NFL sack projections for 2021: Ranking top 50 pass-rushers, plus where T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, Aaron Donald land

Sacks are still king for NFL pass-rushers. There's more to a well-rounded defender than just sack totals, of course, but there's glory in taking down quarterbacks, and those negative-yardage plays are certainly impactful.

Can past performance -- including total sacks, sack rates and age -- help us predict future sack results? That's what I tried to answer this offseason, when I built a sack projection model for the 2021 season. I used several statistical resources for the model, including:

  • Projected snaps, courtesy of ESPN's Mike Clay

  • Pass rush win rate, which uses player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats

  • Sacks over expectation, which determines the likelihood of an average pass-rusher recording a sack on each play

  • How often a player's defensive coordinator/defensive head coach blitzed in the past

  • How often opposing quarterbacks on each player's 2021 schedule take sacks

  • A player's team's win total, which matters because a winning team forces opponents to take greater risks and pass more

Only defensive linemen and linebackers who rushed the passer at least 25% of the time last season were included (sorry, Jamal Adams) in my projections, and rookies were excluded. Which pass-rushers should we expect to get the most sacks? Which could disappoint and see their sack numbers decline? Plus, which free-agent signing will pay off? Here's who we project to lead the league in sacks, and I'll include the full top 50 at the bottom: