The NFL is gifted with having excellent edge rushers at its disposal, making it difficult to separate the elite from the good. Of course, Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt are always going to be considered amongst the best in the league -- yet a few players are joining them in that category.
Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons are making their presence felt in recent years, joining that category of the elite pass rushers in the league. Who is the best edge rusher in the game? That formula can be a bit tricky.
Let's make this as simple as possible. Edge defenders include defensive ends and pass-rushing linebackers, and the pressures and sacks factor a significant weight into the equation. This is a ranking of the edge rushers heading into the 2023 season, so the prior season plays a major role in the formula. Past success also plays a role in the rankings, but this is mostly based off the 2022 season.
To recap the rankings last year,:
- T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns)
- Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers)
- Maxx Crosby (Las Vegas Raiders)
- Von Miller (Buffalo Bills)
- Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints)
- Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers)
- Trey Hendrickson (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Robert Quinn (Chicago Bears)
- Shaquil Barrett (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Note: Micah Parsons and others were listed as linebackers last season, but the formula is changing to include all pass rushers for 2023.
There's significant change in the top 10 this year, so let's reveal this year's edge rusher rankings:
10. Trey Hendrickson (Cincinnati Bengals)
Even in a "down" year based on what is expected of Henderson, he still is one of the top pass rushers in football. The pressures (62) and sacks (8.0) were down from his best season in 2021 (75 pressures, 14 sacks), but Henderson still had a pressure rate of at least 17% for the second consecutive year (17.0%).
Henderson still racked up 35 hurries last season and 24 quarterback hits, showcasing he's still getting to the quarterback. His 35.5 sacks over the last three seasons are fourth in the NFL, while his 186 pressures are fifth.
The best pass rusher on the Bengals, Henderson is still a force to be reckoned with.
9. Za'Darius Smith (Cleveland Browns)
Year one in Minnesota couldn't have went any better for Smith, especially since he was coming off a back injury that limited him to just two games the season prior. Smith recorded his third double-digit sack season in four years, finishing with 10 sacks on the year and earning a Pro Bowl appearance.
Smith notched 78 pressures and 24 quarterbacks hits in 2022, finishing with a pressure rate of 16.7%. He finished fourth in the league in pressures. Of pass rushers with more than 500 defensive snaps, Smith was behind only Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, and Trey Hendrickson in pressure rate.
Last season confirmed Smith is still one of the top pass rushers in the game. He'll be an excellent compliment to Myles Garrett in Cleveland.
A second consecutive Pro Bowl trip was well deserved for Burns, who is one of the top young pass rushers in the game. Burns recorded his first double-digit sack season (12.5), tied for eighth in the NFL. His 68 pressures tied for 10th in the league.
Burns finished with 22 quarterback hits and a 13.7% pressure rate last season. He also was tied for seventh in the NFL in tackles for loss (17). Entering his first season with Ejiro Evero as his defensive coordinator, those numbers should improve in 2023.
Judon was one of the top pass rushers in the league last season, tying for fourth in the NFL with 15.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits. His 69 pressures were also ninth in the NFL, as he finished with a 15.2% pressure rate.
Earning his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection, Judon continues to improve every season. He notched his second straight double-digit sack season, notching 132 pressures and 28 sacks in New England -- tied for third in the NFL in sacks and seventh in pressures in that stretch.
Judon is one of the underrated pass rushers in the game, continuing to be a sack artist for the Patriots.
6. Maxx Crosby (Las Vegas Raiders)
Speaking of underrated pass rushers, Crosby never seems to get his due as one of the best at getting to the quarterback. Crosby put up another huge season as a pass rusher, recording a career-high 12.5 sacks to go with 81 pressures (third in NFL). The pressure rate dipped from 18.1% in 2021 to 13.2%, yet Crosby was second in the league in quarterback hits (36) and first in tackles for loss (22).
Crosby has the most pressures in the NFL over the past two seasons (182), along with the most hurries (116). He's also second in quarterback hits (66) and tied for second in tackles for loss (35).
A Pro Bowler for the second consecutive year, Crosby is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He'll be in the elite category if the sack totals go up, which have been trending in that direction over the course of his career.
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Reddick had a huge season in his first year with the Eagles, finishing tied for second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks (with Myles Garrett). His 26 quarterback hits were eighth in the NFL, and he finished tied for 10th in pressures with 68, while also having a career-high 15.9% pressure rate.
A second-team All-Pro in 2022, Reddick was the best pass rusher on an Eagles defense that finished with 70 sacks on the year -- the first team in NFL history to have four players record double digit sacks in a season.
