• Marcus Davenport offers upside: Davenport’s 81.2 pass-rush grade since the start of the 2020 season ranks 22nd among the 104 edge defenders who’ve logged at least 500 pass-rushing snaps over that stretch.
• Will Anderson will be going early: Over the past two seasons, Will Anderson has put up a 91.5 grade in run defense while finishing fourth in the class with an 88.7 pass-rush grade.
• A good time to need an edge rusher: The 2023 draft class is loaded with premier edge defender prospects, with 18 prospects falling in the top 100 on PFF's big board.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
If not considered the most important position on defense, edge defender is widely regarded as at least one of the two most important positions on that side of the football.
Almost nothing can stifle a passing attack like a consistent pass rush, and in order to get that consistency, NFL defenses thirst for elite play off the edge.
Acquiring — or failing to acquire — needed talent along the edge can make or break an NFL defense. Today, we’ll look at how teams can address the position in free agency and the draft.
Best Free Agents (rank among PFF’s Top 100 free agents)
1. Marcus Davenport (21)
2. Jadeveon Clowney (31)
3. Charles Omenihu (35)
4. Arden Key (49)
5. Samson Ebukam (51)
6. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (55)
7. Yannick Ngakoue (60)
8. Brandon Graham (66)
9. Melvin Ingram III (68)
10. Justin Houston (69)
While there might not be any truly elite free-agent edge defenders, the market is relatively flush with guys who should be able to contribute positively to a defense.
Davenport has been banged up throughout his career — he’s never played more than 600 snaps in a season — but he’s a talented pass-rusher when he is fully healthy. Davenport’s 81.2 pass-rushing grade since the start of the 2020 season ranks 22nd among the 104 edge defenders who’ve logged at least 500 pass-rushing snaps over that stretch. His 15.1% pressure rate ranks 11th.
Ninety-two edge defenders have played at least 1,000 snaps since the start of 2020, yet only 21 of them have been able to maintain a run-defense and pass-rush grade over 70.0. Jadeveon Clowney is one of those players. And while he may never live up to the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick back in 2014, he should still provide quality three-down play for a team while he’s healthy.
Omenihu played a career-high 643 defensive snaps last season for the San Francisco 49ers, and the fifth-round pick from 2019 also recorded his second consecutive pass-rush grade north of 75.0. Omenihu's 80.9 pass-rush grade since the start of the 2021 season ranks 20th among edge defenders, and his 21.0% pass-rush win rate over that stretch ranks 11th.
While he’s likely to re-sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, what Brandon Graham did last season was truly remarkable. At the age of 34 — and coming off a torn Achilles that robbed him of the 2021 season — Graham had his first 10-sack season and was a complete and total menace as a pass-rusher. The veteran finished fifth among edge defenders in overall grade (89.8), and his 23.5% pass-rush win rate and 18.0% pressure rate both ranked third among edge defenders.
Best edge defenders in the 2023 NFL Draft (PFF Big Board rank)
1. Will Anderson, Alabama (3)
2. Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (8)
3. Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (15)
4. Nolan Smith, Georgia (21)
5. Myles Murphy, Clemson (22)
6. Will McDonald IV, Iowa State (29)
7. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State (33)
8. BJ Ojulari, LSU (35)
9. Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern (40)
10. Tuli Tuibulotu, USC (48)
The 2023 draft class is loaded with premier edge defender prospects, with 18 prospects falling in the top 100 on PFF's big board.
Over the past two seasons, Will Anderson has been the class' highest-graded Power Five edge defender, leading the way with a 91.5 grade in run defense while finishing fourth in the class with an 88.7 pass-rush grade.
Tyree Wilson's 19.0% pass-rush win rate ranked third among Power Five edge defenders over the past two seasons and measured out with a 7-foot-2 wingspan at the combine, which should help lead to some real development as a power-rusher on Sundays.
Lukas Van Ness was never a full-time starter at Iowa, so his snap totals are a bit suppressed, but there aren’t many defensive line prospects who move like he does at his size (4.58-second 40-yard dash at 272 pounds). He was a menace on the field — his 17.8% pressure rate was second among the 80 Power Five edge defenders in this draft class who logged at least 250 pass-rushing snaps over the last two years.