Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Chris Long and NFL's top pass-rushers
By Mike Sando
Chris Long's increased sack production and overall strong play last season moved him into the periphery of discussions about the NFL's best pass-rushers.
Long was the lone NFC West player to draw a vote in ESPN.com's recently posted power rankings for pass-rushers. Tim Graham of the AFC East ranked Long 10th on his ballot, a reflection of the progress Long continues to make.
"He was always around the ball and led the NFL in quarterback hurries, according to Football Outsiders," Graham said. "He was tied for sixth in quarterback hits. He didn't have the best sack total, but sacks aren't everything."
I agree. Long came close to cracking my top 10, but the players I ranked had generally produced at a higher level over the course of multiple seasons. Projecting their future production seemed more reliable, although Long's current trajectory suggests he'll gain traction in the discussion.
A quick look at my top 10:
- DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys. He was first on seven of our eight ballots.
- Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts. The Colts' offense and indoor stadium sometimes give Freeney a huge edge.
- Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs. Hali was the most physically dominant pass-rusher I saw last season. He had 14.5 sacks to prove it.
- Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers. Made a case for league MVP last season, particularly early.
- James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers. Bad intentions add to the fear factor.
- Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings. My perception is he has become less consistently dominant, but the bar was set high.
- LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers. Thirty-five sacks and six forced fumbles over the last three seasons.
- Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears. Peppers would rank higher on a list of best defensive ends. He was probably undervalued here.
- John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons. Collected 13 sacks at age 32.
- Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles. Produces consistently and almost never misses games.
Back to the NFC West: Chris Clemons, Raheem Brock, Justin Smith and James Hall joined Long in causing problems for opposing offenses last season.
Smith had 8.5 sacks, a high number for a 3-4 defensive end.