AFC Defense & Special Teams (starter’s name first)
Defensive Ends: J.J. Watt (HST), Cameron Wake (MIA) and Chandler Jones (NE)
Elvis Dumervil (DEN) will get to the quarterback more frequently than Jones, but he is nowhere near the run defender the rookie is. Getting pressure in this unit won’t be much of an issue anyway, as it features two of the three most dominant rushers in the league (with the other playing OLB as you’ll see in a few lines).
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (CIN), Haloti Ngata (BLT) and Kyle Williams (BUF)
I remember struggling with tackles last year and ending up with either run defenders or pass rushers. As with most positions, we put a premium on balance and wanted players who are as good at getting after the QB as they are at stuffing the run. Boxes ticked in all three cases here.
Inside Linebackers: Jerod Mayo (NE) and Karlos Dansby (MIA)
Does Mayo play inside or outside? Well I’m sure you all know the answer, but on this ballot he’s down as an inside linebacker? However you see it, he’s a considerably better player now than when he was when getting all the undeserved hype as a rookie — his coverage skills have improved massively. Dansby was expensive for the Dolphins when they signed him from Arizona, but he’s more than played up to that value ($8.5M a year).
Outside Linebackers: Von Miller (DEN), Justin Houston (KC) and Philip Wheeler (OAK)
We didn’t think it was possible, but Miller is actually playing better than last year. His performance against the Patriots, where at times he seemed like a one-man defense, was one for the ages. He’s also that third pass rusher we mentioned earlier. Houston is now taking over from Tamba Hali as the top player on the Chiefs’ outside, but you wouldn’t think it judging by how they use him at times. Against Tampa Bay, on 29 drop-backs, he rushed the passer only nine times. How good will he be when deployed effectively? Finally, Wheeler has taken his opportunity in Oakland with both hands. The Raiders were looking for bargains and certainly found one. Expect his $1M per year salary to increase substantially if he keeps this up.
Cornerbacks: Devin McCourty (NE), Antonio Cromartie (NYJ) and Sean Smith (MIA)
After a disastrous sophomore year, where he gave up more yardage than all bar one player, McCourty is looking like his rookie self again. In New York, Cromartie is doing his best Darrelle Revis impression and is allowing only 39% of passes into his coverage to be completed. In Miami, Smith clearly didn’t get my memo labelling him one to watch in 2011… until just before this year.
Safeties: T.J.Ward (CLV) and Jarius Byrd (BUF)
The ridiculous way in which the NFL allow you to choose safeties leaves me taking the rather unpleasant option of not picking Eric Weddle (SD). It’s just he’s down as a FS too and not quite playing as well as the Bill. How we end up with the same number of safeties as centers I’ll never know.
Special Teams: K – Justin Tucker (BLT), P- Donnie Jones (HST), KR – Josh Cribbs (CLV) and ST – Corey Graham (BLT)
Follow Neil on Twitter @PFF_Neil
Pages: 1 2