Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks head NFL's best pass-rushing units

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To win in the NFL, you have to not only carry an efficient passing game, but you must be able to stop the opposing team's aerial attack, as well. That effort starts up front. Many of the best defenses in modern NFL history were constructed on the foundation of a strong pass rush -- and the 2017 season was no exception, with a number of the elite stop units in the league boasting a relentless group of defensive linemen.

Here we will use the unique Next Gen Stats tracking data provided by the microchips in every player's shoulder pads to measure the best pass-rushing teams from the 2017 regular season. Overall sack totals are one way to measure a pass rush's effectiveness, but these often paint an incomplete picture of just how much a defense disrupts opposing passing games. Tracking pressures can help reveal the true productivity of a defensive front. These rankings were compiled using total pressures recorded by each team this past season.

NOTE: Next Gen Stats defines a "pressure" as a pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack. Other outlets collect pressures using different methods, and these have value. What is and is not a pressure will always carry some level of debate, but NGS provides us a unique advantage in that the numbers rely not on the subjective eye test, but rather on objective results that are consistent across all plays.

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1

EAGLES

Total pressures: 291.

Top pass rusher: Brandon Graham (47 pressures).

The Eagles won the Super Bowl despite the loss of their MVP-caliber quarterback thanks in large part to a relentless pass rush. Outrageous depth was the theme of their front seven, as Philadelphia was the only team in the NFL with six defenders who recorded 20-plus pressures. Being able to cycle players like veteran Chris Long and rookie first-rounder Derek Barnett into the edge rotation with established starters Graham and Vinny Curry proved to be a massive trump card. Fletcher Cox (45 pressures) was one of the best interior disruptors this side of Aaron Donald. The 2017 Eagles were a prime case study in pressure being a far better measurement for pass-rush production than just raw sacks.

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2

REDSKINS

Total pressures: 269.

Top pass rusher: Ryan Kerrigan (51 pressures).

Washington was one of 12 teams to clear 40 sacks on the season. The Redskins' underrated front seven offers a bevy of players who can get after the quarterback on a consistent basis, with Kerrigan leading the way. Third-year pass rusher Preston Smith is one of the more underrated young defenders in the league. He led all players with 200 or more pass-rush attempts in pressure rate, recording a pressure on 15.9 percent of his rushes. His sack totals (eight in 2017) simply don't do his play justice. Washington had three players finish inside the top 12 in pressure rate in 2017, with impending free agent Junior Galette joining Kerrigan and Smith. The team also has another young potential star on its hands in 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen. The rookie went down early with a Lisfranc injury, but he looked like the next great interior disruptor, with 16 pressures in just five games.

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3

SEAHAWKS

Total pressures: 261.

Top pass rusher: Michael Bennett (59 pressures).

Injuries began to pluck well-known faces from the Seattle defense as the season wore on. However, the unit still boasted one of the top pass rushes in the NFL. Bennett was once again a force, finishing tied for sixth in the NFL with 59 pressures. Third-year defensive end Frank Clark ranked second on the team behind Bennett with 42 pressures -- and he has 19 sacks over the last two seasons combined. The Seahawks will face several decisions this offseason on players who have long been a part of their core. If there is turnover, watch for Dion Jordan as a sleeper, should the team renew his contract. Pete Carroll raved about Jordan in his postseason press conference -- the reclamation project recorded a pressure on 15.8 percent of his pass-rush attempts in 2017.

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4

RAMS

Total pressures: 260.

Top pass rusher: Aaron Donald (65 pressures).

While the Rams' top-ranked scoring offense stole the headlines during the team's epic turnaround, their ferocious pass rush was just as big a factor in the team's playoff berth. Led by Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald, Los Angeles racked up 260 pressures during the 2017 regular season. Donald bullied through offensive linemen all season, posting 65 pressures. He trailed only Chandler Jones (66) for the league lead in pressures, despite playing two fewer games than the Cardinals edge rusher. Elsewhere in the front seven, Robert Quinn enjoyed a bounce-back campaign after two injury-plagued seasons. Quinn posted pressures on 14.2 percent of his pass-rush plays. Expect the Rams to hand over a MASSIVE contract to Donald this offseason.

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5

JAGUARS

Total pressures: 248.

Top pass rusher: Yannick Ngakoue (60 pressures).

The Jaguars' formidable secondary was paired with one of the most dangerous front lines in the league. Free-agent addition Calais Campbell proved to be a dominant force for Jacksonville. Campbell's versatility was notable, as he totaled 28 pressures as an edge rusher and another 27 when lined up on the inside. Ngakoue fully broke out in his second NFL season, finishing the year with 60 pressures, fifth-most in the NFL. While Campbell and Ngakoue combined for 46 percent of the team's pressures, Jacksonville also got an excellent season out of 2016 free-agent addition Malik Jackson (41 pressures). Even former top-three pick Dante Fowler finally showed signs of life with 32 pressures in a part-time role. The Jags will likely return this entire group next season in an effort to once again dominate the league defensively.

