The series grading all the units continues after a hiatus to cover the draft and free agency. It now moves to the defense, and will be focused on 2009, not the outlook for 2010.
Cullen Jenkins: A
Jenkins defied the odds as a 3-4 lineman, actually appearing on the stat sheet. He recorded a solid 23 tackles and nine assists, but managed a whopping 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and even picked off a pass.
Only three linemen in a 3-4 accumulated more sacks, and no one made as much of an impact in either fumbles forced or picks. Jenkins was also able to apply consistent pressure even when he did not reach the quarterback.
Johnny Jolly: A-
Jolly had an incredible season. Not only was he on the field for virtually all of the team's snaps, but he applied pressure and made plays despite playing in a defense designed for linemen to occupy blockers and allow linebackers to accumulate stats.
Jolly led the unit with 24 tackles and 15 assists, forced a fumble, recovered two, and had a sack. His interception in the red zone against the Chicago Bears helped maintain a lead in a game wherein a touchdown would have made the difference, and necessitated hands that few wide receivers possess. And he was fantastic at batting down passes, leading all NFL defensive linemen in passes defensed with an astonishing 11—four more than the next best.
Ryan Pickett: B
While Pickett was sometimes rested in favour of B.J. Raji—especially on passing downs—the reality is there is no player as responsible for run stuffing as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Yet no team allowed fewer rushing yards than the Packers, and only one team had fewer yards per carry.
Pickett was the epitome of the guy that does not appear on the stat sheet: He had 22 tackles and 11 assists, but did not record a sack or force a fumble, yet he may be the third best pure nose tackle in the game.