NFL1000: Ranking the Top 3-4 Outside Linebackers from 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top 3-4 Outside Linebackers from 2017 Season

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The hybrid nature of modern NFL defenses requires players to do more than ever, and 3-4 outside linebackers are no exception. It's the rare "endbacker" who stays in one place throughout every snap of a game, let alone every snap of a season. 

    Now, outside linebackers in three-man base fronts line up more often than not as defensive ends in four-man fronts with nickel and dime secondaries. In addition, many players categorized as outside linebackers who would have played exclusively on the edge in another era now also serve as linebacker depth.

    As such, pass-rushing linebackers are still linebackers, which means they're tasked with breaking from the line of scrimmage and covering zones as well as individual offensive skill players in man defenses.

    With the passing game as indispensable as ever, the need to pressure quarterbacks is equally crucial. It's why established 3-4 linebackers such as Von Miller, Justin Houston and Chandler Jones make roughly $20 million per year—QB money. No 3-4 defense is complete without at least one elite outside linebacker, and the need for two has become more apparent.

    NFL1000 linebackers scout Derrik Klassen watched every NFL edge-rusher all season, and these are his final grades for outside linebackers in 3-4 base defenses. Scores are based on the following:

    Pass Rush: 30 points. A player's entire pass-rushing skill set, from looping around tackles to performing stunts to gap versatility.

    Run Defense: 20 points. How complete is this linebacker? Can he put the brakes on and adjust to become a positive force against the run to his side?

    Coverage: 15 points. Though line-of-scrimmage linebackers generally rush the passer and read the run from the line, they're also tasked to drop back in coverage. How well, and how often, do they deal with backs, receivers and tight ends?

    Tackling: 25 points. Can this player complete the stop with form-tackling fundamentals?

    Position Value: 8/10. The value of the player's base position versus other positions.

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

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    Bill Sikes/Associated Press

    Players had to be on the field for at least 10 percent of defensive snaps to be included. In addition, their efforts had to show up on tape on a consistent basis, no matter what their snap percentage was. With that in mind, these players were omitted due to injury or lack of playing time:

    • James Harrison, New England Patriots
    • Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
    • Shilique Calhoun, Oakland Raiders
    • Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears

Nos. 48-46

2 of 19

    Green Bay's Kyler Fackrell
    Green Bay's Kyler FackrellMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    48. Kyler Fackrell, Green Bay Packers

    Pass Rush: 13/30
    Run Defense: 
    10/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Kyler Fackrell has yet to piece his game together. Once or twice per contest, he'll flash nifty hand technique and speed but isn't consistent. He often takes a predictable approach to pass-rushing snaps, and opposing offensive tackles handle him easily. In the run game and in coverage, he provides even less, forcing the Packers to lean on Ahmad Brooks on rushing downs. Fackrell has potential but isn't there yet.

                 

    47. Kareem Martin, Arizona Cardinals

    Pass Rush: 13/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    6/15
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    56/100

    Markus Golden tore his ACL Oct. 1, which thrust Kareem Martin into action. The 6'6", 272-pound Martin is a tall, thick player who may fit more as a strong-side end or 5-technique than as a real edge defender. Due to a lack of threatening athleticism or overwhelming strength, he's a lackluster pass-rusher. He flashes once or twice a game but tends to be a non-factor in that area. This forced Arizona to use Haason Reddick on the edge down the stretch.

               

    46. David Bass, New York Jets

    Pass Rush: 14/30
    Run Defense: 
    11/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    David Bass is last in line among edge defenders who get consistent playing time. He struggles to close in space, be it as a pass-rusher or run defender. The Jets try to keep him off the field in running situations because his skills in the area are the worst among the Jets' top edge options.

Nos. 45-41

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    Indianapolis' Barkevious Mingo
    Indianapolis' Barkevious MingoDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    45. Barkevious Mingo, Indianapolis Colts

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    11/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    The No. 6 overall pick in 2013, Barkevious Mingo is one of many disappointing edge-rushers from that draft class. He flashed talent during his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns but could never build on it, and he's still more athlete than football player. He doesn't approach his pass-rush snaps with much of a plan, instead hoping to out-athlete his opponents. Most teams, when healthy, wouldn't have room to carry Mingo.

