Few things are as beneficial to a defense as a player who can really interrupt the offensive game plan. Nick Shook uses Next Gen Stats to examine the 10 most disruptive defensive players in the NFL in 2020.
NOTE: All stats and rankings are current heading into Week 9.
42 disruptions, 15.5% disruption rate (271 pass rushes), 34 QB pressures, 12.5% QB pressure rate, 7 TOs caused on QB pressure, 3.3% sack rate
Myles Garrett is a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, thanks to just how disruptive he's been against opposing offenses this season. Relying on a freakish blend of athleticism that allows him to burst off the line with an average time to hurry of 2.91 seconds, Garrett possesses a unique ability to bend under and around blockers, making it a mistake to try to take him on with a single offensive lineman. It's no surprise he's second in the NFL in disruptions with 42. No statistic better illustrates Garrett's impact than the seven turnovers he's caused on quarterback pressures, which is more than twice as many as any other player on this list.
Garrett is a constant threat to not only sack the quarterback but to strip him of the ball, creating takeaways for a Browns defense that sorely needs them, seeing as the unit struggles to stop offenses otherwise. Forced to account for Garrett on an every-down basis, opposing offenses routinely dedicate multiple blockers to stopping him -- to varying degrees of success. Garrett carried a six-game sack streak into Sunday's matchup with the Raiders, and he almost extended it to seven on a near-sack of Derek Carr.
Without Garrett, the Browns would likely see their 5-3 record flipped. Though he doesn't own the highest disruption rate on this list, he's making the greatest impact of anyone on a defensive front in the NFL.
45 disruptions, 22.6% disruption rate (199 pass rushes), 38 QB pressures, 19.1% QB pressure rate, 0 TOs caused by QB pressures, 3.3% sack rate
T.J. Watt is the first of three Steelers to land on this list, and his statistics say he's better than his brother, Texans star J.J. Watt. T.J. owns the best disruption rate on this list at over 22 percent. And don't be fooled into discounting his impact because of his relatively low total of pass-rush snaps (seventh on this list), or because he often lines up alongside Bud Dupree (who also appears here). In fact, Watt's productivity on that snap count is a sign of his incredible efficiency -- consider that he's also registered 38 QB pressures for a rate of 19.1 percent. The only reason Watt isn't ranked above Garrett is because he has yet to force a turnover on a pressure. Still, Watt's sack total (6.5) proves he's getting to the quarterback enough to make a difference. When combined with his disruption rate and the fact he's the only player in the NFL with six-plus run stuffs (defined as a tackle in which the ball-carrier gains less than 2 yards; Watt has 8) and 30-plus pressures (38), it's clear he's one of the most impactful defenders around.
39 disruptions, 15.2% disruption rate (257 pass rushes), 38 QB pressures, 14.8% QB pressure rate, 3 TOs caused on QB pressures, 3.5% sack rate
Aaron Donald has landed at or near the top of this list for the last few years, and it's no surprise to see him here again. Like Garrett, Donald excels at forcing possession changes with his quarterback pressure, and he's right on Garrett's and Watt's heels in total disruptions (39) while also generating the second-best QB pressure rate (14.8%) on this list, all despite frequently facing multiple blockers on the interior of the defensive line. Seeking more evidence of his incredible blend of athleticism? Check out Donald's time to pressure, which, at 3.1 seconds, lands right around when a quarterback's internal clock is ready to expire. Thus, opposing passers are often forced to decide whether to throw while Donald is also in their personal space, resulting in a sack total (nine) that has Donald tied with Garrett for the league lead. Days pass, months change and calendars flip, but Donald remains one of the most consistently disruptive forces in the NFL.
37 disruptions, 15.4% disruption rate (240 pass rushes), 34 QB pressures, 14.2% QB pressure rate, 3 TOs caused on QB pressures, 1.3% sack rate
Last year's sack leader isn't getting to the quarterback at anywhere near the rate that saw him finish just shy of 20 sacks in 2019, but he's still making an impact. Shaquil Barrett's disruption rate falls in line with some of the best on this list, as do his totals in disruptions and quarterback pressures. Barrett has also caused three turnovers via pressure, and he's doing all of this while part of a defensive front seven that includes Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and Devin White (with those three combining for 15.5 sacks so far). It's not the level of performance that took the league by storm last season, but Barrett is still proving Tampa Bay was wise to use the franchise tag to keep him on a team that expects to contend for a title immediately.
