What Is a Edge Rusher in Football? The Ultimate Guide


A edge rusher tackling the quarterback.

When it comes to playing good defense in football, disrupting the quarterback is paramount. There are many ways to apply pressure to the opposing quarterback and one of these is by sending edge rushers.

So, what is an edge rusher in football?

An edge rusher is a defensive player whose primary role is to disrupt the opposing team’s passing game. They typically line up on the outside edges of the defensive line and use speed, agility, and strength to bypass offensive blockers and apply pressure on the quarterback.

While an edge rusher doesn’t have all the responsibility of pressuring the quarterback, they can be quite effective at it. Throughout this article, we’ll dive into the most common formations that send an edge rusher(s), how edge rushers play against different types of plays, and much more!

What Is an Edge Rusher in Football?

An Edge Rusher is a defensive player responsible for applying pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. They line up on the outside edge of the offensive formation. 

Players from different positions, including defensive ends and outside linebackers, can fulfill the role of an Edge Rusher in various defensive schemes.

As an Edge Rusher, your primary goal is to rush the quarterback and disrupt their passes or force a sack. Your athleticism and agility play a significant role in navigating around the offensive linemen and reaching the quarterback.

Your responsibilities as an Edge Rusher extend beyond pressuring the quarterback. You’ll also contribute to containing run plays by keeping the running backs from getting to the outside. 

In certain situations, your football instincts come in handy as you may even drop into pass coverage, offering more versatility to the defense.

In summary, edge rushers focus on disrupting the opposing offense and keeping the pressure up on quarterbacks. Combining speed, agility, and strength, players in this role contribute significantly to the success of a defense. 

What Makes a Good Edge Rusher?

A good edge rusher possesses a combination of physical attributes and skills that enable them to excel in their role on the football field. You should pay attention to their speed, strength, agility, and technique to evaluate their potential as an edge rusher.

The first essential trait to look for in an edge rusher is their strength. Being strong helps you overpower offensive linemen and maintain your position against run plays. You will also need to rely on this strength to generate forceful pass rushes and disrupt the quarterback’s timing.

In addition to strength, speed is critical for a successful edge rusher. Having a quick first step and the ability to close the gap with the quarterback can make a significant difference in the number of sacks and pressures generated. 

By utilizing pass-rush win rate as a metric, you can assess a player’s ability to win their matchups consistently and create havoc in the backfield.

Agility is another vital characteristic, as edge rushers often need to change direction quickly to navigate around blockers or get to the ball carrier. 

By evaluating a player’s agility based on their lateral movements and body control under pressure, you can gauge their ability to be a disruptive force in various game situations.

Lastly, a skilled edge rusher requires exceptional technique. This includes hand usage, leverage, and pass-rush moves, such as the swim move, rip move, or spin move. To excel in this position, it’s crucial to develop a repertoire of pass-rushing techniques that can be deployed in different scenarios.

What Do Edge Rushers Do in Football?

Two defensive players tackling the quarterback.

Your main as an edge rusher is to apply pressure to the opposing quarterback and prevent the ball carrier from getting around the outside. Let’s examine your responsibilities during running plays and passing plays.

Running Plays

During running plays, your primary duty as an edge rusher is to either tackle the ball carrier or force them back to the inside of the field, where the majority of other defenders are. 

This requires a combination of speed, strength, and effort to ensure you can beat your offensive counterpart and maintain containment. 

By effectively doing your job, you’re helping the rest of the defensive team stop the running play and minimize any potential gains in yardage.

Passing Plays

During passing plays, your main responsibilities as an edge rusher involve rushing the quarterback and generating pressure to disrupt their decision-making process. By applying consistent pressure, you will increase the chances of forcing an incomplete pass, creating a turnover, or even getting a sack. 

Your physical attributes and technique will be crucial in this aspect, as you’ll often be battling against opposing offensive linemen along the line of scrimmage.

Remember, as an edge rusher, your role is integral in maintaining a solid defense. Effectively performing in both running and passing plays will ultimately determine your success as a defensive player, and contribute to the overall success of your team.

