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Next Gen Stats' top 10 disruptors of 2021: Aaron Donald, Micah Parsons ranked, but not No. 1

Today's NFL values a few key positions above all: quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and pass rusher.

Pass rushers are tasked with getting after the quarterback. They must disrupt the opposing offense's rhythm and attempts to move the ball down the field.

In this exercise, I'm using Next Gen Stats data to examine the league's top disruptors from the 2021 season. Disruptors are defined not just by sacks but plays in which they affect an opposing quarterback. NGS defines a hurry as an instance in which a defender gets within 1.5 yards of a quarterback at any moment between the snap and the release of a pass or a sack, and a pressure is when a defender is within 2 yards of the quarterback at the time he's releasing a pass or within 1.5 yards of the QB at any point during the play. A sack is -- well, you know what that is.

I'm taking a closer look at QB pressures (QBP), QB pressure rate (QBP rate), hurries, sacks and turnovers caused by QB pressure (TO-QBP) to determine who was the best at disrupting quarterbacks in 2021.

Leonard Floyd
Los Angeles Rams · OLB
  • QBP: 58
  • QBP rate: 12.8%
  • Hurries: 39
  • Sacks: 9.5
  • TO-QBP: 1

It was revealed last week that Floyd played through the entire 2021 season with an ankle injury that required surgery this offseason. With that in mind, his 2021 performance was even more impressive. After posting 10.5 sacks in his first season with the Rams, Floyd followed it up with 9.5 sacks and an even better QB pressure rate than he finished with in 2020 (12.8% to 9.9%). Floyd has blossomed as a Ram after struggling with the Bears, posting more sacks in his two seasons in L.A. than he did in four seasons in Chicago. Should he continue the trend in his age-30 season -- his birthday is on Sept. 8 -- Floyd will have a trio of seasons of which he can be proud. He'll just have to complete his ankle rehab first.

Javon Hargrave
Philadelphia Eagles · DT
  • QBP: 58
  • QBP rate: 15%
  • Hurries: 22
  • Sacks: 7.5
  • TO-QBP: 3

Hargrave shined in his second season playing alongside Fletcher Cox, earning his first Pro Bowl nod. He posted a career-high 7.5 sacks and three turnovers caused via pressure. Cox capitalized on one of those turnovers, recovering a fumble forced by Hargrave for a touchdown against Dallas in Week 3.

Hargrave operates on the defensive interior, which means he has to fight through more resistance to reach the quarterback on a per-down basis than an edge rusher. Still, he registered a QB pressure percentage of 15, good for seventh-best in the NFL (min. 200 pass-rush snaps). Those three turnovers caused by pressure stand out in comparison to his counterparts on the interior. Philadelphia will carry high hopes for Hargrave and Cox in 2022, while also welcoming first-round selection Jordan Davis. The rookie could learn a thing or two from the veteran DTs.

Aaron Donald
Los Angeles Rams · DT
  • QBP: 64
  • QBP rate: 10.8%
  • Hurries: 43
  • Sacks: 12.5
  • TO-QBP: 1

Donald, who is now the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history, is as consistent as they come and his performance is even more impressive considering the nature of his position. The players in front of him on this list rush from the edge, where they tend to face one-on-one situations against tackles, but Donald is tasked with fighting through the bulkier blockers along the interior. He'll face double and sometimes triple teams, yet he has the strength to take on all of them and still make a difference.

Donald's QB pressure percentage is the lowest of any player on this list, but keep in mind that he plays more snaps than the others by a considerable margin. Still, Donald registered a pressure rate above 10 percent, finishing with 64 total pressures. He pushed through the interior traffic for 12.5 sacks, caused one turnover via pressure, and, well, we know how he impacted the Rams' run to a Super Bowl LVI triumph. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best players to ever play on the defensive side of the ball, plain and simple.

Nick Bosa
San Francisco 49ers · DE
  • QBP: 68
  • QBP rate: 14.7%
  • Hurries: 45
  • Sacks: 15.5
  • TO-QBP: 1

Talk about a bounce-back season. Bosa's 2020 campaign was cut short by a torn ACL suffered in Week 2, but that didn't stop him from making a massive impact for a rejuvenated 49ers club in 2021. Bosa finished fourth in the NFL in total QB pressures (68) and sacks (15.5), and eighth in QB pressure rate (14.7%). The best area for him to improve in 2022: Force more turnovers via pressure. One is a start, but three or four could position him much higher on this list in a year.

Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns · DE
  • QBP: 66
  • QBP rate: 13.6%
  • Hurries: 43
  • Sacks: 16
  • TO-QBP: 3

Garrett should be used to appearing here by now. He finished atop this list in 2019 and was fourth in 2020. He's only a bit lower this year because of the performances of those ranked ahead of him. Garrett still improved, going from 12 sacks in 2020 to 16 in 2021, and he remained in the running for the league lead in sacks until T.J. Watt finished on an incredibly strong note.

