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Ranking the top NFL pass rushers this season

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali (91) celebrates with teammates linebacker Justin Houston (50) and linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) after Hali sacked Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) for a turnover, during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. The Kansas City Chiefs won 23-13. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

It’s easy to get stuck in a trance looking at sack numbers; they’re definitive wins for the defense. But they’re also only part of the story when it comes to analyzing how productive a pass rusher is. Indeed, there are crucial elements missing—two of those factors that our pass rushing productivity signature stat really tackles.

The first is how much total pressure a pass rusher gets. Not just sacks, but hits and hurries as well—because after all, disruption is production. The second, and the most overlooked part, is how often the defender rushed the passer. You are far more likely to have bigger numbers if you and your defense is already on the field.

That’s the premise for the pass rushing productivity formula: sacks (weighted more), hits, and hurries by the number of plays you’re on the field.

Now that the explanation is out of the way, let’s see who the numbers endorse on the productivity scale.

Top 10

The Bears, after a slow start, are finding their feet under John Fox; one of the big reasons on defense is the excellent play of Pernell McPhee. A sub-package superstar in Baltimore, he’s not just coped with the expanded role, but thrived with incredible production. McPhee tops the charts by a good distance.

Other names in the top 10 that stand out? Take a look at No. 6, where ageless-wonder James Harrison is still getting it done. It’s easy to assume that age and a reduced role mean he’s more sentiment than substance, but while the Steelers have invested first-round picks at the edge rush spot the past three years, it’s telling that they’ve received more from simply reuniting with Harrison.

Rank Name Team Pass rush snaps Total pressures Pass rush productivity (PRP)
1. Pernell McPhee CHI 205 45 17.1
2. Von Miller DEN 239 49 15.9
3. Justin Houston KC 269 51 15
4. Michael Bennett SEA 263 46 13.9
5. Cliff Avril SEA 256 45 13.7
6. James Harrison PIT 157 27 13.2
7. Elvis Dumervil BAL 245 41 13.1
8. Aaron Lynch SF 230 38 13
9. Ezekiel Ansah DET 224 36 12.6
10. Tamba Hali KC 272 44 12.5

There’s no surprise that of the top 10 all are classic edge rushers, but what about the guys who can win inside?

There’s some debate as to where to class J.J. Watt, but there’s no doubt that even garnering more attention, he’s still an incredibly productive player.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is seeing that Dominique Easley so productive. He may not be able to handle a full load of snaps, but he’s making them count.

Rank Name Team Pass rush snaps Total pressures Pass rush productivity (PRP)
1. J.J. Watt HOU 334 50 11.9
2. Dominique Easley NE 161 25 11.8
3. Muhammad Wilkerson NYJ 347 51 11.5
4. Mike Daniels GB 234 33 11
5. Geno Atkins CIN 296 40 10.9
6. Kawann Short CAR 304 41 10.7
7. Jurrell Casey TEN 236 30 10.1
7. Jason Hatcher WAS 218 29 10.1
9. Aaron Donald STL 272 34 9.9
10. Antonio D. Smith DEN 193 24 9.7

When we just look at the NFL’s 2015 rookie class, one thing is for sure; it’s proven to be something of an underwhelming pass rushing group so far. So, credit to Cardinals pass rusher Markus Golden for standing out. He doesn’t get a lot of press, but the second-round pick out of Missouri has performed well when given the opportunity.

Rank Name Team Pass Rush Snaps Total Pressures Pass rushing productivity (PRP)
1. Markus Golden ARZ 176 28 12.4
2. Vic Beasley ATL 223 24 8.3
3. Leonard Williams NYJ 280 29 7.9
4. Henry Anderson IND 237 22 7.1
5. Eddie Goldman CHI 154 13 6.7

The biggest story here: sacks don't tell the whole story—much less an accurate one—when observing pass rushers. Pro Football Focus grades every player on every play of every game, taking each snap into account.

To see where all NFL players rank, access our 2015 Season Player Grades now.

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