Make no mistake about it: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If you don’t have a franchise player at that position, the odds of your team struggling and not making the playoffs are incredibly high.

On defense, solidifying the pass-rush position, whether it be a defensive end or outside linebacker in the 3-4, is almost of equal importance. Every general manager, head coach and personnel director searches colleges and universities throughout the country to find the next Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan or Julius Peppers.

With today’s athletic and mobile quarterbacks, and the NFL shifting to a pass-first league, defensive coordinators covet the edge players that can rush the passer. In the NFL, there is an unwritten slogan, a bottom line to winning: “Protect your quarterback and go hurt theirs.”

It is a must that defenses have versatile players off the edge who can rush the passer with consistent pressure via knockdowns or sacks. Other attributes include the ability to stack and control the point of attack vs. the run, and having the defensive end able to sink inside on passing situations to force pressure from the inside. Effective pass-rush skills also provide a great bonus.

Finding these players in any round is difficult, regardless of the defensive scheme (4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker). The data listed below is a snap shot of time, detailing the total number of sacks and games played by the best pass rushers among the first 20 selections of the first round from 2000-2010.

While the common benchmark for running backs is 1,000-plus yards, for a defensive end it is 10 sacks. The players in bold have produced at a particularly high level and, in most cases, achieved All-Pro status and several Pro Bowl appearances.

Year Pick Player Team Years of Service Sacks College

2010 15 Jason Pierre-Paul NYG 2010 4.5 South Florida

2008 2 Chris Long STL 2008-2010 17.5 Virginia

2007 4 Gaines Adams TB/CHI 2007-2009 13.5 Clemson

2006 1 Mario Williams HOU 2006-2010 48.0 N.C. State

2006 13 Kamerion Wimbley CLE/OAK 2006-2010 35.5 Florida State

2006 20 Tamba Hali KC 2006-2010 41.5 Penn State

2004 18 Will Smith NOR 2004-2010 55.0 Ohio State

2003 18 Calvin Pace ARI/NYJ 2003-2010 34.5 Wake Forest

2002 2 Julius Peppers CAR/CHI 2002-2010 89.0 North Carolina

2002 11 Dwight Freeney IND 2002-2010 94.0 Syracuse

2001 4 Justin Smith CIN 2001-2010 65.0 Missouri

2001 6 Richard Seymour NE/OAK 2001-2010 48.5 Georgia

2001 7 Andre Carter SF/WSH 2001-2010 66.0 California

2000 12 Shaun Ellis NYJ 2000-2010 72.5 Tennessee

2000 13 John Abraham NYJ/ATL 2000-2010 102.5 South Carolina