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The growth in the passing game in the NFL last season not only had serious consequences on the offensive side of the ball, but also the defensive. The proliferation of the passing game resulted in pass rushers continuing to improve their value, whilst elite cornerbacks became a highly prized commodity.
Here is a position-by-position analysis of the best players in their positions last season.
Vince Wilfork – New England Patriots
Wilfork anchored a fairly inconsistent defensive line in New England but managed to shine, playing all 16 games of the regular season and collecting two interceptions in the process. His ability to bully offensive lineman may have not been recorded in the statistics, but it certainly flushed quarterbacks out of the pocket and into more vulnerable situations.
Honorable Mentions – Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions) Tommy Kelly (Oakland Raiders) Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals).
Jason Pierre-Paul – New York Giants
Although Pierre-Paul does not look as good as Jared Allen when you look at sacks registered (although his 16.5 sacks is quite an achievement!), his tackle count is significantly higher, and was one of the driving forces behind the Giants late playoff push and eventual Superbowl victory. What makes his accomplishments even more impressive is the fact he is only 23, and the prospect of how good he could become over the next few years should be enough to frighten quarterbacks throughout the league.
Honorable Mentions – Jared Allen (Minnesota Vikings) Haloti Ngata (Baltimore Ravens) Jason Babin (Philadelphia Eagles).
Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year could not be excluded from this list. Suggs had to deal with being double teamed for a lot of the season, largely due to the fact Jarrett Johnson was the Ravens’ other linebacker, and was used almost solely to prevent the run, allowing defenses to double up on Suggs. Despite this extra pressure, Suggs still recorded 14 sacks as well as 70 combined tackles, an inspiring feat for an outside linebacker deployed primarily to rush the passer.
Honorable Mentions – Von Miller (Denver Broncos) DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys) Tamba Hali (Kansas City Chiefs).
Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers
Willis arguably owes a lot to fellow inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for his appearance here. Bowman’s huge number of tackles allowed to Willis to stay back in coverage more often, a move which saw Willis make 13 pass deflections as he helped his side to the NFC Championship game. He was also a force in contact, forcing four fumbles in the regular season as well as making an earnest 97 combined tackles.
Honorable Mentions – NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco) Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens) London Fletcher (Washington Redskins).
Charles Woodson – Green Bay Packers
Sometimes numbers just don’t lie, and that is certainly the case with Woodson. He had a league-high seven interceptions, as well 24 pass deflections and 74 combined tackles. These numbers are even more impressive given that Green Bay’s pass rush last season was anything but impressive, yet Woodson still seemed to be in the minds of opposing quarterbacks, and was one of the shining lights on a fairly poor Packers defense.
Honorable Mentions – Johnathan Joseph (Houston Texans) Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) Ladarius Webb (Baltimore Ravens).
Kam Chancellor – Seattle Seahawks
Chancellor did not put a foot wrong all season, and the Seahawks were extremely grateful for it. This was a breakout season for Chancellor who grabbed four interceptions, 17 pass deflections and two forced fumbles. The hard hitting safety also made 97 combined tackles, a feat only bettered by Morgan Burnett of Green Bay.
Honorable Mentions – Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens) Eric Weddle (San Diego Chargers) Dashon Goldson (San Francisco 49ers).
Image Courtesy of elviskennedy