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NFL Pro Bowl 2016 – Defensive and Special Team player breakdown

After last night's announcement of the Pro Bowl r

After last night’s announcement of the Pro Bowl roster, our RSNFL team analyse just why those selected were done so by their peers and fans alike. First, we wrote about the offensive players selected and why, then we looked at those players that were snubbed for an invite. Now, it’s time to analyse the defensive players and special teamers that will be making the trip.

Defensive End

Ezekiel Ansah – Detroit Lions

Michael Bennett – Seattle Seahawks

Chandler Jones – New England Patriots

Khalil Mack – Oakland Raiders

J.J Watt – Houston Texans

Muhammad Wilkerson – New York Jets

Watt is the only one of the group to be making his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, having won Defensive MVP honours in last year’s game. He has been the heartbeat once again of a Texans defense that has them on the cusp of winning the AFC South and a playoff berth. Ansah has filled the the sizeable hole left by Ndamukong Suh’s departure from the Detroit Lions in free agency. He is tied with Watt on 13.5 sacks for the season, second only to Mack from the Raiders, who has cemented his status as one of the top defensive prospects in the league. That was highlighted by his Week 14 performance against the Denver Broncos, where he recorded five sacks and a forced fumble in the end zone that went for a Raiders safety. Jones and Wilkerson round out the top five sack leaders in the NFL this season, with 12.5 and 12 respectively, while Jones is tied with Ansah for a league-leading four forced fumbles. Bennett has been the surprising strong point of a stern Seahawks defense, taking the attention away from the Legion of Boom.

Interior linemen

Geno Atkins – Cincinnati Bengals

Calais Campbell – Arizona Cardinals

Fletcher Cox – Philadelphia Eagles

Aaron Donald – St. Louis Rams

Gerald McCoy – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kawann Short – Carolina Panthers

Campbell, Atkins and Donald are all making their second consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, while McCoy was selected last year but did not participate. Donald looks to be the defensive player from the 2014 draft, not bad praise considering that Khalil Mack and C.J Mosley were also taken in the first round last year. Atkins joins Donald in dominating opposing linemen by using a unique blend of strength and quickness, while Atkins must be praised for a strong showing after a rough 2014 season due to a torn ACL in 2013. Short is the first defensive player from the Carolina Panthers to make an appearance in this list, being possibly the brightest talent on a rampant Panthers defensive line. Campbell has long been the anchor of the Cardinals front seven, and consistently finds ways to stuff the run, helping the Cardinals to a top-five standing in run defense. Fletcher Cox finally makes a Pro Bowl appearance after a dominant 2014 and 2015 which has seen him register a career-high 7.5 sacks to date. McCoy is a veteran Pro Bowler, this will be his fourth consecutive appearance. He is the standard to which all other linemen aspire to reach.

Outside Linebacker

Jamie Collins – New England Patriots

Thomas Davis – Carolina Panthers

Tamba Hali – Kansas City Chiefs

Justin Houston – Kansas City Chiefs

Von Miller – Denver Broncos

DeMarcus Ware – Denver Broncos

It says a lot about this position group that the two defenses famed for bringing a heated pass rush are sending both their outside linebackers to the Pro Bowl. Combined, the Broncos duo have 16.5 sacks on the season, with Miller leading the linebackers group with 10, while the Chiefs pair have 14. There’s a reason why they are both ranked in the top 10 in total defense. Incredibly, this will be Davis’ first Pro Bowl in his 10 year career. He finally gained more recognition when stepping out of the shadow of Luke Kuechly thanks to the latter’s concussion woes. Jamie Collins is one of the most athletic and agile linebackers in the NFL today. Not only can he hunt down opposing running backs with speed, but he is a force in the passing game, able to quick read routes and jump on any errant passes.

Inside Linebacker

NaVorro Bowman – San Francisco 49ers

Luke Kuechly – Carolina Panthers

Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers

Bobby Wagner – Seattle Seahawks

The All-NFC inside linebacking corp is one to be feared. Kuechly is the standout at his position and is on course to better his 2013 Defensive Player of the Year campaign, despite missing several early season games with a concussion. Matthews has used his experiences from playing outside linebacker to his advantage on his return to the middle. He has 15 more QB hits and hurries than the next closest inside linebacker. Bowman leads the NFL in total tackles, and has performed at close to his full potential after missing the entire 2014 campaign with a serious knee injury. He could win the Comeback Player of the Year award. Wagner has had a predictably stout year, in which the Seahawks have been more revered for their toughness inside than the play of their secondary.