Best Formations for Edge Rushers

In football, especially in the NFL, edge rushers are a pivotal part of the defensive lineup. Your primary role as an edge rusher is to disrupt the opposing team’s offense by applying pressure on the quarterback. 

To excel in this role, it’s essential to understand the best formations that can put you in an optimal position to wreak havoc on the offensive line.

4-3 Defensive Formation

This formation features four defensive linemen and three linebackers. As an edge rusher, you can line up as a defensive end in this formation. Your primary responsibility will be to engage with the offensive tackle and attempt to reach the quarterback as quickly as possible. 

This wide alignment often provides you with more space to be creative with your pass-rushing techniques, such as speed or power moves, to beat the offensive lineman and disrupt the play.

3-4 Defensive Formation

In this formation, there are three defensive linemen accompanied by four linebackers. Here, you’ll take on the role of an outside linebacker or “stand-up” edge rusher, instead of the traditional hand-down defensive end. 

Your job still revolves around generating pressure on the quarterback, but you might find yourself dropping into coverage occasionally. The 3-4 formation allows for more unpredictability and versatility in how you’re utilized, making it harder for offenses to anticipate your moves.

When playing as an edge rusher, it’s crucial to recognize the offensive formation and adapt your pass-rushing strategy accordingly. 

If you notice the opposition utilizing extra blockers or shifting protection schemes to limit your impact, you’ll need to communicate with your teammates and coaches to adjust your approach and continue to be a disruptive force on the field.

Best Edge Rushers of All Time

When you think of the best edge rushers of all time, a few legendary names come to mind. These players have accumulated impressive stats, earned multiple Pro Bowl selections, and have terrorized offensive tackles throughout their careers.

Lawrence Taylor is undoubtedly one of the greatest edge rushers to have ever played in the NFL. With nine Pro Bowl selections, he solidified his position as a dominant edge rusher. Taylor amassed an impressive 132.5 sacks and forced countless tackles during his career. His fierce play made him one of the most feared defenders to have ever set foot on the field.

Another phenomenal edge rusher, Reggie White, was a force to be reckoned with during his illustrious NFL career. He accumulated 198 career sacks and earned 13 Pro Bowl selections. White’s relentless pursuit of the quarterback enabled him to become one of the premier edge rushers of his era.

Deacon Jones is often credited with coining the term “sack,” and his aggressive style of play was instrumental in popularizing the importance of pass rushing. While official sack numbers were not recorded during his playing days, it’s estimated that Jones racked up around 173.5 sacks throughout his career. 

His eight Pro Bowl selections and intimidating presence on the field earned him a place among the best edge rushers in NFL history.

In more recent years, edge rushers like J.J. Watt and Von Miller have established themselves as some of the top players in the league. 

Watt, with 114.5 sacks and six Pro Bowl selections, has been a dominant force on the defensive line, often requiring double teams from offensive linemen to keep him in check. 

Miller, who has 123.5 sacks and nine Pro Bowl selections to his name, played a pivotal role in helping the Denver Broncos secure a Super Bowl victory in 2016.

How Much Do Edge Rushers Make?

A football lying in the grass with the Atlanta Falcons logo on it.

The highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL is T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who earns $28 million per year on a four-year contract. He’s followed by the Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa, who brings in $27 million annually.

Other notable names include:

  • Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns: $25 million per year
  • Khalil Mack, Los Angeles Chargers: $23.5 million per year

These elite edge rushers command top-dollar contracts due to their ability to disrupt offenses and change the course of games. 

As you delve deeper into the world of NFL edge rushers, it’s important to keep in mind the value they bring to their respective teams, and why they’re paid at such a high level.

Remember, edge rusher contracts can vary greatly depending on factors like skill level, age, and team needs. While some may make millions, others on the roster might not see the same level of financial reward. 

Regardless of their paycheck, edge rushers are invaluable assets to any NFL team, as they play a key role in disrupting offensive lines and applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks, ultimately helping their team succeed on the field.

