The best players in PFF's pass-rush metrics: Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt and more

2RT44CP Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sep. 10, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

Myles Garrett posts big numbers across the board: The Browns star ranks top-three among his peers in PFF pass-rush grade, total pressures and PFF's pass-rush productivity metric.

• Rookie Jalen Carter leads first-year pass-rushers: Carter is the highest-graded rookie defensive lineman ever through three games.

• The San Francisco 49ers boast two of the top-five-graded defensive linemen: Nick Bosa (92.4) and Javon Hargrave (91.4) have each earned elite pass-rush grades this season.

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Pass-rushing numbers have always interested me, even dating back to when PFF was just a baby. The sacks, the hits, the hurries and the grades — I could spend an unreasonable amount of time parsing through it all because it was all so new. 

Now, it’s not quite as new, and there’s much more to look at. We have stats and different types of grades presented in a way I could only dream of back in 2008. But here we are now, and here I am, still writing about the NFL's most productive pass-rushers.

Rather than just looking at the PFF-derived pass-rushing productivity score, I will go on a journey to look at some of the other metrics we capture.

WR:CB Matchup Chart

Blunt-Force Statistics: Total Pressures

What is a blunt-force statistic to me? It is something that smacks you in the face with its crudeness in an attempt to explain something it frankly cannot, given its lack of depth and context.

It used to be the sack stat. Fans used to see who had the most sacks and crown them the best pass-rusher. Over time, the sack stat has lost some of its value, and people have looked at something that can be almost as crude — total pressures.

1 Aidan Hutchinson DET 19
1 Maxx Crosby LV 19
1 T.J. Watt PIT 19
4 Myles Garrett CLV 18
5 Micah Parsons DAL 17
6 George Karlaftis KC 16
7 Nick Bosa SF 15
7 Trey Hendrickson CIN 15
7 Jalen Carter PHI 15
10 Cameron Jordan NO 14
10 Aaron Donald LA 14

It’s not completely without value. It does point you in the right direction, and we should applaud those with the biggest numbers. But what is ultimately better: 10 pressures on 1,000 pass-rushing snaps or five on 100?

(Answer: neither is great, but one is certainly better than the other).

Opportunity Matters: Pass-rushing productivity

You absolutely must look at opportunities before making any big proclamations. And that is what led to us creating the pass-rushing productivity metric. It does exactly what it was designed to do — measure how productive a pass-rusher is relative to the opportunities he had.

1 Rashan Gary GB 44 4 1 8 19.3
2 Victor Dimukeje ARZ 38 3 1 5 15.8
3 Myles Garrett CLV 77 5 4 9 14.9
4 Josh Uche NE 48 1 1 11 14.6
5 Leonard Floyd BUF 43 4 1 3 14
6 Micah Parsons DAL 78 4 4 9 13.5
7 Tuli Tuipulotu LAC 70 5 3 5 12.9
8 Osa Odighizuwa DAL 44 3 1 4 12.5
9 Matthew Judon NE 69 4 3 6 12.3
10 T.J. Watt PIT 104 6 6 7 12

But here is where things do get a bit more interesting. You can argue about how to weigh sacks vs. hits vs. hurries, but from a numerical perspective, there is now evidence of who the most productive pass-rushers are.

What’s interesting is that we have only three players who make both lists up to this point, as the more information we add in our attempt to decipher the problem gives us a clearer picture of what we’re looking at.

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Pressure isn’t everything: Pass-rush win rate

However, pass-rush productivity presumes that pressure is everything when determining the best pass-rushers. Fundamentally, though, if we only look at pressures, we’re judging pass-rushers on something they cannot control — how quickly the ball comes out. 

You can have two identical play calls on offense, and the ball can come out at two very different times. In one instance, it’s released at 2.5 seconds, and the quarterback is free of pressure. In the other, it’s released at 3.0 seconds, and the quarterback is taken down. In both these scenarios, the pass-rusher may have beaten the pass-blocker at the same time, but on one occasion, he is rewarded with the stat and on the other, he is not.

So, we started collecting a data point called “BD,” or beaten defender. In its rawest form, it allows us to look at how successful a pass-rusher is at beating his man.

1 Myles Garrett CLV 77 25 32.5
2 Rashan Gary GB 44 14 31.8
3 Nick Bosa SF 99 28 28.3
4 David Onyemata ATL 56 15 26.8
5 Trey Hendrickson CIN 78 20 25.6
6 Aaron Donald LA 95 24 25.3
7 Micah Parsons DAL 78 18 23.1
8 DeMarcus Lawrence DAL 61 14 23
9 Josh Uche NE 48 11 22.9
10 Dexter Lawrence NYG 72 16 22.2

I was part of the process that created the pass-rushing productivity metric, but I cannot tell a lie: I like this statistic a lot more and find it a lot more explanatory. And as for the names you’re seeing; there's nothing overly surprising, except maybe a couple that are missing.

The Ultimate Metric: PFF pass-rush grade

So that’s it, right? Win percentage is the winner? Not for me. And that's because win percentage still has some flaws, the same flaws as pretty much any other stat we’ve produced and will produce around pass-rushing. The flaw is that it lacks context.

It doesn’t just lack context, but it also treats every pressure or every win as exactly the same when they are most definitely not. But our grades? The grades can.

They look at the nature of win or pressure. They look at how quickly it happened or whether the pass-rusher was the beneficiary of a mental error from a lineman or a quarterback running straight into them. There is a nuance there.

To me, the stats above help explain the grade, and the grade exists to help explain who the best pass-rushers are.

1 Myles Garrett CLV 18 14.9 32.5 93.6
2 Nick Bosa SF 15 8.1 28.3 92.4
3 T.J. Watt PIT 19 12 16.3 91.8
4 Javon Hargrave SF 13 7.7 21.4 91.4
5 Aaron Donald LA 14 8.4 25.3 91.2
6 Micah Parsons DAL 17 13.5 23.1 90.7
7 David Onyemata ATL 9 8 26.8 90.3
8 Trey Hendrickson CIN 15 11.5 25.6 90.1
9 Dexter Lawrence NYG 13 9 22.2 88.9
10 Leonard Williams NYG 8 6.5 17.4 88.5

It is those grades that produce this list — my favorite list, and the one each year I look upon with fondness because, at my core, I love watching football and going “whoa,” and nothing makes me go “whoa” more than watching what these pass-rushers are capable of.

It’s obviously early in the season, so I’ll check back in as our sample size increases. If you don’t want to wait, log in to Premium Stats yourself for this and a host of other unique information you can only find at PFF.


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