Clay Matthews: Why the Packers LB Is Not the Best Defensive Player in the NFL

Matt SmithContributor IIIJuly 7, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Troy Polamalu 17, Clay Matthews 15.

While those two were the top players in the Defensive Player of the Year voting and received those amounts of votes, neither is the best defensive player in the NFL.

In fact, one of those players is barely ranked in the top five of defensive players in the NFL. And that player is the person in discussion: Clay Matthews.

So, to get off to a start, let's rank the top 10 defensive players in the NFL according to me.

1. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore

2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas

3. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh

4. Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco

T-5. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay

T-5. Darrelle Revis, CB, NYJ

7. James Harrison, OLB, Steelers

8. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland

9. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore

10. Haloti Ngata, DL, Baltimore

As you can see, Matthews is a fringe top-five player while Polamalu is in the top three.

But according to these rankings, neither is the best defensive player in the NFL. So all the fans who cried foul when Polamalu beat out Matthews are wrong.

Let's examine the players before Matthews one by one.

Though ranked Polamalu ahead of Reed in their defensive player rankings, I'm willing to argue Reed is the better player.

Despite missing six games to injury, Reed amassed eight interceptions. He was on pace for 13 INTs, something that would've swayed voters his way had he played the whole season. Reed's ball-hawking skills are unmatched at the safety position and is a game changer every time he's on the field. Knowing where he is is a must for QBs.

Then we have DeMarcus Ware, who beat out Matthews for the top OLB spot. Ware is a freakish athlete who has natural pass-rushing skills. Matthews has the higher motor, but Ware can do anything he is asked and is the golden standard for pass rushing linebackers in this league.

Though some rank him higher, I'm content to place Polamalu above Matthews because of the way he changes the opposing offense. Matthews brings his pass rushing skills and is at some times unstoppable, but offensive coordinators change their entire game for Polamalu.

Patrick Willis, who I ranked No. 4, is your ideal middle linebacker. He's explosive and a superior athlete. His 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Combine makes him one of the fastest at his position. Willis is the best pass rushing player from his position and continues to improve every year. Any improvement from the most well rounded player at his position could make him beyond scary.

Then we have Matthews and Revis tied. Revis can take away an entire side of the field, but that is avoidable by throwing away from there. Matthews can impact both the run and the pass game with his amazing blend of strength and speed. From an age standpoint, these are two of the most promising players at their positions.

Matthews is a gifted athlete and a great player for the 3-4 scheme.

In a few years, he might very well be the best defensive player in the NFL if he continues to pile up sacks and improve his game.

But as of now, there are several players who have the experience and dominance to change the game in a way Matthews can't quite yet.