With six weeks in the books of the college football season, and a bevy of talk of draft-eligible quarterbacks on a week-to-week basis, we at PFF shift the focus those players who have rushed the passer with great success this season. Be it sacks, hurries or hits on the opposing quarterbacks, these following 2018 draft-eligible players have rushed the passer the best through the first six weeks of the NCAA season.
1. Justin Lawler, SMU, 90.3 pass-rush grade
Pass-Rush Snaps/Sacks/Hits/Hurries/Batted Passes: 175-6-9-16-1
The King of Edge Rushers through six weeks has been SMU’s Justin Lawler, who has posted 31 total pressures and ranks No. 1 among draft-eligible 4-3 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity. While he lacks an elite first step, he continually makes opposing right tackles his personal Andy Kaufman with his arm-under rip move to the edge. Lawler followed up his four-sack performance against Connecticut in Week 5 with three pressures and seven total defensive stops against Houston this past weekend. His 90.3 pass-rush grade currently ranks first among all edge prospects in the country.
2. Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois, 89.4 pass-rush grade
Pass-Rush Snaps/Sacks/Hits/Hurries/Batted Passes: 169-8-3-23-1
Sutton Smith is an undersized edge rusher who uses his lack of height to his advantage as it helps him dip under taller offensive tackles. Smith also wins inside with quickness and is having a breakout year in pass-rush production. Smith’s grade against Kent State in Week 6 defied some of our graphs because it was such a large number. Smith had four sacks and 10 hurries in that single dominant game. Smith only had one sack, one QB hit and eight hurries in all of 2016 so to surpass a season’s performance in only one game is exceptional. Smith’s pass-rushing productivity rating of 17.3 ranks No. 1 among all FBS draft-eligible 3-4 OLBs.
3. Joe Ostman, Central Michigan
Pass-Rush Snaps/Sacks/Hits/Hurries/Batted Passes: 214-5-5-11-0
Ostman thus far has accumulated five sacks, five hits and 11 QB hurries on 214 pass-rush reps, and comes in No. 3 in the country with a pass-rush grade of 88.9. While his game this past weekend against Ohio wasn’t his best in terms of run defense, he was outstanding on the pass-rush, posting two sacks, a hit and two hurries. While Ostman lacks the bulk and length to hold up well on the edge at the next level, he is aggressive with his hands and has a variety of moves, which allows him to shed blocks quickly.
4. Bradley Chubb, NC State, 86.0 pass-rush grade
Pass-Rush Snaps/Sacks/Hits/Hurries/Batted Passes: 206-5-10-17-1
Chubb is one of the elite edge rushers we highlighted before the season as he was coming off back-to-back nine sack seasons. Chubb can win in a variety of ways but is very productive as a bull-rusher. Chubb is on pace to match his single-season bests in sacks and pressures and has already surpassed his QB hit total from last season. Chubb’s best game of the season came against ACC-rival Florida State where he had two sacks, four QB hits and two hurries. Chubb’s pass-rushing productivity rating of 12.8 ranks No. 4 among all draft-eligible FBS 4-3 DEs. He is capping an impressive college career off before becoming a first-round draft pick in the Spring.
5. Josh Allen, Kentucky
Pass-Rush Snaps/Sacks/Hits/Hurries/Batted Passes: 175-6-8-10-1
Allen is our highest-graded SEC edge defender through the first six weeks of action, as he has an overall grade of 87.4. He ranks 12th among draft-eligible 3-4 OLBs in pass-rush productivity, due to him racking up an impressive six sacks, eight hits and 24 total pressures thus far. Allen was one of the key reasons Kentucky was able to hold on against Eastern Michigan in Week 5, as he put up two sacks and eight total pressures to go with five total defensive stops. He has a very quick first step and uses his length well to keep blockers from locking onto his frame, but would benefit from improved flexibility.
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