Analysis

Next Gen Stats' top 10 disruptors of 2020: Aaron Donald ranks high, but not No. 1 ...

For the most ferocious defenders in football -- the ones who make their bones in the trenches -- nothing gets the juices flowing quite like a sack.

That said, a defender is too often judged solely based on how often he gets to the quarterback. What about when he doesn't quite complete a takedown for a loss? Is the defender irrelevant, from a statistical perspective, in the frenzied moments before a pass is released just because he didn't record a sack?

Of course not! And thanks to the advancements in player tracking via Next Gen Stats, we're afforded a deeper understanding of just how effective a defender is when rushing the passer. Our metric of focus in this piece is disruptions, which is the combined total of hurries, pressures or sacks, with only one counting per play.

We used disruption rate as our leading metric to determine the rankings below, supplementing the analysis with total disruptions and the aforementioned traditional sack. Players had to have a minimum of 250 pass-rush snaps last season to qualify. Here are the 10 players who were the best at disrupting opposing offenses in 2020:

Rank
10
Robert Quinn
Robert Quinn
Chicago Bears · DE

Disruption rate: 15%

Sack rate: 0.7%

Total disruptions: 46

Sacks: 2


Quinn was a top-three disruptor in 2019, which is why the Bears were willing to sign him to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2020. Good news for the Bears: He's still a top-10 disruptor at 31 years old. Quinn has eye-popping speed off the edge, posting an average get-off of 0.8 seconds or less in each of the last five seasons. He finished with the fourth-fastest average time to hurry (any time a player gets within 1.5 yards of a QB from snap to pass) in 2020 at 2.75 seconds. His sack total, however, is not what you'd expect for a player making $14 million per year. Quinn tied for the fewest sacks of any player who has posted a 12 percent or better pressure rate and 300-plus pass rushes in a single season during the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016), meaning his sack total should be higher than it was in 2020. That's what Bears fans hope will happen in 2021. I know it might be a surprise to see Quinn included here, but keep in mind that sacks are not an all-encompassing stat. Quinn was still making a difference even if he wasn't getting home often in 2020.

Rank
9
Rashan Gary
Rashan Gary
Green Bay Packers · LB

Disruption rate: 15.1%

Sack rate: 1.9%

Total disruptions: 39

Sacks: 5


Gary's inclusion on this list is intriguing because he didn't see the field nearly as often as most of the others featured here. Gary played 436 of Green Bay's 974 defensive snaps in 2020 -- the fewest snaps of any player on this list, by far -- and he just barely crossed the minimum threshold for pass-rushing snaps with 259. Still, though, Gary was effective, logging a disruption rate of over 15 percent. His sacks total was near that of a few others on this list (again, a stat that doesn't tell the whole story!), and he tied with Bud Dupree for the most hustle stops among any player on this list. Perhaps all Gary needs is more playing time. When he was on the field in 2020, the Next Gen Stats show he certainly made a difference.

Rank
8
Shaquil Barrett
Shaquil Barrett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · LB

Disruption rate: 15.2%

Sack rate: 1.8%

Total disruptions: 66

Sacks: 8


Barrett landed at No. 7 on this list last year after recording a league-best 19.5 sacks, and he's only one spot lower this time around even though he posted less than half as many quarterback takedowns in 2020. I'll say it again: Sacks are an incomplete stat, folks! Barrett's disruption rate was nearly identical, going from 15.4 percent to 15.2, and while his sack rate dropped by two percentage points, his disruptions dipped just a bit, from 78 to 66. Barrett is a master of forcing turnovers via QB pressure, becoming the only player in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) to force six or more turnovers on pressures in consecutive seasons (2019-2020). He's also the only player with 10 or more turnovers forced on pressures since 2019 (Barrett has 12). Barrett's sack total decrease has a valid explanation, too: He had 73 fewer pass-rush snaps in 2020 than he did in 2019, and his coverage snaps jumped from 65 to 94. Despite that, Barrett was still one of the best at getting after the quarterback.

Rank
7
Carl Lawson
Carl Lawson
Cincinnati Bengals · DE

Disruption rate: 15.2%

Sack rate: 1.4%

Total disruptions: 60

Sacks: 5.5


Lawson's sack total doesn't jump off the page, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record: Sacks don't show the complete picture of a pass rusher's effectiveness. Lawson disrupted offenses at a premier rate in 2020 despite losing his running mate, Carlos Dunlap, at midseason (traded to the Seahawks). No matter for Lawson, who capitalized in his contract year by causing problems for his opponents and frequently doing so when matched up against their best blocker. Of Lawson's 50 quarterback pressures, 49 came when he was aligned on the defense's right side (meaning he was rushing against a left tackle). He found success with speed, posting the third-fastest average get-off (0.73 seconds) in the entire league. Lawson heads to New York to attempt to continue doing the same with the Jets, who signed him to a three-year, $45 million deal this offseason.

Rank
6
Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams · DT

Disruption rate: 15.5%

Sack rate: 2.6%

Total disruptions: 79

Sacks: 13.5


Donald will one day end up in Canton, and he'll get there by consistently finishing at or near the top of the league in every key metric we have to measure his performance. Donald tied with T.J. Watt for the most QB pressures in the league with 71, marking the fourth straight season in which he's ranked either first or second in QB pressures. Not surprisingly, he owns the most QB pressures since 2016 (346). He's also the only interior defensive lineman on this entire list, overcoming frequent double teams and interior traffic that edge rushers don't have to deal with to force opposing offenses into disadvantageous situations. No interior defensive lineman comes close to making the impact Donald does, and if history serves as any indicator, we can bank on him landing on next year's version of this list.

