2010-2019 NFL All-Decade Defense
Welcome to second edition of the two-part series featuring the All-Decade Team for the next 10 years. (Here's Part 1: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/353537-2010-2019-nfl-all-decade-offense.)
Defense wins championships, so who will be the best players on that side of the ball?
Who will be the Ray Lewis of the decade? Who will be the next Jason Taylor, Kevin Williams, and Derrick Brooks? The next Champ Bailey, Ed Reed, and Brian Dawkins?
The stars of tomorrow are young today. Some may not be stars; some may not even be in the pros yet. In fact, five of the 12 players I selected are all coming out in the draft this year—with a couple "also considereds" also not yet pro.
My picks will follow the format of the SI All-Decade Team. With positions such as DE, DT, and OLB—where the base formation leads to differences in how the position is played—I selected one 4-3 player and 3-4 player:
2 DE (One 4-3 DE and one 3-4 DE)
2 DT (One 4-3 DT and one 3-4 NT)
2 OLB (One 4-3 OLB and one 3-4 OLB)
The fun part is that these picks are based on potential and speculation. If you have any comments or criticisms, feel free to comment. If you like all my picks, click "like" to let me know. But please don't leave comments like "You're terrible, these make no sense," or something along those lines. Lets try for something a little more constructive, huh?
Defensive End: Mario Williams, 25, Houston Texans
Williams, the man chosen as the first overall pick over Reggie Bush and Vince Young, has been worth the selection. Through his first four years, he has 39.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles—which includes only 4.5 sacks his rookie year. Excluding that season, Williams averages 11.67 sacks a year.
At the combine, coming out of N.C. State, Williams had perhaps the best physical characteristics of any player ever. Measuring in at 6'6" and 295 pounds, Williams ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 35 reps.
He made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in 2007 and 2008, with 14 and 12 sacks, respectively. He also made the Pro Bowl in 2009 after registering nine sacks.
Williams is one of those rare specimens that can just dominate a game. He will begin his decline as the decade wanes, but he'll put up great numbers throughout his career—especially as the Texans continue to improve on defense.
Defensive End: Calais Campbell, 23, Arizona Cardinals
I think it's safe to say that the young DEs in the game are relatively weak. You look at the past few drafts, and names like Aaron Maybin, Derrick Harvey, Tyson Jackson, Jamaal Anderson, and Jarvis Moss stand out. What have they done? Nothing. It makes it even harder to pick a 3-4 DE, who plays possibly the most underappreciated position on the field.
Campbell, although he plays 3-4 DE, got himself seven sacks this past season. He's become a key player on that defensive line, as we saw the results of limited playing time against Green Bay in the wild card round of the playoffs because of his thumb injury. He's a monster at 6'8" and 290 pounds, and he can disrupt the passing and running games. In a relatively weak DE class, he stands alone.
Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Justin Tuck, New York Giants
Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech University
Jason Pierre-Paul, University of South Florida
Defensive Tackle: B.J. Raji, 23, Green Bay Packers
Raji is my pick for 3-4 NT of the decade. Like the DE position, I found it relatively weak in young players. Most of the great guys out there—Vince Worfolk, Casey Hampton, and Jay Ratliff—are at least in their late 20s and too old to make the list.
Raji missed a lot of his rookie year battling injuries, but as the season progressed, he began to show glimpses of the talent that made the Packers take him No. 9 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
He's huge at 6'2" and 330 pounds, but he plays with surprising agility and quickness. His burst off the line allows him to get leverage on offensive linemen and penetrate into the backfield.
Currently a role player rotating between NT and DE, Raji will take over for Ryan Pickett when the time is right, as he has the prototypical size and skill set to be a great NT in the league for years to come.
Dan Williams, University of Tennessee
Terrence Cody, University of Alabama
Cam Thomas, University of North Carolina
Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh, 23, Nebraska Cornhuskers (NCAA)
The first college player on the list, Ndamukong Suh is perhaps the best defensive talent available in years—contested only by a player who will be named later at safety.
While some people think that defensive tackles aren't game-changers and shouldn't be taken high, Suh has some solid arguments—particularly his four sacks in the Big 12 championship game against Texas.
Suh was the first defensive player ever to win AP Player of the Year—and he won every college football award available to him.
He's been dubbed the next Warren Sapp without the attitude questions, as he's huge at 6'4" and 307 pounds, but he proved his athleticism at the combine with his record-setting vertical leap. He's going to be a force at the next level in the run and rushing the quarterback.
Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints
Gerald McCoy, University of Oklahoma
Brian Price, University of California-Los Angeles
Outside Linebacker: Brian Orakpo, 23, Washington Redskins
This was a difficult choice—between Clay Matthews of the Packers and Orakpo. In the end, I chose Orakpo because he has more potential to be a dominant pass rusher, as he was a college DE while Matthews was a LB.
Orakpo may be the best combine "workout warrior" to pan out in the pros. At the combine, he benched 31 reps of 225 pounds and ran a 4.63 40-yard dash. He benches 515 and squats 600. Needless to say, he is a beast.
