Terrell Suggs and 10 Defensive Studs Who Are Invaluable to Their NFL Teams

Joe Rapolla Jr.Featured ColumnistMay 5, 2012

Terrell Suggs and 10 Defensive Studs Who Are Invaluable to Their NFL Teams

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    The Baltimore Ravens received some devastating news this past week when Terrell Suggs, their Pro Bowl pass-rushing linebacker, tore his ACL while doing some offseason conditioning. 

    Suggs' value is truly unprecedented; He's one of those players that is virtually irreplaceable, both as a stat-producing monster and an emotional leader on the field. 

    The Ravens, a team that truly thrives on its defense, will have to really expend some ancillary effort if they want to succeed effectively without Suggs.

    Here are 10 guys for whose teams are keeping their fingers crossed that they stay healthy. 

10. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings

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    On a more effective defensive unit, Jared Allen would be ranked way higher, but the fact of the matter is that despite his crazy production, the Minnesota Vikings still have an awful defensive unit. 

    Allen is a sack machine, having recorded double-digit sacks over the last five seasons (one of those came with the Kansas City Chiefs). Last season, he went truly off the radar and recorded 22 sacks, a mere half-sack short of tying Michael Strahan's record. 

    Allen is an amazing asset who makes any opposing quarterback wet his pants. Unfortunately for him and for the Vikings, the rest of the defense is nothing to gawk at.

9. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears

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    Julius Peppers' speed as a pass-rusher is truly remarkable, and his consistency is beyond noteworthy. Peppers has been recording double-digit sacks since 2002, and the 32-year-old has shown no signs of aging or slowing down. 

    Chicago hit the lottery when it acquired him in free agency in 2010. Peppers not only provided the stellar pass-rusher that Chicago needed, but he also gave linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher the comfort to drop back into coverage, as both of them excel much more in open-field tackling then they do in pass-rushing. 

    With Peppers on the field, the rest of the defense can focus on its job knowing that the quarterback is (literally) under wraps. 

8. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

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    I don't think people truly valued and noticed Eric Berry's rookie campaign in Kansas City until they saw how awful the Chiefs became when he got injured for his sophomore season. 

    Berry's absence from the lineup last year really set the Chiefs back. Coming off a 2010 season in which the Chiefs surprised many and finished 10-6, they completely spiraled downward in 2011. Berry and running back Jamaal Charles were both carted off by the second game of the season, and they fired head coach Todd Haley en route to finishing 7-9. 

    Without Berry's 92 tackles and four interceptions, the Chiefs defense was remarkably non-competitive against many opponents. Berry's return, coupled with Charles', in 2012, however, should have everyone keeping their eye on Kansas City as a sleeper squad. 

7. A.J. Hawk, Green Bay Packers

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    Hawk may not put up the craziest numbers of all the guys on this list, yet his intimidating demeanor, leadership skills and crowd appeal make him an invaluable asset to the Green Bay Packer defense. 

    The Packers gave up a ton of yards in 2011, yet they proceeded to win games thanks to, well, a ridiculous offense, and also a lock-down red-zone defense. Who cares if the opposing offense drives 70 yards? It's the last 20 that count, and Hawk, as a strong middle linebacker with great tackling prowess, is essential to shutting down offenses in Packer territory. 

6. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

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    Jason Pierre-Paul, or JPP, may only have one year of greatness under his belt, yet when that year includes a Super Bowl victory, it's a year worth commending. 

    Despite the New York Giants winning their second Super Bowl in four seasons this past winter, their season was not always smooth sailing. They barely won the NFC East with a 9-7 record, and at times, such as following their loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 15, they appeared hopeless and out of it. 

    What really kept the team and their fans believing was the relentless pass-rushing attack of JPP, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. Any one of these guys is deserving of accolades, but given that JPP is the only one who played the entire season and recorded a team-high 16.5 sacks, he gets labeled the ladle that stirs the broth.

5. Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers seem to be heading toward a rocky period following a few years of dominance in the AFC West, yet they should be relieved to know that Eric Weddle is just hitting his stride. 

    The defensive back is quick as lighting, strong as a linebacker and a dual threat to offenses everywhere. If he isn't intercepting the ball (which he did seven times this year) he's making a tackle (he had 88 this season).

    Weddle is the kind of player that so many teams lack in their defensive secondary, and in this era of football where quarterbacks and receivers are so deadly, you cannot afford to have an opponent pass all over you.

4. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears

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    The second Bears player to make the list, Urlacher is a no-brainer. He is a fan favorite, a veteran, a team leader and one of the best tacklers of all time. 

    Even at the not-so-young age of 33, Urlacher accumulates 100 tackles like it is nothing. You will never see him parading around the field either; he's up and back in formation, organizing his defense, before the crowd stops screaming. 

    Urlacher was out with injury in 2009, and the Bears went 7-9. In his return the next year, they went 11-5.

3. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens

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    I'm not going to say a ton here, because everyone who has watched some football over the last decade knows quite well who and what Ray Lewis stands for. 

    Lewis is the Ravens, and he is knock-'em-out football. Lewis, in a word, is defense. 

    For whatever reason, I've never been a fan of Lewis. Perhaps I find his pregame speeches to be overbearing or clichéd? Either way, and my biases aside, you cannot argue with his numbers: over 1,500 career tackles and still going at 36 years old. 

    If you haven't picked up on it yet, great defensive players have long shelf lives, and Lewis certainly fits this prototype. If you are playing the Ravens, God help you if you are the receiver running a slant across the middle.

2. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys

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    Let me just say that the only reason the Dallas Cowboys were in half of the games that they were in last season is because of DeMarcus Ware.

    Currently, Dallas is an overrated team full of underachievers, yet Ware is the definition of a Pro Bowl stud. In six NFL seasons, Ware has accumulated 99.5 sacks. His "worst" year came during his rookie campaign, when he had "only" 58 tackles and eight sacks. 

    The value of Ware on defense is unprecedented, and I truly felt bad for him this season when he would go all out to maul the quarterback, force him to launch the ball in the air and turn around to see his cornerbacks 10 yards behind the receivers.

    For Ware's and Dallas' sake, hopefully Morris Claiborne can make an impact in the defensive secondary.

1. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

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    The No. 1 spot on the list goes to Terrell Suggs, a man who we unfortunately may not see play in 2012.

    Suggs is the football equivalent of an NBA player who scores, rebounds, assists and blocks shots. If football had a stat for it, Suggs would collect his fair share of triple-doubles throughout the season. 

    In 2011, Suggs had 70 tackles, 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. A defensive season that well balanced is historic; he literally impacted the game on all possible dimensions. 

    Luckily, Suggs is determined to come back, and at only 29, we can expect to see a few more years of him in his prime. The Ravens are absolutely fascinating to watch simply because of his all-out play, and I foresee this ACL injury being but a blip in his brilliant NFL career. 

    Terrell Suggs is the most invaluable defensive player in the NFL.