An edge rusher in football is a defensive player that rushes the quarterback from the outside of the defensive line. Defensive ends and outside linebackers are two positions considered to be edge rushers.
The name edge rusher is used because these players typically play at the edge (end) of the formation.
Generally speaking, the term edge rusher refers to any player that lines up on the end of the defensive line to rush the passer. This is often defensive ends in a 4-3 defense or outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
To get a better understanding of edge rushers see our guide on winning the edge in football.
An edge rusher will be the furthest outside rusher on any non-blitzing play. These players will usually be one on one versus the offensive tackle on these snaps.
Since they are on the edge of the formation these pass rushers are going to be playing in open space.
This makes it much easier for them to get to the quarterback. For this reason, edge rushers are typically the most effective pass rushers on the Defense.
This is why edge rushers are so heavily valued by teams. These players are often the highest-paid on the defense due to their ability to get to the quarterback.
When it comes to rushing plays edge rushers do not play as large a role as they do in the passing game.
Edge rushers primarily set the edge on rushing plays. This means they will seal their end of the defensive line and not allow the ball carrier to go outside them.
Typically the ball carrier will not be tackled by the edge rusher but instead will be guided back into the middle of the field.
Once in the middle of the field, other players on the defense will be responsible for bringing down the running back.
If the run is to the outside then an edge defender may be responsible for making the tackle. On these running plays, the offensive line will lay a block on the edge defender making it difficult to make the tackle.
Which positions are edge rushers?
Now that we have broken down what an edge rusher is in football you may be wondering what positions play this role on the defense. There are two positions that are primarily considered to be edge rushers.
Defensive ends in a 4-3
Defensive ends in a four-three Defense are considered to be edge rushers. This is because they line up at the end of the formation.
A four-three Defense means there are four defensive linemen and three linebackers.
Since there are four defensive linemen the two defensive ends are going to be on the outside of the formation.
This allows them to rush around the edge on passing plays, for this reason, defensive ends in a four-three formation are considered edge rushers.
Outside linebackers in a 3-4
An outside linebacker in a three-four Defense is the other position that is considered an edge rusher.
In a 3-4 Defense there are only three defensive linemen. For this reason, teams will often rush their outside linebackers at the quarterback.
Since there are four linebackers the outside linebackers will be lined up out wide.
This results in the outside linebackers being considered edge defenders in this formation.