Okay, it is that time of the year for lists. Lists cause great controversy and draw in a ton of attention. The reality is that “Player X” might be better in his particular system and surrounded by his particular players than “Player Y”, but would the case be the same if their situations were changed? I am going to do my best to sort through each position group and rank them from 1 to 10 with a “Just Missed” section based on how good of a football player I believe each player to be right now as we prepare for the 2018 season. Of course injuries are an X Factor in this situation and I will do my best to navigate through those murky waters. Lists are never simple and they are never apple-to-apple comparisons even among the same positional groups.
This is the seventh installment of the series: The Edge defenders. Rookies are not included.
- Von Miller-With “Just” 10 sacks, some may have looked at Miller’s 2017 season as somewhat of a down year for this superstar. The tape clearly shows otherwise though, as Miller was constantly in the backfield and harassing quarterbacks. Miller has speed, he has power, he has change of direction and he has a wide variety of refined pass-rush moves. Miller can bend like Gumby. And Miller knows how to vary these skills or string them all together. It will be very interesting to watch this future Hall of Famer in the prime of his career with Bradley Chubb now alongside Miller in Denver. Miller might be in store for his biggest season yet. Oh by the way, Miller is also an elite run defender either against the outside run at him or chasing down ball carriers from behind.
- Khalil Mack-What is maybe most impressive about Mack is that he has been far and away Oakland’s best defensive player for sometime now and obviously every team gameplans with that in mind. But it doesn’t slow him down. Watching Mack control an offensive tackle with just one arm while working at close to full speed towards the quarterback is a thing of beauty. Like Miller, Mack is also great vs. the run. Mack should end up in the Hall of Fame one day.
- Joey Bosa-Considered a fantastic technician and hustle player (which he absolutely is) that sells Bosa’s great athletic ability very short. Bosa has ideal size and a great build for the position with excellent change of direction skills, flexibility and ability to get low while playing very fast even though he is a tall player. His hand usage and recognition are pretty much off the charts for a player his age and will only improve. Bosa was made to be a great football player and soon we will see his younger brother, who might even be better than Joey, burst onto the scene.
- Cameron Jordan-Jordan does it all and is coming off his finest season to date. With the Saints, like is the case with Mack, Jordan has often been the one defender that offenses gear to stop, but that is easier said than done. Jordan is also quite possibly the best run defender on this list as well and is built more like a run stuffing edge player than the great pass-rusher he truly is. He plays big though with very powerful hands without giving up anything in the movement categories. Jordan also shows excellent recognition skills and wastes very few steps on the football field.
- Jadeveon Clowney-Contrary to popular belief, Clowney isn’t really used all that much as just an edge player. Houston often employs him on the interior of their defensive line because he is such a naturally powerful player. His effort has clearly improved since his college days, where he made playing this game look very easy. Maybe most impressive about Clowney is that he played his best football in 2017 even with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus out of the picture and every team keying on him. With those two back in the fold, it will be really exciting to see what Clowney does in 2018.
- Everson Griffin-Griffin has tremendous get off and is a highly explosive athlete overall, but like Clowney; he isn’t quite as flexible as some of the players listed here. This is now four years in a row where Griffin has been basically an elite player at a critical defensive position. He seems to only be getting better, which is awfully impressive and shows how dedicated Griffin is to his craft. You see this most, like a veteran pitcher, with his ability to keep offensive tackles off balance since they don’t know what is coming at them on any given snap. Griffin has become a master craftsman.
- Chandler Jones-Jones is very long and powerful and coming off an outstanding season in Arizona in which he racked up a league leading 17 sacks. With his angular build, you wouldn’t suspect that Jones plays as powerfully as he does, but this guy really jolts his opponent on contact and getting into Jones’ frame is very difficult for blockers. When he gets proper hand placement, which he so often does, Jones almost always wins that fight. Jones also short dropped into coverage last year more than you might have expected. But obviously he is on this list for his ability on the line of scrimmage and in opposing backfields.
- Demarcus Lawrence-In a contract season, Lawrence came on like gangbusters in 2017 and wasn’t far off the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year when it was all said and done. As a result, Dallas slapped the volatile Lawrence with the franchise tag, so there is still a great big carrot out there for Lawrence to put together back to back great seasons. Doing so is absolutely pivotal to the success of the Cowboys’ defense. Lawrence sacked the quarterback 15 times last year while also racking up a lot of pressures. Pretty much a pure 4-3 defensive end, Lawrence was one of the best in the business in that capacity last year and really shows off excellent lateral agility and quickness for his position. Lets see if his success continues.
- Melvin Ingram-Ingram and Bosa are a lethal edge pairing. Ingram was an even more effective pass-rusher than his 11 sacks in 2017 would indicate and is clearly getting better with age, although having Bosa on the field with him hasn’t hurt Ingram’s cause. What stands out most with Ingram is his pure athletic ability. He is excellent in space and moves like a much smaller man. He is explosive changing directions, but yet extremely fluid in everything he does. Ingram has also learned to use his natural leverage advantage awfully well.
- Michael Bennett-This one is somewhat of an oldie but goodie. Bennett is changing his home from the West Coast to the East Coast, as he was traded to Philadelphia with the Seahawks getting little in return. The compensation Seattle received should not reflect on Bennett’s current play however. While he might not be what he once was, Bennett is still an excellent addition on the field for the Super Bowl Champions. He was one of the first (and best) at playing a power defensive end position against 21 or 12 Personnel and then shifting inside over a guard in passing situations. With a low center of gravity, Bennett is extremely powerful with great technique and football intelligence. The Eagles should be thrilled to have him.
JUST MISSED (Alphabetical): Ezekiel Ansah, Frank Clark, Trey Flowers, Justin Houston, Myles Garrett, Brandon Graham, Ryan Kerrigan, Danielle Hunter, Carl Lawson, Clay Matthews, Whitney Mercilus, Yannick Ngakoue, Jason Pierre Paul, Jabaal Sheard, Terrell Suggs, Cameron Wake