In my last article, I listed the top 5 offensive skill players at each position. I compiled the list based off of players? statistics, playoff performances and the players overall impact on the game while he is on the field. For this article, I am going to try and do the same for the defensive side of the ball. However, this is going to be a lot tougher because other than sacks for defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers, defensive stats aren?t going to tell the whole story. (Even the number of sacks for those positions only tells half of the story) So bare with me, I don?t have access to hours and hours of game film to base my list off of.
1. Patrick Willis SF- This man is an absolute beast. He is the whole package when it comes to being a linebacker. He has size, strength and tremendous speed at that position. The one time a year I actually get to watch a 49ners game, I enjoy watching Willis do his thing.
2. Ray Lewis BAL- At the age of 35, Ray Lewis seemingly has not lost a step. He is still as scary to opposing offenses as he was back in 2000-01 when he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship. Not to mention he probably is the most inspirational leader on the planet. I would follow that man into battle any day of the week.
3. Brian Urlacher CHI- Urlacher dislocated his wrist in the 2009 season opener and as a result missed the remained of the season. But when healthy, he has been a staple of the vaunted Bears defense of years past.
4. Jon Beason CAR- Just another player in a long line of great Miami Hurricanes to make a big impact on the NFL level.
5. Karlos Dansby MIA- Dansby just always seems to be in the right place at the right time, just ask Aaron Rodgers.
1. DeMarcus Ware DAL- Ware is an excellent athlete who is great at everything he does on the field. He gets after the quarterback extremely well (he had 20 sacks in the 2008 season) and is just as effective playing the run. Not to mention he makes all of the players around him better by drawing double teams.
2. James Harrison PIT- Harrison is a very close second to Ware. He is a playmaker who is a turnover machine. He played just as much a part in winning the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII as Santonio Holmes did.
3. Elvis Dumervil DEN- Besides having one of the best names in the NFL, Dumervil thrived in Denver?s new 3-4 scheme. He played a huge role in turning around what was a lackluster defense the previous season.
4. Terrell Suggs BAL- Suggs is a versatile outside linebacker who fills in against the run and gets after the quarterback. In last season?s playoffs, Suggs sacked Tom Brady and recovered a fumble in the dismantling of Tom Brady and the Patriots.
5. Lance Briggs CHI- Briggs is the only OLB on this list to play in a base 4-3 defense. That should speak to the type of player this man is. He doesn?t have the opportunity to put up big sack numbers like the others, but he still manages to get tons of respect around the league
1. Darrelle Revis NYJ- This man is unquestionably the best cornerback in the game. Last year alone he managed to shut down some of the most elite receivers in the game including Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (twice), Roddy White, Chad Ochocinco (twice) and Marques Colston. Pay the man Jets.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha OAK- Next to Revis, he is the best shutdown corner in the league. He shuts down one half of the field every time he steps onto the turf.
3. Charles Woodson GB- Woodson is coming off of being named first team all-pro and winning the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. At 33 years old, Woodson is aging like a fine wine and there has yet to be a decline in his play.
4. Champ Bailey DEN- Only a few years ago, Bailey was considered the best cornerback in the game, however at 32, his play has slightly declined and as a result has allowed young players such as Revis and Asomugha to surpass him.
5. Asante Samuel PHI- Samuel is a true ball hawk. In his short seven year career he has 35 career interceptions including 4 returned for touchdowns.
1. Troy Polamalu PIT- Lately, it seems Polamalu has been bitten by the injury bug, but leave no doubt about it. When he is healthy, he is the most dominant safety in the game. His ability to cover ground and fill in on the run is unmatched by any safety in the game.
2. Ed Reed BAL- I know Reed will start the season on the PUP list and won?t be able to play until week 7 against the Buffalo Bills, but it didn?t seem right to have a list of the top safeties in the league and leave him off of it. When healthy, Reed is the best playmaker in the business. He has 46 career interceptions and 6 defensive touchdowns.
3. Adrian Wilson ARI- I don?t know if there is a bigger hitting safety in the league. Wilson strikes fear into any receiver who wants to go over the middle. He is one of only a few players to have over 20 career interceptions and over 20 career sacks.
4. Darren Sharper NO- He was a key piece to a Saints defense that relied on forcing turnovers. At 34 years of age, Sharper has lost a step but has more than made up for it with his knowledge of the game.
5. Antoine Bethea IND- He is a young, up and coming safety that has been a bright spot for the Colts, as Bob Sanders has been unable to stay on the field lately.
1. Jared Allen MIN- This man has a relentless motor and the best sack celebration in the NFL. I think Aaron Rodgers is still having nightmares about Allen.
2. Dwight Freeney IND- Freeney is an athletic freak. At the draft combine he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, had a 39-inch vertical leap and did 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Add that athletic ability to a sick spin move and you have 84 career sacks in 8 seasons.
3. Julius Peppers CHI- This former UNC basketball player is another defensive end who qualifies as an athletic freak. At 6-7 283lbs, Peppers has the ability to dominate a game at will. However, some experts have questioned his motor and wonder why he is dominant on a consistent basis.
4. Mario Williams HOU- I know this is going to sound redundant, but he too falls under the category of an athletic freak. Williams is equipped with great size and speed which he uses to dominate opposing offensive tackles.
5. Haloti Ngata BAL- Ngata, like lance Briggs, is one of a kind in this group. He is the only defensive end in this group who plays primarily in a 3-4 defense. He is a mountain of a man at 6-4 340lbs, who is a load to handle. He doesn?t have the opportunity to accumulate stats like these other defensive ends but that doesn?t stop him from getting respect around the league. He is the reason that a guy like Ray Lewis is allowed to run unblocked towards the play.
1. Kevin Williams MIN- You are going to hear this a lot with this list of players, this man is a monster in the middle. Kevin Williams teamed up with Pat Williams makes it almost impossible to run against the Vikings defense.
2. Jay Ratliff DAL- Ratliff is coming off of being selected first-team All-Pro. In the past 2 seasons, he has accumulated 13.5 sacks which is practically unheard of from a defensive tackle in a 3-4 scheme. (also known as a nose tackle) Typically, those tackles job is to occupy space and allow the linebackers to make the play, but in Ratliff?s case, he causes havoc in the backfield and gets pressure on the QB.
3. Vince Wilfork NE- Wilfork, who is a prototypical nose tackle, is a one man wrecking crew for the Patriots defense. He occupies 2 offensive linemen at all times and allows guys like Jerod Mayo to make the play
4. Kris Jenkins NYJ- When healthy, Jenkins is a beast for the Jets. He is 6-5 390lbs, and plays with an attitude. Unfortunately for the Jets, Jenkins was placed on the IR and unable to play in the playoffs. I can?t imagine how good the Jets defense will be nest season with a healthy Jenkins
5. Shaun Rogers CLE- Rogers gets my vote for the scariest dude in the NFL. At 6-4 350, Rogers has incredible size and is surprisingly athletic. It seems the only thing stopping Rogers from being a Star in the league is the unfortunate situations Rogers has been a part of. He spent 7 seasons in Detroit and is approaching his third season with the lowly Browns.