8. Malcolm Jenkins, SS, Philadelphia Eagles
It only seems right to have a great secondary player in Philadelphia. Past Eagles, such as Brian Dawkins and Eric Allen set the standard for defensemen in Philly. Now Malcolm Jenkins helps keep this defense lethal. In his three years with the Eagles Jenkins has racked up an incredible 261 tackles, eight interceptions and four touchdowns.
7. Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks
At 31-years-old Michael Bennett is approaching the end of his NFL career. But his dominance as an edge rusher is still as prominent as ever. Throughout his four years with Seattle he has accounted for 30.5 sacks. Bennett’s performance on the line paired with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the secondary is what won Seattle the Super Bowl in 2014 and what brought them back the next year.
6. Tyrann Mathieu, FS, Arizona Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu is better known as the honey badger for his tenacity and grit. When Mathieu was first entering the NFL he could only bench 225lbs four times. But his overall football knowledge and knack for the game has amounted to a very successful beginning to a career. Since joining Arizona in 2013, Mathieu has amounted to an impressive 230 tackles and nine interceptions.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders
Khalil Mack is the face of this rising Oakland defense. With Derek Carr leading the show on offense and Mack calling the shots defensively the Raiders could be great. Mack is an overall monster who gets better every season he plays. He was not a huge prospect coming out of high school, but at the University of Buffalo he demonstrated his potential. Now, he is quickly becoming the best defensive player in the NFL. Mack joined the NFL in 2014 and has already racked up 226 tackles and 30 sacks.
4. Kam Chancellor, SS, Seattle Seahawks
I do understand that Seattle’s defense is on the decline from their dominance in 2014-15, but it is undeniable how much this defensive unit has beneficially impacted the Seahawks. And Kam Chancellor is the captain of that squad. Chancellor has played his entire seven year career in Seattle, and has been more than impressive. He has accounted for 558 tackles and 12 interceptions.
3. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Kuechly has been dominant ever since his rookie year. In his first season in the NFL he led the league with 164 tackles. In his 5-year career he has totaled 693 tackles. The credit for the Panthers 15-1 season in 2015, which ended in a Super Bowl loss, was mostly given to Cam Newton. But the real reason Carolina was so dominant was their defensive front, which was led by Kuechly.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt has revolutionized the Texans defense. Houston has seen very little offensive success in the past few years, but their defense has led them to two straight playoff appearances. Watt’s 379 tackles and 76 sacks through his six years with Houston have been impressive, but his most important impact was made through his attitude. Watt is a dirty and mean man on the field. He doesn’t hold back. His attitude has been contagious in Houston. He developed a culture that is critical for future success.
1. Von Miller, DE/ OLB, Denver Broncos
We are used to seeing quarterbacks and running backs control a game, but very rarely have we seen a defensive player have such an immediate impact. Von Miller is a huge threat. His speed, intensity and confidence are matched by noone. Miller has 339 tackles and 73.5 sacks in his six years in Denver. But most importantly, his performance in the 2015-16 season and in the Super Bowl was what won Denver a championship. Peyton Manning couldn’t have done it without a great defense, and that defense couldn’t have done it without Miller.