Ranking the top pass-rushers for 2024


When we began our top 10 rankings for 2024 in college football, we started at quarterback, a natural spot given the importance of the position.

This week we turn to the players whose job it is to make the quarterback’s life miserable.

We asked our reporters to rank their top 10 pass-rushers — and the list is as varied as it is impressive. We have a couple of transfers, a mix of veterans and underclassmen and even a pair of teammates.

Points were assigned based on their votes: 10 points for first place, nine for second place and down to one point for 10th place.

Here are the results.

Previous top 10 lists: Receivers | Running backs | Quarterbacks

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2023 stats: 10 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles

Points: 58 (five first-place votes)

Tennessee signed six blue-chippers in its 2022 recruiting class. Pearce wasn’t one of them, but he had a blue-chipper’s offer list — Georgia, Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas and so on — and in only his first season as a regular, he quickly developed into one of the best pass-rushers in the sport. He was seventh nationally with 10 sacks and fifth with 11 sacks created (first pressures on what eventually became sacks). He boasted a 19% pressure rate (third nationally) and created pressure within 2.5 seconds of the snap on 10% of his pass rushes (also third). He brought down the quarterback at least once in eight of 13 games, and he created at least three pressures in eight contests, including five of his last six. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded SEC defensive lineman.

Pearce is listed at a lanky 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, but he proved capable doing damage against the run too, finishing the season with 10 run stops — he was one of only 12 defenders (and one of only two in the SEC) with double-digit run stops and sacks. He is an absolute menace, and as he enters only his third year of college, he might still have more room to develop. — Bill Connelly


2023 stats: 11 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles

Points: 53 (one first-place vote)

When Gillotte announced he was returning to Louisville for another season, the decision sent Cardinals fans rejoicing. Gillotte gives Louisville a bona fide star heading into the 2024 season, a player who has been on a steady upward trajectory since his freshman year in 2021. Gillotte has started 26 games the past two seasons, but last year was his breakout, with 14.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks (his sack total ranked No. 10 nationally). As a result, Gillotte earned first-team All-ACC honors and was a second-team Walter Camp All-American.

Entering this season, Gillotte will head a defense that returns six starters and made significant strides up front as one of the best pass-rushing teams in the ACC. He will be a preseason favorite for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. — Andrea Adelson


2023 stats: 14 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble

Points: 43 (two first-place votes)

Don’t be surprised if Moore is among the most impactful non-quarterback transfers during the 2024 season. He brings elite pass-rushing skills to an ascending Texas defense that enters the SEC needing to replace Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year T’Vondre Sweat and other standouts. Moore shined for UTSA, setting the team record for tackles for loss (18) as a redshirt freshman, then the sacks record with 14 last season, just a half-sack shy of the AAC record. He earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors and had 35.5 tackles for loss, 22 sacks and 3 forced fumbles over the past two seasons with the Roadrunners.

The San Antonio native should fit seamlessly into coordinator Pete Kwiatkowki’s defense, which showed clear improvement in 2023 but had no player eclipse 5.5 sacks. Moore has collected sacks in bunches, recording three or more in three contests last season. He fills an obvious need at Texas, which hasn’t had a player reach 13 sacks since Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013. Moore has room to grow as a run defender, and Texas’ move to the SEC will allow him to sharpen his skills against top competition before a likely move to the NFL. — Adam Rittenberg


2023 stats: 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles

Points: 35

Sawyer said he knew deep down in his heart that it wouldn’t have felt right to leave Ohio State following last season, triggering a return that will give the Buckeyes one of the top defensive end tandems in the country in Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau.

The 6-4, 265-pound Sawyer was ESPN’s No. 1-rated prospect overall in the 2021 signing class and played like it during the second half of last season. He had 5.5 of his 6.5 sacks in his past six games and also racked up eight tackles for loss during that stretch. He spent time during the 2022 season in a hybrid “Jack” linebacker role, but has the burst, size and skills to reach double digits in sacks in 2024 on an Ohio State defensive line that will be loaded. — Chris Low


2023 stats: 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles

Points: 35

Here’s what Bain had going against him in 2023: He was a true freshman. He was splitting time between edge rusher and interior defender. He was on a team that, for the second straight year, felt directionless. It would have been entirely reasonable then to assume Bain would chalk up the season as a learning experience, work to sand off some rough edges and be ready to take the ACC by storm in 2024. Unfortunately for opposing QBs, he wasn’t that patient.