Rank
5
Bud Dupree
Bud Dupree
Pittsburgh Steelers · OLB

Disruption rate: 15.7%

Sack rate: 2.5%

Total disruptions: 50

Sacks: 8


Dupree and T.J. Watt were the league's top two players in average pass-rush get-off (0.72 seconds), so it's no surprise to see these 2020 teammates on the list. Dupree's season came to an end in Week 12 due to an ACL tear, but his absence only further illustrated his value off the edge. In the 12 games Dupree played in, Watt recorded a 19 percent pressure rate. With Dupree out, Watt's pressure rate fell to less than 10 percent, underscoring Dupree's importance to the defense. As for the numbers Dupree recorded prior to his injury, they were still darn good, and they go beyond the realm of pass rushing. He logged the second-most hustle stops -- tackles where the player covers 20-plus yards of in-play distance from snap to tackle -- in the entire league among players with at least 250 pass-rush snaps (6), proving Dupree is more than just a pass rusher. Provided he returns fully healthy in 2021, the Titans will be glad he's now on their side after signing him to a five-year deal this offseason.

Rank
4
Myles Garrett
Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns · DE

Disruption rate: 15.7%

Sack rate: 2.7%

Total disruptions: 70

Sacks: 12


Garrett is almost a guaranteed mainstay on this list after landing at No. 1 in 2019 and No. 4 this year. His disruption rate and sack rate weren't quite as high as they were in 2019, but he also played in more games in 2020, which led to a higher disruptions total (2019: 53; 2020: 70). He didn't quite average a sack per game like he did in 2019, but what he did prove was undeniable: Garrett could teach a master class on forcing turnovers via pressure. Garrett finished 2020 with the most turnovers forced on pressures (seven) in the entire league, recording five of those in the span of two games (Weeks 3-4). He's forced three turnovers in a game twice in his career, and is responsible for two of the six total games where a defender -- any defender -- caused three-plus turnovers via pressure since 2016. His 14 turnovers caused by pressure since 2018 are the most in the NFL over that span, and Browns fans can count on Garrett continuing to change games with his pass-rushing prowess for years to come with the All-Pro signed through 2026.

Rank
3
Trey Hendrickson
Trey Hendrickson
New Orleans Saints · DE

Disruption rate: 17.5%

Sack rate: 4.1%

Total disruptions: 57

Sacks: 13.5


The pleasant surprise of the league's edge rushers in 2020, Hendrickson's appearance on this list should not be surprising to anyone who followed the most recent campaign. Hendrickson was incredibly effective at getting home, posting the highest sack rate of any of the top disruptors on this list. In fact, Hendrickson became the only player in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) to post a sack rate of 4 percent or better in a single season (min. 300 pass rushes). Even when he didn't get home, he still made a difference. His pressure rate trailed only T.J. Watt's league-best mark. He posted 53 pressures on 326 pass-rush snaps, marking the second-fewest pass-rush snaps by any player with 50-plus pressures in a single season in the Next Gen Stats era. Hendrickson, who had 6.5 sacks and 49 pressures in his first three seasons combined, broke out in his contract year, earning himself a healthy deal (four years, $60 million) with the Bengals in March.

Rank
2
Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa
Los Angeles Chargers · DE

Disruption rate: 17.6%

Sack rate: 2.4%

Total disruptions: 54

Sacks: 7.5


We can count on a few guarantees in this life: death, taxes and one of the Bosa brothers ending up on this list. Nick Bosa made it last year, but this time around it's older brother Joey, who finished with a career-high pressure rate (15.6%; third-best in the league). With Justin Herbert occupying so much of the national attention when it came to the Chargers, Bosa quietly put together a stellar season in just 12 games, posting the second-highest disruption rate in the NFL (17.6%). Like his younger brother, Joey wins with power and efficiency. His average time to hurry (3.06 seconds) and average get-off (0.80) ranked in the middle of the pack among the players on this list. That means Bosa doesn't waste steps or pass-rush moves, leading to his 54 disruptions and 7.5 sacks. Those numbers aren't as gaudy as some of the others on this list, but again, Bosa played in just 12 games. He made the most of those dozen contests.

Rank
1
T.J. Watt
T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers · OLB

Disruption rate: 18.4%

Sack rate: 3.4%

Total disruptions: 80

Sacks: 15


For much of 2020, it seemed as if Watt was bound to join his brother as a Defensive Player of the Year award winner. He was a force, especially when he was afforded the opportunity to line up opposite Bud Dupree. However, Watt's aforementioned decline following Dupree's injury and a strong finish from world-renowned interior terror Aaron Donald swung the award away from Watt in the season's final weeks. The Next Gen Stats show that the Steelers star was indeed the best at disrupting opposing offenses, though. Watt led the league in disruptions (80), racking up that total on 435 pass-rushing snaps for a rate of 18.4 percent, which also was the best in the NFL. He was tops in pro football in sacks, too, with 15. Essentially, every pass-rushing metric we want to explore responds by shouting "T.J. WATT" at us, as if we're asking a magic mirror who's the most disruptive of them all. He provided league-best production despite sitting out in Week 17, too. Another season like this would be hard to ignore when deciding Defensive Player of the Year.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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