Edge defenders take three spots: Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett have all proven to be valuable enough to be a franchise cornerstone, as each is a game-changing pass-rushers for his respective team.
Sauce Gardner is the lone rookie to make the list: The New York Jets cornerback was the first rookie to make first-team All-Pro at the position since 1981, which helps illustrate the kind of impact he has in his first NFL season.
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In the NFL, the quarterback position is invaluable, as it is the single most important position in the game, which is why they are typically the franchise players. When a good prospect is available, quarterbacks are usually selected first in the NFL draft.
However, there are non-QBs that teams can build their franchise around, and here are the 10-best candidates.
EDGE Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
About the best thing I can say about Parsons is that he was drawing comparisons to Lawrence Taylor throughout his rookie season. It wasn’t hyperbole gone too far, as it was descriptive of the kind of intensity he was playing with and the impact he was having as an edge rusher after he was drafted ostensibly to play off-ball linebacker. Since entering the league, Parsons leads all pass-rushers with a 20.4% pressure rate — almost two percentage points higher than the next-best player. Parsons is a game-changing playmaker who has the kind of versatility that comes along once in a generation.
As long as we’re talking generational, Gardner made first-team All-Pro at cornerback as a rookie for the first time since 1981, when Ronnie Lott did it for the San Francisco 49ers before going on to be known as one of the best safeties the game has ever seen. Gardner allowed the lowest completion rate and passer rating of any cornerback in the league and posted 14 pass breakups across 73 targets. He was the best corner in football and showed no real weakness to his game. He has a chance to be the next great shutdown corner.
In the last couple of seasons, two wide receivers came out of the same college offense and set about re-writing the NFL record books. The first was Jefferson, who for a time this season flirted with Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving record. Since entering the league, Jefferson has almost 400 yards more than any other receiver, trails only Davante Adams in yards per route run (2.62) and has 20 more explosive plays than any other receiver. He’s a complete threat in the passing game who has a great foundation stone to build upon.
In the same offense in college, Chase was more feared than Jefferson. In the NFL, despite the impossibly high standards Jefferson is setting, Chase has a chance to rival him once again — that’s how special he looks. He immediately catapulted the Bengals offense to a different plane when he arrived in Cincinnati, and the team is now a game away from back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with him catching passes from Joe Burrow.
Brown was one of several receivers to move teams in the offseason and immediately demonstrate the impact he can have on an offense. The Tennessee Titans’ passing game collapsed with no receiver able to replace what Brown brought to the table, and the Eagles have been a completely different unit with Brown able to act as the alpha in the offense against the best cover guy opponents can throw at him. Brown caught 50% of the contested targets sent his way and generated 2.59 yards per route run.
Hill was another receiver who moved teams in the offseason before transforming his new offense. No receiver can match his combination of short-area quickness and deep speed. Any time he is on the field, defenses have to change how they play. This season, Hill averaged 3.2 yards per route run, by far the most in the league, and he caught 52.0% of his contested targets, a much better figure than people expect for a player of his size. At 28 years old, he might not have as long left at the top as some of these other players, but you can construct something special for long enough until that decline hits.
EDGE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Despite missing a game and a half with injury this season, Bosa tied for the league lead with 90 total pressures. He sacked or knocked down the quarterback 50 times, including two playoff games, and some of his most impactful plays weren’t in either category. Bosa is a game-changer as an edge rusher and has 290 career pressures from a little over 1,800 pass-rushing snaps. He is also an elite run defender — something that often gets overlooked in a world that focuses ever more on the passing game to the exclusion of all else.
Jones has been arguably the best interior lineman in the league not named Aaron Donald for the last several seasons, and 2022 was the first year that didn’t need that caveat. Jones was as good as any defender in the game this season, which is why he was named PFF’s Defensive Player of the Year. He recorded 77 total pressures over the regular season and has the kind of versatility at 310 pounds the Chiefs decided to try him as a full-time edge rusher last season because they believed (correctly) that he was the best player they had on the roster for that position. That is rare versatility and impact.
It’s easy to overlook Garrett because he plays for the Browns, but there hasn’t been a better edge rusher in the league over the last several years. Since the start of 2020, Garrett has the best pass-rush win rate (23.5%) in the league — a full percentage point better than anybody outside of Parsons. Maxx Crosby is the only edge rusher with more total pressures over that time, and Garrett has an absurd 138 pass-rush wins that didn’t get a chance to become pressure because the ball came out too quickly.
Surtain was good as a rookie, but he took his game to another level in his second season. This year, he played at an All-Pro level outside of one rough game against Davante Adams — arguably the game’s best receiver. Surtain plays with an elite level of patience that most corners can’t rival, and it means he’s rarely beaten for big plays. In a league waiting for the next crop of elite young corners, Surtain has the chance to lead that group.