The Falcons pass rush has been an area for concern for quite some time. It has improved since Dan Quinn arrived in 2015, but still should be considered a work in progress heading into 2018. They lost two key pieces from last year’s team. Dontari Poe stayed in the division with the Panthers and Adrian Clayborn headed north to join the Patriots.
That means some of the familiar faces are going to have to pick up some of the load. Vic Beasley Jr. needs to return to his 2016 form, where he led the NFL in sacks with 15.5. Dan Quinn said Beasley will spend 2018 focused completely on pass-rushing rather than play linebacker. Second-year defensive end, Takkarist McKinley, is going to have to come into his own rather quickly. He had a promising rookie season, but continuous shoulder issues are hindering his development. And of course, Grady Jarrett has blossomed into a top defensive tackle option. With Poe now out of the picture, Jarrett is going to have even more responsibility on the interior defensive line. If anyone can handle that though, it is Jarrett.
Atlanta also has some new faces that will be contributing to sacking the quarterback. Jack Crawford is back from a season-ending biceps injury. Terrell McClain joins the front after playing in twelve games and recording two sacks for Washington last year. And finally, Deadrin Senat could play a major role in his rookie year as a defensive tackle.
The God Awful
New York Giants
New York Jets
New England Patriots
The Giants defensive line is much better than it’s pass rush. Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson are great run-stoppers inside, but Olivier Vernon is really the only guy on their defensive line that specializes in sacking the quarterback. 2017 number one overall pick, Myles Garrett, was impressive in year one. The problem is, like the Giants, the Browns do not offer much more when it comes to getting after the QB. Leonard Williams is a stud for the Jets on the interior defensive line, and he is going to have to be even better in 2018. The talent surrounding him on the line ho-hum. The Patriots added Adrian Clayborn from Atlanta. He is a nice addition, but they are going to need a lot more to turn their defensive line around. It seems like not too long ago the Bills had stars across the defensive line. Now, most of the load is reliant on Jerry Hughes off the edge.
Pass Rushes with Hope
Kansas City Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers
Justin Houston is still a beast on the inside for Kansas City. He will need more help from his counterpart, Dee Ford if this Kansas City pass rush wants to be as formidable as it can be. Chris Jones has become a beast for the Chiefs on the interior and he is only twenty-four. The Dolphins took quite the blow when they lost Suh in free agency. Akiem Hicks is a freak for the Bears, but their potential hinges on players like Leonard Floyd, the ninth overall pick in 2016 out of Georgia. The Patriots really miss Jabaal Sheard‘s presence a season ago, as he was fantastic for the Colts. The 49ers have gobs of young potential. Maybe 2018 is the year it comes together for their pass rush.
The Falcons pass rush lands in the “Pass Rushes with Hope” category. Atlanta has been pretty consistently in the bottom third of the league in terms of pressure, but they did finish with 39 sacks as a team in 2017, good for a tie for thirteenth with the Seattle Seahawks.
Their success in 2018 will really come down to three main things. The first is their former pro-bowler Vic Beasley returning to the elite pass rusher he was in 2016. Or was that sixteen week period just a flash in the pan? Secondly, they need Takkarist McKinley to take the next step. McKinley impressed in his rookie year, recording eight total sacks, and that was with him battling a nagging shoulder injury. Unfortunately, injuries have hindered most of his offseason, but reports suggest he will be a go for week one. Lastly, someone besides Grady Jarrett has to be able to cause some pressure from the interior.
The Middle of the Road
Green Bay Packers
Chandler Jones has not looked human since joining the Cardinals. He led the NFL with a ridiculous seventeen sacks last season. The Ravens could see a drop off in their pass rush in 2018. Terrell Suggs has been their top pass-rusher for quite some time, and even though he recorded eleven sacks in 2017, his age has to catch up with him sometime.
The Seahawks days of dominating defense are over. Losing Michael Bennett is going to be a huge blow for their defensive line. The Titans defensive line could be a little low on this list. Brian Orakpo was a nice pickup in the 2015 offseason. He has 24.5 sacks over the past three seasons with the Titans. Their golden goose, however, is Jurrell Casey at the defensive tackle position. There are not many better at applying pressure on the quarterback from the interior defensive line.
The Good but not Great
14) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13) Oakland Raiders
12) Dallas Cowboys
11) Washington Redskins
10) Pittsburgh Steelers
9) Cincinnati Bengals
8) New Orleans Saints
The Bucs defensive line was egregious a season ago. That should not be the case this year as Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry headed south in free agency. They also added Vita Vea in the first-round of the draft. Oakland comes in at number thirteen but that would take a humongous hit if Khalil Mack is not on the field. Demarcus Lawrence broke out in 2017 creating a formidable front four in Dallas. The Redskins defensive line is only going to keep getting better. A healthy Jonathan Allen should be a force in the middle, and Da’Ron Payne, his former teammate joins him in the Nation’s capital. They are going to be trouble on the interior, while Ryan Kerrigan is something special at pressuring the quarterback from the outside. Even though we hate to give the Saints credit here at SportsTalkATL, they have done a magnificent job of revamping their defensive line. Cameron Jordan might just be the scariest defensive end in the league. Marcus Davenport, who the Saints traded up for in the first round, will play opposite Jordan. If he performs like the Saints expect, this will be the best defensive line in the NFC South.
The Cream of the Crop
7) Houston Texans
6) Minnesotta Vikings
5) Los Angeles Rams
4) Denver Broncos
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
2) San Diego Chargers
1) Philadelphia Eagles
The Texans have the potential to be even better than the seventh-best pass rush if J.J Watt can be healthy. Clowney finally became the pass-rusher the Texans expected when they drafted him first overall. Football fans everywhere have been waiting to see those two on the same field together for a full season, and they might just get there chance in 2018. Everson Griffen was one of the main reasons the Vikings earned the number two seed in the regular season and reached the NFC Championship. Sheldon Richardson joins Griffen after being a member of the Seahawks in 2017. His presence should turn this pass rush from good to great.
The Rams have the best player in all of football in Aaron Donald. Now, they put Ndamukong Suh right beside him. I have no idea how opposing offensive lines are going to stop that combo, which makes the fact that their edge rushers are suspect almost a moot point. Sacksonville winds up number three on the list but could have easily been number one. Calais Campbell proved to be a superstar last year, and perhaps the only thing better than watching him sack the quarterback was listening to him Mic’d Up (If you have not heard it I certainly suggest you do).
The Chargers own the number two spot. Joey Bosa is already an elite pass rusher and could be well on his way to becoming the best defensive end in the NFL. On the opposite side, Melvin Ingram is as fearsome as they come, creating the finest defensive-end duo in the land. The top spot belongs to the defending Super Bowl champions. The Eagles pass rush was the main reason they were able to survive the loss of Carson Wentz. This group is relentless and the depth is unbelievable. Fletcher Cox might be the only defensive tackle that can hold a candle to Aaron Donald. Brandon Graham is terrific off the edge, as is the newly added Michael Bennet. Not to mention they have players like Derek Barnett and Chris Long rotating in. They are firmly the best group of pass rushers in the NFL.