Bain was a force of nature in 2023, racking up 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 forced fumbles and 31 pressures — ninth most in the ACC — en route to being named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. His expected progression in 2024 is one of the reasons Miami believes this season could be a turning point for the Canes. — David Hale


2023 stats: 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble

Points: 30

Rucker is one of the nation’s most experienced pass-rushers, having started games in each of the past four seasons. Although he showed the ability to disrupt quarterbacks early in his career, he didn’t have a true breakout year until 2023, when he collected 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries. He led UNC in all three categories and earned second-team All-ACC honors, while ranking seventh nationally in total quarterback pressures with 41. Rucker opened the 2023 season with a career performance, recording 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in a win over South Carolina. He enters his final season with 16 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 28 career starts.

An unheralded three-star recruit out of Georgia, Rucker gives new Tar Heels defensive coordinator Geoff Collins a proven star off the edge in 2024. Nicknamed “The Butcher,” Rucker has become a bigger factor against the run and posted a career-high 61 tackles, 24 more than in any other season, in 2023. At 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds, Rucker is a bit undersized but makes up for it with his technique and savvy in pursuing quarterbacks. He will be one of the ACC’s most recognizable defenders entering the fall. — Rittenberg


2023 stats: 5.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles

Points: 26

There’s no argument against Perkins’ otherworldly pass-rush skills. He burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2022, holding his coming-out party in a 13-10 win over Arkansas in which he racked up four sacks and effectively shut down the Hogs’ offense single-handedly. Big things were expected of Perkins’ sophomore campaign, but the results were mixed. He continued to be a force off the edge, racking up 5.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and recorded an impressive 16% pressure rate when rushing the quarterback.

But Perkins struggled badly against the run and often became a nonfactor on defense when playing inside. LSU has suggested it plans to use him inside again this season as Perkins works to become a more well-rounded defender. How much that takes away from his biggest strength as a pass-rusher remains to be seen, but the bottom line is inarguable: When Perkins is set loose on the passer, good things happen for LSU’s defense. — Hale


2023 stats: 5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss

Points: 23

A swarm of talented Ohio State players elected to return for the 2024 season, and Tuimoloau was at the top of that list. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, and at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, he has the strength and power to overwhelm opposing offensive tackles. Tuimoloau’s length makes it difficult for quarterbacks to throw over him, and he’s always a threat to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.

He was second on the team to returning defensive end cohort Jack Sawyer last season with five sacks and led the Buckeyes with six quarterback hurries. This will be Tuimoloau’s fourth season in the program, and as he said himself, the Buckeyes have “athletes everywhere” on defense. — Low


2023 stats: 7 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss

Points: 19

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin went to work in the transfer portal to remake his entire roster, and one of the best players he brought in has the ability to elevate an already stout defense that likes to be aggressive. Umanmielen was a force as an edge rusher at Florida last season, earning second-team All-SEC honors with 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

But it is safe to say we probably have not seen the best of him just yet. His career numbers might say otherwise, but in the defensive scheme he is entering, Umanmielen is capable of putting up the best numbers of his career. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Umanmielen uses his large frame to his advantage. But his former Florida coaches also raved about his lower body control, allowing him the leverage to stay balanced and make plays. — Adelson


2023 stats: 9.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles

Points: 18

When a former blue-chipper leaves his original school in search of a new opportunity (and maybe a bit more playing time), this is how you hope things turn out. After starting five games and recording three sacks at Florida in 2022, Powell-Ryland moved to Blacksburg and went off. He finished second in the ACC in sacks (9.5), first in individual sack rate (3.9%) and third in pressure rate (14.6%). He was third nationally with three forced fumbles from sacks. He had one of the most incredible games you’ll see from a pass-rusher in Tech‘s 30-13 win over Wake Forest in October, recording six pressures and four sacks in just 29 pass-rush attempts. He had four more pressures and two more sacks the next week against Syracuse.

Despite being a bit on the smaller side (6-3, 246), Powell-Ryland, who hails from the Portsmouth, Virginia, proved solid in run support too, recording eight run stops and finishing the season with 15 total tackles for loss. Even better, he’s returning for another season and will anchor one of the most experienced defenses in the country. — Connelly

Also receiving votes: Patrick Payton, Florida State (17); Elijah Roberts, SMU (15); Jah Joyner, Minnesota (11); Anthony Hill Jr., Texas (10); Deontae Lawson, Alabama (8); Mykel Williams, Georgia (8); Landon Jackson, Arkansas (7); Tyler Baron, Louisville (5); Jordan Burch, Oregon (4); Josaiah Stewart, Michigan (4); Jasheen Davis, Wake Forest (3); R.J. Oben, Notre Dame (3); Aeneas Peebles, Virginia Tech (2); Barryn Sorrell, Texas (2); Maxwell Hairston, Kentucky (1)



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