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Should we expect young pass rushers to have an immediate impact in the NFL?

Bradley Chubb made an immediate impact on the Bronco pass rush when he was 22 years old. How common is that?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After looking at the age-wall for wide receivers last week, I started thinking about the productivity career arc for pass rushers. We could use sacks to do this analysis, but sacks can be fickle; I chose to use QB pressures. A pressure is credited when a defender alters the ability of the QB to throw the ball by getting close to him. If he hits the QB legally after the QB has thrown the ball, it is called a QBhit. Total pressures = non-contact pressures + QBhits + sacks.

Pro-football-reference.com has pressure data for the entire league going back to 2018. So I looked at the data and sorted it by age of the player at season start. Plotting this allows us to see when pass rushers peak and also how rare it is for players in the mid-30’s to still be effective pass rushers. See below

For those who prefer data tables, the information from this graph is shown below.

Age 2018 2019 2020 2021
20 11 0 0 0
21 22 45 57 75
22 82 243 212 223
23 377 246 482 392
24 473 527 514 728
25 345 578 774 556
26 457 391 687 769
27 485 392 408 664
28 364 340 410 362
29 529 350 369 365
30 214 344 282 262
31 129 153 307 239
32 81 131 142 242
33 53 83 90 50
34 25 26 16 90
35 55 0 0 22
36 70 17 0 0
37 2 17 2 0
38 0 0 0 0

This is relevant to the 2022 Broncos because we signed a pass rusher who will be 30 years old during the 2022 season, Randy Gregory. We were also rumored to have been interested in Von Miller, who will be 33 next season (and signed with the Bills), and Chandler Jones, who will be 32 next season (and signed with the Raiders). There are 16 edge rushers who will be making 15 million or more per year in 2022 according to overthecap.com. Only two of them will be under the age of 27 for the 2022 season - Harold Landry (26) and Maxx Crosby (25).

The average age of the top 30 guys in pressures in 2021 was 27.3. It was 26.0 in 2020, 26.8 in 2019 and 27.0 in 2018. So it would appear that the peak age for edge rushers over the last four seasons has been 26 or 27 years old. That means that most of these guys hit their peak right as they are entering agency for the first time. I wish I had more years of data to look over so that we could pull some guys from recent history and see who fits this league-trend and who doesn’t (in terms of pressures).

Unfortunately for aging pass rushers, Father Time is undefeated and the dropoff at age 32 or 33 is pretty steep relative to what edge rushers produce at the ages of 30 and 31. The 19.4 million that Chandler Jones will be owed by the Raiders for 2023 might look really stupid if his production falls off rapidly during the 2022 season. Of course Von’s contract might look even worse if his production falls off a cliff as well. Von’s deal has a really low cap hit in 2022 (5.2MM) but that swells to 18.7 in 2023 and 21.2 in 2024. Von will be 35 in the 2024 season and if anyone can continue terrorizing QBs into his late 30s, it’s Von, but Father Time will win eventually - even against Tom Brady.

Over this four year span, only a handful of players 33 or older have had 30 or more pressures in a season.

Year Player Age Pressures Sacks
2018 Michael Bennett 33 46 9.0
2018 Terrell Suggs 36 37 7.0
2019 Calais Campbell 33 33 6.5
2018 Cameron Wake 36 33 6.0

Ndamukong Suh just missed showing up on this list when he had 29 pressures in 2020 at the age of 33. Mario Addison had 26 pressures and 7.0 sacks in 2021 at the age of 34. Terrell Suggs and Cameron Wake are the rare exceptions of edge guys who can still rush the passer effectively at the age of 35 or older. SISdatahub.com has data back to 2016 but they assign pressures much more readily than PFR (and ELIAS sports). According to SIS, Suggs had 38 pressures in his final season (2019) and 50 in 2018. According to PFR he had 17 and 37. That being said, SIS credits him with 77 pressures in 2017 at the age of 35. So we know there are guys who CAN do it, they are just rare. Suggs is almost certain to make the Hall-of-Fame, as is Von Miller.

I’d love to be able to pull the pressure data from SIS and plot it by age in the same way that I have for the data from PFR, but SIS makes it very difficult to do so. PFR makes it very easy.

Edge Rushers get paid

Player Team Age Total Value Avg./Year Total Guarantee
T.J. Watt Steelers 28 $112,011,000 $28,002,750 $80,000,000
Joey Bosa Chargers 27 $135,000,000 $27,000,000 $102,000,000
Myles Garrett Browns 27 $125,000,000 $25,000,000 $100,000,000
Khalil Mack Chargers 31 $141,000,000 $23,500,000 $90,000,000
Maxx Crosby Raiders 25 $94,000,000 $23,500,000 $53,000,000
Von Miller Bills 33 $120,000,000 $20,000,000 $51,435,000
Cameron Jordan Saints 33 $52,500,000 $17,500,000 $42,735,000
Harold Landry Titans 26 $87,500,000 $17,500,000 $52,500,000
Arik Armstead 49ers 29 $85,000,000 $17,000,000 $45,850,000
Shaquil Barrett Buccaneers 30 $68,000,000 $17,000,000 $34,500,000
Chandler Jones Raiders 32 $51,000,000 $17,000,000 $32,000,000
Bud Dupree Titans 29 $82,500,000 $16,500,000 $35,000,000
Leonard Floyd Rams 30 $64,000,000 $16,000,000 $32,500,000
Carl Lawson Jets 27 $45,000,000 $15,000,000 $30,000,000
Haason Reddick Eagles 28 $45,000,000 $15,000,000 $30,000,000
Trey Hendrickson Bengals 28 $60,000,000 $15,000,000 $16,000,000

One reason why younger pass rushers don’t show up on this list is that they are still on their rookie contracts. First round draft picks can be controlled for five seasons by the team that drafts them. So guys like Harold Landry, who was 22 as a rookie, don’t make “big” money until they get to (and beyond) their fifth season (at the age of 26). So let’s look at the best young pass rushers over the past four seasons - young will mean 21-25 years old.

