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The 6 Best Defensive Players on the New England Patriots' Roster

Oliver ThomasContributor IJanuary 27, 2012

The 6 Best Defensive Players on the New England Patriots' Roster

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    The New England Patriots' defense was considered the laughingstock of the NFL during the regular season.

    But who's laughing now?

    The NFL's most elite defenses are sitting at home on their couches.

    Meanwhile, the Pats' 31st ranked defense is headed to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI where they will face the New York Giants' 27th ranked D.

    So much for the saying, "defense wins championships."

    With guys like Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater contributing on both sides of the ball, this team has overcome all odds. Not many other franchises possess players with such versatility.

    Without a doubt, New England's defense has pulled together during this playoff run. If it weren't for crucial stops by this defensive unit, then the Patriots would not be vying for another Lombardi Trophy.

    Although these men have had their ups and downs, they remain critical to this team's success.

    Here are the Patriots' six most valuable defensive players.

6. Mark Anderson, Defensive End

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    In August, many questioned whether or not Mark Anderson could turn his once-promising career around.

    As a Chicago Bears rookie in 2006, Anderson was all over the quarterback, amassing 12 sacks and four forced fumbles.

    Unfortunately, Anderson couldn't return to his rookie form in subsequent seasons and needed a fresh start.

    It's safe to say that Anderson has outdone himself in New England. This season, No. 95 accumulated 10 sacks and forced two fumbles.

    In wake of Andre Carter's season-ending leg injury, Anderson has proven to be just what this team needed—a true pass rusher.

    This Alabama alum is a difference maker for the Pats. On any given play, he can break into the backfield and pressure the QB.

    Therefore, Mark Anderson is the sixth best player on the Patriots' defense.

5. Devin McCourty, Cornerback

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    Despite Devin McCourty's sophomore slump, he is still one of the best players on the Patriots' defense.

    This year, McCourty had 87 tackles and two interceptions. Yet the bad has overshadowed the good—No. 32 has gotten burned deep on countless occasions.

    The 5'10" cornerback out of Rutgers has faced tough matchups all season from players like Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson. However, there is reason to believe that McCourty will hit his stride eventually.

    After all, as a rookie in 2011, McCourty picked off seven passes and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.

    Devin McCourty is still the most skilled player in New England's secondary, and that's why he's fifth on this list.

4. Rob Ninkovich, Linebacker

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    Rob Ninkovich doesn't do anything spectacular, but he sure does everything well.

    The outside linebacker from Purdue is a classic Bill Belichick player. Coach Belichick is a firm believer that grit outweighs talent.

    Ninkovich's playing style is proof of that sentiment.

    Whenever No. 50 is on the field, his will to win strikes resemblance to ex-Patriots like Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel.

    He may not be the most flashy guy on the defensive side of the ball, but his effort speaks volumes.

    This season, Ninkovich had 74 tackles, six-and-a-half sacks, two interceptions, and one touchdown.

    Like it or not, Rob Ninkovich is a top four player on the Patriots defense.

3. Andre Carter, Defensive End

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    Andre Carter was placed on injured reserve after suffering a serious leg injury against Denver in Week 15.

    Prior to the unfortunate injury, Carter was an absolute force on the defensive line this season. Carter had 52 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in just 14 games.

    The under-appreciated veteran discovered the fountain of youth here in New England and was even voted to his first Pro Bowl.

    Regardless of his health, Andre Carter played like a man possessed. No. 93 justified why he is a top three player on the Patriots' D.

2. Jerod Mayo, Linebacker

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    The Patriots have little regret after drafting Jerod Mayo with the 10th pick back in the 2008 NFL Draft.

    The middle linebacker out of Tennessee has collected many accolades during his first four seasons as a pro. Mayo was the 2008 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and a 2010 NFL All-Pro. In 2010, Mayo even led the league in tackles.

    This season, Mayo played in 14 games—in which he had 95 tackles, one sack and a forced a fumble. Mayo even managed to snag his first two picks as a pro.

    Mayo is a leader on this defense. His excellent production through his first few years in this league has been invaluable for the Pats.

    Jerod Mayo is a very deserving runner-up on this list.

1. Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle

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    Big Vince Wilfork is the pride and joy of New England's defense.

    His outstanding play throughout this season is one of the reasons why the Pats are playing in the Super Bowl.

    This season, Wilfork collected 52 tackles, three-and-a-half sacks, a forced fumble and two unforgettable interceptions.

    Watching No. 75 return a pick is one of the most entertaining things you will ever see in sports. There's nothing like watching a 325-pound man run with the football and stiff-arm would-be tacklers.

    But in all seriousness, Wilfork is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He is in constant pursuit of the ball-carrier and is always looking to disrupt the offense.

    There's no question about it, Vince Wilfork is the best player on the Patriots' defense.

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