Edge Rusher vs Linebacker

An edge rusher, though not an official position, plays a crucial role in disrupting the opposing team’s passing game. The primary goal of an edge rusher is to pressure the quarterback, either by sacking him or forcing him to make rushed decisions. 

Edge rushers usually line up as 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers depending on the defensive scheme.

In contrast, a linebacker is a traditional defensive player whose responsibilities vary depending on the defensive scheme and the specific position they play. Linebackers can be classified into inside linebackers and outside linebackers. 

In a 4-3 defensive scheme, outside linebackers play off the ball and are responsible for covering tight ends, running backs, and even wide receivers in pass coverage. They also have run-stopping duties when the offense runs the ball.

While edge rushers primarily focus on pressuring the quarterback, linebackers have a more diverse set of responsibilities. These responsibilities include run-stopping, pass coverage, and occasionally, quarterback pressure as well. 

Thus, linebackers need to possess the ability to read and react to a wide range of plays, which requires a unique combination of size, speed, and football intelligence.

One key distinction between edge rushers and linebackers is their alignment on the field. Edge rushers line up on the edge of the defensive line, often directly across from the opposing team’s offensive tackles or tight ends. 

In a 4-3 defensive scheme, the term “edge rusher” is often used to describe the defensive end’s role. On the other hand, linebackers mainly line up at the second level of the defense, allowing them to react to various offensive plays.

Edge Rusher vs Defensive End

Defensive end is a designated defensive player in a team’s formation. Their main responsibilities revolve around stopping running plays toward the outside part of the field and, depending on their team’s defensive scheme, pressuring the quarterback on passing plays.

Additionally, defensive ends can be categorized under the broader term, “rusher,” which includes other positions such as outside linebackers and interior rushers. 

While edge rushers focus mostly on attacking the quarterback and disrupting passing plays, defensive ends have broader responsibilities, including stopping the run.

To excel as an edge rusher or defensive end, a player must be swift, agile, and have the strength to overpower their offensive counterparts. Their roles on the field require excellent hand-to-hand combat skills, quick decision-making, and strong football intelligence. 

This way, they can anticipate the opposing team’s strategy and adapt quickly, proving to be a valuable asset to their team’s defense. Though edge rushers and defensive ends have overlapping responsibilities, they have distinct roles during the game. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Main Role of an Edge Rusher?

An edge rusher is a defensive player in football whose primary role is to pressure the quarterback and disrupt the passing game. They usually line up on the outer edge of the defensive line, which enables them to use their speed and agility to attack the quarterback from different angles.

How Do Edge Rushers Impact the Game?

Edge rushers can have a significant impact on the game by putting constant pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. This pressure can lead to hurried throws, sacks, and potential turnovers, such as interceptions or fumbles.

Which Techniques Do Edge Rushers Use?

Edge rushers utilize various techniques to beat offensive linemen and create pressure on the quarterback. These techniques may include speed rushes, bull rushes, spin moves, and stunts. Edge rushers also need to have excellent hand usage and the ability to disengage from blockers.

How Do Teams Evaluate Edge Rusher Prospects?

Teams evaluate edge rusher prospects based on their size, speed, athleticism, and college production. Coaches and scouts closely analyze a player’s film to determine their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their overall understanding of the game.

Who Is Considered the Best Edge Rusher of All Time?

Opinions may vary, Lawrence Taylor is often considered the best edge rusher in NFL history. Taylor was a dominant force throughout his career and revolutionized the position with his impressive combination of speed, strength, and technique.

What Is the History of the Edge Rusher Position?

The edge rusher position has evolved over time as football strategies and schemes have changed. Traditionally, players at this position were classified as either defensive ends or outside linebackers, depending on their team’s defensive alignment. 

However, with the increase in passing offenses and the need for more specialized pass rushers, the edge rusher has emerged as its own distinct position. Today, edge rushers are integral to the defensive strategies of many teams, providing a crucial component in combating high-powered passing attacks.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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