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:
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers. Thirty-five sacks and six forced fumbles over the last three seasons.
Smith had 8.5 sacks, a high number for a 3-4 defensive end.