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Top 5 Pass Rushers in the NFL

Jesse is a lifelong sports fan with a passion for finding the facts. His writing has been recognized and published by Sports Illustrated.

Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, TJ Watt, Khalil Mack, and Joey Bosa headline the best front seven players in the NFL.

Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, TJ Watt, Khalil Mack, and Joey Bosa headline the best front seven players in the NFL.

How to Compare Different Defensive Positions' Greatness?

Football is the type of sport that has garnered controversy and arguments over what players are better than others. There are so many positions that can be utilized in different ways that it's hard to determine who's primarily impacting games more often and at a higher level than others. A safety may have 8 interceptions in a season versus a lineman who has 16 sacks. Who can determine a player's overall status with such differing production from so many positions that are utilized in so many different ways?

I believe it's clear that traditionally there are positions that are more important than others on the defensive side of the ball, with outlier players who changed the game because of their personal greatness throughout history. Defensive tackles are always going to be less important than a pass rusher or cornerback on average, despite Aaron Donald being one of the best defensive players the world has ever seen. It's because of this that this list won't have the diversity you may want or expect, but because of the impact of the position defensively, the five players I'll be addressing are all pass-rushing specialists.

My reasoning for choosing five pass rushers is because, in today's game, the NFL revolves around the quarterback and the ability to pass the ball. It's the reason that, on average, the highest-paid position is quarterback, followed by the left tackle position and pass rushers. The QB is most important, followed by the guys who protect him and the guys who go after him. The constant presence of a pass rusher can't be avoided in the NFL. You can throw in a different direction than a defensive back and you can scheme to avoid a linebacker as well, but a pass rusher in coming on every single play of the game. The only way to stop them is to keep them from getting through.

So with that being said, here are my top five defensive players in the NFL right now.

Joey Bosa on his way to sack the QB.

Joey Bosa on his way to sack the QB.

5. Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa has had his injury concerns throughout his career, especially after only playing 16 games in 2 of his 5 seasons in the NFL so far. But despite his injury concerns, Bosa is one of the biggest game-changers in the NFL right now. Bosa has been a sack machine since entering the NFL, averaging just under one sack per game since he was drafted third overall in 2016. Bosa is also disruptive when he doesn't record a sack, averaging just under two quarterback hits per game in his career.

When Bosa is playing the Chargers are one of the more troublesome defenses in the league. In fact, since drafting Bosa in 2016, the Chargers have been a top 10 defense 4 out of 5 seasons. Bosa has singlehandedly helped the Chargers overcome their defensive woes by registering double-digit sacks in 3 of his 5 seasons.

There's no doubt that Bosa is a force to be reckoned with when he's on the field, but if he wants to climb this leaderboard he will have to work on his health and being available on game day.

Joey Bosa Career Stats

YearGamesTacklesTackles For LossSacksQuarterback HitsForced Fumbles

2016

11

41

17

10.5

21

0

2017

16

70

11

12.5

21

4

2018

6

23

7

5.5

9

0

2019

16

67

18

11.5

31

1

2020

10

39

15

7.5

27

0

2021

16

51

5

10.5

20

7

Khalil Mack takes off after stealing the ball from Aaron Rodgers.

Khalil Mack takes off after stealing the ball from Aaron Rodgers.

4. Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack has seemingly lost his edge a bit since leaving Oakland. In recent years he hasn't registered double-digit sacks and had injury concerns in 2021. However, when we look at advanced statistics, Mack is just as dominant as he has ever been. Not only can Mack still rush the passer, he's also a great run defender. As the oldest player on this list, he competes with the others regularly for the top spot in the NFL for defensive player of the year.

Before Mack was injured in 2022, he had 6 sacks in 7 games along with 19 tackles with 6 for a loss of yardage. He may not be the player he was in Oakland, but Mack is still a terrifying force to be reckoned with.

With Mack recently being traded to the Los Angeles Chargers, him pairing with the formerly mentioned Bosa is going to be a sight to be seen. The two of them together are easily the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL now.

Khalil Mack Career Stats

YearGamesTacklesTackles For LossSacksQuarterback HitsForced Fumbles

2014

16

76

16

4

12

1

2015

16

77

23

15

24

2

2016

16

73

14

11

26

5

2017

16

78

15

10.5

22

1

2018

14

47

10

12.5

18

6

2019

16

47

8

8.5

14

5

2020

16

50

11

9

13

3

2021

7

19

6

6

7

0

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Myles Garrett pursues the San Fransisco 49ers quarterback for a sack.

