Some late-summer transactions (and a key injury) have changed up teams' pass-rushing situations. Some teams significantly improved their quarterback-pressuring capabilities in recent weeks, while another lost a future Hall of Famer. Here is how each team's sack squadrons stack up going into Week 1.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams performed a successful remodel of the Jets run defense last season, but the team still does not have the pass-rushing horses. Safety Jamal Adams' 6.5 sacks were 3.5 more than any non-Jordan Jenkins Jet. Adams is now in Seattle. The recently re-signed Jenkins has led the team in sacks the past two seasons but has yet to surpass eight. The Jets have curiously did little this offseason to address their years-long edge concern. Following Leonard Williams' trade exit, 2019 top-five pick Quinnen Williams will need to take a step forward to anchor Gang Green's front.
In what could be a do-or-die year for both Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, they doubled down on ex-Patriots. Hybrid linebacker-edge rusher Jamie Collins joins Trey Flowers as big-name Detroit pressure artists. Collins worked with Patricia for four-plus years in New England but was not the same player when he last left the Patriots (during a Browns stay). With Collins set to see extensive time off the ball, the Lions are thin on the edge. They do have the Okwara brothers — Romeo and third-round pick Julian — as an interesting sidekick tandem. Detroit also lacks for much in the way of inside rushers.
The Seahawks held firm on Jadeveon Clowney's price, not raising their offer from earlier this year. But the perennial contenders are taking a risk. After trading Frank Clark to the Chiefs, the Seahawks registered 28 sacks last season — second-fewest in the league. Clowney only contributed three, but the former No. 1 overall pick would have certainly helped Seattle's 2020 group. The team re-signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed and brought back Super Bowl-years cog Bruce Irvin after five seasons away. A healthier version of 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier presumably awaits. This just might not be enough.
Names arrived in Year 2 of Miami's rebuild. But Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah remain question marks, after inconsistent tenures on their rookie contracts elsewhere, and Kyle Van Noy's pre-Patriots career (two-and-a-half unremarkable Lions years) does not inspire confidence he can produce outside of Bill Belichick's tutelage. Van Noy did, at least, play under coach Brian Flores in New England. The Dolphins added Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis in Round 2, but after an 8.5-sack 2017, he combined for just two over the past two years. The Dolphins' 23 sacks last year ranked last by far. Nowhere to go but up.
Entering the league as a fourth-round pick out of Eastern Michigan and producing 10 sacks, Maxx Crosby turned into a gem for the Raiders. Other Raider rushers' combined sack total: 22. This was an improvement on 2018's historically bad 13-sack season, but the Raiders still have much to prove here. Viewed by most as a reach at No. 4 overall last year, Clelin Ferrell recorded just eight QB hits as a rookie. He should be better in Year 2. Free agent D-tackle Maliek Collins and end Carl Nassib will help as well, but the Las Vegas pass rush will be doubted going into Week 1.
The Panthers losing their final eight games obscured first-round defensive end Brian Burns' 7.5-sack rookie season. But Carolina allowed top sackers Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin — both 32 — to leave in free agency and did not retain defensive tackles Gerald McCoy or Dontari Poe. New Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow will transition from the college game with a pass rush fronted by Burns, No. 7 overall pick Derrick Brown and second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos. Nose tackle Kawann Short, one of the last Panther veterans remaining, will be vital to Snow's first Carolina defense too.
RIP, Sacksonville. After the Jaguars traded Yannick Ngakoue in late August -- following the trade of All-Pro Calais Campbell and release of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus -- they are starting over. The two new pillars: standout second-year cog Josh Allen and first-round rookie K'Lavon Chaisson. Allen notched 10.5 sacks as a rookie; he is the rebuilding team's new D-line anchor. With Jacksonville using three first-round picks in three years on defensive linemen -- beginning with D-tackle Taven Bryan in 2018 -- the team has at least expended resources to expedite a resurgence.
The Giants' Leonard Williams-Dexter Lawrence-Dalvin Tomlinson-B.J. Hill quartet up front is a strong contingent. And Big Blue deployed a rarely used tactic -- an unrestricted free agent tender -- to retain 2019 sack leader Markus Golden. The Giants, however, notched only 36 sacks with Golden (who had 10) last season, only signed longtime Packers backup Kyler Fackrell to help the cause and waited until Round 7 to address the outside linebacker spot this year. They are counting on recent third-round edges Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines making a leap. The Giants ranked 31st in pass-defense DVOA in 2019.
