I’ll preface this with an apology for the delay. I was trying to figure out what went wrong with the site when it deleted my original post, but this is my All-NFL 2013 Defense.
John and I decided to do different defensive schemes, to more accurately represent the talent spread out around the league. My personal preference is a 4-3 defense, and John wanted to set his defense up as a 3-4, so in that regard I lucked out. The players on this list will offer, in my opinion, a balanced and aggressive defense, and they will be the best players at their respective positions.
Robert Quinn - St. Louis Rams
Quinn surprised many people this year, and he dominated offensive tackles. Quinn’s 19 sacks were second to only Robert Mathis, and the most for a 4-3 player. With an incredibly fast first step, Quinn was engaged with, or running around, blockers almost before they were even out of their own stances. He was able to use his speed to turn the corner consistently, but he also used it to run through the tackle, and pushed many guys back into their own quarterback. Quinn was, arguably, the most disruptive force as a pass rusher this season. He had an effective year against the run, as well, even though he only had 36 total tackles. He missed just two tackles on the season, and made plenty of stops in the backfield.
Michael Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
Johnson is probably going to be a shocking choice to most people, and even I’m a bit surprised that he is the only Bengals player on my list. Johnson didn’t have the same penchant for getting to the quarterback as Quinn, although he did get consistent pressure, he only came away with five sacks. Johnson makes this list, however, because he was arguably the best defensive end against the run. Rob Ninkovich is the only end with a higher grade from Pro Football Focus, but Ninkovich wasn’t very effective as a pass rusher. Johnson has a knack for knocking the ball down before it crosses the line, and he was credited with seven batted passes, which were made interesting by J.J. Watt last season. Johnson is strong on the end, and holds contain better than most ends in the NFL, and he was vital in the success of the Bengals defense, particularly after Geno Atkins went down for the year.
Gerald McCoy - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
McCoy finally seems to be coming in to his own after a disappointing beginning to his career. He recorded 10 sacks this season, which was second for 4-3 defensive tackles, and was consistently putting pressure on quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best tackle, by a long stretch, with his “rival” Ndamukong Suh a distant second. McCoy is quick off the line, and moves well laterally, which allows him to beat centers and guards. He can collapse the pocket very well, which disrupts a quarterback’s ability to step into a throw.
Marcell Dareus - Buffalo Bills
If this list was just a top five, regardless of scheme or balance, Dareus may not be up this high, but for the defense being created here, he is the perfect choice. He played the majority of snaps for Buffalo this season, and he was arguably the best run stopping defensive tackle in the NFL. He recorded 49 tackles, which is a high number for defensive tackles because they are expected to take up blocks, rather than make plays. Dareus wasn’t just a run stopper, however, as he sacked the quarterback nine times throughout the season. He is a big, quick player, and his addition to this team represents the improvement he has made as he heads into his fourth season in the league.
Thomas Davis - Carolina Panthers
The strong side linebacker is a difficult position to gauge because most of them are not on the field in all situations, and with the prevalence of spread out offenses, most linebackers on 4-3 defenses don’t even get to be on the field constantly as it is. Thomas Davis is the best of the strong side backers, although he wasn’t a necessarily effective pass rusher, he managed four sacks. His main contribution was in coverage. He picked off two passes and allowed only one touchdown. Only 7.1 yards were gained per reception by receivers he was covering. His 19 missed tackles are somewhat disconcerting, but has incredible quickness and uses it to make up for the mistakes he can make from time to time.
Lavonte David - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs had some great players on defense this season, but the team just never put it together. David may have been the leader of the pack, and it made him the best outside linebacker in the NFL this year. He was at the top of the league in all linebacker categories, with eight sacks, five interceptions, and 110 tackles. He only allowed one touchdown to be scored by a receiver he was covering, and according to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks only managed a rating of 73.5 when throwing his direction. Many people will just remember his mistake at the end of the Jets game, but throughout the season David was consistent, and made plays game after game. His second season showed great improvement from an impressive rookie showing, and it has launched him to the top of the list of outside linebackers.
Karlos Dansby - Arizona Cardinals
In his tenth season, the 32-year-old had what may have been the best season of his career, and it was good enough to make him the best 4-3 middle linebacker in the NFL. He had 103 tackles on the season, and only seven of those tackles were assisted. 96 solo tackles is a ridiculous number, and he made those tackles in coverage, and in the run game. He had eight sacks, which led all inside linebackers. In coverage he was even better, only allowing 65 percent of passes thrown to his receiver to be caught. He had four interceptions, and returned two of those picks for touchdowns. There were three touchdowns thrown against him, but he made up for that with the rest of his play. He was consistent all season, and seemed to be around the ball every play.