Myles Garrett pursues the San Fransisco 49ers quarterback for a sack.

3. Myles Garrett

Myles Garrett could arguably be anywhere in the top 3 of this list any given year. After being drafted first overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, he's been nothing short of an absolute monster on the field. His very first play in the NFL was a sack, and since then he's never looked back.

Myles has had two potential Defensive Player of the Year level seasons derailed by issues. The first being when he beat Mason Rudolph over the head with his own helmet in 2019, and then again when he caught COVID in 2020 and never returned to form after the disease hindered his breathing ability. Regardless of missing multiple games in multiple seasons, he's only posted single-digit sack numbers in his rookie season.

Garrett has already broken the Browns' single-season sack record when he recorded 16 sacks in 2021, and he only seems to get better. He's powerful, fast, agile, and has great hands and bend. He's an absolute sack artist and has shown he knows how good he is with his Halloween QB graveyard. The future for Myles will surely include a DPOY award at some point and possibly even a run at sack records if he can stay on the field for 17 whole games.

Myles Garrett Career Stats

YearGamesTacklesTackles for LossSacksQuarterback HitsForced Fumbles

2017

11

31

9

7

18

1

2018

16

44

12

13.5

29

3

2019

10

29

11

10

18

2

2020

14

48

10

12

18

4

2021

17

51

17

16

33

1

TJ Watt celebrates after a big play!

TJ Watt celebrates after a big play!

2. TJ Watt

The newest Defensive Player of the Year comes in at #2 overall. TJ Watt is an absolute monster. Despite the struggles of the Steelers offense, it seemed that Watt was able to will his team to victory on several occasions, making strip-sacks and forced fumbles to single-handedly win games over and over again. He continually gets better year in and year out and is chasing his older brother's legacy as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.

An argument can be made about how TJ is schemed open, but what he lacks in terms of being double-teamed he makes up for with sheer clutchness and playmaking ability. He regularly forces fumbles, bats down passes, and has now led the league in sacks twice, tying the all-time record in only 15 games with 22.5 in 2021. The former feat earned him his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Steelers are heading into a rebuild with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, but it seems that the new face of the Pittsburgh Steelers is going to be Watt. He's embodying the culture and brand of Pittsburgh that was once made famous by guys like Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount. He hasn't reached the potential of what his brother JJ did, but his career has hardly started.

YearGamesTacklesTackles For LossSacksQuarterback HitsForced Fumbles

2017

15

54

10

7

13

1

2018

16

68

12

13

21

6

2019

16

55

14

14.5

36

8

2020

15

53

23

15

41

2

2021

15

64

21

22.5

39

5

Aaron Donald rips quarterback Tom Brady to the ground.

Aaron Donald rips quarterback Tom Brady to the ground.

1. Aaron Donald

The number one defender on this list, and arguably the greatest defender of all time is Aaron Donald. I know what you're thinking, there's no way Donald is the best defender of all time, and I referenced this in my top-10 all-time players article, but I think he's catching up to Lawrence Taylor quickly and they're the only two in the conversation right now.

Donald has to do something that no other player on this list does; play from the interior of the line. Yes, he's moved around the line at times for different packages, but ultimately Donald is a defensive tackle, not an end or outside linebacker like the four others listed above. Because of this, Donald faced a double team, or triple-team at times, on every single play. Despite this, Donald is a three-time DPOY recipient who led the league in sacks once and tackles for loss two other times. He's technically sound, ferociously strong, and 100% completely unstoppable in a one-on-one situation. No defensive tackle has ever done what he has done at the level in which he does it.

Donald is one DPOY award away from solely holding the record for the most in NFL history. His consistency in the game could allow him to do just that, unless the rumors of his early retirement are true. No matter what, Donald is already a future first-ballot Hall of Famer even with only 8 years in the league, and for me he's the greatest defensive player in the NFL.

Aaron Donald Career Stats

YearGamesTacklesTackles for LossSacksQuarterback HitsForced Fumbles

2014

16

48

18

9

13

2

2015

16

69

22

11

37

0

2016

16

47

17

8

31

2

2017

14

41

15

11

27

5

2018

16

59

25

20.5

41

4

2019

16

48

20

12.5

24

2

2020

16

45

14

13.5

28

4

2021

17

84

19

12.5

25

4

© 2022 Jesse Unk

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