NFC Defense: Who Should've Been Picked For The Pro Bowl?
Earlier this month we looked at the offenses chosen for the NFL Pro Bowl and talked about who should have been picked, but missed out. You can see those articles here for both the NFC and AFC. Today is the day of the Madden Virtual 2021 Pro Bowl, so let's take a look at who should've been picked for the Pro Bowl NFC defense.
By Greg Spires.
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Defensive dominance is a highly sought, rarely met target all coaches aspire to have but the NFC has been amazing to watch defensively this year. Several stand out players in the NFC that are Defensive Player of the Year candidates were electrifying this year.
In terms of teams, the L.A. Rams had the fewest yards allowed per game and the second most amount of sacks but they weren’t the only NFC team who shone defensively this year. Here I’ll investigate which defensive players stood out in the NFC and who was wrongfully ignored when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced in December.
*Denotes starter for official NFL Pro Bowl roster
Interior Defensive Linemen
Aaron Donald* – L.A. Rams
Second most sacks in the NFL this year with 13.5 and 18 tackles for loss (TFL) to round off another dominant year for Donald. With another four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery this year, it’s fair to say that Donald has continued to strike fear in offensive coordinators around the league and the chaos he causes at the line of scrimmage continues to be a spectacle for fans of big defensive plays. An incredible athlete who takes his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl appearance on the NFC roster, and definitely a Defensive Player of the Year candidate yet again.
Fletcher Cox* – Philadelphia Eagles
6.5 sacks and 11 TFL for Cox who has been vital in creating a good pass rush in what has otherwise been a bleak year defensively for the Eagles. He had a forced fumble too, demonstrating his explosive strength through the interior line and a sign of how disruptive he can be when at his best. Cox continues to bulldoze interior offensive lineman out the way and disrupt running backs and pressure QBs at an elite level yet again – warranting the platform to showcase his skills at the 2021 virtual Pro Bowl.
Grady Jarrett – Atlanta Falcons
4 sacks and 11 TFL for the defensive lineman doesn’t tell all the story as Jarrett continues to be one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFC. Jarrett is a player that I am a big fan of but looking around the NFC it is tough to see him warrant a Pro Bowl selection this year. No forced fumbles this year hindered his stats but the pressure he creates on QBs and the penalties he consistently draws for holding from linemen is rarely discussed when looking at Pro Bowl selections.
Should’ve been picked:
David Onyemata – New Orleans Saints
6.5 sacks and 11 TFL is an impressive year for the Nigerian-Canadian defensive tackle who featured in an extremely effective defensive line for the Saints in 2020. A year with career high sacks and his first career interception demonstrates a clear step-up in the fifth-year pro’s game this year and he warrants a Pro Bowl selection in my eyes after such a great year. He’d replace Grady Jarrett who has been very good but hasn’t created enough turnovers or sacks for my liking.
Gridiron Xtra change: Grady Jarrett out, David Onyemata in
Cameron Jordan* – New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been very hard to break down defensively and Jordan (alongside Onyemata and Trey Hendrickson) has been integral to that. Jordan is a big presence in the Saints defensive line, and he has been hard to shut down this year, with him having another stellar year for the Saints. 7.5 sacks, 13 TFL’s and one forced fumble is a solid year for the veteran defensive lineman. His ability to get to the QB has been breathtakingly easy at times, demonstrated by his three-sack game against the Falcons in Week 10.
Brandon Graham* – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles veteran had an impressive year, despite the team struggling as Graham put up good stats with eight sacks, 15 TFL and 45 total tackles as part of an effective duo with Fletcher Cox. Two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery demonstrates that he still has the ability to be effective at getting after running backs and QBs and continues to be a rock in the tackle. A productive year from Graham but I think the stats inflate how good he really has been, and I believe on this year’s performances alone, there is a player listed below who deserves a selection ahead of the Eagles favourite.
Chase Young – Washington Football Team
The No.2 overall selection from the 2020 NFL Draft has been paying dividends this year with a very impressive introduction to the league, taking to it like a duck to water. 6.5 sacks, 12 TFL, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries are very impressive for a veteran of the league let alone a 21-year-old in his first season in a team surrounded by bad press and off-the-field issues. Young is a strong contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year too and his selection to the Pro Bowl is definitely a sign that people simply have to sit up and take notice when he takes to the field.