The Patriots let their top two sackers last season — linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy — defect to ex-Patriot strongholds (Detroit and Miami) in free agency. They also lost hybrid rusher/front-seven anchor (Dont'a Hightower) to an opt-out. Bill Belichick has managed to form scrape together a few potent pass rushes, but his team is incredibly thin here. The Patriots will likely give second-year edge Chase Winovich more work, and Winovich's ex-Michigan teammate — second-rounder Josh Uche — could be needed too. Defensive tackle Adam Butler broke through last year (six sacks); the Pats will need even more from him now.
Despite entering free agency near the salary cap, the Falcons maneuvered to give Dante Fowler a three-year, $48 million contract. Fowler's 11.5-sack 2019 with the Rams came at the right time, but the ex-top-five pick has been far from consistent. He joins Falcon holdover Takk McKinley in that regard. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett remains this front's centerpiece, and Atlanta will depend on its highly paid interior disruptor to enhance the pass rush's capabilities. Second-round rookie Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown's Auburn wingman, could help in this area too.
The top two sackers in Bengals history, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, remain on the team. They are 31 and 32, respectively, and could not prevent last year's team from ranking 28th in pass-defense DVOA. Hometown product Sam Hubbard broke out for 8.5 sacks in his first year as a starter, and rotational cog Carl Lawson has enjoyed moments during his Cincinnati stay. The Bengals will also pay ex-Texan D-tackle D.J. Reader plenty of money to join up with Atkins inside, though Reader is more run-stopper than sack artist.
Illustrating Von Miller's impact on the Broncos, they dropped nearly 20 spots on this list after the news of his season-ending ankle injury. Miller's 106 sacks were 10 more than anyone else in the 2010s. The future Hall of Famer, 31, will lose a key season near the back end of his prime. The Broncos were counting on their ace sack artist anchoring a resurgent pass rush. Now, they will rely on a not-quite-100% Bradley Chubb -- off ACL surgery -- and five-time Pro Bowl D-lineman Jurrell Casey, a savvy trade get. A Casey-Chubb- Shelby Harris pass-rushing trio sounds OK, but 2020 already looks like a "what if?" season in Denver.
J.J. Watt was back in All-Pro form in 2018 and led all players in QB hits before his torn pectoral injury last season. The Texans did not do much to help their injury-prone icon this offseason. The recently extended Whitney Mercilus looked great with Watt in the lineup. But in between Weeks 5 and 16 -- with Watt out most of that time -- he recorded a half-sack. Houston drafted Jonathan Greenard in Round 3 but absolutely needs its 31-year-old future Hall of Famer to stay healthy for this setup to work. With Watt limited to eight games, the Texans ranked 26th in pass-defense DVOA last year.
The Bills lost their top two sack artists from 2019, Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson. They soon focused on depth. One of many ex-Panthers to join the Bills, defensive end Mario Addison will team with Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy outside. So will second-round pick A.J. Epenesa. Inside, 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver should take on a bigger role post-Phillips. Ex-Seahawk Quinton Jefferson and ex-Panther first-rounder Vernon Butler now join him, as does a returning-from-injury Harrison Phillips, who looked in the early stages of a breakout year last season. This will be an interesting group to observe.
Usually conservative in the offseason, the Colts muscled up this year and shipped their first-round pick for one of the game's best defensive linemen. Entering his age-26 season, DeForest Buckner is a game-changing get for Indianapolis. The ex-49er should make life easier for his new teammates. That will help a Colts team that features injury-prone talent Justin Houston -- now 31 -- as its top edge presence. Kemoko Turay flashed before suffering a broken ankle last year, but the 2018 second-round pick will begin this season on the PUP list. That docks this pass rush, even with Buckner in the fold.
The Browns have one of the game's best in the now-wealthy Myles Garrett. Despite the helmet-swinging incident end his season after 10 games, Garrett's 10 sacks led the Browns. None of his teammates eclipsed six. Olivier Vernon, whom the Browns will turn back to after being rebuffed by Jadeveon Clowney, registered only three sacks. The Browns are talented inside, with Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson, and added D-end Adrian Clayborn in free agency. Last season, however, left some question marks regarding Garrett's supporting cast.