               

    44. Anthony Chickillo, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    10/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Anthony Chickillo played the lion's share of snaps through the first three weeks of the season but has since disappeared. More than anything, he was a place holder for Bud Dupree, who missed the season opener, and T.J. Watt, a rookie who needed a few extra weeks to acclimate. Chickillo is primarily a pass-rusher and has little value in run defense and in coverage. When getting after the quarterback, he relies mostly on speed and strength and has no understanding of how to maximize those tools with technique.

                 

    43. Frank Zombo, Kansas City Chiefs

    Pass Rush: 16/30
    Run Defense: 
    10/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Dee Ford injured his back in Week 8, which pushed career backup Frank Zombo into a starting role. Zombo provided constant push on the pocket and set up others for success when Kansas City used him as a rotational player. And his skill set works best on surefire passing downs. However, Zombo had to be on the field for a majority of the season, exposing his middling run defense and lack of explosive pass-rush traits. He will be better next year when Ford returns.

               

    42. Tarell Basham, Indianapolis Colts

    Pass Rush: 14/30
    Run Defense: 
    11/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Given their lack of talent at outside linebacker aside from Jabaal Sheard, it would have been nice to see the Colts give Tarell Basham more of a chance. The 6'4", 266-pound Basham is a squat, strong pass-rusher who wins with power and a relentless motor. More than likely, Basham will stay a role player who specializes in cleanup sacks, but there is value in having that type on the roster.

              

    41. Tim Williams, Baltimore Ravens

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    15/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    59/100

    Injuries and a depth-chart logjam have made it difficult for Tim Williams to make an impact. In limited playing time, the rookie has flashed a nice outside-inside counter move and decent power. He's not an adept run defender, though, and doesn't provide coverage value. He's a one-dimensional player. It would be a success if he could at least become a pass-rush specialist next season.

Nos. 40-36

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    Washington's Ryan Anderson (52)
    Washington's Ryan Anderson (52)Associated Press

    40. Ryan Anderson, Washington Redskins

    Pass Rush: 12/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    Early returns on 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson were disappointing. He gave Washington the luxury of a fourth edge player, but it didn't get the pass-rusher it'd hoped. Anderson loses his juice as soon as he engages opponents and fails to work around them with speed or technique. He's more of a run defender, which is still valuable, but he has to improve as a pass-rusher to make his selection worthwhile.

                   

    39. Ufomba Kamalu, Houston Texans

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    60/100

    A slew of injuries and a failed experiment with Lamarr Houston forced Ufomba Kamalu into the lineup. Unlike many of his teammates, he isn't versatile. The 6'6", 300-pound Kemalu is a thick, powerful pass-rusher who can collapse the pocket. On occasion, he'll flash surprising flexibility around the arc, though he is primarily a power rusher. He's no star, but given what was expected, he did his job.

                  

    38. Matt Longacre, Los Angeles Rams

    Pass Rush: 17/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    It would be a stretch to put Matt Longacre in a full-time position, but he's one of the best backup edge-rushers in the league. That may not sound like a prestigious role, but every team needs extra pass-rushing talent. He helps the starters rest without compromising quality, though he doesn't put up the snap-to-snap consistency you'd want from a full-time starter.

                       

    37. Sam Acho, Chicago Bears 

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    10/15
    Tackling: 
    16/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Sam Acho served as functional depth for the Arizona Cardinals early in his career and then the Chicago Bears. He doesn't have a threatening first step but has enough buildup speed and flexibility to work around the edge. Without true explosiveness, he's more of a pressure provider than sack artist. No team should sign the free agent to start, but as a fourth option and emergency contributor like he was with the Bears in 2017, he has value.

                 

    36. Za'Darius Smith, Baltimore Ravens

    Pass Rush: 14/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Za'Darius Smith was supposed to be Elvis Dumervil's heir, but he has yet to blossom. When rushing the passer, Smith relies on strength but doesn't have the raw power to consistently win the bull rush. He has few other moves, leaving him to churn his feet forward until something happens. Additionally, he doesn't inspire as a run defender or in coverage. He's adequate, but it is no surprise his snap count is often limited.

