Assessing the Best Defensive Ends in the 2020 NFL
Positions are rather fluid and often quite debatable in pro football. Some will quickly suggest that Aaron Donald is the best pure defensive lineman, regardless of which position you want to file him under.
Others will say he’s the best defensive tackle, and some will say he’s best utilized at the end of LA’s line. Whatever the case, I’ve broken down all of the main positions in the NFL in search of the best player, and Donald fell in the defensive tackle category for me.
That naturally brings us to the other question on the defensive line: Who is the best defensive end in the NFL in 2020?
It could be easier to just do this as one big position and label it as pass rusher or even adopt draft culture and call them pure EDGE rushers. But breaking these guys into different categories (whether you agree where they fall or not) allows us to highlight more than one.
Let’s keep the debate going as we look over some of the NFL’s best defensive ends and crown the best player at the position going into 2020.
The 5 Best Defensive Ends in 2020
- Cameron Heyward – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Myles Garrett – Cleveland Browns
- Calais Campbell – Baltimore Ravens
- J.J. Watt – Houston Texans
- Joey Bosa – Los Angeles Chargers
I realize I am leaving a lot of really good players off of this list. That includes, but isn’t necessarily limited to, Chandler Jones, Nick Bosa, and so many others.
When trying to gauge who the best defensive end in the NFL is, however, I had to keep my top defensive tackles out of the equation while considering several factors.
One is recency bias via the 2019 season, another is production over a player’s career, while I also couldn’t ignore their talent or where they could be going in 2020.
Given all of that, Heyward starts off this list, with all five of these defensive ends deserving to be considered for the top spot. The question, of course, is who is the best defensive end in the NFL in 2020?
Cameron Heyward – Pittsburgh Steelers
There are certainly other defensive ends who have posted superior sack numbers, but Heyward is plenty feared in that regard.
Coming off of a nine-sack campaign that helped the Steelers rank first in sacks and third against the pass, Heyward’s impact on opposing passing attacks was clear.
The thing that really gets Heyward into my top 5, however, is his balance.
While quite an impactful pass rusher, Heyward also helped the Steelers rank 14th against the run, while allowing the third-fewest yards per carry.
Myles Garrett – Cleveland Browns
Garrett is the opposite of Heyward in that he’s known almost exclusively for his ability to get after the quarterback.
That isn’t to slight his solid ability against the run, but the guy has flashed insane pass rushing ability with 30.5 sacks through his first 37 games.
Garrett could have been on his way to a magical season in 2019, had it not been for an unfortunate run-in with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Garrett missed the final six games of the year due to suspension, yet he still finished with 10 sacks. Oh, and he’s just 24 and will only be getting better.
Calais Campbell – Baltimore Ravens
I’ll admit I am not totally sure where Campbell is supposed to fit. He’s played all over the defensive line for his career, and even after spending a lot of time in the middle in 2019, he projects as an end for the Ravens in 2020.
Since I don’t have him in my defensive tackle breakdown, though, I have to include him here. Yes, he’s 33 and coming off of a 6.5-sack season, but the guy remains an elite run defender and can still generate pressure up front.
The wild thing is the Ravens acquired this balanced and consistent defensive end for just a fifth-round draft pick.
J.J. Watt – Houston Texans
Watt probably gets the edge over Campbell, as he’s about as good against the run and has always been a far more dominant pass rusher.
That hasn’t necessarily been the case in recent memory, as a litany of injuries have kept Watt from meeting his full potential as a pass rusher.
Regardless, Watt notched four sacks in eight regular-season games in 2019 and returned to provide a spark in the playoffs for the Texans.
Now 31, Watt is still physically imposing, powerful, and quick off the snap. If he could just stay healthy, he could still be posting monster numbers like he did in 2018 (16 sacks).
Joey Bosa – Los Angeles Chargers
Anyone in this list can be mentioned as the best defensive end in pro football, but few will have Joey Bosa down too far in their own rankings.
When you’re talking about balance, athleticism, power, speed, consistency, talent, and upside, Bosa checks all of the boxes.
While he’s never had a true blow-up campaign, he’s notched 40 sacks across 51 career games and has transformed the Bolts into a feared defense.
Who’s the Best Defensive End in 2020?
Myles Garrett may very soon rise up to take the crown, and if injuries weren’t part of the game, perhaps this would still be Watt’s time to shine.
But Joey Bosa has been the most consistent force in all aspects on the edge, and at just 24, he could still be so much better. The Chargers ranked 13th against the run and fifth against the pass in 2019 and did this despite having very little beyond Bosa threatening the passer.
If Bosa can get a little more help, it could become even clearer just how truly dominant he actually is.