Ranking the NFL’s pass-rushing units: Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Commanders,,,,
Here are The 32 Ranking the NFL’s Pass-Rushing Units
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have led the NFL in sacks five years running, and T.J. Watt just tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. Although the team will miss Stephon Tuitt, its pass rush got by without him in 2021. Watt and ageless interior D-lineman Cam Heyward continue to etch their names higher in the history books for pass-rushing duos. The Steelers keep identifying edge sidekicks as well, with Alex Highsmith beginning what could be a nice complementary run last season. The team could use a better off-the-bench presence, but Larry Ogunjobi — at a fraction of what the Bears were prepared to pay in March — will help fill the void Tuitt’s retirement created.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
The Miller-DeMarcus Ware parallel is easy to spot. If Khalil Mack can shake the foot injury that ended his 2021 season early, being a 1-B option opposite Joey Bosa opens the door to one of the best edge duos of the past several seasons. Melvin Ingram made three Pro Bowls in that role; Mack is a different genre of player at his best. The Bolts also added ex-Patriots spork Kyle Van Noy, who will moonlight as a rotational rusher. Despite frequent off-ball linebacker duties, Van Noy has had 25.5 sacks over the past five years. Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day should also enjoy friendlier inside-rush lanes because of the Bolts’ rare edge setup.
3. Green Bay Packers
The Packers gave Rashan Gary a near-two-year internship learning behind their edge-rushing Smiths — Za’Darius and Preston — but the 2019 first-rounder’s first run at full-time work revealed a potential star. Gary’s 47 pressures ranked in the top five last season. He has zoomed from the Packers’ No. 3 edge to the top spot, with Za’Darius gone. Preston’s ceiling is lower than Za’Darius’, but his floor is much higher. Green Bay, perennially resisting the urge to give Aaron Rodgers a first-round wideout, will now throw first-rounder Devonte Wyatt into a solid D-end stew that includes Dean Lowry and Pro Bowler Kenny Clark.
4. Los Angeles Rams
Donald has made Leonard Floyd wealthy and drove Von Miller to become the only defender to score two $100 million-plus contracts. The Rams have an unrivaled weapon that, with well-earned new money locked in, is coming for the Lawrence Taylor-Reggie White defensive tier. The Rams’ effort to keep Miller and penchant for big swings to acquire stars suggests the team is not done addressing this unit. A’Shawn Robinson and Greg Gaines should provide more Donald support up front, but it should be expected the team that acquired Miller and Dante Fowler supplies Floyd with a better wingman before the November trade deadline.
5. Tennessee Titans
The Titans recorded nine sacks in a playoff game and lost, but that Bengals debacle showcased what Tennessee has built up front. Jeffery Simmons may soon challenge Chris Jones as the No. 1 contender to Aaron Donald’s throne, and the Titans re-signed their edge ace, Harold Landry. The team has steady interior worker Denico Autry representing one of the league’s best D-line role players. Tennessee throwing an elite pass rush at teams depends on Bud Dupree’s readiness. The ex-Steelers pass rusher became the latest Jon Robinson OLB disappointment last year, but he was coming off ACL surgery. The post-A.J. Brown Titans kind of need their pass rush to dominate.
6. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have never recaptured what they had when DeForest Buckner flanked Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, and they lost ascending D-tackle D.J. Jones in free agency. But the team — as the Cowboys victory showed — is not lacking for Bosa support. Samson Ebukam needs to do more outside, but the 49ers added second-rounder Drake Jackson to be a potential starter opposite Bosa at some point. Kerry Hyder posted 8.5 sacks in 2020 with the 49ers; his return after a Seattle misstep will also help complement Bosa. San Francisco has not seen enough from Buckner successor Javon Kinlaw, but there is enough here to compensate.
7. Buffalo Bills
The Bills managed a No. 1 defensive ranking without a true sack artist. Von Miller is being paid well to add this coveted skill, but in addition to the future Hall of Famer being one of the biggest acquisitions in Bills history, the team added D-tackle Tim Settle to pair with the developing Ed Oliver. Old friends Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips are also back, giving Buffalo one of the NFL’s deepest D-lines. Miller’s presence will raise this consolidation’s ceiling, but Buffalo needs at least one of its highly drafted ends — Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, A.J. Epenesa — to be a reliable rusher. If one can join Miller here, this is a tantalizing stable.
8. Denver Broncos
Potentially going quantity over quality, the Broncos could ensure both if Gregory moves past his two-surgery offseason and Bradley Chubb drops a big contract year. These are big ifs, particularly in Gregory’s case, though both players have shown Pro Bowl-caliber stuff at points in their careers. Denver also used a second-round pick on Nik Bonitto and has frequent Chubb/Von Miller sub Malik Reed back in his insurance role. Denver’s Joneses up front could define its trajectory, though. D.J. Jones broke through in his 49ers contract year, and steady inside rusher Dre’Mont is going into his walk year. This is a deep, high-variance contingent.
9. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas tried to keep Randy Gregory but lost him due to guarantee language. That hurts a D-line that has not seen DeMarcus Lawrence match his pre-extension form. The Cowboys are also counting on some young players inside and will hope to coax a comeback year from Dante Fowler on the edge. But Micah Parsons, either moonlighting as a pass rusher or factoring in heavily, gives this array a weapon no team can match. Parsons’ monstrous rookie season gives the Cowboys options to replace Gregory without using high-end resources. How Dan Quinn deploys his joker will define this year’s Cowboys defense.
10. Washington Commanders
Gradually, Washington has seen its once-preposterously deep D-line core splinter. This year, the team lost auxiliary rushers Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis. This comes a year after Ryan Kerrigan’s exit. The core four from the Commanders’ first-rounder-laden group — Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne — remain, elevating this D-line’s place. But Young was not flashing before his ACL tear, an injury that clouds his near-future outlook. Allen-Payne is easily a top-flight D-tackle duo, though Phidarian Mathis — Washington’s latest Alabama import — may ensure the pair breaks up after 2022. More questions than usual here.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Moving on from Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh inserts some volatility into Tampa Bay’s QB-disrupting setup, but the team has prepared for it. Shaq Barrett is one of this era’s top UDFA finds, and the training wheels are off for Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, whose first-round pedigree will need to show up this season. Vita Vea does not contribute much sack-wise, but the mammoth nose tackle aids Bucs rushers considerably. Vea’s presence buoys this collection. If Akiem Hicks can stay healthy — a big if, based on his recent past — the Bucs will send perhaps the league’s most menacing interior duo at opposing interior O-lines.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles brought in a hired gun and retained core pieces this year, adding Haason Reddick and re-signing Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett. That came after the team extended Josh Sweat. There is a lot to like about Philly’s deep arsenal, which mixes ascending talents (Sweat, Reddick) with veterans amid a downhill slide (Cox, Brandon Graham). Javon Hargrave has also been one of the NFL’s best inside rushers during his two Eagles seasons as well, having led the 2021 edition in both sacks (7.5) and QB hits (18). This crew underachieved in 2021 (29 sacks); how much Cox and Graham have left in the tank could determine its 2022 ceiling.
13. Miami Dolphins
A surefire Pro Bowl-caliber rusher is absent here, but Miami’s equation could become more promising if first-rounder Jaelan Phillips builds on his 8.5-sack year. Phillips is in a nice situation for it, with the recently re-signed Emmanuel Ogbah becoming one of the league’s better edges. Ogbah finished with nine sacks and 12 pass batdowns in 2021, helping the Dolphins rank fifth in sacks (48). Jerome Baker’s Kyle Van Noy-esque versatility (12 sacks, 204 tackles since 2020) and Christian Wilkins’ interior disruptions complement Miami’s true edges well. With Melvin Ingram also now in the fold, this one of the NFL’s highest-floor groups.
14. Las Vegas Raiders
Swapping out a 27-year-old pass rusher for one going into his age-32 season brings risk. Chandler Jones has proven far more than Yannick Ngakoue, and although five of his 10.5 sacks last season came in one game, the ex-Cardinals All-Pro might round out the Raiders’ best edge tandem in a generation. Maxx Crosby has been a revelation as a fourth-round pick. The Raiders do have questions regarding their inside cogs. Bilal Nichols (eight sacks since 2020) looks like the best bet to provide D-tackle support, and OLB3 Kyler Fackrell should benefit from rushing opposite either Jones or Crosby. Still, this is a top-heavy group.
15. Indianapolis Colts
This season should feature an improved Colts rush. They did not backstop their first- and second-round defensive end picks with a veteran last season, raising the responsibility bar for DeForest Buckner. Yannick Ngakoue’s arrival will alleviate some of the burden on Buckner and youngsters Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Ngakoue, now a three-city Gus Bradley disciple, gives Indianapolis a Justin Houston-like veteran presence outside. Paye as a secondary rusher should be a better formula. The Colts will present tough blocking assignments if the 2021 first-rounder’s game expands this year.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
This space doubted Trey Hendrickson going into last season, but he effectively showed that Saints contract year was no aberration. The Bengals replaced Carl Lawson with an upper-echelon rusher, with Hendrickson’s 14 sacks a team record (official era; all due respect to Coy Bacon). Hendrickson has Sam Hubbard back as a nice DE2, and the Bengals smartly re-upped B.J. Hill after stealing him from the Giants. Depth could be an issue here, with Larry Ogunjobi gone, but third-rounders Joseph Ossai (2021) and Zach Carter (2022) debuting could address that. A nice mix here. Hill’s contributions will determine its upward mobility.