Nos. 35-31

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    New York's Josh Martin
    New York's Josh MartinAssociated Press

    35. Josh Martin, New York Jets

    Pass Rush: 13/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Josh Martin would be much better if he had an ounce more flexibility. On most passing snaps, he can threaten the tackle's outside shoulder but can't turn the corner and get to the quarterback. He tends to get moved too far around the arc and end up out of the play.

                   

    34. Shane Ray, Denver Broncos

    Pass Rush: 14/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Wrist issues hampered Shane Ray all season. He suffered the injury during camp and wasn't active to start the campaign. He returned but was ineffective. As a pass-rusher, Ray has never been one to win with athleticism, so he counts on motor and technique. It was difficult for him to rely on technique and hand usage with a busted wrist. He's better than showed this year, and hopefully he can rebound in 2018.

                 

    33. Shaquil Barrett, Denver Broncos

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Shaquil Barrett was a more appealing player when he was the fourth option in a loaded pass-rushing group a couple of years ago. He came off the bench and provided ample pressure then. This year, however, he had to be the secondary option and fell flat. He provided some pressure with bend and a high motor, but he has not been quite what the Broncos hoped for out of a No. 2 edge-defender. Barrett should slide into a more fitting role when Ray returns to health next season.

               

    32. Kony Ealy, New York Jets

    Pass Rush: 17/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Kony Ealy is on his third NFL stop. After being drafted by the Carolina Panthers and spending a short stint with the New England Patriots, Ealy is one of the Jets' top edge-defenders. Of course, that is more a statement on New York's roster than him, but it's reality nonetheless. Ealy is a strong, stiff pass-rusher who has to play a gritty, downhill style to generate pressure. He doesn't use athleticism to beat his opponents.

                  

    31. John Simon, Indianapolis Colts

    Pass Rush: 17/30
    Run Defense: 
    11/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    A career rotational player, John Simon was thrust into a prominent role in Indianapolis in 2017. He is a functional pass-rusher who wins with nice bend around the edge and nifty hand technique. Any team would be lucky to have him as its third or fourth pass-rusher, but the Colts had to use him as their No. 2 option and keep him on the field for running situations, which he isn't particularly good at. Indianapolis should look to add a full-time edge-defender and slide Simon to a situational pass-rushing role.

Nos. 30-26

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    Baltimore's Tyus Bowser
    Baltimore's Tyus BowserPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    30. Tyus Bowser, Baltimore Ravens

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    10/15
    Tackling: 
    17/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    The Baltimore Ravens drafted Tyus Bowser due in part to his versatility. With so many other capable outside linebackers on the roster, Baltimore only used him sparingly. He's an athletic, raw pass-rusher who wins with his first step. Bowser can also drop comfortably into coverage, giving the Ravens schematic flexibility. With such an exciting athletic skill set, he could blossom into an impact player with another offseason under his belt.

                     

    29. Connor Barwin, Los Angeles Rams

    Pass Rush: 17/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    The Los Angeles Rams signed Connor Barwin this offseason for his fit in coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. He stepped smoothly into the lineup and has been a nice support piece for a dominant interior defensive line. Barwin generates regular push against offensive linemen but does not always have the creativity or twitch to quickly shed his blocker and get to the quarterback. As a Band-Aid to get Phillips' unit on its feet, Barwin has been what the Rams expected.

                

    28. Brennan Scarlett, Houston Texans

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    10/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Brennan Scarlett was a pleasant surprise in 2017. A backup to begin the season, he proved to be a versatile, sound outside linebacker. He's not an especially effective pass-rusher, but his ability to drop in coverage and hold up against the run was enough for defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel to make good use of him. Scarlett often dropped into coverage and blitzed from interior alignments so as to mitigate his lacking skills as an edge-rusher. Though Scarlett required some schematic creativity, he is a plenty functional player.

                 

    27. Ahmad Brooks, Green Bay Packers

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Father Time has not come for Ahmad Brooks just yet. At 33 years old, which is up there for an edge defender, Brooks is still formidable against the run and is a serviceable pass-rusher. His value comes on early downs when he controls the edge in run defense. Brooks' understanding of block schemes, how to set the edge and how to control the option game is fantastic. As a role player, he's a nice piece to have.

