD rate of 2.7%, and a pressure rate of 8.7%. As of right now, all of those figures probably mean nothing to you, so you are just going to have to take my word for it when I say that those are incredible numbers. Think about it like this: Quinn is creating pressure once in every 11.5 passes. On top of all that, he led the league in Pass Rush Win Rate (PRWR) by a handsome margin at 33%, which is 5% higher than the next player on the list.
So, Quinn has some of the best statistical percentages in the league to compliment his league-leading win rate, but he’s still only number 10? The reason he isn’t higher on this list is that he only rushed the passer on 404 snaps. He definitely has the efficiency to be a top-5 edge rusher, but reliability and durability cannot be undervalued. If Quinn had put up those numbers over 475-600 snaps, he would be in the top-5 conversation, but for now, he stays put at 10.
9. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
ESPN loves itself some football families, and the Bosa Brothers are their pride and joy. From commercials to graphics to segments on Sportscenter, the Bosa Brothers are slowly becoming faces of the league, and for good reason. The electrifying Defensive Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa, was nothing short of brilliant in his first year in the NFL. Even though he only played in 14 games, Bosa rarely came off the field, notching 595 pass-rush snaps.
With those snaps, Bosa managed to rank fifth in hurries with 24, 14th in QBKDs with 12, 22nd in sacks with 9.5, and seventh in pressures with 45. So, he created hurries on 4.0% of plays, QBKDs on 2.0%, and pressure on 7.6%. His total production was amazing as a rookie, ranking in the top 25 in all four of those categories; his percentages were fantastic, and he was as reliable as they come, playing 42.5 snaps per game. Last season was just the beginning of what will be a long and illustrious career for the younger Bosa.
8. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
The only thing the NFL loves more than the Bosa Brothers is the Watt Family. You want to talk about endorsements and segments? The Watt brothers host their own TV show on FOX and they have a cheeky, if not slightly cringe, Subway commercial that seems to play on repeat; that’s how beloved they are by the league and the fans and, again, for good reason. J.J. Watt only played half the season last year and has dealt with injuries in each of the past four seasons. However, Watt’s last full season was in 2018, and he was back to form looking like the 3x DPOY and 5x All-Pro that he is.
In his 640 snaps that season, Watt ranked first in hurries with 32, 15th in QBKDs with 11, second in sacks with 16.0, and second in pressures with 60. He created hurries on a staggering 5.0% of plays, QBKDs on 1.7%, and pressures on an impressive 9.4%. Those rates are all near the top of this list. It’s no wonder he keeps getting injured, because 640 snaps for a player who played in 8 games in the previous two years combined is an outrageous workload.
However, Watt handled it beautifully, seeing as both his total production and efficiency were at the top of the league. He is so low on this list because he can’t stay on the field, but if he is healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league.
7. Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers
Za’Darius Smith shined in his first year as a Packer and made the first Pro Bowl of his young career. Smith started his career in Baltimore and never started more than 8 games in any of his first four seasons, and I’ll bet the Ravens are kicking themselves now for letting him go. He gathered 13 hurries, led the league in QBKDs with 22, ranked sixth in sacks with 13.5, and was fifth in pressures with 50. Seeing as he played 594 snaps last season, those percentages rounded out to a hurry on 2.2% of plays, a QBKD on 3.7%, and a pressure of 8.4%.
Those are all pretty solid rates, but his total production was far more impressive. Smith ranked top-six in the league in QBKDs, sacks, and pressures. That alone is enough to land him consideration for this list. Not to mention, Smith ranked eighth in the league in PRWR at 23%. He proved last season that he can both win and create pressure consistently, and that is what makes an elite pass rusher. The Smith brothers, Za’Darius and Preston, can rule the NFC North for years to come if the Packers play their cards right.
6. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
Cameron Jordan continues to treat the rest of the NFL like his own personal playground. Jordan has ruled the NFC South for as long as I can remember. Ever since he entered the league in 2011, he has been an unstoppable force on the outside of that Saints’ defensive line, and what’s even scarier, his 30-year-old season was probably his best yet. In 2019, at 30 years old, Cam Jordan ranked third in hurries with 27, gathered 6 QBKDs, collected a whopping 15.5 sacks (top 3 in the league), and topped it all off with his 49 pressures, ranking sixth in the league.
Although he rushed the passer an outrageous 626 times, his percentages were still very respectable. He managed a 4.3% hurry rate, 1.0% QBKD rate, and a 7.8% pressure rate. The QBKD rate is pretty poor, but I consider that the least important statistic anyway because it’s after the play. Although I couldn’t find his win rate from this season, I did dig up his 2018 PRWR of 18.1%, ranking eighth in the league.
His stats were generally better this season, meaning there is a very strong possibility that his 2019 PRWR was even higher. He is an insanely gifted athlete with immense power and quickness off the edge. It would honestly be foolish to think he will slow down next year. If he can do it at 30, he can do it at 31. I don’t see him going away any time soon; he is still an elite pass rusher.
5. Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Before last season, Shaq Barrett was nobody. He played 5 seasons in Denver, only started 15 games total, and recorded 14 sacks in that time. Then, he came to Tampa Bay, and from Week 1 on, he was a completely different player. Barrett was undeniably one of the best pass rushers, if not the best, in the league last season and nobody, probably not even himself, could have foreseen the gigantic leap he was about to take.
Last season, he ranked 19th in hurries with 14, fourth in QBKDs with 16, first in sacks with 19.5, and fourth in pressures with 51. I mean, this guy went from warming the bench behind Von Miller to putting up more sacks than Miller has ever recorded in a single season. How this happened is truly astonishing to me, because Barrett isn’t just a sack stat padder either; he’s an all-around elite pass rusher.
His hurry rate last season was 2.4%, his QBKD rate was 2.8%, and his pressure rate was 8.8%. That means he had a better hurry rate than Za’Darius Smith, a better QBKD rate than Khalil Mack, a better pressure rate than Cameron Jordan, and was better than Chandler Jones in all four stat categories, including sacks. Furthermore, his 25% PRWR ranked fifth in the league. His combination of total production and efficiency was unthinkable before the season began. He is a stud and his 2019 season more than made up for lost time in Denver.
4. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Khalil Mack is the most terrifying player in football and you can’t change my mind. Mack has everything you could ever want in a pass rusher: size, speed, strength, and a vast arsenal of pass rush moves. 2019 wasn’t his best year, but his “off” season would be most players’ fantasy, so I’ll be taking stats from both 2018 and 2019. In 2018, Mack’s advanced statistics were truly unbelievable. He ranked fourth in hurries with 26, got 8 QBKDs, ranked 12th in sacks with 12.5, and ranked ninth in pressures with 47.
However, he only played 468 pass-rush snaps that year, so his percentages are ridiculous. His hurry rate was 5.6% (the best on this list), his QBKD rate was 1.7%, and his pressure rate was a disgusting 10.0%. Mack was getting to the quarterback once every 10 plays and definitely didn’t give a gentle love tap when he arrived.
In 2019, he didn’t do well on the sacks or QBKDs front, but he ranked second in the league in hurries with 30 and seventh in pressures with 45. However, he played a lot more snaps last season, so his 2018 was far better in terms of efficiency and total production. If his 2018 season had been his 2019, we might be talking about him in the top 2, but because he had an “off-year” in 2019, he still sits at 4. Skillset wise, he is top 2 for sure, maybe even number one. However, that’s not what this list is about. This is strictly about numbers, and the numbers don’t validate Mack as a top 3 edge rusher in the past two seasons.
3. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Attention, Browns GM Andrew Berry. I am now speaking directly to you when I say this: Pay Myles Garrett. The “mega-contract” the Browns have in the works for Garrett better be good, because this guy is worth it. He is a monster coming off the edge and is the centerpiece of that extremely talented defensive unit. He was suspended after his incident with Mason Rudolph in Week 10 of last season, but before that, he was punishing opposing offenses in a way that few others were.
In his 324 snaps, Garrett’s 3.1% hurry rate was better than Shaq Barrett’s, his 2.8% QBKD rate was better than Khalil Mack’s, he had more sacks than Nick Bosa (who played 595 snaps), and his 9.0% pressure rate was better than Cameron Jordan’s. In his last full season, his 2018 sophomore campaign, Garrett ranked in the top-13 in all four of those categories and top-6 in three of them.
In the last two seasons, Garrett has proven he can create consistent pressure and that he can win off the line, seeing as his PRWR last season was 26%, ranking fourth in the league. He uses every bit of his shredded figure to wreak havoc on opposing offenses, and because he’s only 24, that won’t be stopping any time soon.
2. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Last season, it was all about Nick Bosa and how fantastic he was coming out of college, while Joey was quietly constructing the best season of his career. Last season, Joey was the better brother by a good margin, and Nick will have to put a lot of work in to change that. Joey ranked fourth in hurries with 25, fourth in QBKDs with 16, ninth in sacks with 11.5, and third in pressures with 54. He finished top-10 in all four of those categories while only playing 490 snaps, meaning his rates were insanely high.
His 5.1% hurry rate is just absurd and ranks second on this list after Khalil Mack, his 3.3% QBKD rate ranks third on this list behind Za’Darius Smith and T.J. Watt, and his pressure rate of 11.0% ranks second on this list behind only T.J. Watt (I think we all know who is going to be first). Lastly, Joey ranked sixth in the league in PRWR at 25%. I am truly blown away at how productive Bosa was, considering how little snaps he played, compared to guys like Cameron Jordan and Nick Bosa.
Joey beat out Nick in every single stat category I have mentioned: hurry total and rate, QBKD total and rate, sack total, pressure total and rate, and PRWR, and yet people still think that Nick was the better brother last season. Anything could happen as they move forward in their respective careers, but as of right now, Joey is miles ahead.
1. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
In sports, everything is a competition, and if you thought the Bosa brothers were the best family in football, you must have forgotten about the Watts. On this list, J.J. is ahead of Nick and T.J. is ahead of Joey, so the Watts still hold the ‘Best Football Family Thrown’. Unlike Nick, younger brother T.J. officially surpassed his older brother J.J. at this point in their respective careers.
J.J. is still a more decorated and skilled player, but with T.J. entering his prime and J.J. well past his, the torch has been passed. Many people, myself included, thought that T.J. would get the DPOY last season, and although Stephon Gilmore was lights out for the Patriots, the award could have gone either way. Last season, T.J. Watt ranked sixth in hurries with 23, second in QBKDs with 19, fourth in sacks with 14.5, and first in pressures with 59 all in only 511 pass-rush snaps.
Naturally, Watt’s rates were ridiculously high. His 4.5% hurry rate ranks third on this list for 2019 stats, his 3.7% QBKD rate is tied for first on this list with Za’Darius Smith, and his 11.5% pressure rate ranks first of any player in any year on this list. That means Watt is getting to the quarterback once in every 8.7 plays. If that isn’t enough to prove his worth, Watt ranked second in the league in PRWR behind only Robert Quinn, ultimately proving to be a quarterback’s worst nightmare.
Honorable Mentions (why they didn’t make the list):
- Chandler Jones (doesn’t create a lot of pressure outside of sacks + poor efficiency)
- Demarcus Lawrence (win rate is amazing but advanced stats are not)
- Josh Allen (had one of the best statistical seasons percentage-wise of any player but only played 388 snaps)
- Markus Golden (had very good production and efficiency but not good enough to beat out more proven players)
- Danielle Hunter (poor efficiency)
- Von Miller (just has not been very good the past two seasons)