Another day, another PRR blog, this time for the best edge rushers of the 2021 season. There are a total of seven new players on this list compared to last year, with two of the top 6 not making it this season (both missed significant time due to injury). Last year, I used Pro Football References pressure count to determine how good a player was at getting to the QB. After careful review, I will be switching to Pro Football Focus as they not only have a more accurate pressure count, but they also have a Pass-Rush Productivity (PRP) metric. This number illustrates how impactful each pass rush was, while giving a heavier weight towards sacks. The higher the number, the more effective and more meaningful a certain player's pass rush is. With this metric, we will be looking at their pass rush rate in total, and against true pass sets (plays that aren't screens or play action plays). We will also look at their run stop percentage, a number which parameters change depending on the down, but shows a defensive 'win' for that player. In addition, we will only be ranking edge rusher with at least 275 pass rush snaps and 125 run defense snaps. With that being said, let's hop into this year's best edge rushers!
Photo: Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Kyle Zedaker
12. Shaquil Barrett (Last Season: #5)
With a total of 10 sacks, 9 TFLs, 1 interception, 4 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries, Shaq had a pretty solid season even while missing two games. He totaled 75 pressures, tied for 4th among edge defenders, on 485 pass rushes, giving him a 15.46% pressure rate, to go with a 9.3 PRP and a 13.2 true pass set PRP, ranking 7th and 10th respectively. He also posted a 6.4% stop rate, while only missing 1 tackle on 205 rush defense snaps. His 80.6 overall PFF grade ranked 15th among edge defenders; Shaquil didn't have a stellar season like he's used to, but still put up solid numbers all season long.
11. Marcus Davenport (Last Season: Unranked)
Marcus made the cut by just 22 pass rush snaps, but he was incredibly productive throughout 11 games. On 297 pass rushes, Marcus generated 42 total pressures and 9 sacks at a 14.14% pressure rate and a 9.1 PRP, and a true pass set PRP of 13.8, ranking both 9th and 8th amongst edge defenders respectively. He also made a name for himself as a solid run defender, earning a 9.8% stop rate, ranking 3rd among eligible edge defenders and the highest rate of anyone on this list, to go along with 9 TFLs. With the addition of 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovery, he would have had 65 pressures, and 14 sacks and TFLs if he stayed on pace throughout a 17 game season. The former first round pick looks to improve on this play and production rate in a major contract season.
10. Robert Quinn (Last Season: Unranked)
18.5 sacks in 16 games is a ridiculous number, so how does Quinn rank so low? For starters, he wasn't great against the run, earning a 52.0 run grade per PFF, while only amounting a stop percentage of 5.3, despite playing on over 310 running downs and tallying 17 TFLs. He also recorded 47 pressures on 402 pass rush snaps, only 5 more than Davenport on over 100+ more snaps. Despite this, he posted a PRP of 8.6 and a true pass set PRP of 14.9 which ranks second among edge defenders and third in the league overall. We can conclude he was susceptible to screens and play action plays, but that may be due to the Bears defensive scheme. Quinn did force 4 fumbles, so that does help his case as well. Quinn is in a weird spot with stat production vs actual production, but making a list of the top 10 edge defenders is pretty solid with all things considered.
Photo: AP Photo/David Banks
9. Von Miller (Last Season: Unranked)
Von was the most balanced pass rusher and run defender among all edge players this season. His 9.5 sacks and 60 pressures paired with 19 TFLs, tied for 4th in the NFL, and a run stop rate of 7.5% make for a havoc wreaking season across 15 games. He posted a PRP and true pass set PRP of 8.4 and 13.1 respectively, while generating a 91.2 overall PFF grade, ranking 3rd among all edge defenders. His stats won't jump off a page, but his production per snap and impact on both the Broncos and Rams this season made a huge difference.
8. Joey Bosa (Last Season: #2)
Joey Bosa had another great season, making a name for himself as one of the top defenders in the NFL. With 10.5 sacks and 68 pressures on 468 pass rush snaps, to the tune of a 8.9 PRP and 13.3 true pass set PRP added up to a huge problem for offensive tackles to deal with in 16 games. He forced a whopping 7 fumbles, but didn't play as strongly against the run. His 5 TFLs and 4.7% run stop rate on 352 run defense snaps are the lowest numbers of his career. His 85.8 overall PFF grade was bogged down by a 68.4 run defense grade, but it still turned out to be a above average season overall for Joey. With Khalil Mack lining up on the opposite side, that should open the door for Joey to have a career year in 2022.
7. Matt Judon (Last Season: Unranked)
Matt Judon was a key free agency pick up from last season, as he helped the Patriots get back to being a top 3 defense. He totaled 12.5 sacks and 63 pressures on 420 pass rush snaps, while tallying 14 TFLs and a run stop rate of 5.0% on 368 run defense snaps. Although his run defense wasn't that impressive outside of his TFL number, he was a menace against the pass, totaling the 5th highest PRP of 9.7 and a true pass set PRP of 10.7, showing his elite IQ as an edge player against screens and play actions, as well as straight up passes. With a career year behind him, Judon looks to make a name for himself next season.
