NFL Top 5 Defensive Players at Every Position Heading into 2020
This was originally supposed to be a top 10 overall defensive players. However, I decided to change it last minute after those ridiculous Madden ratings came out. The reason I say that is because whether you want to admit it or not, those ratings impact Pro Bowl status. Unfortunately, pro bowls hold weight to fans.
I decided I will break this down categorically into multiple avenues.
- Edge – Defensive Ends / Outside Linebackers who fit the category
- Interior Lineman – Defensive Tackles / Defensive Ends who line up inside primarily
- Linebackers – Middle Linebackers / Outside Backers who are used for run support and pass defense
- Cornerbacks – self explanatory
- Safeties – Includes both Strong and Free
Top 5 Edge
5. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
2019 Stats: 8.5 Sacks, 45 Pressures, 8 Tackles For Loss
It feels wrong to have Mack 5th given what the Bears defense was with him last season. He was an early candidate for MVP before coming down to Earth a bit. Make no mistake that he was still dominant despite how “quiet” his 2019 was. Unfortunately, the pool of those on the edge is deep making it easier to get lost in the shuffle.
4. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
2019 Stats: 9 Sacks, 45 Pressures, 16 Tackles For Loss
By the end of 2020, he could easily move ahead to top dog in his second year. He was an anchor for the San Francisco defense last season. Don’t believe me, just listen to the 2:40 mark on the video below when George Kittle puts him over. He also wore a shirt with a shirtless Nick Bosa on it. GOAT shit right there.
3. Cam Jordan, New Orleans Saints
2019 Stats: 15.5 Sacks, 29 Pressures, 15 Tackles For Loss
I was so thrilled when he got the nod for the all-decade team because he is still one of the most under appreciated defensive players in the league. He is a model of consistency against the run and the pass. It is somewhat unfair that he fits the classification of Edge because he does so much more than get after QBs. He is equally great against the run. It is nice to see he is finally getting the respect he deserves.
2. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
2019 Stats: 11.5 Sacks, 54 Pressures, 18 Tackles For Loss
Sorry, Nick. Older brother Joey gets the nod for now. Much like Jordan, Joey is an animal in the pass as well as the run.
1. TJ Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 14.5 Sacks, 59 Pressures, 14 Tackles For Loss
The Steelers pressured the QB on 30% of their defensive snaps last season. That is thanks in large part to the younger Watt, who was a defensive player of the year candidate. He has taken a step forward every year in his young career thus far. We saw him take the league by storm in 2020.
Top 5 Interior Lineman
5. DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 7.5 Sacks, 20 Pressures, 4 Stuffs
The Colts were willing to give up a first to the 49ers for him, that should tell you how valuable he is. He is fantastic at pinning his ears back and getting after opposing QBs.
4. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers
2019 Stats: 6.0 Sacks, 15 Pressures, 5 Stuffs
Green Bay was one of the most consistent defenses last year thanks to an amazing front 7. Clark anchored that front allowing (not actually brothers) Za’Darius and Preston Smith to feast. He has been a model of consistency over the last three years up front.
3. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
2019 Stats: 3.5 Sacks, 21 Pressures, 6 Stuffs
Cox finished with his lowest sack total since 2013. He certainly took a step back from his 2018 campaign that featured 45 pressures and 10.5 sacks. Even in his down year, he is still a truly elite interior lineman.
2. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
2019 Stats: 9.0 Sacks, 27 Pressures, 1 Stuff
Jones has certainly come into his own in the last two years, which is why the Chiefs inked him to a heft deal recently. He has 24.5 sacks and 76 pressures over the last two years. When you can push the pocket back so much and break up plays, it will certainly help your defense as a whole.
1. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams
2019 Stats: 12.5 Sacks, 55 Pressures, 10 Stuffs
This really needs no explanation. He is the most valuable non QB in football by a mile. Aaron Donald faced 2 or more blockers on 319 snaps last season, leading the league. He literally faced a double team on 34% of his snaps. He also led the league beating multiple blockers 18.2% of the time. You don’t stop him. You don’t even really contain. You hope you walk away with minimal damage when you face Donald.
Top 5 Linebackers
5. Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints
2019 Stats: 111 Tackles, 4.0 Sacks, 11 Tackles For Loss, 12 Pass Break Ups
Davis finally got an all-pro nod after his best season to date. He was one of the biggest game changing linebackers against the pass last season, which was a catalyst for why he got that nod.
4. CJ Mosley, New York Jets
*Injured* 2018 Stats: 105 Tackles, 0.5 Sacks, 6 Tackles For Loss, 5 Pass Break Ups
Before heading the New York, Mosley was a big loss to Baltimore helping them bolster one of the league’s best defenses in 2018.
3. Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 121 Tackles, 5.0 Sacks, 7 Tackles For Loss, 7 Pass Break Ups
Two years in and Leonard has certainly made his claim as one of the best linebackers in the league. In his rookie season, he led the NFL in total tackles. Despite missing three games, he still finished with 121 in 2019 picking up where he left off.
2. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
2019 Stats: 110 Tackles, 0.5 Sacks, 4 Tackles For Loss, 12 Pass Break Ups
I alluded to Davis and how much of a game changer he was versus the pass in 2019, Kendricks has been that for the Vikings since entering the league in 2015 and more. Much like we have seen with Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, Kendricks is another linebacker who has it above the shoulders. He possesses that ability to quarterback a defense making him invaluable to the Vikings.
1. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
2019 Stats: 159 Tackles, 3.0 Sacks, 7 Tackles For Loss, 6 Pass Break Ups
Much like Donald, this a clear cut and dry number one here. Wagner has been the longtime anchor for the Seattle defense. He doesn’t appear to be a slowing down anytime soon.