The Cardinals' descent since their run to the 2015 NFC championship game has obscured the rare post-Patriots success story. Now a two-time All-Pro, Chandler Jones has delivered far more in Arizona than he did in New England. Jones' 96 sacks are the fifth-most through an age-29 season in NFL history. He needs a running mate. The Cards signed ex-Lion hybrid Devon Kennard, who is coming off back-to-back seven-sack years, and paid up for D-tackle Jordan Phillips (9.5 last year). First-round chess piece Isaiah Simmons could help here too, giving Jones a better hope of support.
After the Vikings used first-round picks to replace departed starters at wide receiver and cornerback, they left Everson Griffen's old spot alone for a while. But in late August, the team made a major upgrade by trading for disgruntled Jaguars standout Yannick Ngakoue. He will team with an even more accomplished edge rusher, Danielle Hunter, and give the Vikes what looks like an even stronger defensive end duo. The Vikings have little in the way of established inside rushers, but since Ngakoue came into the league in 2016, Hunter and he respectively have the third- and 12th-most sacks (48.5 and 37.5).
After letting Robert Quinn walk and not re-signing Michael Bennett, the Cowboys feature a new-look De Marcus Lawrence supporting cast. They signed Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen, took a flier on Aldon Smith and learned fellow suspension mainstay Randy Gregory could return by Week 7. While an injury resulted in Gerald McCoy's release, the Cowboys have made a strong effort to help Lawrence. Smith was an All-Pro ages ago (2012) and has not played since 2015, but the 30-year-old is one of 20 players to ever post a 19-sack season. He and Gregory represent typical Cowboys gambles. He of four Pro Bowls since 2015, including one in 2019, Griffen does not.
Long-term questions exist here, but the Ravens' 2020 group should be productive. The team traded for 34-year-old All-Pro Calais Campbell — a standout with outside- and inside-rushing chops — and franchise-tagged steady outside linebacker Matt Judon, whose 33 QB hits last season ranked fourth in the NFL. Baltimore also added ex-Denver Super Bowl starter Derek Wolfe after its Michael Brockers deal fell through. They lack an imposing Judon edge partner, which the Ravens showed last year by leading the NFL in blitz rate, but Pernell McPhee is at least back as an auxiliary rusher.
They may lack for fan support, but the Chargers will again employ one of the NFL's premier edge tandems. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are back for a fifth season together. The Bolts just extended the latter -- a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate -- at a record price. Bosa already has three double-digit sack seasons; he has played just three full slates. At 31, Ingram is a No. 2 rusher but is riding three straight Pro Bowl nods and has missed only three games in his past five seasons. No other Charger notched three sacks last year; the team will need more from its supporting cast.
Chris Jones has been an impact defensive tackle pretty much since arriving in 2016. The NFL record holder for most consecutive games with a sack, Jones is now attached to a $20 million-per-year deal. The fifth-year defensive tackle and top D-end Frank Clark are the NFL's only defensive teammates on $20M-AAV contracts. Clark bookend Tanoh Kpassagnon registered two sacks in the AFC title game, and the team returns Alex Okafor and signed ex-first-rounder Taco Charlton. This trio may be enough to supplement Clark (five playoff sacks last season) and Jones on a team that has somewhat noteworthy offensive capabilities.
The Buccaneers re-signed key pass-rush principals Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, with Barrett returning via the franchise tag. Barrett went from buy-low signing to the Bucs' all-time single-season sack leader, with an NFL-best 19.5. But the ex-Bronco will still need to dispel any fluke notions this season. JPP has now surmounted two career-threatening injuries to remain a quality pressure artist into his early 30s. Suh is not quite the menace of old, but he remains a difficult blocking assignment. The Bucs are banking on him maintaining form at 33. Mammoth D-tackle Vita Vea helps the rushers' cause.
Jadeveon Clowney clearly does not place a lot of stock in the value of training camp. For the second straight year, the former No. 1 overall pick will report to a team just before Week 1. The Titans outbidding the Saints for Clowney, who played under Mike Vrabel in Houston, gives them a formidable pass rush. The three-time Pro Bowler will team with ascending outside linebacker Harold Landry, 2019 first-round D-lineman Jeffery Simmons and inconsistent but talented edge player Vic Beasley. The Titans gave away longtime D-line anchor Jurrell Casey, but their collective pass rush stands to improve.