                 

    26. Pernell McPhee, Chicago Bears

    Pass Rush: 16/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Health is catching up to Pernell McPhee. He missed the first six games of 2016 due to knee surgery, only to get another surgery on the other knee this past offseason. Though theoretically healthy throughout this season, he's slower and less explosive than he once was. He doesn't have the buildup power and explosiveness that earned him a contract with the Bears in 2015. At this stage, he's reduced to a pocket pusher who often needs good coverage downfield to allow him to earn pressures and sacks.

Nos. 25-21

7 of 19

    Arizona's Haason Reddick
    Arizona's Haason ReddickNorm Hall/Getty Images

    25. Haason Reddick, Arizona Cardinals

    Pass Rush: 16/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Arizona drafted Haason Reddick to be an inside linebacker. To begin the season, he did play there, but when pass-rusher Markus Golden suffered a torn ACL in early October and was lost for the rest of the season, Reddick moved into an edge role on clear passing downs. He has a quick get-off and flashes impressive flexibility around the edge. Given he did not spend the early-going on the edge, Reddick has transitioned well. He's also shown impressive flashes when at inside linebacker. The Cardinals will have flexibility with him.

                  

    24. Erik Walden, Tennessee Titans

    Pass Rush: 16/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Erik Walden signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with Tennessee over the offseason after an 11-sack campaign in Indianapolis in 2016. With the Titans, however, he was reduced to a rotational role. He proved to be the most consistent speed threat around the edge but was not as complete and disruptive an overall rusher as Brian Orakpo or Derrick Morgan. However, Walden was the best run defender of the group, proving he could follow from the back side or contain the edge on the play side.

                 

    23. Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    11/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Dee Ford is a sensible sidekick for Justin Houston. Whereas Houston is a consistent threat, Ford can be inconsistent but capable of a few splash plays per game. He's a snap-jumper who relies on timing the start of a play and using his initial burst. He can wrap up instant sacks if his timing is just right. That said, he loses most downs he fails to get the immediate advantage on, and he doesn't have much value as a run defender or coverage piece.

                    

    22. Junior Galette, Washington Redskins

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Junior Galette is as good as a third pass-rushing option can get. He is a tad short for a typical edge-rusher at 6'2", but he compensates with a speedy get-off and nimble footwork. With the amount of ground he covers off the snap, Galette forces offensive tackles into space and can manipulate them from there. Washington has an abundance of riches to have someone such as Galette as a bench pass-rusher.

                   

    21. Jordan Jenkins, New York Jets

    Pass Rush: 15/30
    Run Defense: 
    16/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    It's unfair that Jordan Jenkins was forced to be New York's top edge option. He's a formidable run defender with a surprising ability to survive in coverage. More than anything, Jenkins is a utility player who can fit into whatever the defense is trying to accomplish. Without valuable pass-rush skills, though, he would be best served in a No. 2 or heavy rotational role. The Jets need to add pieces to move him down the depth chart a tad.

Nos. 20-16

8 of 19

    Arizona's Markus Golden
    Arizona's Markus GoldenAssociated Press

    20. Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals

    Pass Rush: 19/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    A torn ACL ended Markus Golden's season just four weeks into the year. When he did play, he proved to be the high-motor, low-variance pass-rusher he was in 2016. Golden doesn't win with speed or bend but rather with adequate strength as a pocket-pusher and a relentless motor to clean up sacks late in the down. Though he didn't record a sack in his limited time, he did his best to generate pressure and open opportunities for others.

                 

    19. Brian Orakpo, Tennessee Titans

    Pass Rush: 21/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Brian Orakpo is a low-variance pass-rusher. On most snaps, Orakpo can be counted on to work the midline of the offensive tackle and try to work through or inside the tackle with power. Orakpo gets consistent pressure this way, though the lack of variety restricts him from putting up monster numbers. At his best, Orakpo has 10- to 12-sack potential in a given season. 

