Despite all the uncertainty around the resumption of professional sport in the United States, the NFL has remained steadfast in its commitment to getting started on time. That means that, as of today, there are less than three months remaining before football is set to return to gridirons around the country.
1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
2019 stats: 29 tackles, 49 pressures, 10 sacks & 20 stops
Myles Garrett is the prototypical NFL defensive player. At 6-4 and 272 pounds – and somehow still with 4.6 40 speed – Garrett is powerful enough to push through offensive tackles, but also agile enough to get around them.
Garrett has improved his hand technique every year he’s been in the NFL, which should be a terrifying prospect for opposing linemen. Despite a shortened season in 2019 (for reasons we won’t discuss), Garrett’s stats were still huge as he showed his true talents as one of the NFL’s most flexible defenders.
At just 24 years old, and hopefully with a wake-up-call under his belt, the sky is the limit for the Browns’ transcendent talent.
2. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
2019 stats: 53 tackles, 83 total pressures, 15.5 sacks & 31 stops
Jordan is the most well-rounded DE in the league, with his dominance against both the run and the pass a feature of his game. His 15.5 sacks, 83 total pressures and 53 tackles were all third overall in the league for edge defenders.
While Jordan’s strength is certainly not his athleticism it’s definitely not a weakness, and his power, technique and ability to battle in the trenches are what differentiate him from the average edge rusher. His hand technique is elite, while his footwork might be the best for an edge rusher in the NFL.
Jordan continues to add moves to his already bulging repertoire, which will mean he’s a mainstay at the pointy end of these lists for years to come.
3. Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings
2019 stats: 70 tackles, 88 total pressures, 14.5 sacks & 36 stops
Hunter and his Vikings running mate Everson Griffen are traditionally seen as one of the most effective duos in the league, but in 2019 Hunter officially emerged to become one fo the NFL’s premier rushers.
Hunter had three straight seasons prior to 2019 with 55+ total pressures – which is impressive in itself – but in 2019 his stats went to another level, with his 70 tackles and 88 pressures first among DEs and his 14.5 sacks were second.
Per Pro Football Focus, Hunter is also one of the top 15 defenders in the league for run stops and has been each of the last two seasons, which speaks for his versatility. The Vikings have a stud on their hands, and it’s time the rest of the league recognised it.
4. JJ Watt, Houston Texans
2019 stats: 24 tackles, 52 pressures, 4 sacks & 14 stops
*When healthy* – which is now a big caveat – Watt will always be one of the NFL’s most productive defenders, but his body is just starting to fall down on him.
To give you an indication of Watt’s impactfulness, he finished the 2019 season with three separate games of 10+ pressures. Za’Darius Smith – who led the NFL with 93 total pressures – only had three games of 10+ and he played double the amount of games that Watt did.
The issue, though, is that Watt has now missed 8+ games in three of the last four seasons after playing all 16 in his first five. His body – at 31 years of age – is letting him down.
5. Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 stats: 56 tackles, 71 total pressures, 6.5 sacks & 35 stops
At an imposing 6-8 and 300 pounds, Campbell is more than big enough to split his playing time between DT and DE and he does so with ease.
The Jaguars’ star defensive talent is an absolute battering ram in both the run and pass games, with his ability to dominate against the run a clear highlight of his game. Campbell’s strength and length make him nearly impossible to move at the point of contact.
It’s a pity Jacksonville is such a flawed roster, because Campbell deserves plaudits that he isn’t currently getting.
6. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
2019 stats: 67 tackles, 71 total pressures, 11.5 sacks & 49 stops
Joey’s brother, Nick, rightly received accolades for his stellar rookie season, but the elder Bosa put up another quality season under the radar at the Chargers.
Bosa’s stats speak for themselves; he’s an all-round beast in all areas of the game. His 34 run stops were the best of all defensive lineman, while his 49 total stops were the most among all NFL edge defenders.
Joey is also double-teamed at a much higher rate than league average, with the Chargers unfortunately not deep enough to provide him with the roster cushion he deserves. For the moment, Joey remains the better Bosa, but not by much.
7. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
2019 stats: 45 tackles, 56 total pressures, 5 sacks & 28 stops
Judging DEs solely based on their sack counts is a fool’s errand, as Lawrence continued to prove in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys’ star was third among all edge defenders in run-stop percentage, while his 56 total pressures came despite being double-teamed more than all but 5 of the league’s other edge defenders.
Lawrence has always been a player who makes others around him look better, and it’s also worth noting that he finished third ESPN’s PRWR metric, which measures how many times a pass-rusher beats a blocker within 2.5 seconds.
The sacks will come, particularly given Lawrence missed offseason and training camp as he rehabbed a shoulder injury. Don’t bet against double-digit sacks for him this year.
8. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
2019 stats: 47 tackles, 80 total pressures, 9 sacks & 32 stops
On pure stats from last season alone, Bosa should be near the top of this list, but we’re going to give him a bit more time to prove that 2019 wasn’t a fluke.
While his sacks were perhaps a little low, 80 total pressures is a ridiculous number. It’s flat-out crazy.
Similar to his brother Joey, Nick’s coordination between his hands and feet is outstanding, and the fact that he put up a season (and career) best 12 pressures in the Super Bowl under the bright lights is seriously impressive.
9. Trey Flowers, Detroit Lions
2019 stats: 51 tackles, 62 total pressures, 7 sacks & 33 stops
Nothing about Flowers – in the way he plays or his stats – jump off the page at you, but boy does he find a way to be effective.
At just 6-2 and 265 pounds he doesn’t have the measurables to overpower or slide by anyone, but the sheer power in his legs, the length in his arms and his brilliant hand technique do the job.
Flowers’ consistency is also extremely impressive; he now has three straight seasons with 60+ pressures and 30+ stops, which goes to show how good he is in all areas of the game.
10. Jadeveon Clowney
2019 stats: 31 tackles, 48 total pressures, 3 sacks & 21 stops
Injuries continue to cruel Clowney, but there’s no doubt that when he’s at peak fitness he’s one of the most dominant forces in football.
Clowney’s 6-5, 255 pound frame means he’s never going to be the sort of guy who runs around blockers, but he sure as hell will run through them. His 48 total pressures are extremely impressive given he’s double-teamed a rate higher than all but three of the league’s top defenders.
The sack numbers weren’t quite as high as he or the Seahawks would’ve liked, but that’s just an area to improve on in 2020.
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Image by: Erik Drost