6. Rashan Gary (Last Season: Unranked)
Rashan might be the most underrate edge defender in the NFL, if not one of the most underrated players. With the absence of Za'Darius Smith, Rashan went off in 16 games, tallying 9.5 sacks and 81 pressures, which ranked 2nd in the NFL for edge defenders, on 463 pass rush snaps, for a 17.49% pressure rate. He also had the 3rd highest PRP and 4th highest true pass set PRP with 10.4 and 14.8 respectively, making him one of three players with a 10+ PRP and 14+ true pass set PRP. He also had a 7.2% run stop rate and added 8 TFLs and 2 forced fumbles. Lastly, his 89.8 overall PFF grade ranked 5th among all edge defenders. If he can increase his sack total, he might be considered one of the best edge defenders in the NFL.
Photo: AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
5. Trey Hendrickson (Last Season: #7)
Sorry not sorry Judon Stans, Trey was the best free agent pick up of 2021. He immediately transformed the identity of the Bengals defense through 16 games, as he racked up 14 sacks and 75 pressures on 454 pass rush snaps, while leading all edge defenders with a 10.8 PRP and 16.5 true pass set PRP. His run defense was pretty abysmal, ranking second to last with a run stop rate of 1.4% on 222 run snaps, but his pass rushing productivity is what puts him in the top 5 this season. With a 86.9 pass rush grade per PFF, and the addition of 3 forced fumbles
4. Nick Bosa (Last Season: Unranked)
After coming off an ACL tear in 2020, Bosa lit it up in his second full season. With 15.5 sacks and 75 pressures on 525 pass rush snaps, to go along with a 9.2 and 14.2 PRP and true pass set PRP respectively, Nick gave opposing offensive coordinators a headache going into games against him. He also tied for the 2nd most total QB hits on the season with 33, between 15.5 sacks and 17 hits (.5 sacks count as 1 QB hit). He was also solid against the run, posting a 6.9% (nice) run stop rate and 21 TFLs on 311 snaps. He forced 4 fumbles on his was to a 7th ranked 89.4 overall PFF grade among edge defenders, and has set himself up for great success throughout his entire career.
3. Maxx Crosby (Last Season: Unranked)
We got to see countless glimpses of how great Maxx is going to be throughout the season. On 597 pass rushes, Crosby led all edge defenders with 101 pressures and 19 QB hits, despite sacking the QB only 8 times. He had the highest pass rush win rate with 26.8%, while also posing a 10.0 PRP and 13.1 true pass set PRP. He was also great against the run, as he had the 10th highest run stop rate of 8.5% on 327 run snaps and totaled 13 TFLs. Combine all of that with 7 pass deflections and a total PFF grade of 91.7, the second most among all edge defenders, and a hefty 4 year, $95 million pay day, it's clear to see that Maxx is the future for prototypical defensive ends in the NFL. If you haven't checked out his journey to sobriety, it's definitely worth the time.
Photo: Las Vegas Raiders/Matt Aguire
2. Myles Garrett (Last Season: #3)
Myles gets better and better every season, and this one was his best to date. After a season where he posted 16 sacks, 17 TFLs, 3 pass deflections and a fumble recovery TD, Myles is one of the few players where his stats actually match what he put on tape every play. His 9.5 PRP and 15.8 true pass set PRP both ranked in the top 6 among all edge defenders, and he also recorded 78 pressures on 543 pass rush snaps. He did have a run stop rate of 4.3% on 312 run snaps, which doesn't seem great, until you realize 17 of his 23 tackles against the run resulted in a loss. He was the highest graded edge defender with a 92.0 overall score, and looks to improve on this numbers for another season in a row.
1. TJ Watt (Last Season: #1)
TJ is the only answer here. Although PFF didn't have him ranked as the best edge defender, I think anyone in there right mind would put him up there as the best with his sack number alone. He tied the NFL record with 22.5 sacks, while also adding 62 pressures on 413 pass rush snaps. He led the NFL in QB hits with 38, while posting the 2nd highest PRP with a 10.7, and the 6th highest true pass set PRP with a 14.1, all while forcing 5 fumbles, recovering 3, and batting down 7 passes. He also posted a 6.9% (nice) run stop rate on 297 run snaps, while racking up 21 TFLs as well. Despite not leading in any metric besides sacks and TFLs, TJ Watt showed his disruptive playmaking ability all year long, while also taking home Defensive Player of the Year, which was more than well deserved after getting snubbed the past two seasons.
Some names missing from this list that you may be wondering about include Harold Landry, Cameron Jordan, Micah Parsons, and Haason Reddick. Micah is being ranked as a Linebacker, as he only lined up on the edge on less than half of his snaps, while the other three players put up 11+ sacks, but didn't make a significant impact rushing the passer outside of their sack numbers. I will say Cam was a fantastic run defender, as he posted a 9.7% run stop rate, 4th highest among edge defenders, and tallied 13 TFLs, so I'll give credit where credit is due.
Join me next time as I cover the best offensive linemen of 2021!