In this series, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be selecting the best players in each division by position. Taking a look at the defenses in the AFC East for 2022, let’s take a look at the best of the best in the division…
2022 AFC East All-Division Team: The Defense
Edge Defender: Von Miller, Bills
In 2021, the Buffalo Bills defense was elite. The one thing they lacked was a true pass rush presence from any one individual. So, they went out and got one of the best edge defenders to ever go after the quarterback in Von Miller. The eight-time Pro Bowl and two-time Super Bowl champion now brings his talents to upstate New York.
Now, Miller may be 33 years old, but that does not mean he is slowing down anytime soon. This past season, Miller totaled 9.5 sacks and 30 pressures, with another four sacks coming in the Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl playoff run. The Bills are a team looking to get over that final roadblock and into the big game. With Von Miller in the fold, the Bills are one step closer to doing just that.
READ MORE: Defense Will Be Key for Buffalo Bills
Edge Defender: Matthew Judon, Patriots
Following a 4-3 defensive alignment, Matthew Judon is the easy choice here. Last off-season, the former Baltimore Ravens fifth-round pick was one of the premiere edge defenders available on the free agent market. However, his six sacks in 2019 left some teams wary of offering him a massive, multi-year contract. But not Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The New England Patriots signed Judon to a four-year deal worth $54.5 million, adding who they thought would be a playmaker in their defense.
Right away, Judon made an impact, becoming the Patriots biggest pass-rushing threat in years. Over his first five games alone he had 6.5 sacks, finishing 2021 with 12.5 total. Judon had 42 pressures to his name and made 60 tackles on the year. Look for the soon-to-be 30-year-old to make a case for his fourth-straight Pro Bowl appearance in 2022.
Defensive Lineman: Christian Wilkins, Dolphins
Entering his fourth season, Christian Wilkins looks to one-up himself yet again. Each year the Clemson product has improved, and his move to defensive tackle in 2021 paid dividends. The 2019 13th overall pick saw career-high marks in sacks (4.5), tackles (89), and quarterback hits (13). Moreover, Wilkins proved durable, starting every game in the regular season for the first time in his career, after battling injuries in 2020.
The centerpiece of the Miami Dolphins defensive front, the team has built their front seven around Wilkins. With the front revolving around an elite run defender like Wilkins, it will not only allow for him to shine but also continue to grow as a pass rusher. If he does so successfully, he will quickly establish himself among the best interior defensive lineman in the game.
Defensive Lineman: Quinnen Williams, Jets
The second defensive lineman spot was a tough choice because there are a handful of candidates. Buffalo’s Ed Oliver is a great player but his run defense issues this past year hurt his case. Christian Barmore is a player in New England to look out for to have a breakout year in 2022, but he too must become a better run defender. And credit to Zach Sieler, who has developed into a well-rounded running mate for Wilkins, though not a three-down player.
That is where Quinnen Williams comes in. Coming off of a down season, Williams screams not only bounce-back candidate but breakout candidate. The 2019 third overall pick enters his fourth season, and has established himself as one of the better, but not best defensive linemen around the league. Taking that next step as a disruptor will go a long way, after posting six sacks and 53 tackles in 2021. The key will be remaining healthy, which was an issue down the final stretch of last season. Considering the talent now along the Jets front alongside him, Williams will have plenty of opportunities to earn his first Pro Bowl bid in 2022.
Linebacker: Matt Milano, Bills
In 2017, the Buffalo Bills selected Boston College linebacker Matt Milano 163rd overall. What a steal he would wind up being. An underrated linebacker for years now, Milano stayed healthy and put it all together in 2021. 16 games, each being starts, with 86 tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, and five pass deflections. Milano also added 10 pressures, and only surrendered one touchdown in coverage all season. He even held opposing quarterbacks to a career-low 55.2% completion mark this past year.
Milano may not be the type of linebacker to post Pro Bowl, jaw-dropping tackle or sack numbers. But he is the type of linebacker that does a bit of everything and is a core piece to a dominant Bills defense. After all, that’s why the Bills gave him a four-year extension last off-season. Playing alongside Tremaine Edmunds (who had somewhat of a down year in 2021), the Bills once again have the AFC East’s best linebacker corps entering 2022.