If the Eagles can keep their group healthy, this remains a strong collection of rushers. Anchors Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham remain, and versatile 2019 signee Malik Jackson is expected back after an injury shelved the ex-Super Bowl starter last year. The Eagles also signed ex-Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave, whom Pro Football Focus rated as a top-15 inside rusher last year. Former first-round pick Derek Barnett needs to show more, however. Riding five straight Pro Bowl invites, Cox remains this assembly's engine.
The Rams again feature outside linebacker uncertainty, having signed new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley's ex-Bears pupil Leonard Floyd to replace Dante Fowler. This may not be the group Los Angeles booked a Super Bowl berth with, but Aaron Donald still plays here. Donald has 14 more QB hits than any other player since 2017, and his five All-Pro seasons are the most for any defensive lineman through six seasons since the 1970 merger. The Rams also re-signed career-long Donald supporting caster Michael Brockers and drafted Alabama's Terrell Lewis in Round 3.
Questioned for spending lavishly on two potential buyer-beware edge rushers, the Packers reaped the benefits last season. Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith both had career years, combining for 25.5 sacks. Za'Darius has become one of the league's best pressure producers; his 78 QB hits over the past three seasons rank second only to Aaron Donald. The Packers just extended Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kenny Clark, and 2019 first-rounder Rashan Gary poses an interesting bench rusher. Green Bay did little to help its offense this offseason, crystallizing their pass-rushing group's importance.
On track for the Hall of Fame, Khalil Mack may be the game's best edge player entering his age-29 season — despite a down 8.5-sack year. He spearheads Chicago's corps, which now includes a superior sidekick. Coming off an 11.5-sack season, Robert Quinn is an upgrade on Leonard Floyd. Though Quinn has done his best work as a 4-3 lineman, the Bears' 3-4 scheme should not hinder him too much considering nickel defenses are almost every team's primary look. Akiem Hicks is a daunting task for offensive linemen. Despite an injury-marred season, the imposing D-tackle should still be a force at age 30.
Not many defenders outflank Cameron Jordan, who is fresh off a 15.5-sack season. And 2018 first-round rush partner Marcus Davenport showed improvement in his second season. New Orleans' 51 sacks ranked third in 2019. The Saints re-signed underrated defensive tackle David Onyemata, and Sheldon Rankins — a burgeoning inside-rush talent prior to a January 2019 Achilles tear — should be in better form in 2020 than he was in '19. The team also drafted Wisconsin's Zack Baun in Round 2. The linebacker will likely moonlight as a rusher, after recording 12.5 sacks last year. Despite missing on Jadeveon Clowney, the Saints are well stocked here.
If first-rounder Javon Kinlaw shows immediate promise, this ranking is too low. But upon trading DeForest Buckner, the 49ers lost their most reliable defender. Still, Nick Bosa enters the 2020 season already one of the NFL's best players. And Dee Ford's knee surgery should allow the ex-Chief to play more than the part-time role he did last season. Arik Armstead will need to prove his 10-sack contract year was legit, and the 49ers have seen little from 2017 No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas. If he takes a step forward, however, this San Francisco D-line may be just as good as last year's.
Washington went 3-13 and did not have a 10-sack player last year, but its 2020 D-line will be a problem. Ryan Kerrigan, a four-time Pro Bowler with 90 career sacks, is not even starting. Washington matches the 49ers with five first-rounders up front. Chase Young may elevate this group into a dominant collection. The latest Ohio State rush phenom is one of the best talents to enter the NFL in years; he follows 2019 first-round D-end Montez Sweat (seven 2019 sacks) to Washington. Interior linemen Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne round out the team's most exciting position group in many years.
Armed with four proven pass rushers, this is the NFL's highest-floor group. It has led the NFL in sacks three straight years; T.J. Watt has 27.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles since 2018. He may not be on J.J.-level trajectory, but he's not far off. The Steelers franchise-tagging Bud Dupree keeps their imposing outside linebacker tandem intact and buys them evaluation time on Dupree. The Cam Heyward-Stephon Tuitt D-end duo warrants more attention, even though the two have been together since 2014. Both are high-level pass rushers as 3-4 ends. As a bonus, third-round edge defender Alex Highsmith is coming off a 15-sack season.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.