When it comes to getting after the quarterback, the importance of a reliable and at times dominant pass rush has always been critical. When it comes to looking at the top pass rushers in the league, the list is considerably long. For today, we will focus on not just the top pass rushers in the league but the best of the best among pass rushing duos. First, let’s highlight the honorable mentions.
Bud Dupree/James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers – It’s a duo that did not necessarily equal impressive sacks totals (9.5 combined in 2016). However, Dupree showed signs of ascension with his third season being viewed as a campaign to possible stardom. As far as Harrison goes, he has done enough in the sack department to stay relevant. The workout warrior led the Steelers in sacks last season with five.
Brian Orakpo/Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans – The Titans have a set of pass rushers in the two outside linebackers that often go unnoticed. The two were in the top 20 of individual sack totals in 2016 and combined for 19.5 sacks. If the Titans are to take that next step on defense to help a team on the cusp of the playoffs, the combination of Morgan and Orakpo will help lead the way.
Ryan Kerrigan/Trent Murphy, Washington Redskins – In the nation’s capital, the pairing of Kerrigan & Murphy had a very productive 2016 season with 20 combined sacks. Washington was ninth in the league in sack yards with 253. Kerrigan is a two-time Pro Bowler with his most recent Pro Bowl berth coming this past season. Murphy is coming off a career-high in sacks with nine after totaling just five in his previous two seasons. Kerrigan is already established and it will be interesting to see if Murphy continues to improve and give Washington two solid bookend pass rushers in their 3-4 scheme.
Top 10 Pass Rushing Duos
10. Everson Griffen/Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings – It’s understandable if many overlook this tandem given that the Vikings defense has playmaking defenders at every level. Hunter and Griffen were one and two respectively in sack leaders on the team. Amazingly, Hunter led the team in sacks with 12.5 and tied for third in the league despite not starting one game but playing in all 16. Griffen has been to back-to-back Pro Bowls the past two seasons and has totaled 30.5 sacks the past three seasons combined. Both will enter the 2017 season as the starters for Minnesota and the pass rushing element is in good hands for the Vikings.
9. Chandler Jones/Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals – Another pass rushing tag team that is draped with quality talent around them. The two combined for 23.5 sacks in 2016 with Golden leading the team with 12. The elite Jones has reached at least 11 sacks in three of his five seasons as a pro. Golden only has two seasons under his belt but he is know a vital piece to the pass rushing element for the Cardinals. This tandem only has one season together to date which means improvement is likely from this outside linebacker duo.
8. Clay Matthews/Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers – For eight seasons, Matthews have been giving Green Bay Packers faithful plenty to cheer over with his six Pro Bowl berths and 72.5 sacks. Ironically, he has seen a drop-off in production with 11.5 sacks this past two seasons. With Perry, a light bulb may have finally with 11 sacks this past season after totaling 12.5 in the previous four seasons combined. Perry was rewarded a $60 million dollar contract. The combination of Matthews and Perry are looking to both be on the same sheet of music in 2017 which has not been the case up to this point.
7. Jason Pierre-Paul/Olivier Vernon, New York Giants – Things did not look very bright for the Giants defensive line entering the 2016 season. After a full season of Vernon and Pierre-Paul coming off the edge, the Giants have a dangerous tag team that totaled 140 QB pressures combined. The two also combined for 15.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus were high on both pass rushers as the two were ranked within the top 15 edge rushers in the game today. JPP missed a few games while Vernon played all 16 and the two are talented enough to climb amongst the elite of pass rushing duos.
6. Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs – One half of this tandem is an established pass rusher as Houston is one of the first to come to mind when listing the best pass rushers in the game. Houston is a four-time Pro Bowler but was limited to just four sacks this past season after missing 11 games due to injury. It was Ford who stepped in his place and became the team’s sack leader with, his first double-digit sack season. A healthy Houston and a rejuvenated Ford can be more than a handful for opposing lineman.
5. Joey Bosa/Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers – An up-and-coming duo that started to turn heads thankfully to Bosa winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and leading the Chargers in sacks with 10.5. What made his phenomenal rookie year even more impressive was his holdout during training camp in which he missed the entire preseason. Ingram has 18.5 sacks the past two seasons and re-signed with the Chargers this offseason as a free agent. The future is looking good for the Chargers with their young tandem in place for seasons to come.
4. Cliff Avril/Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks – Two veteran stalwarts on the rugged Seattle defense. The two are the foundation of the Seahawks defense and have been for several seasons. Avril and Bennett were Pro Bowlers in 2016 after combining for 16.5 sacks and 51 QB pressures. The two have 64 combined sacks in the last four seasons and have been the catalyst for what has been physical and championship-winning Seahawks team during that time as well. The versatility, the competitive toughness, the reliability, and the leadership are what makes this tandem one of the league’s best.
3. Khalil Mack/Bruce Irvin, Oakland Raiders – The metaphoric ascension of Khalil Mack helped this ranking as some view Mack is the top pass rusher in the game overall. Mack totaled 11 sacks, 25 QB hurries and five forced fumbles. Mack was also the Defensive Player of the Year last season as well as a Pro Bowler and member of the All-Pro first team. Irvin joined the team prior to the season and set a career-high in sacks with seven and forced fumbles with six. The two made up 72% of the Raiders sack total in 2016. The duo was productive despite inconsistencies everywhere on defense. The two compliment each other very well and the two have shown to disrupt offenses even with inept circumstances.
2. J.J. Watt/Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans – When this duo is healthy, there may not be a more talented and devastating group in the league. That has been the issue however as both have dealt with a number of injuries since Clowney entered the league in 2014. Clowney was second on the team in sacks in 2016 with six as Watt missed 13 games because of back injuries. Clowney also reached 31 QB pressures the past two seasons. Watt recorded at least 17.5 sacks in three of the four seasons between 2012-2015. Those were the seasons that he also reached the Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro. The expectations are high for Clowney and Watt as they enter 2017. This could be the season where both are wrecking havoc consistently.
1. Von Miller/Shane Ray, Denver Broncos – The game’s most elite pass rusher the past few seasons has been none other than Miller. In just six seasons, Miller has already totaled 73.5 sacks and has been to the Pro Bowl in all but one. Ray was thrusted to the edge rushing linebacker opposite Miller and totaled eight sacks and 18 QB pressures. He will now be a full-time starter along with Miller and expected to take that next step to the land of double-digit sacks. Playing with an elite secondary has dinged the pass rushing duo but a continue in production will keep this tag team sitting on their throne.