Should’ve been picked:
Trey Hendrickson – New Orleans Saints
A real breakthrough year for the former third round pick in 2017. He recorded 12.5 sacks (tied third most in the NFL), 13 TFL and one forced fumble for a Saints team that have been absolute defensive savages at the line of scrimmage. Deserving of a place at the Pro Bowl after breaking out as a crucial player in the pass rush and run stopping game this year for the Saints. A great 2020 for the young man who should be in the NFC team in place of Graham in my opinion after some big performances.
Brian Burns – Carolina Panthers
Burns has tallied nine sacks, 12 TFL and three forced fumbles in an impressive second year campaign for the edge player. Burns continues to impress with his freakish athleticism and his stats this year prove that he has more than just physical gifts and can be disruptive against offensive plays. An excellent player developing well down in Carolina and someone who is beginning to turn heads with his incredible athleticism and big-play ability. If it weren’t for Hendrickson’s year, he would have made my Pro Bowl team, as an eye-catching defensive end who is never far away from the action and constantly eyeing up big stops in the backfield.
Gridiron Xtra change: Brandon Graham out, Trey Hendrickson in
Khalil Mack* – Chicago Bears
Mack forced his way through offensive lines for eight sacks, 14 TFL, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries (as well as an interception) this year. His ability to blow up plays in the backfield continues to amaze me and his raw strength in the tackle has been significant on many occasions with the six-time Pro Bowler producing vital turnovers for the Bears. Mack continues to shine as one of the best edge rushers in the NFL, forcing offensive tackles into panic mode as he tears through to the quarterback. A brilliant player to watch and rightly appearing at his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl.
Za’Darius Smith* – Green Bay Packers
Smith boasts 12.5 sacks this year (joint third most in the NFL) alongside 17 TFL for an explosive pass rush which has been key in the Packers defense this year. He also has four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries that show how crucial the plays he makes can be in terms of changing over of possession and shaking up offensive rhythm. Smith stood out this year with a career high year in terms of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, creating vital turnovers for the Packers. A definite in my Pro Bowl team for 2020.
Jason Pierre-Paul – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9.5 sacks, 11 TFL’s and two interceptions is exceptional for a man who only has two-and-a-half fingers on one hand (no, seriously look it up). An exceptional season for the veteran linebacker that has set the tone for the rest of the defense and helped the Buccaneers defense become one of the best in the league this year. JPP has stepped his game up this year and come up with some clutch plays to force turnovers for the Buccaneers defence, making him a sure selection for the Pro Bowl. An overall impressive year sees him voted to his third Pro Bowl and his first since 2012.
Haason Reddick – Arizona Cardinals
Reddick had a career year while playing on the franchise tag (shock) in 2020. He recorded 12.5 sacks (joint third most in the NFL) as well as 19 TFLs and six forced fumbles (second most in the NFL) in what was as phenomenal second half of the season for the four-year pro. The game against the Giants in week 14 (highlight video below) saw Reddick record five sacks and three forced fumbles in a dominant display that allowed him to have a forced fumble as well as one or more sacks in both week 15 and 16.
An incredible few weeks for Reddick pushed him into Pro Bowl conversation and made his stats hard to ignore as he’s taken his game to another level this year. A few inconsistent performances towards the start of the year may have left him short of the Pro Bowl roster but his performances in December have been nothing short of astounding.
Bobby Wagner* – Seattle Seahawks
Another season of over 130 tackles for Bobby Wagner is hardly a surprise, this is his fifth consecutive season and sixth total of over 130. With three sacks and seven TFL his stats have not been elite but the plays he has made are memorable and often momentum changing in games. An elite linebacker who continues to prove so by leading the Seahawks to another post season in his esteemed career. Wagner deserves his accolades for his performances this year and continues to play at an extremely high standard that pushes others to match his intensity and energy.
