We continue the RealSport NFL Awards with our All-Pro defense. As with our All-Pro offense, the RealSport staff have voted for the best individual performances from this season, leading to a first and second All-Pro teams. We’re also including three specialists – kicker, punter, and returner – in with the defense. You’ll also notice that we’ve done things a little differently with regards to the defense. While the Associated Press stick with the traditional defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker positions we follow the Pro Football Focus model and designate EDGE defenders (all 4-3 DEs & 3-4 OLBs), INTERIOR defensive line (all 3-4 D-Line & 43 DTs) and Linebackers (all 4-3 LBs & 3-4 ILBs). It sounds complicated but it just groups players together that perform the same jobs. It also means we don’t end up with an All Pro team that has the same player at two positions, which is what happened with Khalil Mack this year. As with the offense, a * denotes a unanimous selection and there is the 2nd team All-Pro at the bottom. Agree? Disagree? Want to argue the case for your favourite player? Leave a comment or contact us on Twitter & Facebook.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
77 Tackles, 15 sacks, 23 TFL, 24 QB hits, 2 PD, 2 FF
Von Miller, Denver Broncos
35 Tackles, 11 sacks, 9 TFL, 32 QB hits, 1 PD, 4 FF
Khalil Mack is the poster boy for future of the Oakland Raiders. A high pick becoming an unstoppable force that should dominate for years to come. He moved between defensive end and outside linebacker for most of the season but eventually his pass rushing became too important to waste dropping him into coverage. Mack’s season was highlighted by a 5 sack performance against Denver in which he tossing blockers aside with ease. When an 11 sack season is something of a disappointment you know you’re good. The sack total may be down but the he was still a force to be reckoned with for Denver as he racked up hits and completing for sacks with DeMarcus Ware and the rest of that group in Denver is no easy thing. Miller’s all round play is what elevates him above the rest of the competition though, he’s all over the field be it covering backs and tight ends well or 3 yards in the backfield on a run play, he can do it all and it drives offenses mad.
Interior Defensive Line
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans*
76 Tackles, 17.5 sacks, 29 TFL, 50 QB hits, 8 PD, 3 FF
Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams
69 Tackles, 11 sacks, 22 TFL, 37 QB hits, 1 PD, 0 FF
This was perhaps the easiest selection we each had to make. Watt and Donald have been completely dominant this year and are the 2 runaway favourites for defensive player of the year. That dominance leaps at you off the game film and is demonstrated in their stat line. Watt lead the league in sacks, tackles for loss and QB hits despite playing 3 games with a broken hand and a Pierre-Paul style club. Donald’s stats, while lower than Watt’s are equally, if not more, impressive given he played all of his snaps from the 4-3 DT position while Watt moved around and was frequently on the edge as well as his usual 3-4 DE spot. Donald’s speed off the ball was far more than guards and centers could handle and Watt’s slick hands and incredible strength had him moving off blockers with incredible ease. These two dominated games to an unprecedented degree this season and demanded special plans from every offense they faced.
Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
118 Tackles, 1 sack, 7 TFL, 4 INT, 10 PD, 2 FF
NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
154 Tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7 TFL, 0 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF
Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
105 Tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 4 INT, 7 PD, 4 FF
Luke Kuechly might have missed some games this year but when he was one the field he was simply incredible. He’s always been a tackling machine, one of the handful of linebackers who seem able to ghost through the chaos and get to the ball carrier. What separated him this year was his terrific work in coverage, his range is incredible and it baits QB’s into bad throws while making life a little easier for everyone else involved. Bowman is one of the feel good stories of the season. This year marked his first games back since suffering a horrific knee injury in the 2013 NFC Championship game. The 49ers team he came back to has been very different from the one he nearly won a Superbowl with, but that didn’t stop him being the same old Bowman. A freakish athlete Bowman ran down and bombarded running backs all over the field while dealing with blockers incredibly well. His play was a bright spot in a terrible season for San Francisco. Thomas Davis has continued his amazing level of play in 2015, another year removed from his 3rd ACL injury. Davis’ greatest strength is his speed. He flies around the edge of the defense covering ground against the pass and chasing down ball carriers. Allowed to be more aggressive than Kuechly he can get in the backfield in the blink of an eye. How long Davis can sustain such a frenetic pace on the field is a big question, but for now the Panthers enjoy the benefits of his other-worldly athleticism .
Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers
56 Tackles, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 18 PD, 3 FF
Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs
60 Tackles, 2 TFL, 8 INT, 26 PD, 1 FF + 2 TD
Yet another Panther on the list, Josh Norman has had an incredible season that goes beyond getting under O’Dell Beckham’s skin. His performance one on one against the best receivers in the NFL has been outstanding. DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans… Those are just some of the names that have tried Norman and failed this season. That speaks volumes. Marcus Peters gets the nod as the only rookie on the defense thanks to a high number of turnovers and break-ups. His flashy plays won over the majority of our voters as he lead the league in pass deflections and was tied for the lead in interceptions. His inexperience did cause issues at times and he allowed some very big plays through the season but he’s a naturally gifted athlete with the fluidity of movement and reactions that could lead to him one day being in Josh Norman’s position of the consensus best corner in the league.
Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
89 Tackles, 1 sack, 11 TFL, 5 INT, 17 PD, 1 FF
Kurt Coleman, Carolina Panthers
88 Tackles, 1 sack, 8 TFL, 7 INT, 9 PD, 0 FF
For all the versatility that goes on up front on defense and across the battlelines on offense I think Mathieu is the most versatile player going. He’s lined up all around the field, blitzing off the edge and through the middle, starting 20 yards off the ball and making plays against deep passes or jumping routes in the flats. He can cover every type of receiver going regardless of his small stature. His injury late on against Green Bay is a big blow for the Cardinals Superbowl chances. Kurt Coleman is perhaps the most improved player in the NFL, he flew around the back end of the Panthers defense and created turnovers for himself and others. His consistently great positioning forced QB’s to hold the ball longer than they wanted, panic and either get run over by the pass rush or force a throw somewhere they shouldn’t.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
33/36 FGs, 4 50+, 52/52 XP
Gostkowski was once again the most reliable and consistent kicker in the NFL. With the change of the extra point position the the 15 yard line we saw just 5 kickers get 100% of them, and none came close to Gostkowski’ 52. He didn’t miss a kick under 40 yards all season while playing his home games in the swirling winds of Foxboro. Beyond that his kick-offs were consistently unreturnable.
Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
96 Punts, 43.7 net average, 41 inside 20 +(passing) 25%, 20 yards
Hekker had a hell of a year. He lead the NFL in gross and net punting average as well as punts down inside the 20. His boot was the second best part of the Rams offense after Todd Gurley and he kept up his streak of fakes, running at least one for the 4th year in a row.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
(KR) 852 yards, 25.8 avg, 1 TD + (PR) 379 yards, 9.5 avg, 1 TD
For one season or another there are very few players who consistently return kicks and punts but Lockett does. No one comes close to his 73 total returns which is why he was an overwhelming choice for this spot despite his averages being on the low side.
2nd Team All-Pro
EDGE: Chandler Jones, New England Patriots & Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
INTERIOR: Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets & Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
LB: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings & Jamie Collins, New England Patriots
CB: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals & Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
S: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings & Rashad Jones, Miami Dolphins
K: Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
P: Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts
KR: Dwayne Harris, New York Giants