In an NFL so dependent upon the pass, defenses rely on pass rush specialists to disrupt the flow of opponents’ passing games. Teams that are able to pressure quarterbacks into poor decisions are usually the ones that continue on to the postseason. Last year, it was Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald who led the league in sacks with 20.5. Normally, league leaders are defensive ends or pass rushing outside linebackers.
In 2019, it’s possible another defensive tackle could lead the league in sacks. In fact, online sportsbooks favor a repeat performance by Donald. Here’s a look at the candidates to lead the NFL in sacks in 2019.
J.J. WATT – HOUSTON If there has been one constant over the past eight NFL seasons, it is Watt’s presence among league sack leaders. Watt led the NFL twice – 2012 and 2015 – and twice has eclipsed the 20-sack mark (2012 & 2014). Watt suffered through the 2016 and ’17 seasons playing in only eight games total due to injury. Back at full strength last season, Watt returned to form playing in all 16 games and recording 16 sacks, second in the league.
Heading into his ninth season, Watt (+350) may be heading into the twilight of his career. Still, he is one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, and rightfully so. He has 92 sacks in his career and has won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. If Watt stays healthy, he will have a shot at another sack title.
KHALIL MACK – CHICAGO Mack has an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award to his credit but has only finished among the top five in sacks in one of his five NFL seasons. Last year, his first in Chicago, Mack totaled 12.5 sacks. The Bears led the NFL in scoring defense (17.7 ppg) and tied for third in sacks (50). It’s no surprise that the Bears returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Expect more of the same from Mack (+550) in 2019. The Bears did lose defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (the new head coach in Denver) but veteran Chuck Pagano replaces him. Mack’s highest season sack total came in his second year in the NFL (2015) when he had 15. It will take a few more than that to lead the league. Can Mack get there?
BRADLEY CHUBB – DENVER Chubb was the fifth overall pick in last year’s NFL draft and proved he was well worth it. The former N.C. State star started all 16 games for the Broncos and recorded 12 sacks and had 21 hits on opposing quarterbacks. Chubb’s play will elevate even more in Year 2 as Vic Fangio takes over as Denver head coach. Fangio is one of the league’s great defensive minds and will undoubtedly take advantage of the Von Miller-Chubb defensive duo.
Miller, who had 14.5 sacks last year, is given +900 odds to lead the league in sacks this season. While offenses gear up to slow down Miller, Chubb (+1400) may quietly sneak up the sack chart from his defensive end position.
CHRIS JONES – KANSAS CITY The 6-6, 310-pound Jones came into his own last year finishing third in the NFL with 15.5 sacks. He did skip the Chiefs’ OTAs and minicamp in the hopes of signing a new, more lucrative deal. Consider that Jones reached 15.5 sacks last season in former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense. This year, Jones will play for veteran DC Steve Spagnuolo. Plus, he will have the benefit of having DE Frank Clark – a free agent signing from Seattle – on the outside demanding attention. Jones could easily reach and surpass what he did a year ago.
AARON DONALD – L.A. RAMS Over the past 29 seasons, no player has repeated as the NFL sack champion. Donald’s feat last season was amazing considering he played defensive tackle. NFL coaches are smart and while Donald will surely get his share of sacks in 2019, don’t expect him to lead the league. He is the odds-on favorite (+240) to win the title again, but it’s too much of a rarity.
Since the league began tracking sacks, only two players have ever led the league in sacks in consecutive seasons. New York Jets DE Mark Gastineau did it in 1983-84 and the Eagles Reggie White did it in ’88-’89. No player since has repeated.
PREDICTION While Donald is the safe pick, he will not repeat. Watt will likely dominate again, but at 30 years old he may finish in the top-5. He’s just not winning it all. Some intriguing possibilities include the Bosa brothers, Joey and Nick. Joey (+1400) had double-digit totals his first two seasons, but played in just six games last year and had 5.5 sacks. His brother, a rookie, checks in at +5000 to lead the league. Both may have big numbers, but not enough to lead the NFL.
So, who will it be? What of Chandler Jones (+1200) who has 10-plus sacks in each of the past five seasons? There’s some value there, but there is much more in the other Jones. Chris Jones. He can line up anywhere on the defensive front and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. In a new scheme with an elite defensive end alongside, Jones will surpass his total from last year and lead the NFL in sacks.