Where 3 contenders can get pass-rush help this offseason

A strong pass rush is crucial, and Brett Whitefield says these three teams with high aspirations need to improve theirs this offseason.

| 3 weeks ago
(Elsa/Getty Images)

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Where 3 contenders can get pass-rush help this offseason


Getting pressure on the quarterback is almost undisputedly the most important attribute for a defense in stopping opposing offenses. General managers and coaching staffs spend endless days searching for players who can improve their pass rush. Whether a dominate edge defender, interior lineman, or linebackers and defensive backs who are effective off blitzes, GMs consider improving these all the time. At PFF we don’t just measure pass rush by a team’s sack totals. We consider a much bigger picture and measure sack rate, QB pressures, quick pressures (pressures within 2.5 seconds of snap) and average time to pass.

Here are three 2017 playoff hopeful teams that will need to improve their pass rush next season if they want to make a legitimate run, along with a look at specific players that can help them do it.

New York Giants

What you need to know: Despite fielding one of the league’s better defenses in 2016 that included a pair of effective edge defenders, the Giants struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. In 2016, the Giants defense produced a pressure rate of just 32 percent (28th in NFL) and a quick pressure rate of 19 percent (29th). Opposing quarterbacks also had the longest time in the pocket before facing pressure against the Giants defense (2.59 seconds).

Best pass-rush assets: Jason Pierre-Paul (86.2) and Olivier Vernon (85.4) both graded in the top 15 at their positions. Together they combined for 140 total QB pressures and 19 sacks. Vernon ranked seventh in the NFL among 4-3 edge defenders in pass-rush productivity (11.5).

Where they can improve: The Giants featured two interior linemen that struggle rushing the passer. Damon Harrison’s pass-rush grade of 66.2 ranked just 51st among DI players and Johnathan Hankins’ pass-rush grade of 48.3 ranked just 94th. The Giants also lacked any pass rush off the bench. Their reserve defensive lineman combined for just 27 pressures and 5 sacks.

Who can help in free agency:

Calais Campbell, DI, 90.4 overall grade in 2016 – Campbell would be a huge splash for this defense. In 2016 Campbell was great at rushing the passer and was our second-highest-graded DI when rushing the passer. He notched 56 total pressures and 9 sacks.

Chris Baker, DI, 82.2 – Baker would likely be a cheaper option than Campbell, and would still provide a nice improvement as an interior pass rusher. In 2016 Baker put up 42 total pressures including 6 sacks.

Chris Long, Edge, 70.3 – With starting edge defenders in place, the Giants could look to improve their bench. Long would be a huge improvement as a third edge rusher. In 2016 Long put up 57 total pressures including 5 sacks.

Who can help in the draft:

Malik McDowell, DI, Michigan State – McDowell would give the Giants flexibility along the defensive line as well as a strong pass-rush force from inside. In 2016 McDowell’s 11.7 pass-rush productivity ranked eighth in FBS among DIs. He tallied 30 total pressures on 196 pass-rush snaps.

Caleb Brantley, DI, Florida – Like McDowell, Brantley would give the Giants a strong pass rush from inside. His 2016 pass-rush numbers almost mimic McDowell’s. He tallied 29 total pressures on 193 pass rush snaps.

Dallas Cowboys

What you need to know: The Cowboys’ pass rush was one of the worst in the league last year. Their pressure rate of 26 percent and quick-pressure rate of 16 percent both ranked 31st. When opposing offenses got into the red zone, the Cowboys slowed down even more, with a red-zone sack rate of 0.9 percent and pressure rate of 22 percent — both ranked 32nd.

Best pass-rush assets: David Irving was a pleasant surprise and was their best pass-rusher in 2016. Irving produced 37 total pressures while splitting his playing time almost 50/50 between edge and DI.

Where they can improve: The Cowboys could really use help on the edge. Irving seems to be better suited as a pass-rusher on the inside. Their best pass-rusher on the edge was Tyrone Crawford, whose pass rush grade of 74.4 ranked 46th among edge defenders.

Who can help in free agency:

Demarcus Ware, edge, 77.4 – A Ware reunion would provide the Cowboys with a solid situational pass-rusher. Ware totaled 26 total pressures in 2016 on just 213 pass-rush snaps.

Charles Johnson, DI, 81.4 – Johnson’s sack totals have taken a dip of late but he is still very effective getting pressure on the QB. His pass-rush grade of 75.8 ranked 40th in the NFL last season.

Who can help in the draft:

Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn – Lawson earned the fifth-highest pass-rush grade in the country last season while posting 67 QB pressures.

Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan – Charlton was one of the most efficient pass-rushers in the country last season. His pass-rush productivity of 16.6 ranked eighth in the country among edge defenders.

Indianapolis Colts

What you need to know:

The Colts’ pass-rush metrics ranked at the bottom of the league. Their 25 percent pressure rate and 15 percent quick-pressure rate ranked dead last. To make matters worse, when the Colts blitzed, their pressure rate dropped even further below the league average.

Best pass-rush assets: T.Y McGill was the lone bright spot as a situational pass-rusher from the inside. His pass-rush grade of 75.8 ranked 19th among DIs.

Where they can improve: The Colts really need pass rush help anywhere they can get it, but getting an edge player with strong pass-rush skill should be the priority. In 2016, Colts edge rushers combined for just 92 QB pressures.

Who can help in free agency:

Jabaal Sheard, Edge, 79.6 – Sheard would be a versatile piece to put along the Colts defensive front as he can play in many different schemes.

John Simon, Edge, 78.3 – Simon took a step forward in 2016 as a pass-rusher and could immediately step in as a starter for the Colts with a similar role to what he had in Houston.

Who can help in the draft:

Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama – Williams put up a staggering 59 QB pressures on just 299 QB pressures. He has been the most efficient pass-rusher in the country over the past three seasons.

Haason Reddick, Edge, Temple – Reddick would be another option and might not cost a first-round pick. Reddick was incredibly effective rushing from the left side in 2016. He was the third-most-efficient from that side earning 31 of his 42 total pressures despite playing just 50 percent of his snaps there.

  • Clinton Cartwright

    Harrison and Hankins both did well against the run, do u consider picking up just a third down DI pass rusher for Giants or a 3 downer?

  • Slim

    It really confuses how you label a team that didn’t even make the playoffs in the weakest division as a “Contender”, that being the Colts. The team that should be on this list is the Detroit Lions, who made the playoffs but main problems is that they had the least amount of QB sacks + pressures. Surely this makes sense right??

    • David Stinnett

      Agreed. Are they thinking they would be contenders with the added help there? Same could be said of the Cardinals who had shown up more recently and to a greater degree. That’s the weak point of an otherwise excellent defense. So yea, Indy I don’t get.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Everyone knows that PFF is totally obsessed with “pressure” but the first sentence of this article is pretty much nonsense. Let’s have a look at which teams in 2016 allocated the highest percentage of their cap space to the defensive line (which should be the major source of any pressure). Those teams were the Dolphins, Jaguars, Rams, Giants and Bucs. Each allocated more than 20% of their cap space to the defensive line positions but the combined winning record of those teams was nothing special and not one of them registered a playoff win.