Lord, have mercy.
See, ideas like this become reality once Ed and I get to talking about something totally unrelated to where our initial discussions start. We were shootin' the breeze as always, and we talked about compiling a list. Initially, I suggested a running backs list only for Ed to lay the ultimate gauntlet, the ultimate challenge, and one that made me stop and wonder if it could be done:
"How 'bout we do a top ten defensive players list?"
Unlike offense, a main ingredient of what makes a defensive player great is attitude. You may not see guys on this list who lead in every defensive statistical category, but I promise you will see ten players on here who put the fear of God, Allah, Buddah, and the lil’ dude from Pedro Cerrano’s locker in every offense from week-to-week.
This is revolutionary and, for that, we called upon three writers that are the definition of the phrase “The revolution will be live.” They're doing work right now. These three dudes hold it down all over the web, and we’re more than honored that they shared their insight, wisdom, and fandom with us for this ground-breaking piece of work.
Thanks go to out Crazy Joe Simmons, the godfather of Bull City State of Mind; The Reverend Paul Revere, the creator of The House that Glanville Built; and Justin Tinsley, an invaluable member of The Smoking Section.
Without further ado, we present to you the real top ten defensive players of 2011.
10. Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers – The Heisman has been going strong since 1998, and in a class that features Peyton Manning and Randy Moss, he’s more than done his part to cement his legend. Tinsley is amazed by the fact that this is the same man who won the Heisman 14 years ago. The man many of us wanted to be like in college is still one of the premier players at his position and he continues to re-define himself as only he can.
9. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers – James Harrison continues the lineage of Steelers defensive players that are the definition of intimidation. Somewhere, we know that Mean Joe Greene, Greg Lloyd, and other Steel City legends smile when they see this man line up on D. Crazy Joe calls him “The most feared defender in the NFL,” and after seeing many of his bone-crushing hits over the years, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
8. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys – The Rev calls the man unblockable, while simultaneously hating the fact that he plays for the Cowboys. Tinsley makes note of the fact that while the Cowboys have failed to meet expectations, Ware has been more than consistent. It’ll be exciting to see what Rob Ryan does with this man, especially given the fact that we are well aware of what Ware has done so far. The sky is definitely the limit for him in 2011.
7. Nnamdi Asomaugha, Philadelphia Eagles – It took Nnamdi coming over to the Eagles to officially rile me up about the season starting back up. This man is heralded as a shutdown corner, and now that he’s in the NFC East, as well as a team that’s sure to be on national television plenty of times this year, he has an even bigger audience to perform in front of.
Tinsley believes Nnamdi’s presence is just what the doctor ordered to mask some of Philly’s weaknesses on defense. The Rev is arguably the most ecstatic panelist of the five of us. Asomaugha plays for his team now, and since the Eagles can potentially throw Rogers-Cromartie, Asante Samuel, and Nnamdi out there, quarterbacks may have no choice but to throw his way. If that happens, it’s on like Donkey Kong, and not in a good way for offenses across the league.
6. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens – Allow me to elaborate on The Book of Reed:
"As an Ed Reed Stanley, it pains me to see that he is not an overall top-five player on our list. Last year showed, once again, why this man is legend, an all-time great, and a grown-ass man. Reed missed six games and still led the league in picks and continued to help set the bar for secondary players across the League.
"It sickens me that this man doesn't have a ring by now. I say that because this team has everything it needs to win a Super Bowl, and sadly, it will take the Ravens having to win it for people to truly understand that Ed Reed is peerless. There aren’t enough people who will say this loudly, which leaves it to me, and others, to tell The Ed Reed Gospel as often as possible. That’s fine with me. In my opinion, he is the best defensive player in the National Football League."
5. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers – The Book of Patrick Willis, courtesy of The Rev:
“Easily the most physical, versatile and durable defensive player in the NFL. Willis can literally do it all, absolutely mauling running backs, receivers, tight ends and QBs. He sheds block with ease, can cover tight ends and running backs and has the speed to chase down wide receivers, literally. Not only that, but he's only missed one game in his four years. Beast.”
The Rev has Willis number one on his list as the best defensive player in football. Crazy Joe echoes similar sentiments as well:
"Bar None should be his name, because since the demise of Ray Lewis, Willis is the best middle linebacker in the league, bar none. Like it or not, it is the truth. The man is a human wrecking ball. He can play in any system in the League, and he will be elite."
4. Darrelle Revis, New York Jets – Crazy Joe rates him at number three on his list, while Ed has him as high as number two. Here's more about Revis from Tinsley:
"He’s still a guy you don’t want to throw to, because of the frightening combo of physicality on the line, intelligence and sheer reputation."
The Rev acknowledges he’s the real deal, and while Revis is incredible, we’re not about to sit up here and pretend like this didn’t happen. Nonetheless, he is elite, a dominant corner and, in the eyes of the masses, the best cornerback in football.
3. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers – The Rev calls him a terror on the field. Tinsley takes it a step further with his thoughts on Clay:
“No disrespect to Troy, but this guy, who resembles He-Man, should have won Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. Matthews' knack for making big hits, huge tackles and key stops will continue to evolve this year, as will the legend that is his hair."
"Dubbing him the “next Ray Lewis” is probably a stretch, but he’s playing the position just as good, if not better, than anyone in the NFL at this very moment. Now just imagine if Green Bay stays healthy this year with Matthews commanding the center of that defense. Scary, right?"
Crazy Joe says Matthews reminds him of Brian Urlacher but with Ray Lewis’ instincts. The thing is this man is only going to get better.
2. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers – Crazy Joe says the man is a monster all over the field. The Rev says that Polamalu would probably be number one if he didn’t get injured so much, while Tinsley calls Polamalu the most important player on the Pittsburgh Steelers. When Polamalu is at his best, the Steelers have shown themselves to be damn near unbeatable. When he's not, albeit due to injury, the Steelers go from damn near unbeatable to not nearly as formidable.
1. Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears – Julius Peppers is the only man to get multiple number one selections on this list. Crazy Joe has him number one on his list, acknowledging his dominance against the run and the pass. Tinsley says that Peppers could go start at the four for the Chicago Bulls right now.
Ed has Peppers number one on his list as well, and does his part to share The Julius Peppers Effect and exactly why this man is so important to the City of Wind:
“We need to stop acting like the Bears weren't an injury to their leader on offense away from being in the Super Bowl against the Steelers. We need to stop acting like the Bears defensive unit weren't giving the Green Bay Packers offense all they could handle while being on the field for more than two-thirds of the game."
"Most importantly, we need to stop acting like Julius Peppers' impact on the Chicago Bears probably extended the career of Brian Urlacher by 2-3 years, gave Lovie Smith some job stability, and the Bears fanbase someone they can root for in the line of Doug Atkins, Gino Marchetti, and Richard Dent. From stuffing the run to consistently fighting through double-teams on pass plays, Peppers might be the most valuable defender in all of football.”
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions – Suh is dope. We just need to see more.
Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens – Look, we all love Ray Lewis. Hell, out of sheer nostalgia and respect for my elders, I have him on my list. However, the man is at the twilight of his career, and we are honest enough to admit that his best days are behind him. However, there’s still no one in the game that gets us more crunk for some football than Ray-Ray and, for that, he is still held in extremely high regard. If anything, he is the Godfather of our list.
Clay Matthews and Darrelle Revis both finished with 28 points, but since Matthews received a number one ranking from Tinsley (Revis' highest finish was from Ed at number two), he earned the tie-breaker.
Thanks again to all the panelists, and for all the fans of football, be sure to let us know how you feel!