NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2020" wrapped on Wednesday, with Chandler Jones (No. 15) and Nick Bosa (No. 17) ranking as the two highest edge rushers on the list. NFL Network analyst and former All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas says that while both players are tremendous talents, one of them isn't among the game's absolute best just yet. Here are Thomas' top 10 edge rushers heading into the 2020 regular season.
Whenever I talk about elite edge rushers, they all possess the same traits: They're big, strong, fast, relentless, smart. And if I'm being honest, the 10 players on this list could almost go in any order. But ... I'm rolling with Jordan as the top edge rusher heading into 2020. At 6-foot-4 and 287 pounds, he's bigger than the average defensive end but doesn't move like it. He's quick, extremely disruptive and forces offenses to change their identities to try to block him in pass protection. Jordan's coming off his best season as a pass rusher with 15.5 sacks (third-most in the NFL last year), and he's still improving heading into his 10th season in New Orleans.
I'm projecting Garrett to be the second-best edge rusher this season, but he definitely has the ability to be the best. There is a degree of uncertainty around him after he missed the final six games of the season with a suspension for his actions in an on-field fight with Mason Rudolph, but all indications are that Garrett is bigger, faster and hungrier than ever. Especially now, after signing a five-year extension with the Browns that made him the highest-paid defensive player in terms of average per year, Garrett's motivated to prove he's worthy of that.
In 10 games last season, Garrett totaled 10 sacks, and his 17.1 percent pressure rate was the highest by any player in the NFL over the last three seasons (among those with a minimum of 250 pass rushes), per Next Gen Stats. It's no surprise after watching him work firsthand. He's powerful, but with the flexibility of a ballerina. Garrett's ability to bend around the corner and work downhill behind the quarterback to sack him is rare and nearly unprecedented. His mobility and agility to get underneath blockers makes him difficult for bigger offensive linemen to block, and the fact that he so easily turns a speed rush into a bull rush makes him a nightmare to stop. Additionally, he's one of the smartest defensive players you will ever be around, as he dissects and diagnoses pass-blocking schemes and weaknesses of individual offensive tackles as well as anyone in the league.
The youngest Watt brother plays much bigger than he looks and is extremely powerful and incredibly savvy for a player entering only his fourth season. The Steelers hit the jackpot when they drafted him in 2017, as his production and effectiveness have increased with every passing season -- impressively, he finished third in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year last season. Watt is as dangerous as any pass rusher, with an array of moves that make him unpredictable and hard to block. He consistently makes plays in the passing lanes with his hands, deflecting eight passes last season. And the guy's a takeaway machine, generating 10 turnovers alone in 2019 -- including a league-leading eight forced fumbles. It's just too bad Pittsburgh's offense couldn't turn more of those into points.
The 2019 NFL sack leader doesn't have the size or the freaky athleticism of some of the others on this list, but he's incredibly smart, savvy and productive. He understands how to use his hands as well as anyone to create separation and beat the blocker. Barrett thrived in his first season under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, ranking in the top three in the league in QB hits (37, tied for first), QB pressures (68, ranking third) and forced fumbles (six, also ranking third). With Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul back in Tampa and the rest of the defense having more familiarity with Bowles' vision, this unit has a real chance to be as effective as the team's Tom Brady-led offense.
Jones has been a bright spot on the Cardinals' defense since he was traded from New England in 2016, with 60 sacks in that span. He's finished in the top two in sacks in the NFL in two of the last three seasons, and he's coming off a career-high 19 last season. The two-time first-team All-Pro has had an incredible career so far and is still improving -- a scary thought, I know. He is very difficult to block, with his Gumby-like ability, and he routinely knocks blockers back into the quarterback. Honestly, Jones' best could be ahead of him.
Bosa is probably the most polished pass rusher in the NFL right now. Nobody can combine a wide variety of moves with the ability to finish like Bosa. Combine that with a high-revving motor and an impressive ability to bend to get up, under and around blockers, and Bosa should be a player every offensive coordinator fears. Last season, he accounted for more than a third of the Chargers' sacks, with 11.5 (tied for ninth-most in NFL) and added career highs in QB hits (31, fifth in NFL) and tackles for loss (18, third in NFL).
Mack had a little bit of a down year in 2019 -- his 8.5 sacks were the fewest since his rookie season -- but so did the Bears as a whole. His presence on the D-line alone puts fear in the opponent -- trust me, I know. There's almost no way to keep Mack out of the backfield, as he's like a rolling ball of butcher knives: so explosive that he's nearly impossible to slow down. Heading into his seventh NFL season, Mack is, pound for pound, one of the most powerful players in the league, and I anticipate the Bears will get back to 2018 form, with Mack leading the charge.
Hunter, who's tallied 14.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons, compares athletically to a receiver, while also possessing the power of a defensive end. He gets offensive linemen on their heels with his speed, then overwhelms them with power and a relentless pursuit of the quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how effective Hunter will be this season without Everson Griffen (a free agent) on the opposite side and DT Linval Joseph, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason.
Smith benefited from his pairing with Preston Smith in a defense that constantly pinned its ears back and attacked. Even so, Za'Darius has the ability to do it on his own, with the versatility to line up anywhere and beat a guard, center or tackle. With one of the quicker swim moves in the league -- reminiscent of a young Terrell Suggs, Smith's former teammate in Baltimore -- he helped the Packers' defense improve from 22nd in points allowed in 2018 to ninth in 2019. This season, the Packers will face three of the top four scoring offenses from 2019, and I can expect that Smith will be ready and eager to take the challenge head on.
Miller is coming off a down season, one in which he recorded eight sack-less games. But in fairness to him, we should note that Bradley Chubb's ACL tear left Miller to work without a complementary edge rusher for most of the season, meaning he often faced double-teams. Despite having just eight sacks, Miller did rank seventh in the NFL with 77 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, further supporting his place on my list. I believe Miller still has the ability to be the DPOY as an edge rusher who consistently beats linemen off the snap, jumps the count, ducks underneath and uses his spin move to work back to the inside to get to the quarterback. When he gets in a groove, there's no stopping him.