17. New Orleans Saints
Making a late run for the Hall of Fame, Cam Jordan continues to churn out quality seasons. At 33, Jordan should be expected to slow down soon, highlighting New Orleans’ need for a true sidekick. The Saints have two other first-rounders flanking Jordan in Marcus Davenport and Payton Turner. The intermittently useful Davenport posted a nine-sack 2021. He also underwent five offseason surgeries, clouding his 2022. Turner practically took a redshirt year, suffering multiple injuries and playing in just five games. The Saints need more from him. David Onyemata should be more impactful inside in 2022, with no suspension looming this year.
18. Cleveland Browns
This probably should be a better unit than it is, but the Browns look to supplement their Myles Garrett-Jadeveon Clowney redux with an unproven set of defensive tackles. The team let its 2021 starters (Malik Jackson, Malik McDowell) go, and while neither was especially productive, Cleveland’s replacements look shaky. Jaguars bust Taven Bryan and fourth-round rookie Perrion Winfrey are primed for key D-tackle roles. The Browns have an enviable setup at D-end. Garrett is a top-five edge, and Clowney — his dicey health history aside — is still 29 and supplies versatility. The Browns lead the NFL in cap space and need to use it here.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
This is out of respect for Chris Jones, the NFL’s premier non-Aaron Donald defensive tackle. The Chiefs have some questions beyond their interior dynamo, who is no longer misaligned at D-end. Frank Clark has not delivered on the $21 million-per-year deal the Chiefs gave him, but he remains the team’s top edge player. Kansas City let Melvin Ingram walk in free agency, but new addition Carlos Dunlap provides some insurance if first-rounder George Karlaftis experiences acclimation issues. Letting Jarran Reed walk may hurt the Chiefs inside, but the Dunlap addition — like Ingram’s last year — will bolster the group as a whole.
20. Minnesota Vikings
If Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith were not both coming off significant injuries, then Minnesota would have elite potential. Both Pro Bowlers remain under 30, and they are coming together to lead a Vikings pass rush that amassed the NFL’s second-most sacks (51) last season — an effort devoid of much publicity. Minnesota doing this largely without Hunter sets the table for a formidable pass rush, with D.J. Wonnum (team-high eight sacks) and D-tackle Armon Watts (five, as a 2021 part-timer) posing as a decent supporting cast. But Smith and Hunter’s recent injury pasts cloud this otherwise strong situation.
21. Carolina Panthers
It took the Panthers months to finalize a Baker Mayfield trade most knew they had the inside track on, and the team’s methodical approach to adding a Brian Burns complement also appears to be dragging on too long. The Panthers have not adequately replaced Haason Reddick, but Burns has become one of the league’s top young edge rushers. The Panthers also added Commanders castoff Matt Ioannidis, who totaled 16 sacks between the 2018 and ’19 campaigns. A 2020 injury slowed him, but he went to Temple, giving him an obvious in with Matt Rhule. Absent a veteran move, ex-Round 2 pick Yetur Gross-Matos (six sacks in two years) must take a major step forward.
22. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals would rise here if a more reliable J.J. Watt were part of this front seven. But Watt cannot be counted on to stay healthy. The all-time great becoming one of the NFL’s most injury-prone players hamstrings the Cards, who let Chandler Jones walk. It will be interesting to see if Markus Golden can come close to replicating his 11-sack 2021 performance without Jones commanding attention. Arizona also has Devon Kennard, but after three sacks in 28 games as a Cardinal, it is safe to say the 31-year-old vet has not been the same guy post-Detroit. Watt going down again could crush this defense.
23. Detroit Lions
Detroit-area native Aidan Hutchinson falling to the Lions at No. 2 in the draft represented a nice break for a team that needed it. Hutchinson will likely be asked to do a lot as a rookie after a 14-sack senior season at Michigan that nearly won him the Heisman. But the Lions have the Okwara brothers (Romeo and Julian), veteran interior charge Michael Brockers, and second-round rookie Josh Paschal. Discarded ex-first-rounder Charles Harris also quietly (very quietly) ranked in the top five in hurries (19) in 2021, a seven-sack season. Although the Trey Flowers bet went bust, Detroit has an interesting mix of rookies and vets in Year 2 of its latest rebuild.
24. New York Giants
The Giants spent most of the Dave Gettleman era neglecting their edge positions. They splurged to start Joe Schoen’s GM regime. Kayvon Thibodeaux represents the most significant draft investment the Giants have made at this position since Lawrence Taylor. That is the only KT-LT comparison worth making at this point, but the Oregon product was ranked as the draft’s top prospect for a lengthy stretch. He, 2021 second-rounder Azeez Ojulari (eight sacks), and Leonard Williams form a nice trio. Williams was not as productive in 2021 compared to his 2020 contract year, however. The Giants need more from their well-paid inside rusher.