As a rookie, he registered 11 sacks and was the only rookie selected for the NFC Pro Bowl team. He's got a bright future as a pass rusher.
Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
Lamarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
Elvis Dumervil, Denver Broncos
Brandon Graham, University of Michigan
Outside Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon, 22, Missouri Tigers (NCAA)
For my two outside linebacker picks, I went with one 3-4 OLB and one 4-3 OLB because they're completely different positions. In any case, Weatherspoon might be drafted to play ILB in a 3-4 scheme, but I think that would be a severe underutilization of his skills.
Weatherspoon is a beast at LB. His size isn't ideal (6'1", 239 pounds), but he was fantastic at the combine, running a 4.68 (timed as low as 4.52) 40-yard dash and outlifting all but four linemen with 34 reps of 225 pounds.
He was the vocal leader of the North team at the Senior Bowl because he's a great leader. He's got all the intangibles needed to succeed at the next level, and the combine showed us he's got the physical prowess, too.
Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks
Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
Keith Rivers, Cincinnati Bengals
Ernie Sims, Detroit Lions
Bruce Carter, University of North Carolina
Inside Linebacker: Patrick Willis, 24, San Francisco 49ers
Willis has quickly emerged as the best inside linebacker in the NFL. He has incredible speed, running a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine on a partially torn ACL.
His rookie year, he led the NFL in tackles with 174 and took home the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, also earning a Pro Bowl berth and a First Team All-Pro selection. The next two years earned him two more Pro Bowls and two more All-Pro selections, and he led the league in tackles again in his third year. He's been the NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year twice.
And he's only 24.
Inside Linebacker: Rolando McClain, 20, Alabama Crimson Tide (NCAA)
Here's what scouts are saying about McClain: "For the 31 teams that missed out on Patrick Willis, here's your second chance." McClain is a sideline-to-sideline tackler with incredible strength, speed, and size.
His junior year, McClain not only led the Crimson Tide to a national championship, but he also took home every award available (besides the ones Ndamukong Suh snagged), including the Jack Lambert Award and Dick Butkus Award, which go to the top college linebackers. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was a First Team All-American.
McClain's age makes him a particularly good pick. Because he's only 20, he most likely won't even be declining at the end of the decade.
Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
Paul Poluszny, Buffalo Bills
Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Laurinitis, St. Louis Rams
Greg Jones, Michigan State University
Cornerback: Darrell Revis, 24, New York Jets
Revis may be a bit old to be on this list, as corners tend to have relatively short productive careers, but I didn't find anyone else who could take his place. There's really not much to be said about him here: If you watched any ESPN this year, you heard analysts raving about Revis at some point.
He finished second behind Charles Woodson in the Defensive Player of the Year voting this past season, and Jets coach Rex Ryan called his season "the most impact a corner has ever had in the National Football League." Deion Sanders said Revis would be "the best corner in the game for years."
Cornerback: Joe Haden, 20, Florida Gators (NCAA)
Haden's stock is slipping because of the combine, and it actually made me rethink his position on this team. Domonique Rodger-Cromartie was a close second, but in the end, I left him out because he's more undisciplined than I would like.
Haden plays a lot faster than his 40-yard dash time of 4.57 would indicate, and I don't see him slipping too far. He's played all 40 games when he was on the roster at Florida, as he was the first true freshman to start on opening day ever for UF.
He's got pretty much standard size for a CB, and he's quite young at only 20 years old. He'll be an immediate starter for whatever team takes him— whether it's the Browns at No. 7 or if he slips.
Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona Cardinals
Mike Jenkins, Dallas Cowboys
Antoine Cason, San Diego Chargers
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
Kyle Wilson, Boise State University
Safety: Eric Berry, 21, Tennessee Volunteers (NCAA)
Enter the last college player on the list. There's not much that can be said about Berry that can't be explained through his countless awards and records. He leaves Tennessee after his junior year as the active NCAA leader in interceptions, interception return yards, and interception return touchdowns.
He was the AP Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2007 and AP Defensive Sophomore of the Year the following season. He won the Jack Tatum Award in 2008 and 2009, and he was a unanimous First Team All-American selection in those years.
He was a member of the ESPN High School All-Decade Team and the Sports Illustrated College Football All-Decade Team. It only made sense he'd be on the next in line.
Safety: Louis Delmas, 22, Detroit Lions
This choice came down to Kenny Phillips or Delmas. I was leaning toward Phillips, but ultimately, the potential long-term effects of his injury scared me into picking the Lions rookie.
Detroit turned around its poor drafting ways last season—using its first round on two players considered for the offensive All-Decade Team, and its second-round pick on an up-and-coming star.
Delmas was perhaps already the best defensive player on the Lions roster last season, and he'll only continue to improve. With the Lions looking to improve on defense again with the aforementioned Ndamukong Suh, that will only open things up for Delmas and the rest of the Lions defensive backs.
Kenny Phillips, New York Giants
Brandon Meriweather, New England Patriots
Jarius Byrd, Buffalo Bills
Earl Thomas, University of Texas
Taylor Mays, University of Southern California
Tyrell Johnson, Minnesota Vikings