During an era where teams are more reliant than ever on the passing game, it’s become paramount for defenses to develop dominant edge rushers to counteract the hyperspeed offenses that have come to define the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but his mentor, Denver Broncos superstar Von Miller, said he’s coming for the crown in a since-deleted tweet.
With Miller and a host of candidates looking to unseat Beasley, we break down the candidates who will likely challenge for the sack title in 2017.
Beasley underwent a breakout sophomore campaign, earning first-team All-Pro honors while helping the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance. There’s little to suggest that Beasley won’t be in the running for his second consecutive sack title, as he thrived toward the end of the regular season.
Critics will note that Beasley’s production dropped off during the playoffs, but the caliber of competition was significantly better than the median, and entering his third season, there’s ample reason to believe he will improve. Miller and the rest of the league are chasing Beasley, and now it’s on him to prove that 2016 wasn’t an anomaly.
Many believe Miller to be the NFL’s best pass-rusher, but he’s never led the NFL in sacks during his career, one of the lone accomplishments that has eluded him. The five-time Pro Bowler has recorded 11 or more sacks in every full season he’s been a part of, and the upcoming campaign ought to be no different.
Miller issued a challenge to Beasley – and, by extension – the rest of the league in trying to win this year’s sack title. It’s a daunting proposition to slow down Miller, whose pass-rushing heroics in leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 victory over the Panthers are the lasting memory of the 2015 playoffs. He may be the safest bet on this list.
Mack is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and has improved immensely over the past two seasons, dominating flustered offensive lines in every way imaginable. A superior player against both the run and pass, Mack isn’t solely tasked with getting after the quarterback, but may end up winning the sack title regardless.
The Raiders’ superstar is prone to recording sacks in bunches; Mack racked up eight sacks during a six-game stretch in 2016, and once took down Brock Osweiler five times. Mack is a phenomenal defender and winning the sack title would be a fitting accolade for his very impressive career thus far.
Clowney finally lived up to his draft billing in 2016, after being riddled by injuries during his first two seasons. Boasting a nearly unparalleled combination of speed and strength, Clowney is a physical nightmare for opposing left tackles and he excelled when J.J. Watt was sidelined after undergoing season-ending back surgery.
Watt is scheduled to return in full force this fall and as a result, will be blanketed by double-teams, freeing up Clowney to wreak havoc. Billed as a generational defensive talent, it’s now time for Clowney to continue to put the rest of the NFL on notice.
Hunter may have the lowest profile on this list, but conflating household popularity with expected production is fallacious. The Vikings defensive end turns 23 in October and has quickly emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous pass-rushers during his first two seasons. Gifted with outstanding burst and acceleration off the snap, Hunter’s pure speed is nearly impossible to contain, generating plenty of opportunities for Minnesota’s opportunistic defense.
It’s only a matter of time before Hunter is named to the Pro Bowl, and don’t be surprised if he shows up on the national radar this fall.
Avril slips under the radar as one of the unsung heroes of the Seahawks’ defense, as Michael Bennett and Bobby Wagner are often given attribution for the front seven’s resounding success. At 31, Avril isn’t going to sneak up on anyone but he’s quietly one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2016.
Flying in the face of predictive data for 30-plus-year-old pass-rushers, Avril appears to be improving as his career rages on, and with offenses weary of Bennett, Wagner, and the Seahawks’ all-world secondary, the veteran will be given plenty of chances to attack the quarterback. Winning the sack title is in Avril’s reach.
Bosa missed the first four games of his rookie season due to a hamstring injury and had little time to acclimatize to the professional ranks in large part because of a prolonged contract holdout. It didn’t deter the Chargers’ phenom at all, as he recorded 10.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 12 games, establishing himself as the central pillar of the defense.
With an impressive, truncated rookie season in the books, Bosa will only get better with more repetitions, and if he maintains his production over a full campaign, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he sits atop the NFL’s sacks list.
Copyright © 2017 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.