Washington Redskins’ cornerback Josh Norman created a lot of buzz around the NFL with several candid statements, including when he called himself the “best cornerback on earth.” Norman has certainly established himself as one of the top players at his position, but there is plenty of disagreement regarding where he and others rank among the league’s best defenders.
Only two different players have been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year since 2012, and only one cornerback has won the award in the past 20 years. While the best defender in football is widely agreed upon, there is plenty of debate regarding who follows him.
Here’s a look at the top five defensive players entering the 2016 NFL season.
1) J.J. Watt
The Houston Texans’ defensive end has easily been the NFL’s most dominant defender of the last decade. Winning three of the last four NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, Watt has 69 sacks during that time. He wreaks havoc like no other defender, recording 41 pass deflections and forcing 15 fumbles since 2012.
2) Luke Kuechly
The Carolina Panthers’ linebacker is as consistent as they come. Before missing three games due to injury last year, Kuechly totaled more than 150 tackles in each of his first three seasons. When he was on the field in 2015, he was the anchor of one of the NFL’s best defenses, and that should once again be the case in 2016.
3) Aaron Donald
He might not get the same recognition as some of the league’s other top defenders, but Donald is the best interior lineman in football. The Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle recorded 11 sacks in 2015, and after totaling 20 sacks in his two NFL seasons, he’s exceeded all expectations as the No.13 overall pick in the 2014 draft. As an elite pass rusher and run defender, Donald should be an All-Pro for years to come.
4) Von Miller
Miller was the leader of a Denver Broncos’ defense that did the seemingly impossible and won a Super Bowl with one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks at the helm. Recording five playoff sacks while winning the Super Bowl MVP award, Miller was invaluable to one of the best defenses the NFL has seen in years. Even with his brilliant performance in 2015, Miller has put up better numbers in other years, recording 18.5 sacks in 2012 and totaling at least 11 sacks in all four years in which he played at least 15 games.
5) Khalil Mack
The former No.5 overall pick broke out in 2015, and he could be ready for an even bigger season in 2016. Mack followed up a solid rookie campaign with 15 sacks, and he’s one of the biggest reasons why the Oakland Raiders have a good chance to end their 14-year playoff drought. Mack possesses the kind of explosiveness that few defenders have, and he could be the one that seizes the Defensive Player of the Year award from Watt.