2020 NFL Free Agency: Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney headline top available pass rushers
A look at the top 10 edge rushers set to hit the open market in March
NFL free agency is only about a month away, and with, we're bound to be in for another busy and entertaining offseason, especially if some of the biggest names set to hit the market actually do so.
Pass rushers are almost always one of the most coveted positions around the league, so it's hardly bold to forecast they'll once again be some of the biggest moneymakers in 2020 free agency.
Who, exactly, are the best veterans with expiring contracts at that spot? In preparation for this year's signing period, we've got you covered right here with a look at the top 10 edge rushers set to be available, as well as a bunch of other names to keep an eye on:
Top 2020 free agent pass rushers
If you're going to pay any pass rusher big money this March, it should be Ngakoue. At 24, he should just be entering his prime. And you wouldn't be paying just for upside, either. The Maryland product has yet to match his Pro Bowl production from 2017 (12 sacks, six forced fumbles), but he's never had fewer than eight sacks, and his 2019 performance was strong within an otherwise poor Jaguars defense -- eight sacks, 17 quarterback hits and six pass deflections. His run defense might not be prolific, but if it's an edge presence you're looking for, you can't do much better in free agency.
Clowney's still never quite lived up to the hype that followed him out of college. That doesn't mean he's not worth a big deal. Despite logging just three sacks in 2019, the lowest mark since his four-game rookie season, he forced a career-high four fumbles and remains one of the most physically imposing run defenders at his position. He's also only 27, so there's plenty left in the tank. Even if his current trend of modest sack numbers continues, Clowney's the type of athlete who can instantly give a D-line some juice.
For the first three years of his career, Armstead was shaping up to be a first-round bust, missing 18 games and totaling just six sacks in a part-time 3-4 hybrid role. Since then, he's completely redefined his image, emerging as one of the NFL's top-graded run defenders in 2018 and then breaking out as part of San Francisco's ferocious pass rush in 2019 with a career-best 10 sacks. Prying him away from DE mate Nick Bosa might raise concerns, but Armstead is also just 26 with freakish physical tools. Even if he doesn't eclipse double-digit sacks again, he's got the makings of a well-rounded starter.
All indications are that Baltimore is intent on keeping Judon around, with Ravens are prepared to use the franchise tag on the 28-year-old rusher if they can't strike a long-term deal. If, however, he hits the market, there's plenty to like. Judon didn't become a full-time starter until 2019, when he had a career-best 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, but he also boasts a bigger resume than former teammate Za'Darius Smith did upon hitting 2018 free agency, with at least seven sacks and 40 tackles in three straight seasons.the
No one aspires to empty the bank for 30-year-old defenders in free agency, and Quinn will be 30 in May. But he might be the most underrated pass rusher available. Traded for low-round picks in two straight seasons, the former first-rounder has quietly averaged almost nine sacks per year since 2017, and his 24 QB hits in 2019 were the most among all 4-3 DEs set to hit free agency. On a two- or three-year deal, he makes a ton of sense for a contender in need of a quick fix off the edge.
Like Armstead, Dupree would've easily been classified a bust if not for his recent come-on. It's not like the Kentucky product was a non-factor on Pittsburgh's front, but he'd settled into "average" rather than "great" -- until 2019, when his numbers hit personal highs in pretty much every category. You don't want to overpay for an outlier, but Dupree wasn't only better at sacking QBs at 27; he also forced four fumbles, racked up 51 pressures and made 68 tackles. As a mid-risk, high-reward target, he's solid.
Speaking of outliers, Barrett trumps everyone in terms of a breakout no one saw coming. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has insisted Tampa will this offseason, so Barrett may never hit the market, but if he does, teams will have a boom-or-bust candidate on their hands. On one hand, the guy's relatively young (27) and is fresh off an incredible year -- 19.5 sacks, 37 (!) QB hits and six forced fumbles. On the other, he's got four total sacks in five other NFL seasons, during which he could never crack a full-time lineup. The recent flashes are worth a gamble, but how much?
Fowler's career trajectory has its similarities to Barrett, albeit with a bigger name. The former third overall pick never materialized with the Jaguars, starting just one game and peaking with an eight-sack sophomore campaign before being dealt to the Rams in 2018, then breaking out with a personal-best 11.5 sacks with 14 starts in 2019. At 25, with some rock-solid playoff experience now under his belt, he might command even more money than you'd think.
The Giants defense was atrocious for much of 2019, so purging a starter from that unit wouldn't seem wise. Golden should be an exception. Once a promising up-and-comer for the Cardinals (12.5 sacks in 2016), the former second-rounder saw his Arizona future fade away following back-to-back injury-riddled seasons, but his 72 tackles and 10 sacks in 16 games for New York on a prove-it deal marked arguably the most consistent year of his career. The health history warrants concern, but he's got a high ceiling.
If you're looking to mine a diamond in the rough, Lawson might be your man. As a former 16th overall pick, he's obviously already got a reputation, but his production has never exploded enough to guarantee a lucrative payday. Still, at 25, with consistent numbers and a jump in sacks (6.5) as a rotational rusher for Buffalo's shutdown "D" in 2019, he could be targeted for his untapped potential.
Best of the rest
- Kyle Van Noy (28), New England Patriots
- Jason Pierre-Paul (31), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Bruce Irvin (33), Carolina Panthers
- Mario Addison (32), Carolina Panthers
- Vic Beasley (28), Atlanta Falcons
- Emmanuel Ogbah (26), Kansas City Chiefs
- Stephen Weatherly (26), Minnesota Vikings
- Michael Bennett (34), Dallas Cowboys
- Vinny Curry (32), Philadelphia Eagles
- Carl Nassib (26), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Ezekiel Ansah (31), Seattle Seahawks
- Jabaal Sheard (31), Indianapolis Colts
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