Ranking the top NFL pass rushers this season

Khaled Elsayed ranks the top edge rushers, interior defenders, and rookies by pass rushing productivity.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Ranking the top NFL pass rushers this season

It’s easy to get stuck in a trance looking at sack numbers; they’re definitive wins for the defense. But they’re also only part of the story when it comes to analyzing how productive a pass rusher is. Indeed, there are crucial elements missing—two of those factors that our pass rushing productivity signature stat really tackles.

The first is how much total pressure a pass rusher gets. Not just sacks, but hits and hurries as well—because after all, disruption is production. The second, and the most overlooked part, is how often the defender rushed the passer. You are far more likely to have bigger numbers if you and your defense is already on the field.

That’s the premise for the pass rushing productivity formula: sacks (weighted more), hits, and hurries by the number of plays you’re on the field.

Now that the explanation is out of the way, let’s see who the numbers endorse on the productivity scale.

Top 10

The Bears, after a slow start, are finding their feet under John Fox; one of the big reasons on defense is the excellent play of Pernell McPhee. A sub-package superstar in Baltimore, he’s not just coped with the expanded role, but thrived with incredible production. McPhee tops the charts by a good distance.

Other names in the top 10 that stand out? Take a look at No. 6, where ageless-wonder James Harrison is still getting it done. It’s easy to assume that age and a reduced role mean he’s more sentiment than substance, but while the Steelers have invested first-round picks at the edge rush spot the past three years, it’s telling that they’ve received more from simply reuniting with Harrison.

Rank Name Team Pass rush snaps Total pressures Pass rush productivity (PRP)
1. Pernell McPhee CHI 205 45 17.1
2. Von Miller DEN 239 49 15.9
3. Justin Houston KC 269 51 15
4. Michael Bennett SEA 263 46 13.9
5. Cliff Avril SEA 256 45 13.7
6. James Harrison PIT 157 27 13.2
7. Elvis Dumervil BAL 245 41 13.1
8. Aaron Lynch SF 230 38 13
9. Ezekiel Ansah DET 224 36 12.6
10. Tamba Hali KC 272 44 12.5

There’s no surprise that of the top 10 all are classic edge rushers, but what about the guys who can win inside?

There’s some debate as to where to class J.J. Watt, but there’s no doubt that even garnering more attention, he’s still an incredibly productive player.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is seeing that Dominique Easley so productive. He may not be able to handle a full load of snaps, but he’s making them count.

Rank Name Team Pass rush snaps Total pressures Pass rush productivity (PRP)
1. J.J. Watt HOU 334 50 11.9
2. Dominique Easley NE 161 25 11.8
3. Muhammad Wilkerson NYJ 347 51 11.5
4. Mike Daniels GB 234 33 11
5. Geno Atkins CIN 296 40 10.9
6. Kawann Short CAR 304 41 10.7
7. Jurrell Casey TEN 236 30 10.1
7. Jason Hatcher WAS 218 29 10.1
9. Aaron Donald STL 272 34 9.9
10. Antonio D. Smith DEN 193 24 9.7

When we just look at the NFL’s 2015 rookie class, one thing is for sure; it’s proven to be something of an underwhelming pass rushing group so far. So, credit to Cardinals pass rusher Markus Golden for standing out. He doesn’t get a lot of press, but the second-round pick out of Missouri has performed well when given the opportunity.

Rank Name Team Pass Rush Snaps Total Pressures Pass rushing productivity (PRP)
1. Markus Golden ARZ 176 28 12.4
2. Vic Beasley ATL 223 24 8.3
3. Leonard Williams NYJ 280 29 7.9
4. Henry Anderson IND 237 22 7.1
5. Eddie Goldman CHI 154 13 6.7

The biggest story here: sacks don’t tell the whole story—much less an accurate one—when observing pass rushers. Pro Football Focus grades every player on every play of every game, taking each snap into account.

To see where all NFL players rank, access our 2015 Season Player Grades now.

  • Scott Kohler

    Where the hell is Cameron Jordan? He has your highest pass rush grade for edge rushers…

    • mrbrightside3737

      Perhaps this list filters him out because it adjusts for how many opportunities a player gets and isn’t cumulative like PFF’s season grades.

  • Tim Edell

    I was elated when the Bears signed Mcphee in FA and even happier now after 9 games. He is the leader of our D and will be the cornerstone for this team.

    • derek lundeen

      I think Chris Conte would be the cornerstone if we still had him…Oh God was he bad.

      • NFL32

        Conte has played well for Tampa Bay this year though.

        • derek lundeen

          Has he I don’t pay attention to Tamba Bay?

          • NFL32

            Yeah, he’s been very solid.

    • derek lundeen

      It’s also hard to forget when Fred Jackson stiff armed him week 1 vs the Bills in overtime last year

    • crosseyedlemon

      I think that good looking boy of Tim’s could be the next Butkus with the right training regiment. He looks old enough to work a Packer punching bag.

      • cka2nd

        Friendly correction: it’s “training regimen,” not “regiment.”

  • snoth cambin

    Chandler jones?

  • Tim

    Arik Armstead is a rookie with a pass rush efficiency of 14 + but doesn’t get mentioned. He leads all 3-4 defensive ends.


    • wisconsinsteelerfan

      Cameron Heyward is missing from the list as well.

    • PetEng

      Technically, it was only ~12.3 PRP, but it was on 235 pass rush snaps, so it clearly made their minimum snap count threshold.

  • Dr__P

    Too bad one cannot see the player grades do not show the pressures from their signature stat.

    PFF sold out to their “exclusive contracts”

  • crosseyedlemon

    I guess Aldon Smith won’t be making the list anytime soon.

  • Sam Karr

    Eddie Goldman is an interior lineman….that he is up there at all is freaking awesome. Every play he’s pushing 300+ pounds of tackle or guard toward the QB. No edge speed or gap up the middle. Just bull rushing OGs each time.

    • truthbetold

      What’s even more astonishing…is that he “commands” without a doubt, double-teams on nearly every play he’s out there. Idk that there’s any other DT out there that commands such n as much as Eddie G…

      If that was thrown into the equation — as far as who n how many you have to beat to garner a postive-play, i.e; sack, pressure, hit — idk many can beat Eddie G….!!

  • Scott West

    Easley has an astounding first step. Pats are rotating the d-line steadily; no one plays more than 1/3 of snaps. Easley is mostly in on 3rd downs.

  • Landon Dillion

    No Chandler Jones??? He is leading the NFL in sacks

    • Jack Casey

      Its not an NFL sack list.

      I’m a Patriots fan and I think one of the reasons you rarely see Patriot players with high pressure totals is because they play a contain style of defense.. A lot of times they seem to be mush rushing and you see the DTs often just hand fighting and keeping the QB in the pocket.

  • Jack Casey

    I understand when this site gives player a certain grade and fans complain about it because its partly opinion based there is some subjectivity. Or when they rank players or give MVP or ROY rankings. But when they have a list like they do here where it is sorted strictly by numbers/statistics and people comment wondering why there isn’t a certain player.. Its like having a highest scoring offensive list and the tenth team scores say 25.3 and a commenter will say “well what about insert team?” when they are only averaging 23.9