Top 5 Cornerbacks
5. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
2019 Stats: 3 Interceptions, 14 Pass Break Ups
51/88, 440 yards, 3 TDs, 68.4 QB Rating
Despite the Ravens defense losing several key pieces in 2019, they didn’t miss much of a beat. Humphrey is a big reason why. Humphrey had the third most break ups in man coverage last season with 10. He can exceed in both man and zone concepts. If the once elite Marcus Peters can play to the same level he did last year, this could be the nastiest corner tandem since Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
4. Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers
2019 Stats: 3 Interceptions, 11 Pass Break Ups
43/69, 387 yards, 1 TD, 64.1 QB Rating
No matter what anyone says about Sherman because he is “not a man corner,” he is fantastic. First off, cover 3 is a concept where Sherman is basically asked to cover a third of the field on his own with no help. While not technically man, he’s eliminating an entire side of the field. Of course everyone is going to point to how badly he was beat against Davante Adams in the postseason. That was the first catch he gave up 20+ yards downfield last season. For his career on passes 20+ yards downfield…
- 36/151, 1,235 yards, 12 TDs, 39 Pass Break Ups, 48.1 QB Rating
He’s the smartest corner I have ever seen and he doesn’t get beat often. When people say he is declining, they’re wrong. Sherman has graded (PFF) in the top 5 corners of the league in 5 of his 9 seasons, including 3 times as the best (last year included). He has certainly seen better days, but he’s still great.
3. Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
2019 Stats: 1 Interceptions, 5 Deflections
45/68, 549 yards, 1 TD, 89.6 QB Rating
It feels like an eternity since the Jags went to the playoffs and Ramsey was an anchor for the number one defense in the NFL in 2017. After a tumultuous ending in Jacksonville, he was traded to the Rams last season. He did better, but not much. He needs a bounce back season if he wants to stay in the top 5. I reluctantly put him third because of how absurd his ceiling is. I give him a pass for how dysfunctional the Jags have been.
2. Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
2019 Stats: 6 Interceptions, 20 Pass Break Ups
51/101, 599 yards, 0 TDs, 44.1 QB Rating
He is most people’s number one corner and rightfully so, he is fantastic. He is the reigning defensive player of the year for good reason. The Patriots defense was on pace for a historically great season before coming down to Earth toward the back half. Gilmore was a massive part in that. Since becoming a Patriot in 2017, he has come into his own, especially the last two seasons.
- 8 Interceptions, 40 Pass Break Ups
- 97/196, 1,117 yards, 5 TDs, 59.0 QB Rating
1. Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 6 Interceptions, 17 Pass Break Ups
45/90, 626 Yards, 0 TDs, 45.0 QB Rating
Much like Sherman, White gets forgotten by many because he runs more zone than man coverage. However make no mistake about it, White is great in man. Last season alone, QBs were 13/33 against him in man as he broke up 7 of those passes. White is only in his third year in the league and is the focal point of the Bills defense. For comparison, here are his stats since entering the league…
- 8 Interceptions, 25 Pass Break Ups
- 85/163, 1,087 yards, 2 TDs, 58.4 QB Rating
He has the same number of interceptions despite being targeted less than Gilmore. He has given up a touchdown on every 81st pass thrown his way. I am not here to say the argument can’t be made for Gilmore because they are honestly tied at 1st for me. They are incredibly close. I will take either one. The lack of respect White gets is absurd though. Most automatically put Gilmore at 1 when he shouldn’t be.
Top 5 Safeties
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 57 Tackles, 5 Interceptions, 9 Pass Break Ups
20/32, 298 yards, 4 TDs, 93.0 QB Rating
Amazing what a change of scenery can do for a player. His two games in Miami for 2019, QBs threw 7 passes his way and four went for TDs giving them a perfect 158.3 QB rating. He goes to Pittsburgh and finishes the season with 5 INTs and 2 defensive TDs.
4. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers
*Injured* 2018 Stats: 105 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 3 Interceptions, 13 Pass Break Ups
49/73, 480 Yards, 3 TDs, 82.0 QB Rating
By the time James returned in 2019, the Chargers were pretty much out of the playoff picture. He finished the season with no interceptions or sacks, which pales in comparison to the do it all safety we saw in his rookie year. In 2018, he was an absolute stud.
3. Jamal Adams, New York Jets
2019 Stats: 75 Tackles, 6.5 Sacks, 1 Interception, 7 Pass Break Ups
21/38, 187 yards, 2 TDs, 75.2 QB Rating
No telling where he finishes in 2020, but Adams is every bit as good as he is advertised to be. He is a fantastic downhill physical safety. He is a punishing hitter who knows how to jar the ball loose creating turnovers. In 2019, he had a scoop and score as well as a pick six of his own.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
2019 Stats: 75 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks, 4 Interceptions, 12 Pass Break Ups
45/80, 409 Yards, 2 TDs, 57.8 QB Rating
Mathieu transformed the Chiefs porous pass defense last season. In college, Mathieu was a chess piece who wore many hats for LSU because of his instincts and play-making ability. He hasn’t missed a beat at the next level. He can blitz. He can cover. He can jar the ball loose. He is still very much the Honeybadger. Notice how many times he was targeted in coverage. Part of that is his ability to move around the defensive backfield.
1. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
2019 Stats: 85 Tackles, 1.0 Sack, 3 Interceptions, 11 Pass Break Ups
21/33, 194 Yards, 0 TDs, 41.7 QB Rating
If there is something to be said about Smith, deceptive. He is comparable to Iceman from Top Gun. He is so damn textbook and limits his mistakes so much that he lulls his opponents into false senses of security. He capitalizes on their mistakes as a result.