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NFL's top six pass-rushing duos entering 2017 season

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Melvin Ingram attacks an interview with the same intensity with which he bull rushes. So pity the fool who suggests he and Joey Bosa are on the way to emerging as a premier pass-rushing combination.

"We don't feel like we have a chance to be the best duo. We feel like we are the best duo. Point blank. Period," Ingram told me Monday in Costa Mesa, California, eyes aflame.

It's not as bold a claim as it sounds. Bosa's introduction to the NFL ranks alongside those of Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt and Von Miller as the most impressive defensive rookie campaigns of the decade. Only three outside linebackers had more pressures than Ingram over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

Ingram's boast inspired me to compare the Chargers to the rest of the best pass-rushing duos below. It's a list so deep that outstanding pairs like the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, Miami's Cameron Wake and Suh and Philadelphia's Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox just missed the cut.

These are the tandems I expect to do the most damage in the 2017 season:

1) J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

My foremost request to the Football Gods in 2017: Give us just one season of Watt and Clowney, fully healthy and in their primes, playing together. Even Clowney sounds exasperated about it not happening yet.

"Either I'm injured, he's healthy, or he's injured and I'm healthy, or we both not on at the same time," Clowney told reporters last week.

Clowney's breakthrough 2016 season was capped by a starring role in a playoff victory that left teammates dreaming of a day where Clowney and Watt are rolling at the same time. That day is here. Texans coach Bill O'Brien complained that the team couldn't block Clowney early in camp. Watt has returned from back surgery looking fresh.

The top ranking is a testament to the incredible athleticism and energy both players display every snap, because they aren't prototypical edge rushers. Clowney still mostly wins with strength and hustle more than pass-rush savvy. No defensive player drafted this century dominated their first five NFL seasons like Watt. There just aren't many offensive lines that will be able to handle this duo -- if healthy.

2) Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers

Bosa and Ingram insist that the transition to coordinator Gus Bradley's 4-3 defense is hardly a transition.

"I was pretty much a defensive end last year," Bosa told me Monday.

"We're doing the exact same thing," Ingram said. "Getting after the quarterback."

Bradley gave credit to Ingram this week for making some adjustments, however, noting that he will play in a two-point stance more often, similar to the role Cliff Avril plays in Seattle.

If Ingram is playing the Avril role for the Chargers, Bosa is the team's answer to Michael Bennett, strong enough to play inside on passing downs for maximum havoc. Bosa is a great problem solver. On one QB takedown in his second career game, his trademark inside swim move didn't work, so he pivoted to a spin move and then somehow saw Broncos QB Trevor Siemian escaping before cutting upfield and corralling him. His ability to change gears and react to the ball is a knack that's difficult to teach.

People around the Chargers marvel at Bosa's one-track mind and snap-to-snap consistency.

"I'm just competing with myself every day," Bosa said. "I hate losing. I hate getting blocked. So when I have a bad day, or a bad rep, I go and try to make the next one the best."

Bosa and Ingram made it difficult for the Chargers' offense to operate on the day I watched practice, winning their battles up front repeatedly. With Ingram having signed a four-year contract this summer, it's a tandem that is just getting started.

"Me and him are a match made in heaven," Ingram said. "We just complement each other when we don't even try to."

3) Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, Oakland Raiders

Mack has so many moves. His pure strength is like a 100 MPH fastball that makes all of his other tricks so much harder to deal with, whether it's his footwork, quickness or edge-bending speed. Offensive linemen get pushed back right off the snap enough times against Mack that they begin to expect it. Mack led the NFL with 96 total pressures last season, according to PFF.

Irvin is a fantastic all-around player and creates a lot of havoc with relentless pursuit from the back side of plays. He doesn't quite stack up as a pure pass rusher with many of the names on this list, but his endurance gives him bonus points. Like JPP and Vernon in New York, this duo rarely leaves the field.

4) Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks

Two of the best free-agent signings of the decade were executed one day apart, by the same team, on contracts that totaled less than $20 million combined. Bennett and Avril have signed three more contracts overall since then, yet they have still been underpaid for what they've accomplished.

Bennett's versatility makes him a great pass rusher on the edge on early downs and an even better disrupter when the team moves him inside. Avril has essentially defined the edge-rusher "LEO" position in Pete Carroll's defense, to the point where Carroll's acolytes like Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn look for their own versions of Avril.

The Seahawks have the defining defense of the era, and I'd submit Bennett has been the most valuable single piece. As terrific as the "Legion of Boom" has been, this run under Carroll never happens without those two free-agent signings one day apart.

5) Von Miller and Shane Ray, Denver Broncos

Ray's recent wrist surgery sends this tandem tumbling down the list. The Broncos hope Ray can return by mid-September, but NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that he might have to wear a cast when he first gets back. That's a concern for a player not known for his strength -- and one who has never played a full complement of snaps as a season-long starter.

Miller missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award by one vote last season, the rare player to get even better after a Super Bowl MVP award and life-changing contract. Players are often known for their first step, but Miller must have the fastest last step in the league, closing on quarterbacks before they know what happened.

6) Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, Los Angeles Rams

Donald followed up a Rookie of the Year award with back-to-back seasons ranked as PFF's top defensive player. On this list of tough guys, Donald wins my vote as the strongest. He also ends more plays with immediate pressure from his quick first step than anyone else in the league, plays that usually don't end up in the box score. Now, Donald, who is currently holding out for a new contract, will get to join forces with one of the greatest coordinators in league history in Wade Phillips.

Donald's contract should get settled in time for the season, like most holdouts do. When he returns, it will be a lot harder to constantly double-team Donald if Quinn can stay on the field.

"Don't worry. [Quinn's] already coming," Phillips told me this June. "He looks good. He's tremendously quick off the ball."

Quinn was perhaps the best pure pass rusher in football in 2013 and my choice for Defensive Player of the Year that season. He has struggled to stay healthy since, the only reason why the Donald-Quinn duo ranks this low. Judged on peak potential, they rank ahead of any tandem on this list except Clowney-Watt.

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