Giving Defense Some Respect: A Star for Each AFC Team
(Left: It used to be Aaron Schobel for Buffalo. Who is it now?)
This is a look at each NFL team, starting with the AFC, and digging through the murky waters of mediocrity, while trying to establish each team's best defender.
Each team begins the season with the hopes of stopping the run, getting to the quarterback, and forcing turnovers.
While it usually starts at the line, team's true impact defenders can come from anywhere on the field. The best way to measure a team's "best" defender is usually through forced turnovers, since a player with a ton of tackles doesn't necessarily mean he's a difference-maker.
This list will consist of players that spent 2008 on their present team, excluding any players who have been traded, including rookies from this year's draft class.
This is not a ranking. This is a team-by-team view of each franchise's best current defensive player.
Paul Posluszny, LB, Buffalo Bills
(Left: Posluszny has two games of 10 tackles or more in 09'.)
After sustaining an unfortunate knee injury after just three games in his rookie season, Posluszny rebounded and put forth a great effort in his sophomore season.
He became the face of the Bills defense with 110 tackles, one forced fumble, and one interception.
Close Second: Donte Whitner
Joey Porter, LB, Miami Dolphins
(Left: Porter had 17.5 sacks in 2009.)
Porter erased the 1-15 season from two year's ago, and put forth his best effort in aiding Miami to turn their fortunes around.
With a solid supporting cast on defense, Porter was able to get to the quarterback at will, furthering his mystique as a trash-talker, as well as solidifying himself as one of the best outside pass rushers in the game.
Close Second: Gibril Wilson
Calvin Pace, LB, New York Jets
(Left: Pace has been the most productive Jets defender.)
In two seasons with the Jets, Pace has recorded over 170 tackles and 13.5 sacks. He's proven to be a reliable, wrap-up tackler, as well as solid at putting pressure on the quarterback.
He also had five forced fumbles last season, displaying his knack of being around the ball, as well as being able to lay good, hard hits.
Close Second: Darrelle Revis
Richard Seymour, DE, New England Patriots
(Left: Seymour is an impressive pass rusher for a 3-4 end.)
After having a down season in 2007 with only 1.5 sacks, Seymour jumped back among the elite ends with 8 sacks.
Seymour continued to be the driving force on the Patriots defensive line, as he teamed with Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren to form a great run defense wall, while also still applying pressure on the quarterback.
Better linebacker play could have made Seymour's bounce-back even more substantial.
Close Second: Vince Wilfork
Leon Hall, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
(Left: Hall has developed into a reliable starter for the Bengals.)
After two seasons with Cincy', it's clear that Hall can be left on his own on one side of the field, and he'll have his man under pretty good wraps.
With eight interceptions in his first two seasons, as well as an interception for a touchdown, it's safe to say Hall is a play-maker, as well as solid in coverage.
Close Second: Dhani Jones
D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
(Left: Jackson has improved every season.)
With a career high 154 tackles in 2008, Jackson had progressed for the third straight year, notching his second straight +100-tackle season.
Jackson has also displayed solid ability to get to the quarterback (two sacks), as well as good play-making skills in coverage (three picks).
Close Second: Shaun Rogers
James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
(Left: Harrison has 24.5 sacks in the past two seasons.)
Harrison came out of nowhere two years ago to step in and become a star on Pittsburgh's defense.
Along with his amazing 24.5 sacks in the past two seasons, Harrison has also notched 199 tackles, two interceptions, and 13 forced fumbles.
Throw his interception-return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and you've got yourself a true, budding star.
Close Second: Troy Polamalu
Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
(Left: Few defenders can change a game like Reed.)
With his uncanny return ability, any time the ball is in his hands, there is a chance for something special to happen.
When he picks off nine passes like he did in 2008, that creates a lot of opportunities for magical run-backs and momentum swinging plays.
Reed has an impressive 43 interceptions in his career, but what's even more impressive is the 16 in just the past two seasons.