Linebacker: Jerome Baker, Dolphins
It is time to put some respect on Jerome Baker’s name. Like Milano, Baker has flown under the radar the past few seasons, plus, he is only entering his age 26 season. The 2018 73rd overall pick has been a building block of Miami’s defense for years now, and in 2022, he played some of his best football yet.
The Ohio State product remains effective as a pass rusher, having totaled 5.5 sacks and 18 pressures in 2021. He improved in coverage too, allowing the lowest completion percentage and yards per target of his career. His 92 tackles led the team, while also hauling in one interception, forcing one fumble, and deflecting four passes. A do-it-all linebacker is always valuable, and it gives Baker the edge over Tremaine Edmunds, C.J. Mosley, and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Cornerback: Xavien Howard, Dolphins
Xavien Howard has extended his lead on the rest of the AFC East cornerbacks entering 2022. After intercepting 10 passes in 2020, Howard snagged five this past season while deflecting 16 passes. He even notched a career-highs with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns. Quarterbacks only completed 52.7% of passes thrown Howard’s way, once again displaying why he is among the game’s best cornerbacks.
As the Dolphins hope to be a playoff-caliber team, Howard maintaining his elite level of play will be key. The Baylor product will be 29 years old this season and searching for his fourth Pro Bowl in five years.
Cornerback: D.J. Reed, Jets
After Howard comes a series of intriguing cornerbacks in the 2022 AFC East. Miami’s Byron Jones is a great player with an overpriced contract based on his performance in 2021, so he will be looking for a bounce-back season. Buffalo’s Taron Johnson stepped up last season but remains a liability in run defense. And will Jalen Mills be able to step into the cornerback one role in New England? There are a lot of questions outside of Howard, but D.J. Reed is the one who offers their team immediate answers.
Reed is not a typical lengthy boundary cornerback at 5’9” and 193-pounds, but he is as physical as corners get. He is among the game’s best run defenders, and he can more than hold his own in coverage despite his size limitations. This past season, Reed had two interceptions, 10 pass deflections, and 78 total tackles, all while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 47.7% of passes thrown his way. Familiar with Head Coach Robert Saleh’s defense from his San Francisco 49ers days, Reed comes to the New York Jets ready to be a starter right away.
Cornerback: Tre’Davious White, Bills
Again, after Howard, the cornerback spots are up for debate. Yet, entering 2022, it is hard to pick against a potentially healthy Tre’Davious White. Last year was the roughest of his career, playing a career-low 11 games and intercepting just one pass while battling injuries. Remaining on the field is the obvious first step, but from there, White could return to lockdown corner form.
One only needs to go back to 2020 to find White’s last Pro Bowl appearance. A natural ball hawk who plays with arguably the league’s best safety tandem, it simply comes down to availability for White. And to those who think he had a down year in 2021, he allowed just 51.6% of passes his way to be complete for merely 328 yards and no touchdowns.
Safety: Micah Hyde, Bills
This past season, Micah Hyde tied his career-high mark of five interceptions set back in his lone Pro Bowl season of 2017. Criminally underrated for years now, Hyde remains an elite defender in coverage and when rushing the passer, and a solid run defender. At 6’0” and 197-pounds, the 31-year-old safety is not going to roam the box and blow up the backfield. Rather, Hyde is a veteran who knows the game and how to impact it at different levels, allowing Buffalo to make up for their lackluster pass rush in years past.
Safety: Jordan Poyer, Bills
The reality is that the AFC East is loaded at safety for 2022. The Dolphins have a promising young pair in Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones. Devin McCourty remains an ageless wonder in New England, and Kyle Dugger is going to be in a Pro Bowl sooner than later. Meanwhile, the Jets made an excellent signing in Jordan Whitehead, who is a physical run defender. Except, none of them are Jordan Poyer.
Again, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer make up a ridiculous safety tandem for the Bills, as they have been paired together since 2017. In 2021, Poyer finally received the recognition he deserved, earning his first All-Pro nod. Picking off five passes, deflecting another nine, while also wracking up three sacks and 93 tackles, Hyde had a career year at 30 years old. As long as both Hyde and Poyer are healthy, they will continue to rule the AFC East safety hierarchy.
Be sure to check out the 2022 AFC East All-Divison Offensive Team.
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