Whether it’s aggressively protecting the edges against opportunistic running backs or breaking through formidable offensive lines to sack the quarterback, edge defenders have quickly become one of the more valuable and necessary defensive assets in the NFL. Both versatile and athletic, edge defenders need to have the physical attributes as well as the instincts to know exactly where they need to be at the right time. Although the rules of the league as they currently stand prevent these physical defenders from being as effective as they should be, these fearless attackers have nonetheless become essential pieces for teams that are determined to stifle any opposing offenses they come up against.
10. Kony Ealy
Although the capable edge rusher took a step back last year with the New York Jets in terms of production, he is more than capable of being effectively tenacious when utilized properly. Forcing six turnovers during his three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Ealy clearly has the wherewithal and aggressiveness to pursue and strip offensive playmakers that are careless when it comes to securing the football.
9. Courtney Upshaw
While Courtney Upshaw has regressed somewhat since joining the Atlanta Falcons two years ago, the ceiling for this highly physical defender is worth taking into consideration. A tackling machine for the Baltimore Ravens during the first four years of his career, Upshaw clearly possess the tenacity and the motor to still be effective in the right system.
8. Connor Barwin
At age 31, Connor Barwin is obviously not the unstoppable force that he was when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, the elite pass rusher is still relentless when pursuing the quarterback as he recorded five sacks and 26 total tackles in just 14 games. He may be regressing, but even out of his prime Barwin is still an effective playmaker when rushing the quarterback.
7. Julius Peppers
Do not let his age fool you (38), Julius Peppers is still an elite pass rusher as he recorded 11 sacks with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. Although it may be somewhat risky to sign Peppers to anything more than a one year deal, the veteran defender clearly still possess the instincts and the motor to be valuable for any defensive front.
6. Tank Carradine
Although Tank Carradine has yet to play a full 16 game season in his career, he has both the size and speed to be a potent edge rusher when healthy. Given the right opportunity for the right team, Carradine could very well become a deadly pass rusher and provide a team with the edge presence they need to be effective at flustering an opposing quarterback.
5. Trent Murphy
On an injury-ridden Washington Redskins team in 2017, Trent Murphy was a stand out playmaker that did everything and more to elevate his stock as an intriguing free agent. Sacking the quarterback nine times and forcing three fumbles (both career highs), Murphy took his game to the next level and proved that he could both take down and strip the ball away effectively from opposing quarterbacks.
4. Junior Galette
Highly athletic and relentless when pursuing the quarterback, Galette will most likely come at a bargain bin price considering his drop off in production in 2017. However, the ceiling for this defender is ridiculously high as he has proven on several occasions that he can make tough tackles while consistently bringing down the quarterback.
3. Adrian Clayborn
Notching a career-high 9.5 sacks for the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, Adrain Clayborn is a scary good pass rusher as he refuses to let up on opposing offensive lines. Considering how effective he was at forcing turnovers last season (two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries), Clayborn has the ideal skill set and tenacity of a consummate pass rusher.
2. Ezekiel Ansah
Sacking the quarterback 12 times in just 14 games is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself. However, Ezekiel Ansah is an elite tackler that utilizes his brute force and strong hands to force his opponent down to the ground consistently. For a team that is looking to beef up their defensive front with an exceptional tackling machine, they need look no further than Ansah.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence
58 combined tackles, 14.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Just wow. DeMarcus Lawrence is clearly the best edge defender in free agency this year as he is highly athletic and intelligent when pursuing the quarterback relentlessly. If the Dallas Cowboys are foolish enough to let this elite pass rusher walk, Lawrence is a playmaker that can instantly make any defense better with his versatile and dominant skill set.