With the preseason and regular season right around the corner, the LWOS NFL department is taking a look at the best players at each position, division by division. This article will focus on the 2021 NFC West defense. There is a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball in this division.
2021 NFC West All-Division Team: The Defense
Given the personnel available, a 4-3 scheme made sense. Just as with the offensive side of the ball, there is a lot of talent on defense in the NFC West. That meant not every talented player made the cut. Here is the 2021 NFC West All-Division Team.
Defensive End: Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers)
In 2019, his rookie season, Nick Bosa played in all 16 games (14 starts) and had nine sacks, 25 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and an interception. Bosa was selected to the Pro Bowl that season and was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 2020 season saw Bosa play in only one full game after he tore his ACL against the New York Jets. If Bosa and be fully healthy in 2021, he should get back to being one of the more dominant pass rushers in the league.
Defensive End: Leonard Floyd (Los Angeles Rams)
Leonard Floyd spent his first four NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears before playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. Last season Floyd had 10.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, 19 quarterback hits, and 48 total pressures. This off-season the Rams signed him to a four-year contract worth $64 million.
Defensive Tackle: Aaron Donald (Rams)
Not only is Aaron Donald the best defensive player in the NFC West, he just might be the best player in all of football. In 2020 Donald had 13.5 sacks, 35 quarterback hits, and 67 pressures, despite seeing double and triple teams and every opponent game planning to try to stop him.
Donald has played seven seasons in the NFL and he has made the Pro Bowl every year. He has also been named First-Team All-Pro the last six seasons and won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, including last season and two of the last three. Not only has Donald been dominant, but he has also been reliable, having missed only two games in his entire career.
Defensive Tackle: J.J. Watt (Arizona Cardinals)
If anyone wanted Arik Armstead here instead, that is an argument that could be made. True, neither Armstead nor J.J. Watt is actually listed as a true tackle, but both are great at pass rushing from the inside, and Bosa and Floyd had to be slotted in as the defensive ends.
Watt spent his first 10 seasons with the Houston Texans and has been selected to five Pro Bowls and a First-Team All-Pro five times. Now that Watt is no longer in the dumpster fire known as the Texans, he should thrive and put up some good numbers. While Watt did play in all 16 games last season, health has been an issue and this past Wednesday the Arizona Cardinals placed him on the PUP list due to soreness in his hamstring. If Watt can get and stay healthy, he should do what he does best, which is get after the quarterback.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks)
K.J. Wright remains a free agent, so Bobby Wagner gets the nod here. Wagner is entering his 10th NFL season. He has been selected to the last seven Pro Bowls and is a six-time First-Team All-Pro. In 2020 he had 138 tackles, three sacks, and 11 quarterback hits. During his career, Wagner has twice led the league in tackles.
In addition to putting up Hall of Fame-worthy statistics and productivity, Wagner has also been reliable. During his career, Wagner has missed only nine games thus far. That would be impressive at any position, but even more so given that Wagner plays the violent and unforgiving position of linebacker.
Linebacker: Fred Warner (49ers)
Fred Warner has only been in the NFL for three years, but he is already making his mark. He has played in and started all 16 games in each of his first three seasons. In 2020 he had 125 tackles, seven quarterback hits, one sack and two interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a First-Team All-Pro.
This off-season Warner and the 49ers agreed to a five-year, $95 million extension. That deal includes $40.5 million guaranteed and makes him the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. Warner will be a leader on the young 49ers defense this season and will look to continue to play at an All-Pro level. 2021 NFC West defense
Linebacker: Chandler Jones (Cardinals)
It has been reported that Chandler Jones has requested a trade, but for now he remains a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Jones has been in the NFL since 2012 and in those nine seasons he has made three Pro Bowls and is a two-time First-Team All-Pro.
Jones was limited to only five games last season, but injuries have not really been an issue throughout his career. Since being in Arizona Jones has produced. In the last five seasons, Jones has tallied 61 sacks, and if he achieves six more while with Arizona, he will become the franchise’s all-time leader for career sacks.
Cornerback: Jalen Ramsey (Rams)
Jalen Ramsey might be the best corner in all of football. He wants the assignment of covering the other team’s best wideout each week and he delivers. Ramsey has played five NFL seasons and he has made four Pro Bowls, including the last four seasons, and has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice.
While Ramsey had only one interception last season, he allowed only 4.8 yards per target and a 46.7% completion percentage. EA Sports doesn’t always get all of their Madden ratings correct but giving Ramsey the prestigious 99 rating and making him the highest rated corner was the correct call.
Cornerback: Jason Verrett (49ers)
Ramsey may be the best corner in the NFL, but Jason Verrett is in the top-10. This off-season the 49ers and Verrett agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million deal. If the talented corner remains healthy, and that is a big if considering his history, that deal will be an absolute bargain.
In 2020 Verrett allowed only 6.5 yards per target and had two interceptions. He also gave up only one touchdown and allowed only a 76.3 passer rating (on 63 credited targets) all last season. In his first two seasons with the 49ers Verrett has played in 14 games (13 starts). In that time, he has tallied 60 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defended.2021 NFC West defense
Strong Safety: Jamal Adams (Seahawks)
If someone wanted Jimmie Ward in this spot, there is an argument for that. But Jamal Adams gets the nod here. Adams spent his first three NFL seasons with the New York Jets. He then forced his way out of New York to a better situation in Seattle. Adams has made three straight Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2019. In just 12 games last season he had 9.5 sacks, an NFL single-season record for safeties. For reference, no other safety had more than 3.5 sacks.
Adams is entering the final year of his rookie contract and he is set to make $9.8 million. He is looking for a long-term deal with Seattle and given his production and the fact the team gave up two first-round picks to acquire him, a deal will probably get done at some point.
Free Safety: Budda Baker (Cardinals)
Budda Baker does basically everything at a high level. In his first four NFL seasons the talented safety has received three Pro Bowl selections and been a First-Team All-Pro twice. He has also amassed 441 total tackles in his first four years in the league. Last season Baker had 118 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.
Baker has been on the receiving end of too much disrespect, including from PFF and CBS Sports who, for some reason, refuse to recognize just how good Baker is. Baker is a top-10 safety in the NFL and people need to acknowledge that.
Those are the best at each position for the NFC West defense. Click here to see the picks for the 2021 NFC West offense