The defensive designation is a pivotal part of the NFL and is crucial to leading a team to long-term success. The make or break in the NFL is down to intricate details. So, who are the best NFL Defensive Ends? Stick around to find out!
Finding the right balance on the defensive end is substantially relevant to edge out in the most critical battles.
Therefore, without much delay, let’s take a look at the 15 Best NFL Defensive Ends.
Ranking the 15 Best NFL Defensive Ends
The following list is compiled from various trusted sources such as NFL.com and PFF.
Before we go into the specifics, let’s first overview the 15 Best NFL Defensive Ends.
|15. Jerry Hughes||Houston Texans|
|14. Brandon Graham||Philadelphia Eagles|
|13. Za’Darius Smith||Minnesota Vikings|
|12. J.J. Watt||Arizona Cardinals|
|11. Von Miller||Buffalo Bills|
|10. Danielle Hunter||Minnesota Vikings|
|9. Shaquil Barrett||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|8. Chase Young||Washington Football Team|
|7. Demarcus Lawrence||Dallas Cowboys|
|6. Cameron Jordan||New Orleans Saints|
|5. Nick Bosa||San Francisco 49ers|
|4. Myles Garrett||Cleveland Browns|
|3. Joey Bosa||Los Angeles Chargers|
|2. T.J. Watt||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|1. Khalil Mack||Los Angeles Chargers|
15. Jerry Hughes
Starting off our list, Jerry Ray Hughes Jr. is an American defensive end who plays for the Houston Texans.
Even though Hughes will enter the season as a 35-year-old, he has not shown any signs of slowing down.
Furthermore, Hughes has recorded impressive numbers to keep us excited if the past indicates what is to come.
Jerry ranks fifth among qualifiers at his position with a 19.8 percent pass-rush win rate over the last three seasons. Also, the Buffalo Bills continue to lean on him in 2021, hoping for another stellar outing from him.
Meanwhile, the Bills have been grooming recent draft picks such as A.J. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau, and Carlos Basham Jr. to take on the mantle in the future.
14. Brandon Graham
Brandon Lee Graham (Brandon Graham) is an American football defensive end who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Graham’s sack totals won’t do him justice, he has been one of the most disruptive athletes as a pass-rusher. What’s more, the 35-year-old ranks tied for 16th at the position in total sacks since 2014.
Notably, only Khalil Mack, Cameron Jordan, and Von Miller have recorded more pressures than Graham’s total of 445 pressures.
Also, he leads the league with 88 tackles for loss or no gain against the run over that same span.
So, it is no surprise that Brandon is one of the most well-rounded edge defenders in the league.
Graham hints that 2022 potentially might be his final season with the Eagles and that he might end his career somewhere else.
13. Za’Darius Smith
Born on September 8, 1992, Za’Darius Smith is an American athlete who plays for the Minnesota Vikings.
After the move from the Baltimore Ravens to the Green Bay Packers, Smith has produced some of the finest plays of his career.
More so, in a dominant 2019 season, the Packers star man posted a career-high 89.7 overall grade.
Furthermore, he led the NFL in pressure with a whopping total of 93. While the 31-year-old had an average 2020 season, he managed to post an impressive 84.2 pass-rushing grade.
Smith has been effective when kicking inside the tackles as well. Also, he recorded an incredible 20.2 percent pass-rush win rate on over 100 such snaps over the last two years.
12. J.J. Watt
Moving up our 15 Best NFL Defensive Ends list, Justin James Watt is an American football defensive end who plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
While Watt has struggled with injuries throughout his career, the 34-year-old is one of the best defensive linesmen when fit.
Watt has a stellar record to go along with his astute defensive acumen.
Not to mention, the talented starlet from Wisconsin has four consecutive 90.0-plus PFF grades.
Watt received three Defensive Player of the Year trophies from 2012 to 2015 to his name. To add to his remarkable record, he has been the third most valuable edge defender in the league since 2018, as per PFF WAR.
11. Von Miller
Born in Dallas, Texas, Vonnie B’VSean Miller is an American professional who plays for the Buffalo Bills.
Coming off from a severe ankle injury, Miller hopes to return to his usual excellent self.
Before his injury in 2019, the versatile professional had a PFF grade of 79.3.
However, the 34-year-old may have a real possibility of a decline. But, Miller’s resume speaks for itself as he has posted some remarkable numbers in his NFL career.
Miller’s grade of 94.6 has not been matched by any other edge defender in the league. He has been a thorn in his opposition, with 640 pressures from 2011 through 2019.
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10. Danielle Hunter
Danielle Hunter is a Jamaican defensive end who plays for the Minnesota Vikings. The young starlet from St. Catherine has been one of the finest in the league.
Following his third-round selection out of LSU back in 2015, Hunter has consistently shown his undeniable quality on the field.
Furthermore, across the past six seasons, the 29-year-old ranks in the 87th percentile of all qualifying players at the position in run defense grade.
2019 was the first season when Hunter made his mark as a pass-rusher. Putting up an 84.5 pass-rushing grade, he broke his previous career-high by ten points.
Additionally, the 6 ft 5 inches (1.98m) towering athlete had 88 quarterback pressures in 2019. While he was sidelined with an injury in 2020, he aims to build on his 2019 form in the current season.
