Continuing the All-Division team series, it is now time to dive into the top players at each position on the defensive side of the ball in the 2019 NFC North.
2019 NFC North All-Division Team: Defense/Special Teams:
Defensive End: Khalil Mack, Bears
When it comes to top pass rushers, there is no doubt that Mack is one of, if not the best of the bunch. A first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders back in 2014 and trade acquisition of the Chicago Bears in 2018, Mack has started 77 games in his career. In those 77 games, Mack has accumulated 350 combined tackles, 53 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and two touchdowns.
Defensive Tackle: Damon Harrison, Lions
Since the inception of his career back in 2012, Harrison has made a name for himself as one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL. His career began with the New York Jets, where he spent his first four years as a pro. Heading into the 2016 season, Harrison signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract with the New York Giants. Harrison spent three seasons with the Giants before he was traded to the Detroit Lions in October of 2018.
Defensive Tackle: Eddie Goldman, Bears
Compared to his run-stuffing counterpart Harrison, Goldman plays the game a different way. In Chicago’s defense, Goldman specializes in tackling quarterbacks in the backfield. Since the start of his career in 2015, Goldman has started 48 games, accumulating 124 combined tackles and 11.5 sacks in that span.
Defensive End: Danielle Hunter, Vikings
Not much more can be said about Hunter outside the fact that he is a bonafide stud. Hunter, 24, is without a doubt one of the league’s best young pass rushers. Hunter’s career began as a rotational pass rusher as a rookie in 2015. In his rookie season, Hunter recorded 29 combined tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble in 14 games played. Hunter broke out the following year, playing in all 16 games for the Vikings on his way to a 12.5 sack campaign. Throughout his entire career overall, Hunter has recorded 200 combined tackles, 40 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns.
Outside Linebacker: Leonard Floyd, Bears
Floyd’s play as an outside linebacker in Chicago’s 3-4 defensive scheme has paid dividends throughout his career. Chicago’s first-round pick in 2016, Floyd recorded 33 tackles and seven sacks in 12 games as a rookie for the Bears. He also forced one fumble and returned a fumble recovery for a touchdown. In the past two seasons, Floyd has recorded 81 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries.
Inside Linebacker: Roquan Smith, Bears
Though he was a rookie in 2018, Smith is more than deserving of this mention simply because Chicago’s defense would not have been the same without him. Smith made his presence known all season as a rookie, making play after play over the middle in the vaunted Bears’ defense. Smith recorded 121 total tackles, five sacks, five passes defended, and one interception in 14 starts as a rookie.
Outside Linebacker: Anthony Barr, Vikings
Barr has had a fine career thus far with the Vikings. The four-time Pro Bowler was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Barr started 12 games for the Vikings, recording 70 total tackles, four sacks, three passes defended, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. In fact, Barr’s rookie season is the only season in which he was not selected to the Pro Bowl. Barr has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons and in those four seasons, he has registered a combined 268 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 19 passes defended, five forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Cornerback: Darius Slay, Lions
One of the league’s most underrated players, Slay has been a lockdown corner for Detroit since he was drafted by the Lions in 2013. Unfortunately for Slay and the Lions, Detroit has not been able to find the same production out of anyone they line up opposite Slay in their defense. Throughout his career, Slay has posted stellar numbers. Beginning with 80 career starts, Slay has intercepted 17 passes, scored one touchdown, defended 91 passes, forced one fumble, recovered one fumble, recorded one sack, and has made 301 combined tackles.
Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes, Vikings
Like Slay, Rhodes is also one of the NFL’s more underrated players. Rhodes’ stats do not reflect that of a superstar player in the eyes of some fans but do not be fooled. His low career interception count (10) in 82 career starts is solely a result of him just not being thrown at. Rhodes’ lockdown coverage throughout the years has forced opposing quarterbacks to throw to the complete opposite side of the field when Rhodes is shadowing their best receiver.
Safety: Harrison Smith, Vikings
Unlike Slay and Rhodes, Smith is one of the most well-known and respected players in the NFL. A four-time Pro Bowler in consecutive years and 2017 First-Team All-Pro, Smith has started 98 games for the Vikings since 2012. In those 98 career games, Smith has accumulated a whopping 566 tackles, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 45 passes defended, 20 interceptions, and four touchdowns.
Safety: Eddie Jackson, Bears
Coming out of the University of Alabama, not many NFL fans knew the name, Eddie Jackson. Jackson made a name for himself as a fourth-round pick of the Bears as a rookie in 2017, though. Jackson started all 16 games for the Bears in his inaugural NFL season and posted 70 total tackles, six passes defended, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and one touchdown. The 26-year-old Jackson broke out in 2018 though, blossoming into a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro in Vic Fangio‘s vaunted Bears defense. Jackson recorded 51 total tackles, one sack, six interceptions, 15 passes defended, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one touchdown in 14 games in 2018.
Kicker: Matt Prater, Lions
Currently and even dating back to his days with the Denver Broncos, Prater has always been one of the NFL’s iron legs. His 83.8 field goal and 98.1 extra point percentages are staggering — and Prater still holds the record for longest field goal conversion of 64 yards, set on December 8, 2013.
Punter: Sam Martin, Lions
There often is not many criteria to analyze punters on, but with Martin, the numbers show that he has been an effective and efficient punter for the Lions throughout the years. Martin has started 90 games for Detroit and has punted 397 balls for 18,315 punt yards with a 46.1 yards per punt average.
Kick/Punt Returner: Jamal Agnew, Lions
Agnew is a little-known player for Detroit, but his return ability does not go unnoticed. In 2017, Agnew earned First-Team All-Pro honors after he returned 29 punts for 447 yards and two touchdowns. Agnew averaged 15.4 yards per punt return.
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