Richard Sherman - Seattle Seahawks
The brash and talkative leader of the NFL’s best defense, was speaking the truth when he claimed to be the best corner in the league. I began to pay attention during the first meeting of Seattle and San Francisco. Sherman outmuscled Anquan Boldin, on multiple plays, which is something that I haven’t seen since Boldin entered the league. It’s very difficult to press Boldin because he is strong as an ox and fights from the first step, but Sherman kept Boldin on the line of scrimmage, with seeming ease. He had eight interceptions on the year, and only allowed 51 percent of passes to be completed when thrown his way. Although Pro Football Focus has him listed with over 1,000 snaps, he was only thrown at 58 times, mostly because the receivers he covered were rarely open. He was susceptible to double moves on a couple of plays, which resulted in the only two touchdowns he allowed on the season, but he was the epitome of a shutdown corner this season.
Brent Grimes - Miami Dolphins
I was back and forth between Grimes and Alterraun Verner for a while on this one. Verner didn’t even allow 50 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, but overall, Grimes ended up being better. He was a difference maker for the Dolphins on defense, and took away the opposing team’s top receiver every game. Grimes scored more touchdowns than he gave up, by returning an interception 92 yards for a touchdown, against Cincinnati. Only Darelle Revis received a higher grade from Pro Football Focus, but Grimes only allowed 59 catches this season, even though he was thrown at 98 times. He had four total interceptions this season, and his first season with Miami was most likely the best year of his career.
Earl Thomas - Seattle Seahawks
The fastest player in the Legion of Boom, Thomas is also probably the fastest safety in the NFL. He has unreal closing speed, able to make a play on a ball in the middle of the field, even if it wasn’t his coverage. Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees can attest to how quickly Thomas can break on a pass. He is a very intelligent player, receiving high praise from fellow defensive back Richard Sherman, on multiple occasions, regarding his football IQ. Thomas had five interceptions on the season, and 79 tackles. He isn’t the best run stopper, but his ability to make plays in the running game is seriously underrated, and he hits a lot harder than most give him credit for. Thomas is a small fast safety, and when he came out of college there were many who said he would be better suited as a cornerback, but he has since become the best free safety in the NFL, and has unrivaled range in the middle of the field.
T.J. Ward - Cleveland Browns
Ward isn’t the best cover safety, but he is effective in coverage. As a strong safety, however, coverage isn’t the most important facet of his game. Ward is arguably the best run stopping safety in the NFL, and his 91 tackles are evidence of his ability. Pro Football Focus credits him with 45 stops, which is the most for any safety, and he only needed help on 18 of his 91 tackles. Ward makes the Browns defense better because he is more than just a safety valve in the run game, he plays down around the line of scrimmage consistently, and makes the stops needed, way before the running back could get to the third or second level. Ward did record two interceptions as well.
Matt Prater - Denver Broncos
Prater broke the NFL record for longest field goal with a 64 yard blast against the Tennessee Titans. He also missed only one field goal on the season, even though the majority of his kicks were 40 yards or longer. On kickoffs he had the most touchbacks, with 81 of his 114 kicks either leaving the end zone, or downed in the end zone.
Johnny Hekker - St. Louis Rams
Hekker only put 20 kicks inside the 20 yard line, but only 30 of his punts were returned, and he kicked 11 out-of-bounds. He had the highest net average with 44.3 yards per punt, and 10 of his punts were downed. He also had 23 of his punts fair caught.
Cordarelle Patterson - Minnesota Vikings
The electrifying rookie had some of the most exciting plays in the NFL this year, including a 109 yard kick return for one of his two return touchdowns. He averaged 32.4 yards per return, and is likely to have an expanded role in the coming seasons, but he should still be the kick returner every day because he can change games with his returning ability.
Dexter McCluster - Kansas City Chiefs
McCluster averaged 12.2 yards per return, and brought two punts back for touchdowns. McCluster’s agility and speed are unbelievable, and he demonstrated both on his touchdowns. One in particular was memorable because he spun away from a tackler right after catching the punt, and it was one of the most ridiculous spin moves I’ve ever seen.
Special Teams Player
Justin Bethel - Arizona Cardinals Robert Golden - Pittsburgh Steelers
I can’t say that I truly know a lot about these players, although I’d like to take more time to learn about this aspect of the game and dedicate more attention to the players that make the special teams work. That said, Bethel led all special teams players with 20 tackles, and Golden had 11. Golden missed zero tackles, had no penalties called against him, and forced a fumble. Bethel also blocked a field goal against the Houston Texans and recovered a fumble on a kickoff.
Comment below with your thoughts on my best defensive players of 2013. Don’t forget to check out John’s offense and defense, and my offense as well! Register and share with your friends!