In 2018 there were five “young” players that had 40 or more pressures:

  1. Yannick Ngakoue (age 23) - 51 pressures
  2. Chris Jones (24) - 49
  3. Jadeveon Clowney (25) - 48
  4. Myles Garrett (23) - 48
  5. Frank Clark (25) - 48

If we expand this to 30 pressures, we find six more players, but only one, Bradley Chubb (22), was under 24. We should note the top three guys in pressures in 2018 were all over the age of 25 (Aaron Donald - 27, J.J. Watt - 29 and Dee Ford - 27).

In 2019 there were only three, but Nick Bosa was only 22 that season.

  1. T.J. Watt (age 25) - 59
  2. Joey Bosa (24)- 54
  3. Nick Bosa (22) - 45

Again expanding to 30 pressures give us six more players, three of whom were under 24 in 2019: Josh Allen (22 - 44) , Harold Landry (23 - 32) and Maxx Crosby (22 - 31).

In 2020 there were only two young pass rushers with 40 or more pressures - Joey Bosa (age 25 - 45 pressures) and Carl Lawson (25 - 44). Expanding to 30 pressures minimum get us ten more guys including Bradley Chubb (24 - 34) and Malik Reed (24 - 33).

In 2021 we had five young pass rushers with 40 or more pressures

  1. Nick Bosa (age 24) - 49 pressures
  2. Micah Parsons (22) - 47
  3. Rashan Gary (24) - 47
  4. Harold Landry (25) - 43
  5. Maxx Crosby (24) - 42

Expanding it to 30 pressures gave us four more guys, all of whom have not shown up yet in this article: Brian Burns ( age 23) - 31 pressures, Devin White (23) - 31, D.J. Wonnum (24) - 30, and Uchenna Nwosu (25) - 30.

It’s possible that the Broncos could still find an elite edge rusher with our second round pick in 2022. Ngakoue (69th pick), Frank Clark (63rd pick) and Crosby (106th pick) were all taken in the late second or later as were Danielle Hunter (88th pick) and Matt Ioannidis (152nd). Of course, Shaq Barrett and Malik Reed were both undrafted. Barrett was #4 in total pressures in 2019, #6 in 2020 and #12 in 2021.

With the signing of Gregory you might think that the need for a young pass rusher for the Broncos is lessened, but given Chubb and Gregory’s history, it is imperative for the Broncos to have another viable edge rusher. Bradley Chubb has played in 41 of a possible 65 games in his career. Gregory has played in 50 of a possible 81. Neither should be relied on to play 17 (or more) games in 2022. The chances of one of them missing significant time with injury are quite high.

As of right now, Malik Reed will most likely come back to the Broncos. Reed led the team in pressures in 2021, but also one of the worst volume pass rushers in the NFL in 2021. Jonathon Cooper has had two good games in his short career in terms of generating pressure (4 pressures vs CLE and 5 vs DAL). Those two games accounted for 9 of his 15 pressures as a rookie. He could be really good if he develops another pass rush move.

If Gregory and Chubb are both able to start 14-17 games with Reed and Cooper as their backups, the Broncos could have a very good pass rush in 2022, but don’t be surprised if the Broncos use our second round pick (64th - from the Rams) to take a pass rusher. It’s a distinct possibility that the Broncos could take David Ojabo if he falls to the second round because of his injury, possibly even trading up to do so. Ojabo was going to be a top-10 pick before tearing his achilles tendon at Michigan’s pro-day. This is similar to Jaylon Smith falling in the draft because of his injury in his final game for the Irish.

Smith would have gone in the top 10 picks if he were healthy, but he tore his ACL. Smith fell to the second round where Jerry Jones decided to pick him for the Cowboys despite the fact that he could (and did) miss his entire rookie season. Smith went 34th overall in the 2016 draft, but did not play a down in the NFL until the 2017 season. With Ojabo, it’s possible he could play in 2022 if he recovers as fast as Rams RB Cam Akers did from the same injury. Akers was back in six months. So Ojabo might not make it out of the first round if teams decide to go heavy after pass rush in the first. Currently CBSsports has eleven edge defenders in the top 75 with Ojabo ranked at the 40th best player overall even after the injury.

With the offensive firepower in the AFC West in 2022, the division might come down to who has the best combination of pass rush and pass protection.

The Charger have Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa. While Mack is not what he once was, that’s still a scary 1-2 punch.

The Raiders now have Crosby and Chandler Jones.

The Chiefs still have Chris Jones and Frank Clark.

Honestly the Broncos combo of Chubb and Gregory is the weakest in the division - at least on paper. Using that pick at 64 on a guy like Arnold Ebiketie, Drake Jackson or Sam Williams might be a very wise investment of draft capital, Particularly since Chubb will be a free agent after the 2022 season.

Poll

If these four guys are still on the board at 64, which would you prefer the Broncos to draft?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Trevor Penning - OT, Northern Iowa
    (186 votes)
  • 10%
    Drake Jackson - edge, So Cal
    (32 votes)
  • 14%
    Nicholas Petit-Frere - OT, Ohio St
    (44 votes)
  • 11%
    Sam Williams - edge, Ole Miss
    (34 votes)
296 votes total Vote Now