Fred Warner – San Francisco 49ers
Warner is a player that I love to watch because he covers almost every blade of grass on the field come the final whistle. 115 total tackles, five TFL, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries suggest he has been a very well-rounded player this year after excelling in an injury-stricken 49ers defense. A very talented young linebacker who will I believe is already one of the best in the league and I hope to see him become one of the best ever in the years to come. Definitely worthy of a Pro Bowl selection and an exciting player who is always in the thick of things breaking up passes and making drive stopping plays.
Eric Kendricks – Minnesota Vikings
107 total tackles, four TFL and three interceptions show an impressive year for Kendricks within what was a turbulent and inconsistent defense for the Vikings in 2020. His fifth consecutive year of over 100 tackles and a career-high season for interceptions prove that he is a consistent player who is capable of coming up with big stops when his team needs them. With only two linebacker slots available in the Pro Bowl it is hard to select him considering how dominant Warner and Wagner have been this year.
Blake Martinez – New York Giants
151 total tackles (joint third most in the NFL) with two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a solitary interception give us a glimpse at how effective Martinez has been in his first year at the Giants. His high volume of tackles may be a result of a weaker defensive line, but Martinez has been exceptional at mopping up and he’s tackled very well in 2020. A very underrated player who has been impressive in an otherwise unimpressive New York Giants team, and that, unfortunately, may have been the main reason he has been overlooked for the Pro Bowl.
Devin White – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
140 total tackles (fifth most in NFL) alongside nine sacks, 18 TFL, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery is evidence that White is beginning to establish himself as an elite bulldozing all-action linebacker. A physical specimen that has begun to prove he was worthy of that fifth overall selection in 2019 must feel hard done by to be missing out on the Pro Bowl in 2021.
Jalen Ramsey* – L.A. Rams
A disappointing year for Ramsey statistically but in game, he has continued to be one of the best corners in the league by pressing and covering receivers so closely he can read the label on their underwear. Only one interception and five passes defended show that while he hasn’t had a huge amount of pass breakups to make, he has been outstanding in coverage so QBs haven’t dared to throw it his way out of fear of being picked. Another solid year for Ramsey in a great Rams defense sees him receive an invite to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and deservedly so.
Jaire Alexander* – Green Bay Packers
An excellent year for Alexander saw him have 12 passes defended, one interception and one sack in 2020. Alexander has been very impressive during his first three seasons in the league and has begun to creep into debates around being the best corner in the league. The Packers defense has been largely good this year and Alexander has been central to them being able to make stops and provide Rodgers a platform to score an unfair amount of points at the other end.
Marshon Lattimore – New Orleans Saints
Lattimore has been a very good cornerback in the NFC for the short amount of time he has been in the league. In 2020 he produced 10 passes defended and one interception which is relatively low for the high standards he has for himself, and that fans expect of him. However, playing on a strong Saints defense may have helped him to secure votes for the Pro Bowl where maybe he didn’t warrant it on this year’s performances.
James Bradberry – New York Giants
Bradberry has been a star in his first season in New York, amassing 18 passes defended (third in the NFL), three interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his 15 games played. An intelligent player who has made a habit of breaking up all kinds of passes, sees him selected to his first Pro Bowl as he begins to receive some deserved attention for his standout performances in 2020.
Should’ve been picked:
Carlton Davis – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Davis has 21 passed defended (most in the NFL) as well as four interceptions (tied fifth most in the NFL) and three TFL. A dynamic and athletic player who has improved massively in his first two seasons in the league to establish himself in an inspiring Buccaneers defense in 2020. I would have loved to see Davis at the Pro Bowl and think his performances this season outshone Lattimore’s but unfortunately fans and other voters did not see it the same way. I would have him in my team over Lattimore based purely off performances in 2020.
Kendall Fuller – Washington Football Team
10 passes defended and four interceptions (tied fifth most in the NFL) has been a pretty successful year for the young cornerback. A strong year that has seen Fuller hope to solidify himself as CB1 and at the heart of a surprisingly strong defense in Washington. A deserving Pro Bowler who has been smothering passes all season, but there are only four slots available and it’s very tough to point a finger and say he deserves it more than them. A shame he plays for a team that are and not praised enough for their elite defensive plays.
