According to PFF, there were nine blue chip outside pass rushers in the NFL in 2017. That is, four edge defenders with overall grades above 90.0, with 88.6 being the lowest pass rush grade among that group. With eight divisions and thirty two teams in the NFL, you’d expect there to be a pretty diverse mix of teams represented in this elite group. That’s the expectation.
The reality, though, is that four of those nine players hail from just three teams. Three teams that all reside in the AFC West. And that’s not even including the 15th ranked edge defender from the fourth AFC West team. Let’s break it down:
- Von Miller: 95.0 overall, 91.8 pass rush
- Khalil Mack: 92.1 overall, 88.6 pass rush
- Melvin Ingram: 91.9 overall, 92.3 pass rush
- Joey Bosa: 91.7 overall, 93.2 pass rush
- Justin Houston: 87.6 overall, 83.8 pass rush
It’s an arsenal of defensive firepower that’s unrivaled by any other division in the NFL. And last night it got even more stacked as the Denver Broncos added DE/OLB Bradley Chubb with the 5th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. The best defensive player in the draft, there is every expectation that Chubb’s name will be added to this list in 2018.
With 20 sacks over the course of his last two seasons at North Carolina State, Chubb is a quarterback crushing machine. But not only that: Chubb is also a top run defender and might be even better at that than he is at pass rushing. His 11.0% run stop percentage was 2nd among all college edge defenders in 2017.
This is exactly the sort of player who can help distract a team’s focus away from Von Miller, which allows the NFL’s premier pass rusher to do what he does best. Vance Joseph has already stated that Chubb will be an outside linebacker, but don’t expect him to just line up across from Miller every snap. Chubb is the sort of guy who can be used as a chess piece, moving around the lineup and causing havoc by virtue of the fact that he could be coming from anywhere. He’s big enough to bump inside to defensive end, strong enough to give guards and centers fits, and fast enough to rush from the edge and beat tackles around the corner. And that can only mean good things for a Broncos team that has seen its sack totals sag disappointingly in the couple of years since future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware retired.
So take a team like, say, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals once had one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, but that’s no longer true since the departure of longtime left tackle Andrew Whitworth. And they’ve got a quarterback in Andy Dalton who needs to be kept clean if he’s going to be effective.
The Bengals should be very concerned, because this year they play the entire AFC West. Dalton will spend a full quarter of his season bracing for impact as he faces Miller, Chubb, Mack, Bruce Irvin, Ingram, Bosa, and Houston. (And if that weren’t bad enough, Dalton’s Bengals will also face the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, with dangerous edge defenders Cameron Jordan and Jabaal Sheard in tow.)
As a side note, Andy Dalton might not be a good play in fantasy football this year. But at least he doesn’t have it as bad as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, who will face the entire AFC West as well as the Dallas Cowboys’ Demarcus Lawrence, the Rams’ intimidating defensive line twice, and the Minnesota Vikings’ powerful defense. Yikes.
Of course, every AFC West quarterback will also be spending six games dodging his division rivals’ meanest pass rushers. It’s an equal opportunity pain sort of situation.
Every so often NFL divisions develop a cohesive identity, a single trait that makes them stand out from all the others and which will define them in NFL history for the decades to come. For several years the AFC West has been, and will continue to be, such a division. This is the Wild West, where quarterbacks get sorted into one of two groups: the quick, and the dead (or at least the heavily bruised).
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