Over that span, he has three defensive touchdowns, 29 deflected passes, and 80 tackles. Let's just say, not many ball carriers get past Ray Lewis and co.
Close Second: Ray Lewis
Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts
(Left: Freeney is back among the elite.)
After falling off in production in 2006, and missing action with injuries in 2007, Freeney returned to his Pro-Bowl form with 10.5 sacks in 2008.
The Colts had sorely missed his elusive, spinning technique, as well as his leadership on the field.
Close Second: Bob Sanders
Rashean Mathis, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
(Left: Mathis is one of only a handful of impact defenders for Jacksonville.)
After seeing so many solid defenders leave Jacksonville, it's a marvel to notice that a talent like Mathis is still playing under Jack Del Rio (or that Del Rio is still coaching).
Regardless, Mathis is one of the league's best.
He made significant strides in his play-making ability last season, as he nabbed four interceptions, registered a sack, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
He may not get much help from his teammates, but it is clear that Mathis has arrived.
Close Second: John Henderson
Mario Williams, DE, Houston Texans
(Left: Who's better: Williams or Bush?)
It's hard to believe where we are four years after the Texans took Williams over Bush, but can we really be that surprised?
Williams has molded himself into a stud defensive end, as he's tallied 12 and 14 sacks in the past two seasons, while also contributing as a solid run defender.
With seven forced fumbles in his first three seasons, Williams has also learned to use his power and strength in other areas, making him a versatile and extremely productive defender.
Close Second: DeMeco Ryans
Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee Titans
(Left: With Albert Haynesworth gone, Bulluck is the unquestioned new leader.)
Bulluck has seen a dramatic drop in his production in the past two years. He's gone from 144 tackles in 2006, to 88 and 98 the past two seasons.
He's also displayed inconsistent play-making ability, with five interception in 2007, while having only one in 2006, and zero in 2008.
Regardless of the stats, Bulluck is still a consistent overall defender, and is the unquestioned leader of this defense.
Close Second: Cortland Finnegan
Champ Bailey, CB, Denver Broncos
(Left: Still a shut-down corner?)
Bailey hasn't necessarily lost a step-he just hasn't had much help.
Since he's been in Denver, he hasn't had a consistent pass rush to aid him, and he hasn't had a solid corner on the opposite side since Darrant Williams (R.I.P.).
Regardless, Bailey has still been extremely effective, as he recorded 10 interceptions in 2006, and nabbed a total of four in the past two seasons.
Close Second: D.J. Williams
Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
(Left: Johnson now the seasoned veteran.)
Johnson is the type of linebacker who does everything very well, but isn't exactly an elite performer in any one area. However, he's a great team defender.
In the past three seasons, Johnson has notches at least 75 tackles every year, has a combined 10 sacks, three interceptions, and nine forced fumbles.
He isn't approaching Ray Lewis-status anytime soon, but he's easily the Chiefs most consistent and reliable defender.
Close Second: Jarrard Page
Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers
(Left: Merriman should be able to return to form.)
Before his devastating knee injury pulled him out of the 2008 season, Merriman had people talking of Lawrence Taylor and Kevin Greene.
Merriman was displaying the type of explosiveness and rush skills that resembled former Hall of Fame-type players.
With three straight seasons of at least 10 sacks leading into 2008 (including 17 in 2006), Merriman will continue to be a force to be reckoned with if he can return to full health.
Close Second: Antonio Cromartie
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders
(Left: The next Champ Bailey, or better?)
After picking off 10 passes in 2006, Asomugha had to deal with less targets his way. Teams began to catch on to his ball and coverage skills, only allowing him two interceptions in the past two seasons.
It's important to be aware that the number of interceptions doesn't represent the worth of a corner in today's NFL. The only thing that proves anything for a corner is the game tape.
Asomugha effectively shuts down opposing receivers, no matter the skill level, and simply doesn't garner many targets his way due to his ability.
Close Second: Kirk Morrison