Gridiron Xtra change: Marshon Lattimore out, Carlton Davis in
Budda Baker* – Arizona Cardinals
Baker has been a rock in a very strong secondary on paper down in Arizona and he proved that this year with 113 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions. His versatility and athleticism has been on display week-in week-out and made him one of the most consistent performers in the league. A career high year for interceptions and joint high for sacks shows his elite level of performance after stepping up on last year’s excellent display. A deserving Pro Bowl selection for the hard-hitting and athletic safety who is difficult to take your eye off on gameday.
Quandre Diggs* – Seattle Seahawks
Diggs had a fantastic year in 2020 with five interceptions (fourth most in the NFL), 10 passes defended and 58 tackles. The Seahawks have been desperate to recreate the ‘Legion of Boom’ era of the 2010s and with the production of Adams and Diggs this year they may be closer than they think. A career high year for interceptions and passes defended indicate he has taken a massive step up this year. A deserved selection to just his first Pro Bowl but I’m sure it won’t be his last if he can continue to replicate this year’s performances.
Jamal Adams – Seattle Seahawks
9.5 sacks (most all-time for a defensive back in the NFL) and 11 TFL can be considered a highly successful and explosive year for the Seahawks new defensive star. A record seeting year for sacks is no surprise as he continues to demonstrate his strength, toughness and determination to get to the ball. Appearing to sometimes lack in coverage taints his image somewhat, but this could be due to the lack of pass rush early in the season in Seattle meaning that Adams was often left with simply too much to do. Regardless of this, Adams is clearly one of the top strong safeties in the league.
Harrison Smith – Minnesota Vikings
Smith has been a gamechanger in the Vikings defense for years and this year was no different. Five interceptions, with 10 passes defended and 89 total tackles show how omnipresent Smith was in 2020. His ability to tackle hard and with precision is amazing and his athletic ability is outstanding for a safety. A great year for Smith personally but the lacklustre defending of the Vikings as a unit may have seen him slip out of the popular vote but I would’ve strongly considered him this year.
John Johnson III – L.A. Rams
A fantastic breakout year for the fourth-year pro, with one interception, 105 total tackles and eight passes defended. In 2020, Johnson III has been everywhere and while his interceptions are down, he has been very impressive in coverage and always seems to be the man to break up the offense’s plays. Yet to be selected to the Pro Bowl but his displays this year give him a feeling of being harshly left out.
Antoine Winfield Jr – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The rookie taken in the second round was a star this year, proving the teams who passed on him that they made a big mistake. With 94 total tackles, one interception, three sacks and two forced fumbles it has been an outstanding all-action display from Winfield Jr this year. A fantastic introduction to the league but he’s been passive in a handful of games and is yet to have the time to prove himself as an elite safety. Definitely worth mentioning and someone I would expect to make the Pro Bowl in the coming seasons.
To be honest, you only really notice kickers and long snappers when things go wrong and it must be mind-numbingly boring to watch exclusively special teams plays and argue over who snapped it best. With that being said, Younghoe Koo has been unbelievably accurate in his comeback year in the NFL, leading the NFL with 35 field goals and having a 94.6% success rate from field goals. However, Jason Myers of the Seattle Seahawks was 100% on field goals this year, including a 61-yard monster kick against the Rams in week 10. He also has a 94% completion for PAT attempts which, in my book, makes him the most accurate and successful kicker this year.
Jack Fox (Detroit Lions) was selected at punter and he’s had an impressive year with an average punt of 49.1 yards (third in the NFL) with 26 of his punts landing inside the 20. Michael Dickson from the Seahawks outshone Fox with 49.3 yards per punt and 31 punts landing inside the 20 (most in the NFL) in what has been a dominant year for the Seahawk. Someone worthy of being in the Pro Bowl but the public have decided that Fox is their man, with only one slot at the position it’s difficult but he’ll do.
The NFC selected Cordarrelle Patterson who has yet again proven to be a handful on special teams, with an average of 29.2 yards per return, over 964 yards returning kicks and 1 kick return TD in 2020. A very good special teams weapon for many years, I can’t help but feel like he deserves his spot in the Pro Bowl again this year.
Tyler Ott from the Seattle Seahawks was selected as the long snapper for the NFC, in what should’ve been a Seahawks dominated special team effort. I’m sure he can snap it really well 10-15 yards and merits his place, I’ll trust the public and the experts on this one.