Malcolm Butler – New England Patriots

Chris Harris – Denver Broncos

Josh Norman – Carolina Panthers

Marcus Peters – Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Peterson – Arizona Cardinals

Darrelle Revis – New York Jets

Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks

Aqib Talib – Denver Broncos

The hero of Super Bowl 49 Butler has gone from strength-to-strength in 2015. He has been the sole remaining component of the cornerback department from the Patriots Lombardi winning team, and has proved himself to be a true number 1 corner. The number 1 defense in the league is once again sending both impact players to the Pro Bowl. There hasn’t been a better cornerback tandem than that of Harris and Talib. Revis has been slowed by various muscle injuries, but he still remains a target to avoid in the passing game. Sherman has grown back into his role of the leader of the Legion of Boom, keeping the likes of Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown relatively quiet throughout the season. Norman has been the best performing individual cornerback in the league this season, while you won’t forget his battle with Odell Beckham Jr from this past Sunday any time soon. Peterson is having a renaissance year, and should be a first team pick as an All-Pro. He’ll have more to do with absence of Tyrann Mathieu for the rest of the season. Peters has had an outstanding rookie campaign, logging seven interceptions, including two last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Free Safety

Tyrann Mathieu – Arizona Cardinals

Reggie Nelson – Cincinnati Bengals

Earl Thomas – Seattle Seahawks

Mathieu was the standout defensive back player of 2015. A torn ACL will keep him out of the actual game in Hawaii, but this is recognition of just how incredible the Honey Badger has played on the backend of the Cardinals secondary. Nelson leads the NFL in interceptions, proving his ball-hawking skills are not diminishing with age. Thomas was the standout player from the Legion of Boom a year ago, but has only been at about 90% of that this year. He has a chance to justify his selection with a strong end to the season.

Strong Safety

Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs

Kam Chancellor – Seattle Seahawks

Charles Woodson – Oakland Raiders

If there was any better stories in the NFL this year, than find one more so than the inclusion of both Berry and Woodson in the 2016 Pro Bowl. Berry missed a portion of last season battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which not only did he beat, but has been able to maintain his incredibly high standard of football playing. The favourite for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Woodson announced his retirement at the end of the season barely 24 hours before his Pro Bowl invite. A Pro Bowler in three separate decades, this will be ninth appearance at the event. He leads the league with three fumble recoveries, while also having five interceptions in a strong final swan song season. Chancellor’s hard hitting and nose for the ball won him another Pro Bowl berth in 2015, completing the lineup on defense.


Sam Koch – Baltimore Ravens

Johnny Hekker – St. Louis Rams

Koch and Hekker lead the the NFL in net average punt yards between them, while Hekker also has the most punting yards and net punting yards in the league.


Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots

Dan Bailey – Dallas Cowboys

Gostkowski leads the league in field goals made with 30, while Bailey has 100% accuracy from 50+ yards, making all five of his kicks from over the 50.

Return Specialist

Darren Sproles – Philadelphia Eagles

Tyler Lockett – Seattle Seahawks

Lockett has both a kick return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown in his rookie season, while breaking out a 105 yard return for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears. Sproles has two touchdown punt returns for the Eagles, having the longest punt return for a touchdown in 2015 from 89-yards.

Special Teamer

Matthew Slater – New England Patriots

Justin Bethel – Arizona Cardinals

This will Slater’s fifth consecutive Pro Bowl invite, having established himself as the NFL’s leading gunner on kickoff’s. Bethel will be making his third straight Pro Bowl appearance, recovering two fumbles on kickoffs in 2015.  

Related Reading

NFL Pro Bowl 2016 – The Snubs NFL Pro Bowl 2016 – Offensive player breakdown NFL announces 2016 Pro Bowl roster Week 15 Team of the Week NFL Draft Order 2016: Who’s picking where after MNF? NFL Playoff Picture: three more teams clinch playoff spots after Sunday NFL Week 15: Ten Things You Need To Know

NFL Pro Bowl 2016 – Defensive and Special Team player breakdown

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