Ranking The NFL’s Best Pass-Rushers

JJ Watt
JJ Watt
Thomas Campbell USA TODAY Sports

Our NFL positional discussions continue Wednesday as we discuss the best pass-rushers.

XN Sports has already looked at:

Pass-rushers encompass both defensive linemen and linebackers, and have surfaced as the most important weapon on that side of the ball in today’s NFL.

Here’s the XN Sports ranking of the 10 best past-rushers today:

1. J.J. Watt

Watt didn’t finish first in sacks in 2013, but there’s no question he’s the most feared pass-rusher in the NFL. In a defense that couldn’t stop anybody, Watt managed 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. With Jadeveon Clowney set to draw attention opposite him, Watt could be primed for an all-time season.

2. Robert Quinn

The former first-round pick was a .5 sack away from sharing the league lead for sacks. Quinn also forced seven fumbles. His sack total has increased in each of his three professional seasons, and with Chris Long, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers on his D-line, Quinn’s production can only go up.

3. Cam Jordan

Jordan has thrived in Rob Ryan’s blitz-friendly defense, jumping from 8.0 to 12.5 sacks in his second to third season. Jordan has lived up to his first-round draft pick status and is the most feared player on the up-and-coming Saints defense.

4. Tamba Hali

Hali and Justin Houston were among the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL last year. Hali has had double-digit sacks in three of the past four seasons, including 11 last year to go along with five forced fumbles. The only issue is that Hali totaled only 2.0 sacks over the final eight games.

5. Von Miller

When healthy, there’s no question that Miller is among the best at reaching opposing quarterbacks. Miller tallied 30 sacks in his first two seasons, but his 2013 campaign was shortened due to injury. Still, he managed five sacks in nine starts. With DeMarcus Ware now a teammate, Miller could have a chance to bounce back in a major way in 2014.

6. Mario Williams

One of the most criticized players in recent memory, Williams took a lot of slack after relocating to Buffalo. However, under now Browns coach Mike Pettine, Williams recorded 23.5 sacks in the past two years, regaining the form that helped him reach two All-Pro Teams.

7. Greg Hardy

Hardy has surfaced as one of the league’s best in the past two years. Lining up at both the left and right end spots, Hardy has 26 sacks over the past two seasons.

8. Robert Mathis

The NFL’s leading sack artist last year, Mathis has always struck fear in opposing quarterbacks in the shadow of Dwight Freeney. At age 33, Mathis has averaged 10-plus sacks per year throughout his career. Mathis fits perfectly as a rush-linebacker role in Chuck Pagano’s defense.

9. Clay Matthews

Did you forget about Matthews? His injury riddled 2013 campaign can do that to you. Matthews has had double-digit sack totals in three of his five NFL seasons. He’s one of the few outside linebackers opposing offenses must account for on every snap. With Julius Peppers now a teammate, he could see his sack numbers skyrocket.

10. Aldon Smith

One of the most athletic edge-rushers in the NFL, Smith is coming off a down year — which for him is 8.5 sacks — because he only started eight games. His off-the-field trouble takes away from his production on the field, which includes 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons and 42 over his first three. If Smith can remain healthy and fix his issues away from the field, he has the potential to be a top-five rusher.

On the cusp: Chandler Jones, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jason Pierre-Paul

Jones and Wilkerson made a huge leap forward in 2013, but will need to do it one more year to officially crack the top 10. JPP certainly has the capabilities to be an elite edge-rusher, but he and the Giants have failed to generate a pass rush over the past three years.

Missed the cut: Terrell Suggs, DeMarcus Ware, Charles Johnson, Elvis Dumervil, Jadeveon Clowney, Julius Peppers

This group includes a lot of veterans on their way down, as well as those who just need to further prove themselves. Players like Suggs or Ware or Peppers are still very good, but no longer elite. Clowney has yet to play an NFL down, but his athleticism is certainly intriguing.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.