Over the next several months, the rosters of all 32 teams will begin to take shape for the 2020 season. In this series, NFL.com writers and analysts look at the best players available via free agency or the NFL draft at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back, pass rusher. Today, Willie McGinest looks at the top 10 pass rushers worth pursuing.
The term "pass rusher" doesn't apply to only one position. Pass rushers play a variety of positions across the defensive line and at the second level of the defense. That's why it's so tough to funnel pass rushers into one list. Not all teams are looking for the same thing when it comes to the type of pass rusher they desire. Some teams need to fill a void on the interior, so they wouldn't pay the top pass rusher available in free agency if that player is a defensive end.
For this exercise, I looked at pass rushers from multiple positions, picked the best talent and listed them in alphabetical order below.
Arik Armstead, DL, free agent
A 6-foot-7, 290-pound lineman, Armstead has a natural way of creating separation using his size and length. He doesn't get a ton of lean because of his height, but he's still able to get skinny with the way he uses his body. The former first-round pick is coming off his best campaign, as he recorded a career-high 10 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 18 QB hits. Those 10 sacks are more than he had in his first four seasons combined (9). Some might be wondering why it took so long for him to break out, but it certainly appears that he's trending in the right direction heading into his sixth season.
Shaquil Barrett, edge rusher, free agent
There's a reason Barrett led the league with 19.5 sacks last season. He has an arsenal of pass-rush moves, is strong enough at the point of attack to use his speed and power to beat offensive linemen and finds ways to break down the hands of his opponent to get to the quarterback. Barrett's 2019 performance -- which included 19.5 sacks, 37 QB hits, 19 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and one pick -- lands among some of the most productive of the last decade, as only Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt have had as many sacks and QB hits in a season in the last 15 seasons. Both Donald and Watt (twice) received Defensive Player of the Year honors in those seasons. Barrett, coming off his first Pro Bowl nod, is about to sign the most lucrative contract of his career, by far.
Jadeveon Clowney, edge rusher, free agent
Words that come to mind when I think of Jadeveon Clowney: explosive, quick, rangy. Add his speed, strength and size (6-5, 255 pounds) to that list and he's one of the toughest pass rushers to compete against. Clowney has so many unteachable traits that allow him to disrupt plays and create separation on the way to the quarterback. Although he had just three sacks with Seattle last season, he did record four forced fumbles, two rumble recoveries, one pick and two defensive TDs. This is the type of playmaker teams desire.
Dante Fowler Jr., edge rusher, free agent
Ahead of the 2019 season, Fowler bet on himself when he signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams in an effort to prove he's worthy of a big multi-year deal. It turned out that the 25-year-old was a regular bright spot during a season in which the Rams struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball. Fowler totaled a career-high 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 16 QB hits while forcing two fumbles, recovering one for a touchdown. There's no doubt he should expect a multi-year deal this offseason.
Chris Jones, DT, free agent
Jones headlines this year's free-agent DT class, to no one's surprise. With the second-most sacks (33) by a DT since 2016, Jones has been a game-wrecker for the Chiefs over the last few seasons. He routinely beats linemen with his power, speed, strength and footwork. Not to mention, he has a great get-off time (.88 seconds, per Next Gen Stats) for a player of his size (6-6, 310). We saw just how disruptive and impactful he is in the Chiefs' Super Bowl run. He missed four games this season, including the Divisional Round contest, and it was evident when he wasn't on the field, as the Chiefs allowed almost six more points per game without him. One of Jones' top outings of the season came when his team needed him most in Super Bowl LIV, as he logged three passes defensed, which helped spark the comeback. He deserves a big payday this offseason.
Matthew Judon, edge rusher, free agent
Judon is a long, rangy defender who uses his body and lean to create separation with his arm length. The Pro Bowler has the ability to play over guards on the interior or on the edges, and that versatility helped him reach career-best marks in sacks (9.5) and quarterback hits (33, fourth in the NFL) in 2019. He was exceptional for the Ravens defense, forcing five turnovers caused by pressure (tied for third-most in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats. Judon is just scratching the surface of his potential entering his fifth season.
Yannick Ngakoue, edge rusher, free agent
In 2019, Ngakoue totaled eight sacks, 15 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and one pick-six. And that was a somewhat quiet campaign by his standards. The fifth-year pro is one of five players with at least 80 QB hits and 10 forced fumbles since 2016, joining Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Frank Clark and Chandler Jones. The 24-year-old is compact, super quick and has great lean, which makes it incredibly hard for linemen to keep him in check for an entire game.
Jordan Phillips, DT, free agent
Phillips had a breakout campaign in his first full season with Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills. The 6-6, 341-pound defensive tackle had a career-high 9.5 sacks (second among DTs) -- his previous high was 2.0 in 2017 and 2015. His big frame makes him incredibly hard to move. Plus, his explosiveness and violent hands give his opponents fits. Phillips is what my colleague Bucky Brooks would call a dancing bear as a big guy who has great footwork.
Leonard Williams, DL, free agent
The former sixth overall pick recorded 16 QB hits in 15 starts this season while splitting his time between the New York Jets and Giants, who traded for him at midseason. Williams is very athletic and has a great first step but has yet to reach his full potential. I loved his decision to reach out to Richard Seymour, my former teammate in New England, to learn from "The Godfather" and better his mental approach to the game. Williams has all the tools to be great and can be if he works on his craft while following the advice he's given.
It's widely known that Young is the best player in the 2020 NFL Draft class. Young is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher than 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa was coming out of Ohio State. Young has good lean for a 6-5 edge rusher. He knows how to use his hands, but still has room to add to his arsenal of pass rush and counter moves. There's good reason he's expected to have one of the shortest waits to hear his name called on Draft Day.