Top 25 edge rushers heading into the 2021 NFL season

The top edge rushers in the NFL heading into 2021 are a hard bunch to rank -- there is so much young talent infesting the establishment.

Top 25 edge rushers in the NFL for the 2021 season | 15-1

There is still plenty of young talent from 15-1, but there are some old faithfuls here.

15. J.J. Watt, Arizona Cardinals

J.J. Watt will be 32 in 2021, but he also gets to play alongside Chandler Jones. Additionally, he’s not in the flaming cesspool that is the present-day Houston Texans. Watt blends the line between defensive end and defensive tackle. That versatility is what makes him so dangerous.

He has the strength to rush from the interior and the explosiveness and length to rush from the outside. Despite his size, Watt wins the arc with his hands, displaying a mean cross chop and a dangerous long arm that can transition into many moves.

14. Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers

Burns has the ideal skill set to be one of the top edge rushers in the modern-day NFL. His first-step explosiveness is debilitating, but his natural bend is what really makes him a dangerous weapon rushing the passer. He only had 2 impressive sacks in 2020, but his non-sack reps showed his skill set was ready for higher production. This ghost move against the Saints is an example of his abilities.

13. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys fans continue to slander Lawrence because of his expensive contract and lack of sack production. What they’re missing is his outstanding pass-rush repertoire and the fact that nobody else on the Cowboys’ defensive line requires extra help. Hopefully, Randy Gregory and Micah Parsons can help alleviate the double teams. Lawrence is one of the top five run-defending defensive ends in the NFL. If Cowboys fans want to criticize Lawrence, they should base it on something that matters.

12. Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Barrett exploded in 2019 to the tune of 19.5 sacks to lead the NFL. He didn’t have nearly the same production in 2020, but his tape was still outstanding. Barrett’s athletic profile doesn’t make sense. He’s short, with diminutive arms and his athletic testing was nothing to write home about. Yet, the tape shows a fluid and quick-footed pass rusher with a good understanding of how to attack offensive tackles by crossing their face laterally and dipping the shoulder to win the edge.

11. Chase Young, Washington Football Team

I find it hard to believe we won’t see Young chasing the top five of this list heading into 2022. He’s very much in the same mold as the Bosa brothers as someone who is technically proficient beyond his years. Young was a more complete prospect than them coming out due to his impressive athletic prowess. Young also plays on what very well could be the best defensive line in the league. He’s a strong run defender, and his sack production should rise this season.

10. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

Jordan falls in the same category for me as his teammate, David Onyemata. Jordan feels underrated in the grand scheme, despite producing at a high level for the past nine seasons. He’s one of the top edge rushers in the league entering 2021 and has been for a long time. He thrives as a pure power rusher in an era where power rushers have become harder and harder to come by, making his success even more remarkable.

9. Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Miller had a down year in 2019, then his 2020 season ended before it started. There’s no doubt the 32-year-old will come back hungrier than ever this season. This might be the last season we see an elite version of Miller, but it’s tough to imagine he doesn’t go out with a bang. He might not have the same explosion as in his younger days, but he’s still a strong run defender who should produce with Bradley Chubb back in the lineup.

8. Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

Hunter’s explosiveness is actually unfair. On top of his athleticism, his length allowed him to be one of the biggest statistical outliers of our time. The Vikings pass rusher only had 4.5 sacks in his college career but generated 12.5 in just his second NFL season. Hunter didn’t play in 2020, so he should get back to playing a ridiculously high snap count in 2021.

7. Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers

Smith has one of the more disgusting cross chops of all the top edge rushers in the NFL. Smith put out some high-quality sacks on tape against good competition the past two seasons. His play was surprising in 2019 for the Packers. This past season proved it wasn’t a fluke and that he indeed belongs on this list. 2021 should be another productive one for Smith.

6. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

Nick Bosa was a better prospect than his older brother Joey was coming out of Ohio State. It wasn’t by much because they’re practically twins. However, it pays to come second and have to play with the older kids. Bosa was dominant as a rookie. He looked like one of the top edge rushers in the league from Day 1, which wasn’t a surprise given his bloodlines and technical prowess. The Bosa brothers aren’t the most explosive, but their technical proficiency allows them to win the arc with relative ease.

5. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Jones didn’t play in 2020, but that doesn’t negatively affect his ranking here. He posted a ridiculous 19 sacks in 2019. In 2021, he’ll have J.J. Watt as a running mate, and rookie Zaven Collins offers upside as a blitzer. Jones’ length is his greatest weapon. He plays like his hair is on fire. Somehow, he’s been best in the league at sacking the quarterback since he was drafted in 2012, but he is still one of the most underrated players in the NFL.

4. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears

Mack hasn’t produced the same double-digit sack seasons the past two years that we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Still, he’s as solid as ever on tape. His abilities go beyond rushing the passer. Mack is one of the most dominant run defenders of the top edge rushers in the league in 2021. Chicago’s defense isn’t what it once was, and the burden’s fallen on Mack to put that unit on his back.

3. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Watt led the league in sacks for the 2020 season and filled up the stat sheet enough to be a strong consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s quickly separated himself from the shadow of his older brother. Watt is disruptive against both the run and pass, but he’s still becoming a consistently dominant run defender. If he becomes elite there, he’ll battle for the top spot for years to come.

It’s too bad he can only rush from a two-point stance — or else he might be higher on the list. For the uninitiated, that’s a cruel joke dating back to his draft profile about why the Dallas Cowboys didn’t draft him.

2. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers

Bosa might be the most technically refined pass rusher in the NFL. He may even be the “best” edge defender in the league, but he doesn’t have the superhero-level athleticism of the top edge rusher on the list. Bosa’s pass-rush arsenal has been on another level since entering the league. His ability as a run defender is what separates him from the other top edge rushers in 2021. Bosa long-arms blockers and quickly sets the edge before ripping inside to pursue the ball carrier.

If we get 16 games of healthy Bosa, this ranking will clear itself up.

1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

When I wrote about the top 25 defensive tackles in the NFL, the best was “metahuman” Aaron Donald. If you read carefully, I said there are three metahumans in the NFL: Donald, Vita Vea, and this young man, Myles Garrett. Garrett’s ceiling is Donald-esque.

According to Brandon Thorn, an expert in offensive and defensive line play, Garrett produced 13 high-quality sacks in 2020. That is four more than the next-closest pass rusher )which is actually teammate Olivier Vernon). Garrett can do it all on the field. With the improvements made to the Browns secondary, there’s a good chance Garrett could push for 20 sacks in 2021. He should be in a position to get more low-quality or coverage sacks instead of having to win immediately.

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