For years, the NFC West has been synonymous with smash-mouth defense and a heavy running attack. It wasn’t until recently that the division shifted towards the offensive side of the ball, no doubt thanks to the young, offensive-minded gurus in Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Kliff Kingsbury. The one outlier being the Seattle Seahawks and their run-first offense, though that may be subject to change with the arrival of D.K. Metcalf. With the recent change in philosophies, the NFC West embodies innovation and ground-breaking analytics, providing a glimpse at what the rest of the league could look like in the near future. These are the best players on defense, by position, heading into the 2019 season.
2019 NFC West All-Division Team: The Defense
Edge: Dee Ford (49ers)
Dee Ford is heading to the 49ers, via trade from the Chiefs, and looks to make an immediate impact as a pure pass rusher. He had a breakout season in 2018, recording career highs in sacks (13), tackles (55) and quarterback hits (29). He’ll get the opportunity to play across from rookie Nick Bosa, so the double teams he receives should be at a minimum. Look for Dee Ford to have another double-digit sack season and continue to elevate himself into elite pass rusher status.
Defensive Tackle: Aaron Donald (Rams)
What more can be said about Aaron Donald that hasn’t been said already? You could literally just write his name down and then move onto the next position. He’s the best defensive player, if not the best overall player, in the league and it wouldn’t even be close if not for Khalil Mack. He led the league in sacks (20.5) and quarterback hits (41) and that’s just barely scratching the surface of the havoc he wreaks on opposing offenses. He’s the guy that keeps offensive coordinators up at night and looks to continue his dominance in 2019.
Defensive Tackle: DeForest Buckner (49ers)
The 49ers have spent draft after draft grabbing defensive lineman and DeForest Buckner is the only one that’s made a significant impact thus far. In 2018, he posted double-digit sacks for the first time in his career (12) and was a force as a run defender as well. Flanking pass rushers like Dee Ford and Nick Bosa around him, gives the 49ers one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in the NFL.
Edge: Chandler Jones (Cardinals)
Chandler Jones has lost some of his luster since being traded to the Cardinals back in 2016, but not due to his performance. Players just simply get less shine and attention when going from a perennial title contender to the basement team of the NFC West. With that being said, Chandler Jones still managed to be a force on defense in 2018, recording double-digit sacks (13) for the fifth time in his career. At 29 years of age, Chandler Jones is still playing at an elite level and showing no signs of slowing down.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
If you’re searching for a model of consistency in the NFL, then look no further than Bobby Wagner. The Seahawks defense has gone through numerous changes over the years, but he’s always been the one constant. A tackling machine, Bobby Wagner had a combined 138 tackles in 2018 and two forced fumbles to go along with it. He’s arguably the best middle linebacker in the league and the personification of leading by example.
Linebacker: K.J. Wright (Seahawks)
Even though his 2018 season was cut short due to a lingering knee injury, K.J. Wright still makes this spot due to his past consistency and Pro Bowl level of play. A former Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee, K.J. Wright is another high-character linebacker for the Seahawks that’s helped carry the defense since the departure of the Legion of Boom. It’ll be interesting to see how his health holds up heading into the 2019 season.
Linebacker: Jordan Hicks (Cardinals)
One of the more underrated players in the league, Jordan Hicks is a young, athletic, three-down linebacker that ranked in the top 10 for his position according to Pro Football Focus. He’s well above average in pass coverage and missed just five tackles in 2018. He missed all of 2017 due to an Achilles injury, so if he can stay healthy, then the sky is the limit for this young emerging star.
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
Since entering the league in 2011, Patrick Peterson has been in the conversation for the best defensive back in the league. He ranked as the fifth-best cornerback in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus and recorded a combined 54 tackles. He’s also made the Pro Bowl every year since entering the league and last season was no exception. Even as he gets older, Patrick Peterson continues to dominate in the secondary and cause quarterbacks to think twice before throwing to his side of the field.
Cornerback: Aqib Talib (Rams)
Even with his season cut short by injuries, Aqib Talib still makes the list here. While some of that is due to the lack of depth at the cornerback position in the NFC West, he’s still a dominant force in the secondary after all these years. He had five pass deflections in the eight games he played, which is the same number that Patrick Peterson had in double the number of games. I’m predicting that Aqib Talib finally starts to show his age next season and comes back down to the pack in regards to cornerbacks in the league.
Safety: Eric Weddle (Rams)
Eric Weddle is one of those players whose impact won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Spending the 2018 season with the Ravens, he managed only three pass deflections and zero interceptions. Even with that being said, he still ranked as the tenth best safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Eric Weddle’s real value comes from his ability to read defenses and the leadership he shows on and off the field. The pressure caused by Aaron Donald, in the upcoming season, should allow Eric Weddle a lot more opportunities to create plays and be a real game-changer in the secondary.
Safety: D.J. Swearinger (Cardinals)
D.J. Swearinger is a player that’s bounced around from team to team since entering the league in 2013 with the Houston Texans. His tackles (53) took a slight dip from the season before, but he still managed to record four interceptions. He also ranked as the thirteenth best safety according to Pro Football Focus and looks to help turn around a re-tooled Cardinals defense. As long as he can stay healthy, D.J. Swearinger should put up another Pro Bowl caliber season and finally get the recognition he deserves. A defensive backfield with him and Patrick Peterson has the potential to be one of the best in the league.
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