                 

    18. Robert Quinn, Los Angeles Rams

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Robert Quinn has been reduced to an inconsistent version of himself after years of injuries and health complications. He still has plays where he flies off the line, swipes a lineman's hands and bends around the edge to nab the quarterback. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the juice to attempt that every play anymore, leaving him outmatched at times. Quinn's ability as a run defender and his peak pass-rushing plays still make him a quality player, but one would hope he can return to his full form next season.

                

    17. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans

    Pass Rush: 22/30
    Run Defense: 
    12/20
    Coverage: 
    8/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Derrick Morgan is the premier example of a good-not-great player. He's bounced between six and nine sacks for most of his career, and this year was no different as he recorded 7.5. Morgan is slightly more versatile than his counterpart, Brian Orakpo, flashing functional flexibility around the edge. His middling play against the run waters down his value, but he's a quality pass-rusher.

                   

    16. Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Nick Perry's development took longer than many hoped, but the 2012 first-round pick has blossomed into a reliable pass-rusher. In Green Bay's defense, he primarily pressures the QB, hardly presenting himself as a drop player. He flashes a good first step, and impressive speed-to-power accentuates that. He does his best work when going through the offensive tackle rather than countering inside or bending around the edge.

Nos. 15-11

9 of 19

    Green Bay's Clay Matthews
    Green Bay's Clay MatthewsAssociated Press

    15. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    13/20
    Coverage: 
    11/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Clay Matthews has been an amoeba for coordinator Dom Capers' defense over the past few seasons. Though back to a traditional outside linebacker spot, Matthews can regularly be seen dropping into coverage and flexing into an apex position. He's a functional coverage player, showing nice range and the ability to tackle in space. As an added bonus to his quality pass-rushing ability, his versatility helps the Packers match up to opposing offenses in several ways.

                

    14. Willie Young, Chicago Bears

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Few pass-rushers have matched Willie Young's career arc. He was a minor role player for the first few years of his career only to explode with a 10-sack season during his first year with the Bears in 2014 at the age of 29. Young has since been a reliable complementary pass-rusher, using power and a fierce motor to forge a path to the quarterback. Unfortunately, he suffered a triceps injury in Week 4 and was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

               

    13. Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears

    Pass Rush: 20/30
    Run Defense: 
    14/20
    Coverage: 
    10/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Leonard Floyd is a unique pass-rusher. Sporting a tall, thin build at 6'4", 251 pounds, he looks like a pure outside speed rusher with bend and burst, but he is not that type of player. He's a stiff pass-rusher who has to win with careful footwork and a devastating outside-inside counter move. Such a niche style makes Floyd somewhat predictable and one-dimensional as an edge-rusher, though he's still effective from time to time. A torn MCL and PCL cut his season short in Week 11.

             

    12. Jabaal Sheard, Indianapolis Colts

    Pass Rush: 22/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    7/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Jabaal Sheard is a perpetually underrated pass-rusher. In his first season with the Colts, Sheard only secured 5.5 sacks, but he was far and away the team's most consistent pass-rusher. Sheard blends an explosive lower body with sneaky flexibility around the edge. If the Colts build a proper secondary behind Sheard, his sack production would surely skyrocket.

               

    11. Matthew Judon, Baltimore Ravens

    Pass Rush: 19/30
    Run Defense: 
    16/20
    Coverage: 
    12/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Matt Judon is Baltimore's unsung hero. Judon is the only outside linebacker on the roster who can be an impact player in all phases of the game. In addition to being a decent complementary pass-rusher, Judon is a nifty run defender who can work his way into gaps and maintain gap control. Judon can also drop into coverage, even into deep hooks and seam responsibilities. Early in the season, Judon intercepted DeShone Kizer roughly 10 yards down the field. Judon may not be a master at any one skill, but he is a jack of all.

10. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 19/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    12/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    The future is undeniably bright for T.J. Watt. He sports a lean, explosive athletic profile that gives him a advantage over most offensive tackles in the league. Watt also flashed good technique throughout the season and will surely build on that heading into next season. What makes Watt unique, though, is how reliable he is in coverage. Few outside linebackers drop into coverage as comfortably as Watt.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    A twitchy, eager achiever from snap to whistle, J.J. Watt's younger brother recalls the family tradition in his non-stop effort on every play. But that would mean little if the younger Watt didn't have technique, and he certainly does. Watt can bend the edge and dip-and-rip with outstanding consistency for a rookie, and he can also drop into coverage, while keeping an eye on the quarterback at all times. Anytime you can add a multi-depth pass-rusher to your defense, it's a net benefit, and that's what Watt has brought to Pittsurgh's defense.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

9. Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 21/30
    Run Defense: 
    16/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    Slowly but surely, Bud Dupree has grown into a strong edge presence for the Steelers. Though still a bit raw mechanically, Dupree makes good use of his explosive power and closing speed. More impressive, however, is that Dupree is becoming a terror of a run defender. He consistently swallows run plays and kills them before they have a chance. Dupree's run/pass flexibility enables him to be a cornerstone for the Steelers defense.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    The Kentucky alum has put it all together in his third NFL season, racking up a career-high six sacks while continuing to be strong against the run. Dupree is quick off the snap to be sure, but his most valuable characteristic is an understanding of leverage and angles that allows him to bend the edge, use his insode counter, and take the shortest route to the ballcarrier. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

8. Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 22/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    10/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    After a breakout year in 2016, Whitney Mercilus' 2017 season was cut short because of a pectoral injury. During Mercilus' limited action, the pass-rusher opened up Houston's defense. Mercilus' reliable presence as an edge-rusher allowed Houston to more effectively use different fronts, which led to more flexibility and production out of Jadeveon Clowney. When needed, Mercilus also doubled as a pass defender. Mercilus' presence was dearly missed.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Ideally, the Texans would like to run multiple defensive fronts, including "NASCAR" fronts in which multiple defensive linemen and linebackers are in two-point stances pre-snap, making line calls harder for offenses. Losing Mercilus for the season in Week 5 was a big hit to that concept, as he was the defense's moving chess piece among its outside pass-rushers. Quick as a flash from the edge, Mercilus can also win with hand moves and spin moves in the A-gaps, and his return in 2018 will be a huge deal for a defense that struggled down the stretch in 2017.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

7. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Pass Rush: 24/30
    Run Defense: 
    15/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Well into his 30s, Terrell Suggs is still a terror for NFL quarterbacks. He may not have the immediate burst or nifty bend he once did, but he can still get it done. Suggs possesses great power and devastating sequencing of his pass-rushing moves. Whether he wants to go inside or out, Suggs can craft a clear path to the quarterback and use his strength to get there. How much longer Suggs can keep this up is unclear, but in 2017, Suggs was a punishing pass-rusher.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    The list of defenders with more than 10 officially recorded sacks (an NFL stat since 1982) in their 15th season? Kevin Greene for the Carolina Panthers in 1999, and Terrell Suggs for the Ravens in 2017. Suggs amassed 11 sacks this season, and got his first Pro Bowl berth since 2013, by finding free space along offensive lines and taking advantage with quick bursts in short spaces. More than most players can at his age, he's able to combine veteran savvy with the athleticism of youth. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

6. Preston Smith, Washington Redskins

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 23/30
    Run Defense: 
    16/20
    Coverage: 
    11/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    Preston Smith could be a quality No. 1 for many teams around the league, but he gets the luxury of being the No. 2 threat in Washington. Smith has freakishly long arms and a lean frame, allowing him to jab offensive tackles from afar without exposing himself to being easily blocked. When paired with an explosive first step, Smith's ability to bend around the edge is devastating. Sprinkle in a nice inside-counter move as a changeup, and Smith is a dangerous and complete pass-rusher.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Aside from his pass-rush moves, Smith also helps his defense with his ability to move into coverage on zone drops and blitzes. This makes him a tremendously versatile player whose stats don't tell the story of his overall impact. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

5. Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 22/30
    Run Defense: 
    19/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    Jadeveon Clowney is a man of many hats. Though listed as an outside linebacker, Clowney often lines up at 5-tech and 3-tech as a defensive lineman. Clowney is a destructive, powerful force who operates best when working directly through his opponent. The sheer force and tenacity at which Clowney rushes the passer and attacks blockers in the run game are unmatched. Clowney's skill set and versatility provide the Houston defense with a great foundation.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Now with four NFL seasons under his belt, Clowney has been able to stay healthy over the last two seasons, putting up Pro Bowl performances and justifying his status as the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. What stands out about Clowney is that he's a fully-formed pass-rusher at multiple positions. Watch him bull-rush and rip-move guards and centers inside, and then marvel as how quick he is around the edge out of a two-point of three-point stance. Then, imagine what Houston's defense might look like next season, with a healthy J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus wreaking havoc alongside him.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

4. Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Pass Rush: 24/30
    Run Defense: 
    17/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    Death, taxes and Ryan Kerrigan hovering around 10 sacks in a given season: Those are the only absolute truths in life. Though Kerrigan has never eclipsed the 15-sack mark, he is a pressure threat on every snap. Kerrigan weaves excellent hand technique into a powerful, surprisingly flexible frame. Kerrigan may not match the Von Millers of the world, but he has firmly placed himself in the upper tier of pass-rushers.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Kerrigan is one of the league's most successful edge-rushers because there isn't a move he doesn't have. While his bull-rush is one of the league's most impressive--at times, he'll just push an offensive tackle right into the quarterback--he can also ride a blocker around the arc and move into the pocket, and he's got the foot-fakes and subsequent inside counter to fool the best tackles. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

3. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Pass Rush: 25/30
    Run Defense: 
    18/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    18/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    78/100

    Athleticism is not always the key component to a pass-rusher's success. Chandler Jones is a capable athlete, but he wins with rare hand-fighting technique and strength. Jones can pressure outside with a strong jab and powerful motor around the edge, as well as counter inside with nimble feet and careful hand placement. In addition to pass-rushing prowess, Jones' strength and technique make him a brick wall in run defense. Few edge defenders are as versatile, well-rounded and consistent as Jones.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Most speed rushers who weigh only 245 pounds don't have Jones' prodigious upper-body strength, and he's able to win inside and outside with multiple hand moves. He's also one of the toughest edge guys to game-plan against, because he can win out of two-, three-, and four-point stances, and he comes out of his stance with a frenetic energy that has to have opposing blockers wondering which part of him they're supposed to block first. 

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

2. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Pass Rush: 24/30
    Run Defense: 
    17/20
    Coverage: 
    12/15
    Tackling: 
    19/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Few players were as dominant as Justin Houston to open the season. Houston not only dominated as a pass-rusher, but he was a blackhole in run defense. Houston was even dropping into coverage and regularly locking down his area. Unfortunately, injuries around Houston down the stretch made it difficult for him to keep up his production, as defenses could more easily avoid or block him.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    One of the most ferocious and intense pass-rushers in the NFL, Houston combines speed off the snap and a malevolent cast to his game with a knowledge of how to sucker blockers into thinking he's going to zig as he zags. Houston uses leverage and speed through the gaps to generate the kind of power you'd expect to see from someone weighing 30 pounds more than he does at 260. When you combine that with the speed and flexibility you might see from a 230-pound guy, it's no wonder Houston has been one of the toughest opponents for any NFL blocker over the last few seasons.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar     

1. Von Miller, Denver Broncos

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Pass Rush: 26/30
    Run Defense: 
    17/20
    Coverage: 
    9/15
    Tackling: 
    20/25
    Position Value: 
    8/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Von Miller is the league's most terrifying speed pass-rusher. With a devastating first step and the flexibility to get flat while running around the arc, Miller is tough to get a clean rep on as a blocker. When need be, Miller can turn to excellent hand usage and footwork to dance around offensive tackles with inside counter and spin moves. Though he has had more productive seasons in the past, Miller is still an elite pass-rusher who can take over games.

    —NFL1000 OLB Scout, Derrik Klassen

    Pure, unadulterated demon speed is Miller's primary trait, but he's remained so effective through the years because he's added other techniques to his palette. His foot fakes are legendary. Miller can okey-doke an offensive tackle—as a receiver would fake a cornerback out of a route—and explode into the backfield as the poor tackle wonders what just happened. Miller has the best "dip-and-rip" move in the league, and few can match his spin move. He has surprising play strength for his size, but it's his unusual athleticism that makes Miller the top cat among all edge-rushers.

    —NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar