Ranking the NFL’s top 10 edge rushers for 2022

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To preview the 2022 NFL season, we surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman. This is the third edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up or dropped from last year’s lists. Today, we focus on the edge rushers.

Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.

The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.

We’ll roll out a position per day over 11 days. Here’s the schedule: edge rushers (July 5), defensive tackles (July 6), off-ball linebackers (July 7), cornerbacks (July 8), safeties (July 9), interior offensive linemen (July 10), quarterbacks (July 11), running backs (July 12), wide receivers (July 13), tight ends (July 14) and offensive tackles (July 15).


Age ain’t nothing but a sack total in the NFL pass-rush market. Several edge rushers in their 30s are holding down spots on this list because their games hold up, despite young stars pushing for supremacy. While the speed positions — corner and receiver, for example — can lean youthful, older pass-rushers can stay productive because they have a plan, they have savviness, and they can win when the game is on the line. Just look at Super Bowl LVI, where 11-year vet Von Miller turned up the heat on the Bengals to help secure a championship for the Rams.

It is youth, however, that dominates the very top of this list, including a pair of 26-and-under siblings jostling for position among the best edge rushers in the NFL. Let’s look at some of the game’s top game-wreckers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL.

Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 3
Age: 27 | Last year’s ranking: 2

Watt claims his first-ever No. 1 ranking here, after jumping from No. 7 in 2020 to No. 2 last year. And his 22.5 sacks to tie Michael Strahan’s single-season record make his case for him. Watt was the unanimous AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. But his impact comes from the total package he brings to the field.

Watt’s 35.5 disrupted dropbacks — which include sacks, interceptions, batted passes and passes defended — ranked first in the NFL last season by a wide margin (Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs was next at 32.0). Furthermore, his 23.1% pass rush win rate ranked seventh overall.

“Rare motor and quickness with his hands, has developed good power, and he can also dip and bend high side,” an AFC exec said. “Basically, he can beat you inside through you or outside. And [the Steelers] bring so much pressure typically that he’s able to add good chase production.”

Where is Watt truly elite? The exec pointed to his ability to locate the quarterback quickly and burst to him if his initial pass-rush move stalls. He’ll stop, look and then close.

As Watt keeps increasing his sack totals every year, the NFL record of 200 held by Bruce Smith is perhaps something he can chase. He is currently sitting on 72.0 takedowns through five seasons.


Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 5
Age: 26 | Last year’s ranking: 1

Garrett made a compelling case for a second consecutive No. 1 ranking thanks to 16.0 sacks and a first team All-Pro spot. Plus, Garrett’s 26.5% pass rush win rate led all defensive ends in 2021. Simply put, he’s one of the best athletes on the planet, and everyone on the field feels it.

“He takes over a game,” an NFL coordinator said. “You build your entire defense around him and don’t look back.”

The knock on Garrett two years ago was that he could disappear at times during the season, failing to impose his will on some Sundays. But the Browns know he was facing double- and triple-teams back then. Having Jadeveon Clowney on the bookend is huge in keeping defenses honest and allowing Garrett to get after the QB.

“When he’s on, one-on-one, he’s unblockable,” an AFC offensive coach said.

“He still gets chipped and extra help/slides his way, but it’s not what it used to be,” an AFC front-office official said. “That helps explain his recent dominance.”


Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: 10
Age: 24 | Last year’s ranking: 8

Not much illustrates Bosa’s prowess quite like this graphic from ESPN sports analytics writer Seth Walder, which displays pass rush win rate against double-team rate through Week 13 of last season.

When it comes to double-teams off the edge, there’s Bosa … and then there’s everyone else. Bosa was facing doubles on nearly 30% of his snaps in 2021 and still posted 15.5 sacks and a 23.0% pass rush win rate, eighth in the NFL. He finished the year at 26% double-teams, tops among this list.

“Consistent producer,” an NFL personnel evaluator said. “A closer. Impact player at all times.”

Bosa logged an impressive third place here after his 2019 rookie year, then fell five spots due to a torn ACL in Week 2 of 2020. He returned to the lineup stronger, with a career-high 88.9 Pro Football Focus rating.

“He’s so compact and sudden that when he wins with his hands and technique, it’s going to be a long day for the defense,” an AFC scout said.

With Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald reworking his contract to surpass the $30 million-per-year threshold, don’t be surprised if Bosa signs a comparable deal this summer.


Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: 9
Age: 26 | Last year’s ranking: 3

The elder Bosa didn’t earn enough top-three votes for a higher ranking, but he appeared on every single ballot. In five healthy seasons, Bosa has won Defensive Rookie of the Year and made four Pro Bowls. And he just produced his fourth double-digit-sack season (10.5) and a career-high seven forced fumbles in 2021.

“He always has a plan. He’s setting up his moves for later in the game, and he’s got great technique,” an NFL personnel evaluator said. “He’s just a classic edge rusher. He’s a nightmare for a tackle because of the way he keeps you guessing.”

Bosa was double-teamed on 23% of his pass rushes last year, but that rate could decline with the arrival of Khalil Mack in Los Angeles via an offseason trade. That means potentially even more production for Bosa in 2022.

“Relentless effort,” an AFC offensive coach said. “He’s the guy you have to worry about on every snap.”


Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 24 | Last year’s ranking: Unranked

Teams demonstrate how much they value players by the money they pay, and Crosby, fresh off a contract extension, is now the second-highest-paid defensive end in the NFL on a per-year average at $23.5 million annually. He anchored the Raiders’ attack with 42 quarterback pressures, tied for ninth in the NFL last season, and a 21.4% pass rush win rate, ranking 12th.

“He’s not the most gifted on the list, but he’s so damn relentless, and he’s got great power [and] knows how to use it,” an AFC defensive coach said. “He’s a technician, too.”

Crosby has benefitted from good wingman help, to be sure. His game took off after the arrival of Yannick Ngakoue, who has since been traded to Indianapolis. His new running mate for 2022? Chandler Jones.

But an NFC defensive Pro Bowler says Crosby shouldn’t be knocked for that because “he’s still got moves and a knack for understanding the flow of the game, elevating his pass rush the last two years with adding his spin as counters, and his long arms set up more moves.”


Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 33 | Last year’s ranking: 5

Miller is the kind of player who must be watched to be appreciated. The Rams acquired him via trade to help make key plays in the postseason, and he totally delivered with four sacks. Miller even made several splash plays in the Super Bowl — beating the right tackle inside for a pass deflection in the red zone, coming off a stunt to chase down Joe Burrow for a sack and spinning off the left guard for another sack late in the game.

“I bumped him up because of what he did in the postseason,” an NFL personnel evaluator said. “Took over in critical moments.”

The only real issue with Miller is age. The Bills aren’t too concerned with that, having signed Miller to a massive six-year, $120 million deal, though they have a potential out after three years and $52 million. Regardless, that’s a huge investment for a player on the back nine of his career.

But as one general manager said, “He will age better than most. His explosiveness is still there.”


Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 32 | Last year’s ranking: 5

This is one of the tougher evaluations because Jones turned 32 in February and five of his 10.5 sacks in 2021 came in Week 1 against Tennessee. His 13.6% pass rush win rate ranked 43rd in the NFL, unspectacular for a player of his caliber.

But many voters are still partial to Jones’ all-around game. He has never really had a major weakness, playing the run and pass with fervor. Jones has seven seasons with double-digit sacks.

“Maybe he’s declined slightly, but he’s still really good,” an AFC scout said. “Always been a stiffer guy, but he’s got power and knows how to rush skillwise.”

Free agency also said Jones is still elite. The Raiders gave him a three-year, $51 million deal in March. Jones wanted to be traded last summer but played out the year in Arizona with plans of cashing in — which he did.


Highest ranking: 4 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 24 | Last year’s ranking: Unranked

Joining Crosby as another newcomer to the list, Burns doesn’t own a double-digit-sack season since entering the league in 2019. But evaluators say the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Burns, an explosive, rangy player.

“Rare athlete,” an NFC scout said. “Can be deployed any way in any scheme, and you have to know where he is. Can cover better than some stack linebackers. Commands attention every down for where he lines up.”

Burns made his first Pro Bowl after a second straight nine-sack season in 2021, and he ranked 15th in pass rush win rate (20.1%). And Burns can do much more — if he gets help.

That same NFC scout told me that Burns “still has huge upside, and while his production has been good, he would really take off if his offense scored more often, to where he could pin his ears back an extra 15-20 times per game.”


Highest ranking: 5 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 31 | Last year’s ranking: 4

Mack has slipped eight spots over two years, which is sort of understandable given the lack of raw production. His last double-digit-sack season came in 2018. But foot surgery that cost him 10 games last year masked solid play in limited action.

“Six sacks in [seven] games is pretty good,” an NFL scouting coordinator said.

Evaluators say you can’t overstate the impact of Mack playing alongside bookend Joey Bosa, and how the two can challenge each other. The Chargers acquired Mack in an offseason trade with Chicago.

“Major toughness and physicality,” a high-ranking AFC official said. “Football guy. Toughness. Playmaking.”

Detractors argue his 76.5 sacks over eight NFL seasons simply hasn’t been good enough, though. “Teams have always loved his potential, and he’s shown the ability to be great,” a veteran NFL defensive player said. “It just hasn’t always happened.”


Highest ranking: 5 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 32 | Last year’s ranking: 9

Jordan won a tight race with former teammate Trey Hendrickson for the last spot in our top 10. Some coaches and scouts are partial to Jordan’s all-around game. He ranked No. 2 among defensive ends in disrupted dropbacks (22.5), he has produced double-digit sacks in four of the past five years and he’s great against the run. In fact, Jordan’s 33.5% run stop win rate is the highest among players on this list.

“Until he shows tangible drop-off — like some of these younger guys who haven’t had nearly the production despite getting all the attention from protections like he does — I’d say he hasn’t fallen off,” an NFC scout said. “Still one of the best in the game.”

Jordan’s 9.7% pass rush win rate (No. 81 in the NFL) is unimpressive, but as one AFC defensive coach pointed out, the Saints move Jordan all over the defensive line, and he faced plenty of double-teams last season as New Orleans was depleted up front.


Honorable mentions

Trey Hendrickson, Cincinnati Bengals: He put together a massive two-year stretch with 27.5 sacks and 52 quarterback hits, and after he signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Cincinnati, he validated it in a big way by anchoring the Bengals’ front on the way to the Super Bowl. “Instinctive, tough and plays his ass off,” an NFC executive said. “Has rush savvy.”

Chase Young, Washington Commanders: Young won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 but struggled in Year 2 with 1.5 sacks in nine games. And now he is recovering from a torn ACL that could affect his early-season outlook for 2022. “He’ll be fine long-term,” an NFC front-office official said. “He’s best when he plays with power. He’s a power-first guy.”

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings: Hunter is a top-10 rusher when healthy, but he has missed 26 games over the past two seasons. Still, he has 60.5 sacks in 85 career games. “A long-arm power guy. Greatest asset speed and length. Those things will always cause problems,” an AFC coach said. “I did not think he should be what he is. He certainly proved me wrong.”

Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He reinvented his career in Tampa Bay with 37.5 sacks and two Pro Bowls in three years. “Really good but different than some other rushers — great athlete, a run-around guy, can counter off the speed, makes plays all over the field,” an AFC defensive coach said. “Not a whole lot of power to his game, but he’s just dynamic.”

DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys: Lawrence made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2017-18, but his sack production stalled (14.5 since 2019), and he missed much of last season due to injury. “I watched him closely because we thought he could [be a] potential cap cut — they use him all over the place,” an NFL defensive coach said. “He’s kind of like Clowney was in Houston — all over, super dynamic. If he stays healthy, there’s a ton of production left. Joker plays super hard. King on the chessboard.”

Also receiving votes: Josh Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars), Robert Quinn (Chicago Bears)




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