This one should be easy to write. Just tally up total sacks and rank accordingly, right? No, because that would be stupid.
4. New York Giants
DL Depth Chart: Dalvin Tomlinson, Snacks Harrison, BJ Hill, Kerry Wynn, Robert Thomas, AJ Francis, Avery Moss
LB Depth Chart: Olivier Vernon, Alec Ogletree, BJ Goodson, Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Mark Herzlich, Connor Barwin
Preface: The Giants have to lead the league in players that nobody has ever fucking heard of. Seriously we visit an NFCE blog basically every day, and I didn’t recognize like half of these names.
Anyway, this pass rush was terrible last year, and I can’t see where they have improved. I was on board with trading JPP, but didn’t really do anything to replace him. Olivier Vernon is a solid player, but he is literally the only player in the front seven with any real pass rush ability. Opposite Vernon they’ll likely have Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter and Connor Barwin all sharing snaps, and I don’t see much impact from any of them.
The Giants project to start Dalvin Tomlinson, Snacks Harrison and BJ Hill on the DL. That’s three guys all probably playing north of 320 lbs., none of whom has had any notable contributions as a pass rusher either in college or the pros. Snacks is a nice player, particularly against the run, but don’t expect much from this group in terms of collapsing the pocket.
If this group is going to generate pressure, James Bettcher is going to have to get creative. He ran an aggressive defense in Arizona with a lot of blitzing, so it will be interesting to see if he can utilize athletic guys like Alec Ogletree or Landon Collins to generate pressure. He’s going to have to, because there is no Chandler Jones on this team.
3. Dallas Cowboys
DL Depth Chart: Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Randy Gregory, (Charles Tapper), (Kony Ealy), David Irving, Maliek Collins, Datone Jones, Jihad Ward, Brian Price, (Antwaun Woods)
ALB Depth Chart: Sean Lee, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Damien Wilson
Linebackers are basically a non-factor as pass rushers under Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys only legitimate interior pass rusher, David Irving, is suspended the first four games and possibly insane for the other 12. If this team is going to generate pass rush, it will mostly have to come from the edges.
Demarcus Lawrence broke out as a legitimate stud on the edge in 2017. His production slowed the second half, but he’ll continue to be the key cog in this pass rush. With Lawrence locking down the LDE spot, the question for this team is whether any can step up at RDE. The candidates are unimpressive. Tyrone Crawford is useless. Kony Ealy is on his third team in three seasons. Randy Gregory is finally clean (good for him), but hasn’t actually shown any ability in the rare occasions he was on the field. I think the best bet is for Taco Charlton to take a step forward, and I like Charlton and the second-year is usually a big year for pass rushers. But unless one of those names really steps up, I think we’ll see an unimpressive rotation opposite Lawrence.
The interior really offers nothing exciting in the way of pass rush outside of David Irving. Maliek Collins and Datone Jones are (generously) JAGs, and the rest of this line is less than that. And the only thing in the NFL less creative than the Cowboys’ defensive coaching staff is probably the Cowboys’ offensive coaching staff.
It gets lost in the great season that Lawrence had and the flashes Irving showed how bad this pass rush was last season. It was really bad. They were one of the worst third-down defenses inthe NFL, generated just ten interceptions the entire season and allowed the 26th highest passer rating. They have a couple guys up front who can play, but they are surrounded by guys who can’t. So even if someone other than Lawrence steps up in 2018, I think the ceiling for this pass rush is mediocrity.
2. Washington Redskins
DL Depth Chart: Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, Anthony Lanier, Ziggy Hood
LB Depth Chart: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee, Pete Robertson
For what feels like the 114th consecutive year, Ryan Kerrigan will anchor this pass rush off the edge, but I think Preston Smith might be the better pure pass rusher. Either way, this is one of the best duos of starting edge rushers in the NFL, and Pernell McPhee is a solid upgrade over Junior Galette for depth. I still don’t get Ryan Anderson as a 3-4 edge rusher, but the top three are a threat basically every snap. This showed up in 2017, with the Redskins ranking just outside the top 10 in total sacks, grabbing 16 interceptions and allowing the 9th best passer rating against in the NFL.
The interior DL ultimately kept this defensive pass rush from being among the best in the NFL in 2017, and I think that issue will persist in 2018. I like the investment the Redskins made in the DL and I think in 2019 and beyond Allen and Payne can be a real force inside, but I don’t think either one is there just yet.
I see the Redskins pass rush generally like I see the rest of their roster: unspectacular, but it’s hard to really find any glaring holes in it either. I think this is going to be a good unit (and a good team overall) in 2018.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
DL Depth Chart: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan (NFI), Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, (Steven Means), (Josh Sweat), (Bruce Hector)
LB Depth Chart: Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Joe Walker, LaRoy Reynolds
This was a high variance pass rush in 2017, but when it was on it was perhaps the best pass rush in the NFL, and I think it got better on paper. Michael Bennett, who had 8.5 sacks in 2017, should be an upgrade over Vinny Curry. Bennett can be a situational pass rusher and rotate inside one passing downs, which frees up Brandon Graham to stay on the edge. I don’t think you can find a 3rd-and-long defensive front than Graham, Cox, Bennett and Barnett/Long.
Besides being good, this unit is deep. In 2017, no lineman played more than 65% of regular season snaps. Only three (Graham, Cox, Curry) played more than 50%. The result was a pass rush that stayed fresh all game, collecting the 7th most fourth quarter sacks in the NFL, and sustained the Eagles through the playoffs. That could take a hit with Tim Jernigan starting the season on the NFL list and possibly not being healthy until November.
Like the Cowboys, the Eagles don’t heavily utilize their LBs in pass rush situations, but when the Eagles do blitz they tend to send just about everybody. The result will be pass rush opportunities for guys like Nigel Bradham or Malcolm Jenkins, but I don’t consider them a huge impact on the pass rush overall.