In every draft since 2013, a pass rusher has been selected among the top-five picks, leading to an exciting influx of talented NFL pass rushers.
Pass rushers are at a premium and the benchmark for a productive season is reaching the illustrious double-digit sack mark. In 2019, the league saw 18 defenders post at least 10 sacks. Of those, eight accomplished the feat for the first time: Shaquil Barrett, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Bud Dupree, Dante Fowler, Josh Allen, Maxx Crosby and Arik Armstead.
I believe 2020 will produce five first-timers. Let’s examine.
Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers selected Brian Burns with their first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and he revealed some exciting flashes during his rookie season. Over his first six games, Burns racked up 4 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits and even scored a defensive touchdown. A wrist injury slowed him down considerably the rest of the way, but Burns still finished with a respectable 7 1/2 sacks in his first season.
Newly-hired defensive coordinator Phil Snow will implement a multiple front defense that should allow Burns to take advantage of his burst, flexibility and processing skills in terms of how to attack the pocket while finding soft areas. Burns has big-time pass rush potential and is just 21 years old. At least 10 sacks are coming in his sophomore season.
Chase Young, Washington Redskins
“It doesn’t take long to study Young’s film at Ohio State and understand he’s a special pass rusher that is going to be a prolific sack artist in the NFL. Young racked up 27 sacks over his final two seasons as a Buckeye and enters the league with literally every needed trait to dominate.
“Where I get most excited about Young’s NFL forecast is thinking about how much he grew from 2018 to 2019. The statistical increases reveal notable gains in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles, but he was far more refined with his vision and pass-rushing plan, which was the reason for the jump in production.
“Young enters a situation in Washington where the pass-rushing options already include Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis; Young is primed to immediately find favorable opportunities to attack the pocket. He’s going to be a problem for blockers from Day 1.”
Harold Landry, Tennessee Titans
Harold Landry enjoyed a productive rookie season, producing 34 pressures and 4 1/2 sacks playing behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. In an expanded role as a sophomore, Landry recorded nine sacks and showcased how his skill set presents problems for blockers.
Blessed with exceptional quickness and flexibility, Landry is difficult for blockers to get their hands on despite not having ideal length and mass to win with power. The Titans have figured out how to unleash him in the defense, and he should top double-digit sacks in his third season.
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Nick Bosa, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, was dominant in 2019 but fell one sack short of logging 10 as a rookie. His strong season carried into the playoffs where Bosa logged four sacks in three games.
Bosa immediately fulfilled the promise of being the No. 2 selection in the 2019 draft and is well on his way to becoming a premier defensive playmaker. Assuming he can stay healthy, 2020 should be the start of a long stretch of consecutive double-digit sack seasons.
Sam Hubbard, Cincinnati Bengals
Sam Hubbard may have been the seventh defensive end drafted in 2018 but that hasn’t stopped him from recording the most sacks of any defender in his draft class. After logging six sacks as a rookie, Hubbard produced 8 1/2 in 2019 and has quickly developed into a fixture up front for the Bengals’ defense.
He’s a true technician and plays with elite effort; his motor always runs hot. Pairing technique with urgency has led to excellent production to begin his career, and his first double-digit sack season will come in 2020.