The more I look at the AFC West pass rushers, the more amazed I become. There is such incredibly dominant pass rush duos in the division, it practically seems pointless to even rank them. But I must.
I’m sure there will be plenty of angry fans from those teams whose pass rushers aren’t picked as the best in the division. And they will all have a good argument, because they’re all so damn good, it’s practically splitting hairs to put them in order from best to ‘worst’. Even the ‘worst’ would be the best in just about any other division in football. But this is the task and I’m not taking the easy way out. So, here goes.
1. Raiders — Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin
When one of your pass rushers is the Defensive Player of the Year, you have an obvious advantage in this conversation. Mack is a man among boys in the NFL. Along with his 11.0 sacks last season, he led the NFL with 96 pressures and 74 hurries. He was second in the NFL with 26 QB hits and landed at 5th overall in the NFL Top 100. He added 14 tackles for loss (10th in the NFL), and 5 forced fumbles (3rd most in NFL). As this video lays out perfectly, he has no flaws in any facet of the game.
On the other side is Bruce Irvin who led the league with 6 forced fumbles, added 7.0 sacks and was fifth in the NFL with 25 QB hits. That’s 51 QB hits between he and Mack which led the NFL. He and Mack put up these numbers while getting nearly no pass rush from the interior defensive line.
2. Broncos — Von Miller, Shane Ray
Whether Miller is a better player than Khalil Mack has been debated time and time again. Miller was rated higher in both the NFL Top 100 (2) and by Sport Illustrated (3). He also had more sacks last season (13.5). But in every other category, Miller’s numbers are not as good as Mack’s. Miller had 24 QB hits (6th in NFL) and 55 hurries (4th in the NFL) – categories in which Mack was top two and led the league respectively. Miller added 13 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.
Former first round pick Shane Ray took off in his second NFL season. He put up 8.0 sacks, 21 hits, and 6 tackles for loss, stepping up to be the heir apparent to DeMarcus Ware in Denver.
3. Chargers — Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram
Bosa took the league by storm as a rookie, putting up 10.5 sacks in just 12 games to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year. Two of those sacks came in his NFL debut against the Raiders in week five. Then he had another sack in their second meeting. As we know, getting sacks against the Raiders was no small task; they surrendered just 18 of them all season long. The former third overall pick looks like the real deal. He added 21 hits and 59 pressures.
Ingram was already in place, having matched Bosa’s rookie sack total in 2015. With Bosa in the mix, Ingram put up 8.0 sacks, 19 QB hits, and 72 pressures. They were Pro Football focus’s highest graded pass rushing duo. Many of Bosa’s sacks were schemed, as pointed out here, and his defensive coordinator is now in Oakland.
4. Chiefs — Justin Houston, Dee Ford
How does one put this unit last in the division? Not easily. Two seasons ago Justin Houston had 22.0 sacks and Dee Ford came up big last season with 10.0 sacks, making for what could be a suitable replacement for the 33-year-old Tamba Hali who has taken a reduced role (begrudgingly).
Despite injuries shortening each of his last two seasons, Houston is a 4-time Pro Bowler and still just 28 years old which means if he can stay healthy, he can still dominate. He has had 11.5 sacks over that past two seasons (16 games), with 7.0 of those sacks coming against the Broncos porous offensive line. Even when you combine the sacks of Ford (10.0), Houston (4.0) , and Hali (3.5) last season, it’s still fewer than any of the above duos.