The NFL’s best edge defenders

We attempted to rank the best of the best coming off the edge in the latest edition of SI’s position-by-position rankings. It was not an easy job.
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On the defensive side of the ball, the money-makers reside on the edge. Whether it’s setting the boundary against the run or throwing a monkey wrench into the well-laid plans of the league’s precious passing games, the men who roam the edge of the front seven are arguably the most impactful players on a down-to-down basis on that side of the ball. Whether they are defensive ends in 4–3 fronts or 3–4 outside linebackers, the game’s best edge rushers have the same traits: the strength and length to shed the blocks of bigger offensive tackles and make an impact in run defense, and the breathtaking speed and power to disrupt the pocket, affect the quarterback’s timing and ruin offensive game plans.

We attempted to rank the best of the best coming off the edge in the latest edition of SI’s position-by-position NFL player rankings. It was not an easy job. Every team and scheme is different, and no two players get the same number of opportunities to rush the passer. Sacks are overrated in general, but some players enjoy the advantages of playing with great coverage players behind them. In the end, there were probably about 20 players that had legitimate arguments for the list.

Just missed the cut

Clay Matthews, Packers: He temporarily moved to inside linebacker to fill a hole in Green Bay, but Matthews could very well regain his Defensive Player of the Year production now that he’s expected back full time at outside linebacker. Will he stay healthy? That’s another issue. For now, his status is too uncertain to crack this elite tier. Just missing the cut on just missing the cut: Everson Griffin, Tamba Hali, Mario Williams and Ryan Kerrigan. Robert Quinn (back) and Cameron Wake (Achilles) are coming off painful injuries and are expected to regain their dominant form, but it’s impossible to say that for sure.

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The next big thing

Jadeveon Clowney, Texans: He wasn’t the clear No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft for nothing. Clowney is a next-level physical specimen for the position: he’s bigger, faster and more explosive than anyone else. He just hasn’t been healthy, playing 11 of a possible 32 regular season games in two years as a pro. What he showed at the end of last season—near-elite play against the run with a lot of promise rushing the passer, backed up by his 4.5 sacks in nine starts—leaves us and the Texans wanting to see him on the field a lot more.