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6

PANTHERS

Total pressures: 246.

Top pass rusher: Kawann Short (47 pressures).

Under former general manager Dave Gettleman's watch, the Panthers prioritized adding waves of options to their defensive line. The prized possession remains defensive tackle Kawann Short. His 47 pressures trailed only Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins among interior defensive linemen. Mario Addison earned the contract extension he got following a breakout 2016 campaign. The former sub-package rusher finished second on the team in pressures with 46 while starting all 16 games. Carolina's reunion with Julius Peppers proved to be a wild success, as the future Hall of Famer totaled 30 pressures at 37 years old. Expect some turnover on Carolina's front line; even so, there is a strong core in place here to build on.

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7

TITANS

Total pressures: 242.

Top pass rusher: Brian Orakpo (53 pressures).

Despite the offense falling well short of hopeful expectations, the Titans earned a playoff berth in the AFC. The pass rush was the lone unit that performed consistently well all season. Orakpo simply doesn't get enough credit for reviving his career in Tennessee. After injuries ravaged the end of his tenure in Washington, the veteran edge defender relocated to Tennessee in 2015 and hasn't missed a game since. He led the team with 53 pressures on the year. Intimidating interior defensive lineman Jurrell Casey -- who still seems slightly overlooked on the national stage for his all-around dominance -- finished second with 41. New head coach and former NFL linebacker Mike Vrabel has a core to build around in the front seven.

RANK

8

CARDINALS

Total pressures: 237.

Top pass rusher: Chandler Jones (66 pressures).

The Arizona Cardinals find themselves in the top 10 thanks in large part to the efforts of Jones. With so many guys offering seasons worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration and the Cardinals being such an underwhelming team, Jones' elite campaign didn't quite get the recognition it deserved nationally. Jones' 66 pressures led the NFL and accounted for 27.8 percent of Arizona's team total. Only four other players owned a larger share of their team's pressures. Rookie linebacker Haason Reddick was second on the team with 25. Arizona has to find complements for Jones in the offseason and hope Markus Golden (who notched 15 pressures in his four games before landing on injured reserve) returns healthy.

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9

STEELERS

Total pressures: 230.

Top pass rusher: Cameron Heyward (42 pressures).

The Steelers are unique compared to other teams on this list, as both of their top two pass rushers are interior defensive linemen. Heyward led the team with 42 pressures, and Stephon Tuitt wasn't far behind, with 38. Despite playing traditional 3-4 defensive end roles, the duo totaled 34.8 percent of the team's pressures. As they search for more edge pressure next season, the Steelers can hope that the 2017 season for rookie T.J. Watt was just the beginning of what's to come. Watt racked up 33 pressures on 261 pass-rushing plays, leading the group with a 12.6 percent pressure rate. Pittsburgh also got plenty of use out of its inside linebackers as blitzers, with Vince Williams (16 pressures) and Ryan Shazier (seven pressures) putting heat on quarterbacks when called upon.

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10

VIKINGS

Total pressures: 229.

Top pass rusher: Everson Griffen (62 pressures).

The Vikings owned the No. 1 defense in terms of both yards and points allowed in 2017, and their excellence began right up front, with the pass rush as a catalyst. A group whose core has been together for multiple seasons, the Vikings' defense totaled 229 pressures on the season. Griffen racked up 62 pressures from his right end position, leading the team and finishing fourth in the NFL among all defenders. His running mate, Danielle Hunter, has developed into a high-end complementary rusher and posted 46 pressures of his own. The Vikes cycle in several other names on the line, and they had three more players finish with 25 or more pressures on the season. Minnesota will look to get back to the NFC Championship Game again in 2018 -- and this team has the horses in the pass rush to do it.

BONUS NOTES:

-- The Denver Broncos finished outside the top 20 in total pressures with 184 on the year despite the presence of Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller. Denver desperately needs to acquire further assistance for Miller, with several key rushers from the Super Bowl team no longer in town. Miller's 59 pressures accounted for 32.2 percent of the team total, the highest share for any defender in the NFL.

-- The Los Angeles Chargers boast one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL in Joey Bosa (56 pressures) and Melvin Ingram (51 pressures). Los Angeles was one of just two teams that had two players finish with more than 50 pressures. However, Bosa and Ingram accounted for 56.9 percent of the team's total pressures, and no other player had more than 20 on the year. If the Chargers want to take the next step as a pass-rushing group, they need to acquire more depth up front to complement the all-star duo.

Follow Matt Harmon on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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