35 disruptions, 16.7% disruption rate (209 pass rushes), 29 QB pressures, 13.9% QB pressure rate, 3 TOs caused on QB pressures, 2.9% sack rate
Bud Dupree and Joey Bosa have nearly identical numbers, but what gets Dupree over the hump here is his ability to finish his disruptions in the best way possible: by causing a turnover. Dupree has forced three turnovers on his QB pressures and has recorded six sacks as part of a defensive front that has combined to record 24 sacks through seven games. The Steelers blitz with what some might see as reckless abandon (on 42.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL), but it works for them: They've pressured opposing quarterbacks 109 times this season, the most in the NFL. That is largely due to the contributions of Dupree, the second-best disruptor on Pittsburgh's stellar defense.
32 disruptions, 16.0% disruption rate (200 pass rushes), 28 QB pressures, 14.0% QB pressure rate, 0 TOs caused on QB pressures, 2.3% sack rate
Once we get into this range, we start to even out among the best disruptors in the NFL. Much of these players will have similar disruption totals, but a key differentiator is sack percentage. At over 2 percent, Joey Bosa is turning pressures into sacks at a rate that's near that of Dupree. He's doing so as part of a defense that isn't blitzing near the rate of Pittsburgh -- and he's also not on a defensive line that features multiple top disruptors. The Chargers are wading through a strange season, but Bosa remains a bright spot on their defense. Los Angeles was wise to pay him this past offseason.
30 disruptions, 15.6% disruption rate (192 pass rushes), 27 QB pressures, 14.1% QB pressure rate, 0 TOs caused on QB pressure, 3.1% sack rate
Stephon Tuitt is the third and final Steeler on this list -- and as a 3-4 defensive end, he's facing a tougher pass-rushing challenge than outside linebackers Watt and Dupree. While Watt and Dupree enjoy one-on-one matchups at times, Tuitt is more frequently fighting through traffic to get to his target. Even so, he's posted 30 disruptions and a disruption rate that puts him in the same neighborhood as edge rushers like Dupree, Bosa and Barrett. Tuitt's greatest statistical weakness on this list is that he has yet to cause a turnover with pressure, though his six sacks have him on par with Dupree.
30 disruptions, 15.4% disruption rate (195 pass rushes), 24 QB pressures, 12.3% QB pressure rate, 1 TO caused on QB pressure, 1.8% sack rate
Much of Carl Lawson's contributions have come outside of the sack category, but he has made a tangible difference on at least once occasion: when he caused a turnover via pressure. Cincinnati's defense was remade in the offseason on the back end, yet the Bengals have relied on the efforts of mainstays like Lawson up front. Though he isn't near the top of the sack list in the NFL, the Next Gen Stats tell us all we need to know: Lawson is making a difference on a frequent basis.
30 disruptions, 12.6% disruption rate (238 pass rushes), 28 QB pressures, 11.8% QB pressure rate, 0 TOs caused on QB pressure, 2.7% sack rate
Khalil Mack is a big-money man who continues to prove he's worth the cash by being the main disruptor on the Bears' 13th-ranked pass defense. While Mack hasn't forced a turnover, he's racked up 6.5 sacks and has disrupted the quarterback on nearly 12 percent of pass rushes. He's especially effective on the traditional passing down, leading the NFL in pressures on third down through Week 8 (15), good for a pressure rate north of 17 percent. It's a continuation of a trend that dates back to his arrival in Chicago in 2018; since then, Mack ranks second in pressure rate on third down from the edge (17.8%, among those with 200-plus pass rushes). Mack isn't playing at a top-three level when it comes to rushing the passer, but ninth on this list is still pretty darn good, and if the Bears didn't have him, they'd be much worse off.
26 disruptions, 11.6% disruption rate (225 pass rushes), 19 QB pressures, 8.4% QB pressure rate, 2 TOs caused on QB pressure, 2.7% sack rate
Emmanuel Ogbah is a sneaky pick who makes this list in part because the rest of the league needs to be made aware of his success. Now on his third team, Ogbah makes weekly -- and sometimes game-changing -- contributions. In Week 8's win over the Rams, Ogbah produced a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown, one of two turnovers caused on QB pressures by Ogbah this season. His six sacks place him in the top 10 in the NFL, and though his sack rate isn't as high as some of those on this list, Ogbah is a key part of Brian Flores' surprisingly effective defense. Folks in Kansas City and Cleveland might miss the Oklahoma State product, but Miami is happy to have him rushing the passer.