Garrett and Nick Bosa were about as close as it gets when it comes to comparable production as pass rushers, and the sole reason he ranks ahead of Bosa -- by the slimmest of margins, mind you -- is because of the plays he made that tend to affect a game the most. Garrett's three turnovers caused by pressure, compared to one for Bosa, stood out as the most significant differentiator in production between the two players. And it's exactly what the Browns have come to expect from Garrett, who makes at least one key play on a weekly basis every season. With his complement on the D-line, Jadeveon Clowney, back in the fold for 2022, we should expect more of the same from Garrett, one of football's best edge-rushing talents.

Yannick Ngakoue
Indianapolis Colts (Raiders in '21) · DE
  • QBP: 71
  • QBP rate: 14.5%
  • Hurries: 49
  • Sacks: 10
  • TO-QBP: 4

Ngakoue posted more sacks than his then-teammate, Maxx Crosby, in 2021, but he wasn't quite as consistent on a per-rush basis. Regardless, this was clearly the best edge-rushing tandem last season, and the Raiders have a chance to hold onto that crown with another premier rusher -- Chandler Jones -- replacing Ngakoue, who was traded to Indianapolis in March.

Ngakoue made his lone season in Las Vegas count, finishing third in QB pressures (71), posting 10 sacks and causing four turnovers via pressure. Ngakoue's sack rate was higher than Crosby's (2% to 1.5%), but he lands two spots below Crosby on this list because of Crosby’s superior volume in pressures and pressure rate.

Micah Parsons
Dallas Cowboys · LB
  • QBP: 59
  • QBP rate: 21.1%
  • Hurries: 36
  • Sacks: 13
  • TO-QBP: 4

Parsons wasn't an every-down rusher -- he was primarily an off-ball linebacker -- which sparks an interesting debate when it comes to this exercise. With less pass-rushing responsibility, Parsons might have benefitted from being assigned to get after the quarterback in more advantageous situations. But the flip side of that argument is the reality that he was rushing less, meaning he had fewer chances to make an impact in that facet of the game. And he certainly maximized those opportunities.

Parsons fell short of the gross totals posted by most of the players listed here when it came to quarterback pressures, but he led the league in quarterback pressure rate at 21.1 percent. He finished with 13 sacks, getting home on 4.7 percent of all pass rushes -- good for third-best in the NFL. Add in the four turnovers caused by pressure, and Parsons proved to be quite the disruptive defender in his rookie season.

Maxx Crosby
Las Vegas Raiders · DE
  • QBP: 82
  • QBP rate: 15.7%
  • Hurries: 53
  • Sacks: 8
  • TO-QBP: 3

Crosby, chosen in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, has been a slam dunk selection. The Eastern Michigan product has 25 sacks through his first three seasons, and after failing to make this list last year, Crosby made sure he didn’t miss out again. He led the NFL in QB pressures, posting a pressure rate north of 15 percent while forcing three turnovers via pressure.

The lone downside to Crosby's statistical resume is his sack total. Crosby was excellent at putting heat on the QB, but he didn't quite get home as much as others on this list. He's still well worth the four-year contract extension he signed in March.

T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers · OLB
  • QBP: 60
  • QBP rate: 16.3%
  • Hurries: 43
  • Sacks: 22.5
  • TO-QBP: 3

Watt tied the all-time single-season sack record in 2021. He was voted Defensive Player of the Year. And he did it despite missing two full games and most of a third.

Watt posted the highest single-season sack rate (6.1%) of the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). Also, he owns the highest sack rate (3.7%) over the duration of the NGS era (min. 1,500 pass-rush snaps). He's more efficient at getting home than any rusher in the history of Next Gen Stats. However, he’s second on this list because a player from a division rival happened to post the fourth-highest QB pressure rate in a single season in NGS history and force five turnovers via pressure in 2021.

Trey Hendrickson
Cincinnati Bengals · DE
  • QBP: 79
  • QBP rate: 19.4%
  • Hurries: 45
  • Sacks: 14
  • TO-QBP: 5

Some in the football world likely saw Hendrickson's breakout 2020 campaign as a fluke, and then raised both eyebrows at the Bengals when they signed him to a four-year, $60 million deal last offseason. In hindsight, that deal looks like a bargain.

Hendrickson followed up his 13.5-sack performance -- which helped him earn the No. 3 spot on this list a year ago -- by registering 79 pressures and 14 sacks. His pressure rate (19.4%) is fourth-best in the NGS era (since 2016). What truly separated Hendrickson from the pack, though, was his ability to cause takeaways. Hendrickson forced five turnovers via pressure, tying with Markus Golden, Randy Gregory, Chandler Jones and Odafe Oweh for the league lead. Only one player from that group had a strong enough body of work to land on this list, and Hendrickson's was good enough to put him at the top of it.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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