Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is getting into the Olympic mindset early this summer, handing out NFL Podium Awards for the top three players at each position group. Remember, this list is based on where these players are ranked heading into the 2012 season. Today, he takes on edge pass rushers (defensive ends and outside linebackers).
Once upon a time, the great NFL teams were identified by their ability to run the ball successfully on offense and stop the run on defense. Those days are over. Games are won and lost by your ability to pass the ball effectively and rush the passer. Last year, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl with the NFL's 32nd-ranked rush offense and 19th-ranked rush defense. However, they had the winning formula of a top-five passing attack and the third-highest sack total in the NFL. The main reason the Green Bay Packers fell short in their bid to repeat was their drop in sack production. They slid from second in the league in 2010 to 27th in 2011. There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that pass rushers have never been more valuable than they are today. With that being said, here are the three best edge rushers in the NFL.
Ware is the gold standard for edge pass rushers. In his seven seasons with the Cowboys, he's tallied 99.5 sacks. Want consistency? He's had double-digit sacks in each of the last six seasons. He's had 14-plus sacks four different times and he's been to six straight pro bowls. Last season, he finished second in the league with 19.5 sacks, despite constantly demanding double-teams. He is the ideal 3-4 OLB because of his length, explosiveness and ability to bend the edge. Ware is one of the top-five players in the NFL, regardless of position.
Allen has been a model of consistency and production throughout his career. In six of his eight seasons, he's posted double-digit sack totals. Since joining the Vikings in 2008, he's put up the following sack numbers: 14.5, 14.5, 11 and 22. Last year, he came just a half sack shy of Michael Strahan's NFL single-season record. He has a full array of pass-rush moves, but the one distinguishing trait is his unbelievable motor. He never takes a play off and throws his fastball at offensive tackles for 60 minutes. When he gets on a roll, he can pile up sacks in bunches and completely take over a game.
In just his second NFL season, Pierre-Paul clearly established himself as a premier pass rusher. He finished fourth in the league with 16.5 sacks, despite only starting 12 games. His combination of height, length, power and speed is off the charts. He can play inside or outside and be equally destructive. I listed him as one of the seven most dominant players in the league earlier this month, mentioning that one highly respected NFL defensive line coach believes JPP is the best pass-rushing talent to enter the league in the last decade. At only 23 years old, he is still just scratching the surface of what he can eventually become. That's a scary thought for opposing offenses!
Others considered:Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens; Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs; Jason Babin, DE, Philadelphia Eagles; Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles; Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers; Chris Long, DE, St. Louis Rams; Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos; Julius Peppers, DE, Chicago Bears; James Harrison, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers; LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers; Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins; John Abraham, DE, Atlanta Falcons; Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants; Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants; Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions; Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston Texans; Chris Clemons, DE, Seattle Seahawks; Robert Mathis, DE/OLB, Indianapolis Colts; Dwight Freeney, DE/OLB, Indianapolis Colts; Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins; Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins; Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers; Mario Williams, DE/OLB, Buffalo Bills.