9. Shaquil Barrett
With a move to Tampa Bay, Barrett has enjoyed an increase in opportunity in the team. While he had an above-average grade of 74.0 or higher in his first four seasons with Denver, he was limited to a rotational role.
His initial role with the Buccaneers since 2019 has resulted in 157 total pressures, which is more than any other edge defender in the NFL.
As a result, it is no surprise that Tampa Bay triggered a four-year extension on his contract.
8. Chase Young
Coming in at number 8, Chase Young is an American defensive end who plays for the Washington Football Team.
With a strong showing in 2020, Young is one of the most promising names in the league.
Moreover, he has an overall grade of 87.1 as a rookie, ranking him fifth among NFL- qualifying edge defenders.
What’s scary is that despite a strong outing last season, Young still has clear room for improvement from a pass-rushing perspective.
The 24-year-old had an excellent 93.3 overall grade last season, leading all players at the position.
After suffering a catastrophic knee injury that cost him eight games in the 2021 season, the third-year athlete is currently rehabilitating.
7. Demarcus Lawrence
Demarcus Lawrence is an American football defensive end who plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Born on April 28, 1992, the sturdy defensive end from South Carolina has been one of the best pass-rushers in the league.
With a top-10 pass-rush win rate at the position since 2017, Lawrence has consistently made his presence known.
On the other hand, the 31-year-old has also been an elite run defender in recent years. Since 2017, Demarcus has been one of the seven players in his position to clear the 90.0 mark with a run-defense grade of 90.1.
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6. Cameron Jordan
Born in Chandler, Arizona, Cameron Tyler Jordan is an American football defensive end who plays for the New Orleans Saints.
Jordan is widely known for being one of the most reliable defensive ends in the NFL throughout his career.
Jordan is a regular feature on the field, rarely stepping off of it. Moreover, 34-year-old has six consecutive PFF grades of 82.0 or higher to his name.
So, with such a deadly combination of durability and top-notch performances, it is easy to see why Jordan ranks second at the position in total pressures since 2015.
5. Nick Bosa
Stepping into the top 5, Nicholas John Bosa is an American defensive end representing the San Francisco 49ers.
Coming off a strong rookie season in 2019, Bosa was sidelined with a torn ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 season.
However, the 26-year-old hopes to regain his majestic form stepping into the new season.
To highlight just the good of a rookie season, Bosa had his 80 pressures easily outnumbered the other rookies since PFF began charting back in 2006. And his 89.8 overall grade ranked first among all rookies in 2019.
As such, Bosa’s return from injury is a massive boost for the 49ers moving into the 2021 season.
4. Myles Garrett
Myles Lorenz Garrett is an American defensive end who plays for Cleveland Browns. Known for his sturdy approach, Garett is an ever-dependable athlete for the Browns.
Since his arrival to the league, Garrett ranks at the very top of almost every significant pass-rush grade category.
Furthermore, he ranks in the 98th percentile in pass-rushing grade, pass-rush grade on proper pass sets, and pass-rush grade without play-action.
Not to mention, the 27-year-old is one of the best in his position.
3. Joey Bosa
Cementing third place, Joseph Anthony Bosa is an American football professional representing the Los Angeles Chargers.
The highly versatile outside linebacker didn’t take long to establish himself as one of the league’s top pass-rushers. A force to be reckoned with from the get-go, Bosa notched 59 pressures as a rookie back in 2016.
Moreover, the 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has only continued to improve in the four years since.
What’s more, he is the only active edge rusher with a pass-rush win rate higher than 20% since 2016.
While he has shown his worth time and again, Bosa has been subject to frequent injuries. As such, question marks loom over his fitness heading into the 2021 season.
2. T.J. Watt
Starting the top 2, Trent Jordan “T. J.” Watt is an American football pro who currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watt is primarily known for his innate ability to command the field with his sturdy presence.
The 29-year-old has produced phenomenal pass-rushing stats over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh.
With a total of 29.5, Watt leads all edge defenders in sacks. Furthermore, he sits top on the leaderboard with 46 quarterback hits since 2019.
The outside linebacker from Wisconsin ranks second in total pressures, falling just short of Shaquil Barrett.
What’s more, Watt recorded PFF grades of 91.3 and 91.6 in the previous two years with the Steelers.
A master at his craft, T.J. has developed into a star edge rusher in the NFL and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
1. Khalil Mack
Topping our list, Khalil Delshon Mack is an American football outside linebacker and defensive end who plays for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Storming into the sport in 2014, Mack has established himself as an ever-dependable athlete.
Unsurprisingly, Khalil showed signs of brilliance from the get-go. With remarkable performances week in and week out, Mack was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year by analysts on ESPN’s NFL Live.
His dominance on the field is reflected in his stellar stats. The 32-year-old has recorded an overall grade above 85.0 in each of his first seven NFL seasons.
What’s more, PFF WAR pegged Mack as the league’s most valuable edge rusher in 2020, showcasing his continued dominance on the field.
A sturdy and reliable defensive lineup goes a long way in turning a fragile team into a serious title contender. It enables a team to build from a solid foundation and frees up the attackers to do their thing.
Lastly, the players mentioned above are the rocks of their respective teams, enabling the group to strike the perfect balance. As such, they have cemented their places in the 15 Best NFL Defensive Ends.