25. Chicago Bears
This placement includes Robert Quinn, who seems likely to either start and/or finish the season elsewhere. The twice-traded defensive end, however, is coming off a stunningly productive season. Quinn followed up a 2020 statistical no-show with a Bears-record 18.5-sack showing. If Quinn is dealt, Matt Eberflus has ex-Colts stopgap Al-Quadin Muhammad — he has experience in the new boss’ system and is coming off a 5.5-sack year — and Trevis Gipson, who broke through out of nowhere for a seven-sack, five-forced-fumble season. How the former fifth-round pick looks in Year 3 may define Chicago’s rush.
26. New York Jets
After ranking last across the board on defense in Robert Saleh’s debut season as head coach, the Jets will be better equipped in 2022. Still attempting to find a quality edge rusher, seemingly for the first time since the 2006 John Abraham trade, the Jets have $15 million-per-year D-end Carl Lawson back from his Achilles tear. The team also used a first-round pick on Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson. This duo, along with versatile rusher John Franklin-Myers, certainly stands to be better than what Gang Green deployed on the edge last year. Quinnen Williams playing for a new contract should also provide an additional spark.
27. New England Patriots
Matt Judon delivered on the Patriots’ upper-middle-class investment last season, tallying 12.5 sacks. No one else on New England’s 2022 roster topped three. Respect always needs to be given to Bill Belichick, but his team lacks the horses up front. Christian Barmore should continue his ascent inside, but the Pats moved on from longtime linebacker/rusher Kyle Van Noy and sporadic contributor Chase Winovich. Barring a preseason trade, this equation looks to be asking too much from Judon. The Pats could really use a third-year breakout from second-round pick Josh Uche, who has struggled to put it together thus far.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ bet on Travon Walker’s tools over Aidan Hutchinson’s production will define their pass rush over the next few years, but Walker will not be asked to be his team’s top edge presence. Josh Allen should have that covered by playing to put himself in position for a big-ticket extension. The Jags will need more than the 23 QB pressures (60th in 2021) Allen contributed last season, but their plan of using their second first-round pick — linebacker Devin Lloyd — in a hybrid capacity injects some additional intrigue into this situation. The team still could use more interior rush assistance.
29. Baltimore Ravens
Second-round rookie David Ojabo, a first-round talent before a pre-draft Achilles tear, may be in the mix for Baltimore by November. But going into the season, veteran stalwarts Justin Houston (33) and Calais Campbell (35) will be counted on to spearhead this pass rush. Just as the team needs a step forward from 2021 first-round receiver Rashod Bateman, it will require a production jump from 2021 first-round outside linebacker Odafe Oweh (five rookie-year sacks). Ojabo becoming a late-season contributor, pulling off a poor man’s version of Terrell Suggs’ 2012 Achilles rehab, could change the Ravens’ equation.
30. Seattle Seahawks
Uchenna Nwosu recorded 30 pressures for the Chargers last season but finished with five sacks in 17 games. That came alongside Joey Bosa. The Seahawks will expect Nwosu to anchor their 2022 pass rush. Seattle also nabbed underrated D-tackle Shelby Harris, who pairs elite pass-deflecting savvy with solid inside-rushing chops. These two seem more like complementary pieces on a good pass rush; they will need to be more than that in 2022. Second-round pick Boye Mafe (seven 2021 sacks at Minnesota) will be needed early and often because 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier has flopped.
31. Houston Texans
The Texans used their top offseason resources on non-front-seven cogs. They took a cornerback, guard, safety, and wide receiver with their four first- and second-round picks. Houston, who finished with 32 sacks last season (28th), saw a nice breakthrough year from 2020 third-rounder Jonathan Greenard (eight sacks). While the team added ex-Bills Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison at discount rates because each is near or in his mid-30s, its big Nick Caserio-era edge investments are undoubtedly still in college.
32. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons still roster Grady Jarrett. They do not have much else of note. Atlanta did, however, take some swings for the future, which makes sense for a team amid a full-scale rebuild. The Falcons used second- and third-round picks on edge rushers Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) and DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky). They join Georgia native Lorenzo Carter, an ex-Giants draftee who is now two seasons removed from an ACL tear, in this Jarrett-centered mix. Atlanta’s 18 sacks in 2021 were 11 worse than the next-worst team. A big 2022 jump seems unrealistic.
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Ranking of NFL pass-rushing units
In addition to Von Miller’s shifting teams, many other players on the Hall of Fame’s radar relocated to reshuffle this year’s pass-rushing contingents. As training camps begin, here’s how the league’s quick passes stack up.