Reddick and Garrett are the only players in the league to have double-digit sacks in each of the last three years -- and he's the only player to have a double-digit sack season with three different teams in three years.
No matter the defensive coordinator, Reddick shines.
4. Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys)
Parsons has only been in the NFL for two seasons, and he's already one of the game's elite pass rushers. Backing up an incredible rookie season (13 sacks, 67 pressures), Parsons topped those numbers with 13.5 sacks and 90 pressures in year two.
Not only was Parsons a first-team All-Pro for the second consecutive season, he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting for the second straight year. Parsons had a 19.3% pressure rate, which led the league.
Parsons had six games with multiple sacks in 2022, the second most in the league. His 26.5 sacks after his first two seasons are good for sixth in NFL history, and he joined Reggie White and Aldon Smith as the only players in league history to have recorded 13-plus sacks in each of their first two seasons.
Year three for Parsons may be even bigger, as he's on an historic pace to begin his young career.
T2. T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers)
A torn pectoral muscle limited Watt in 2022, as he finished with just 5.5 sacks and 31 pressures in 10 games -- the lowest totals of his six-year career. Despite also having a career low in quarterback hits (12) and pressure rate (11.1%), the Steelers defense was clearly better when Watt was playing.
When Watt was on the field, the Steelers defense allowed 16.9 points per game and had 3.2 sacks per game (8-1 record). Without Watt, it allowed 25.3 points and had just 1.1 sacks (1-6 record). No matter if Watt produces or not, Pittsburgh is better when he's going after quarterbacks.
Watt is still one of just three players to lead the NFL in sacks in back-to-back seasons (Reggie White and Mark Gastineau are the others). He and White are the only players to record 13-plus sacks in four consecutive seasons. Watt is also the only player in NFL history with 75-plus sacks and six-plus interceptions in his first six NFL seasons -- and the first player to accomplish the feat in his first 100 games.
Even with the injury-plagued 2022 season, Watt still has the most sacks (77.5), quarterback hits (162), and forced fumbles (23) since entering the league in 2017. He's one of the elite pass rushers in football and still on a historic start to an already excellent career.
T2. Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns)
There isn't much to say about Garrett at this stage of his career. He is one of the best pass rushers of his era and may go down as one of the best in NFL history at this rate.
Garrett posted 16 sacks last season, only trailing Nick Bosa for most in the NFL. His 73 pressures were sixth in the league and his 26 quarterback hits were tied for eighth, finishing with a 16.1% pressure rate as he earned second-team All-Pro honors. The definition of consistency for a pass rusher, Garrett has the second-most sacks (32) and tackles for loss (35) over the last two seasons, also compiling the fourth-most pressures (152).
The only player to record 10-plus sacks in each of the last five seasons, Garrett is one of seven players in NFL history to have 10-plus sacks in five of his first six seasons. His 74.5 sacks are fourth most through a player's first 84 games in NFL history, trailing only Reggie White (91.5), J.J. Watt (76), and T.J. Watt (76).
Garrett and Watt average 0.89 sacks per game, tied for the highest in NFL history. Not only is Garrett elite, but he is also on a historic pace at this stage of his career.
1. Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers)
No pass rusher in the NFL had the season Bosa had in 2022, which is why he was awarded AP Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa led the NFL in sacks (18.5), quarterback hits (48), and tied for the league lead in pressures (90) -- notching a 18.8% pressure rate. Bosa has the most sacks (34), tackles for loss (40), and quarterback hits (80) over the last two seasons. If there is a major pass rushing statistic, Bosa is either first or second (trails only Maxx Crosby for most pressures over the last two seasons).
Bosa is just the fifth player since 1982 (when sacks became an official statistic), so have 15-plus sacks in two of his first four seasons. He also was the fourth player since 1982 to have a sack in 13 games of the regular season, trailing only DeMarcus Ware (14 games in 2008) for the most all-time.
Bosa was the best player on a 49ers defense that led the NFL in points allowed per game (16.3) and yards allowed per game (300.6). While Bosa makes highlights on the field, he's remarkably consistent in getting to the quarterback every week.
Heading into 2023, Bosa is the best pass rusher in the NFL. The numbers back it up.
Honorable mention (in no order): Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers), Danielle Hunter (Minnesota Vikings), Josh Sweat (Philadelphia Eagles), Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles), Josh Uche (New England Patriots), Alex Highsmith (Pittsburgh Steelers), Montez Sweat (Washington Commanders), Von Miller (Buffalo Bills), Aidan Hutchinson (Detroit Lions), Jaelan Phillips (Miami Dolphins).