Projecting the Top 10 for the 2020 NFL Season: Defensive Ends

Every year the NFL Network does its top 100 countdown based on the previous season. However, that’s the past, and we want to look forward to the future. Four of our writers have put together a 14 part series, predicting our top 10 at each position. We’ve also included the most under and overrated at each position. Today, we continue the series with our top 10 defensive ends.

10) Frank Clark, Kansas City Chiefs

Not necessarily a fan of Clark as a player, as being on the Chiefs may overshadow his actual talent. In reality, he’s an above-average to borderline top 10 edge rusher, but not the very best. The thing that keeps Clark away from the top five is his production will never match his excessive opportunity. The Chiefs play ahead most games due to their explosive offense, meaning Clark has all the chances in the world to get to the passer. However, he is never among top guys in sacks, pressures, or quarterback hits.

9) Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Chubb has superstar potential and could be higher on this list. He’s not higher because it might take time to regain his pre-injury form as he suffered a bad MCL tear in week four last season. What would have been a dominant year, Chubb showed the ability to win with bend, power, hand usage, and quickness. When Chubb regains his old form, watch out.

8) Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers

I was hesitant to include Smith in the top 10 as the Packers blitzed a significant amount in 2019 and left Smith with a number of easy pressures (where he isn’t blocked). This was in my memory, but when you go back to the film and watch him play by play, you see a special athlete who consistently made plays when one on one with offensive linemen. Overall, the Packers have a special player in Smith and need to keep giving him the opportunity to get to the passer.

7) Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers

Bosa is worth every penny of his 135 million dollar contract extension. However, he arrives at seventh on the list for two reasons. Risk of injury, where small nagging injuries have affected him in the past. The bigger concern is the offense of the Chargers and what it will be. Will Bosa have the pass rushing opportunity other pass rushers have? Bosa has the potential to lead the league in sacks when healthy and when provided the opportunity.

6) Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears

Two years ago, there almost was no better player in the NFL than Mack. While we see the same player, there are problems with the surrounding pieces, which in turn hinder output. Their poor offense limits his opportunity to get to the passer. That said, Mack could lead the Bears to a top-three defense, while leading the NFL in sacks, and be the best player in the league. Mack has the capability, still, to be one of the few defensive players who is an MVP candidate.

5) Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Jones is much better then he gets credit for, as he isn’t afforded many pass rushing opportunities. Yet Jones also gets double teamed more than most players because there aren’t any other pass rushing threats. Still, Jones’ power and length make him a wrecking ball and unlike any other player. With his quickness, he puts tackles in precarious situations and forces them to overset, where Jones throws a deadly counter. His ability to finish sacks is what stands out as Jones gets square to the quarterback right after beating the blocker. This allows him to convert more than other rushers.

4) Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

A question to consider is who is better Bosa: Nick or Joey? In 2020 I think Nick will be better due to the circumstance of his team. There will be more opportunities for Nick then Joey. That said, Nick has some of the most refined pass rushing moves in the NFL, and he’s only 22 years old. Nick got better every game in 2019, whether it was pass rushing awareness or hand placement when finishing a move, he was a top player in the super bowl. This trend should continue, as the refined moves become more effective with greater situational awareness and more experience.

3) T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Watt is a stud and perhaps should have been considered for the most underrated player as well. He had Defensive Player of the Year considerations last season but fell short because the Steelers did not make the playoffs. Watt should have won in 2019. He had 14.5 sacks, with a significant number of quarterback hits and pressures. Scary enough, we could be looking at the next ‘Watt’ to consistently dominates the league year in and out.

2) Von Miller, Denver Broncos

As a player, there isn’t anyone more talented than Miller, thanks to his length, power, and bendability. When you watch the Broncos defense, there are several good players, but Miller is a legitimate star. In 2020, the rise of the Broncos offense will give Miller the chance to rush the passer more, and fans will be blessed to watch him go around offensive tackles knees with the bend, and then see a jaw-dropping spin.

1) Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

There is not a more complete pass rusher in the NFL, and Garrett will show that in 2020. An absolute superhuman, Garrett wins with almost every tool imaginable. In 2019, before the incident where he hit Mason Rudolph in the head with a helmet, Garrett was on pace to lead the NFL in sacks. He had 10 sacks in 10 games, even when the Browns were losing. With an offense that should be more consistent, Garrett should have more opportunity to get to the passer.

Most Underrated – Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars

Ngakoue has led the league in forced fumbles on sacks since coming into the league in 2017. He’s an absolute force with his speed/bend, speed to power move, and his counters. Yannick might not be on the Jaguars roster for much longer, but someone will get a dominant player who will consistently get to the passer with his ability or his high effort.

Most Overrated – Dante Fowler, Atlanta Falcons

Fowler qualifies as overrated due to the contract and relative performance. If you look at his year to year stats, they are misleading. He had 11.5 sacks in 2019, but many were clean up sacks or off stunts. Fowler struggles to win one on one battles, with his lack of tools and athleticism. Fowler is a functional athlete but not worth the contract he recently signed.

Bonus Content top three interior 3-4 defensive ends

3) Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers

Consistently elite year to year, yet always under appreciated, Heyward flies under the radar because he rushes from the interior and is a terror in the run. He had 10 sacks on a team that played from behind almost every game in 2019. Look for Heyward’s stats go shoot up with the help of Watt and a better offense this year.

2) J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Speaking of Watts, let’s talk about J.J. Watt. He isn’t done, even after numerous nagging injuries. He’s still got the quickness and power to get to the quarterback and be disruptive in the run game. He gives more opportunities to the players around him, by drawing double teams each play. However, he still has the quickness to beat guards off the snap and power to go through tackles.

1) Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens

Give the big man some respect. Campbell, on his own, propelled the Jaguars’ defensive line to one of the better lines in the league. His length in one word can be described as “destructive”, and allows him to reach players and make plays that are inhuman. Additionally, his explosiveness and power make him an elite player who has the ability to change every play. Overall, Campbell is one top players in the NFL even at the age of 33.

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