National Football League
2023 10 Best defensive ends in NFL: Nick Bosa leads pass rusher rankings
National Football League

2023 10 Best defensive ends in NFL: Nick Bosa leads pass rusher rankings

Updated Nov. 2, 2023 1:44 p.m. ET

The NFL hierarchy is led by quarterbacks. That has been the case for many decades, and it's not changing.

But the tier right under them has shifted over the last two decades, through a clear emphasis front offices and coaching staffs have placed on limiting what those quarterbacks can do — through pressuring them, hitting them, and ultimately sacking them.

Edge rushers play one of the few positions in consideration at the top of each NFL Draft. They sign huge contracts — take Nick Bosa's five-year, $170 million pact with the San Francisco 49ers as the most recent example. Offenses plan schemes around limiting and avoiding them, as their capacity to wreck games is high. And whether they're classified as outside linebackers or defensive ends, the group is as strong as it's ever been.

This is the sixth position group ranked by the FOX Sports staff of NFL writers. It was easily the closest at the top, with each of our top three players having a real shot at emerging with the No. 1 spot. 


How did they end up ranking, and what should you know about each player in our top 10? Read on!

2023 Top NFL Defensive Ends

1. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

Eric D. Williams: The highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL, Bosa has certainly played like it. Bosa led the league in sacks with 34 over the last two seasons entering the 2023 campaign. And at 25 years old, the Ohio State product should have more than enough gas in the tank to lead last year's No. 1-ranked defense in the San Francisco 49ers. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Bosa finished No. 1 in the league last season in pressures (73), sacks (18.5) and sack rate (4.0%), according to Next Gen Stats.

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2. Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

Ralph Vacchiano: If all he did was rush the passer, he might be at the top of this list. But he obviously does so much more for the Cowboys. He's one of the best all-purpose defenders in the NFL. But he's truly at his most dangerous when they turn him loose on the quarterback. He's an expert at reading offenses and finding the holes. And when he does, it's like he's shot out of a cannon. His sideline-to-sideline speed is impressive, too. Once he's in the backfield, it's hard for any quarterback to outrun him. 

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3. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Henry McKenna: There's nothing he can't do. Garrett's size (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) makes him a challenging matchup when compared to the slightly smaller Bosa (265) and substantially smaller Parsons (245 pounds). Garrett is an old-school defensive end who has unique power to defend the run and the pass. He can and does anchor a defensive line. He finished last season with 16 sacks and 60 tackles.

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4. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Vacchiano: If this was two years ago, there'd be no doubt about where to put Watt on this list. He'd be No. 1 coming off his 22.5 sack season (2021). That completed a four-year run where he had an incredible 65 sacks, putting him on pace to be one of the greatest pass rushers of all time. His injury-riddled 2022 season made it hard to figure out where to put him on this list. Would he be the same player he once was? Then he collected three sacks in the Steelers' opener, erasing most of those doubts. It's still fair to wonder if he can sustain that and stay healthy. But don't be surprised if he eventually ends up back at No. 1 on this list. 

5. Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders

Williams: Nicknamed "The Condor" because of his 81-inch wingspan, Crosby has developed into a dominant force coming off the edge for the Las Vegas Raiders. According to Next Gen Stats, Crosby has the seventh-fastest get-off and led the league in defensive stops for an edge rusher with 71 last year. A two-time Pro Bowler, Crosby totaled 12.5 sacks in 2022. He ranks fifth in franchise history for most sacks with 37.5 through the first four seasons and 12th-most since entering the league in 2019.

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6. Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles

Vacchiano: Reddick thinks he's one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and he might be right. His last three seasons (39 ½ sacks) have been as impressive as any edge rusher's in the league. He has speed, power and moves. He always did, but clearly, it all finally clicked for him in his final year in Arizona. He was undoubtedly helped by being part of a remarkable Eagles pass rush last season, including one of the league's best defensive lines. But he wasn't just a big part of that pass rush. At times, he was the best part.

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7. Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers

Ben Arthur: Burns' numbers have improved each season, going from seven sacks as a rookie in 2019 to nine in both 2020 and ‘21, then a career-high 12.5 last season. Seeking a big-money extension, Burns had a dominant Week 1 performance in spite of the Panthers' loss to the Falcons (1.5 sacks, a quarterback hit, tackle for loss, forced fumble and seven tackles). He plays with a relentless motor, too. The Rams reportedly offered two first-round picks for his services last year and were denied. His consistency and gradual improvement has cemented his place among the NFL's elite.

8. Matthew Judon, New England Patriots

McKenna: New England has basically built their defense around Judon since they acquired him in free agency in 2021. He finished with 15.5 sacks in 2022 and already sacked Jalen Hurts in Week 1 of this season. Judon isn't just a pass-rusher either. He's as stout as edge defenders come, with 60 tackles in each of the last two seasons. In Belichick's system, where Judon does a little bit of everything (even coverage), he won't log 20 sacks. But he should regularly be in consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.

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9. Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh Steelers

Arthur: Highsmith probably doesn't get as much respect nationally as he deserves. With T.J. Watt missing a large chunk of last season, the former third-round pick had a breakout 2022 that included a team-high 14.5 sacks, sixth in the league overall. He should naturally continue ascending this season, and Watt's return in 2023 makes him even more of a threat. Among all edge rushers and linebackers who played at least 450 pass-rush snaps last season, Highsmith tied for seventh with a 13.1% pressure rate, according to Next Gen Stats — higher than the likes of Maxx Crosby and Matthew Judon.

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10. Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

Carmen Vitali: Hunter has four seasons with double-digit sack numbers despite spending his entire career in Minnesota through varying schemes. Now in Brian Flores' defense, Hunter will be the first elite pass-rusher Flores has led as a coordinator or head coach. 

"This is really the first time that I've been around a guy who I think will consistently win one-on-ones," Flores told me.

Hunter, as a result, should be featured even more in the defense this year, opposite Marcus Davenport. Those two should open up more one-on-one opportunities for each other and force offensive lines to make some tough decisions. The Vikings blitzed the second-most of any team in Week 1 and if that continues, Hunter could put up even bigger numbers. His single-season career best is 14.5 sacks. He's made the Pro Bowl three times. I would think this year he ends up making a fourth if he stays healthy.

Other 2023 NFL Positional Rankings

These rankings were compiled by:

AFC South reporter Ben Arthur (@benyarthur)
NFC South reporter Greg Auman (@gregauman)
Dallas Cowboys reporter David Helman (@davidhelman_)
AFC East reporter Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis)
NFL and betting analyst Geoff Schwartz (@GeoffSchwartz)
NFC West reporter Eric D. Williams (@eric_d_williams)
NFC East reporter Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano)
NFC North reporter Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV)


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