Headed to the Hall: Ten Players Under 30 Who May Be Canton Bound [Defensive Edition]

In case you missed yesterday’s article, I invite you to check it out here, to better understand how I came up with my lists, and they way I tackled this daunting question. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to only do the offensive players and leave out the big dogs on D.

If you have any players I may have missed out on, please feel free to comment below, I respond to every comment I receive.

Time to get this show on the road. Below, you will find ten players whom I believe may get a gold jacket after their successful careers come to a close.

10. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions, 25 years old

Suh will have to keep his temper in check to gain respect from opponents

There may be no better place to start than with the NFL’s resident bad boy, Ndamukong Suh. Suh made headlines this season when he appeared to stomp on the arm of Green Bay Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith during a nationally televised Thanksgiving day game. Suh is notorious for playing after the whistle, and while some may long for the intensity, Suh will have to peel it back it back a bit if he hopes to gain respect as a premier player and not just a quarterback assassin. That being said, Suh has been worth the 2nd overall pick the Lions invested in him, and he seems to only be growing into more of a presence on an already dominant defensive line.

Just Something To Think About…

Although Suh currently holds the record for most personal foul penalties in a two year frame [9], he also owns the record for the single highest donation to the University of Nebraska by any former player [2.6 million]. It was announced after the NFL season that Suh was the leagues most charitable player.

9. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers, 25 years old

Clay Matthews, a third generation NFL athlete, has been playing at a lights out pace since his entrance to the league in 2009. Matthews became the Green Bay starter almost from the get go, and electrified fans with his vicious quarterback hits, long blonde hair, and his sack celebration, inspired by the movie Alien. Matthews had 10 and 13.5 sacks in his first two seasons, and clubs finally began to double team him on a consistent basis in 2011, which limited the blonde beast to only six takedowns. Matthews found other ways to impact the game however, setting career highs with four interceptions, nine pass deflections, and three forced fumbles. If Matthews continues to find ways to upset the rhythm of opposing offenses, he has a shot to make a Canton bid, albeit, an outside one.

Just Something To Think About…

Before critics harp on the weak statistical season from Matthews, the loss of Nick Collins, and Cullen Jenkins threw the entire GB defense into a funk. Linebacker coach Kevin Greene said that he has never seen a linebacker be double teamed as much as Matthews was this year.

8. Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants, 28 years old

Tuck will need to fight the injury bug if he hopes to see his face in Canton

In his seven seasons with the New York Giants, Justin Tuck has been the defensive MVP countless times. Tuck has reeled in 46 sacks in his career, and a whopping 17 forced fumbles. Perhaps the biggest asset that Tuck gives the Giants is his ability to play his biggest in the biggest and most important games. In Super Bowl XLII, Tuck sacked Tom Brady twice, forcing a crucial fumble only moments before the first half ended, and questions were raised as to if he was the games true MVP. In Super Bowl XLVI, Tuck proved again why he is one of the best pure defensive ends in the league, when he brought Mr. Brady down twice, again, and was awarded the safety on the Patriots first play of the game, during which Tuck forced an errant throw from Brady.

Just Something To Think About…

The biggest knock on Tuck will be how often he gets injured, and the games that he misses. Tuck has sustained knee, shoulder, back, and neck injuries in his seven seasons, and is more often than not, playing with injuries that people would normally take time off for. Even with that being said, Tuck has played all 16 games in five of his seven seasons.

7. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens, 28 years old

Haloti Ngata is one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in recent memory, and remains the most unheralded, yet deserving player on the entire Baltimore Ravens defense. Ngata has played wherever he has been most needed, switching from right defensive end, to left defensive end, and in 2011, he played nose tackle. In such a demanding position, Ngata hasn’t let it show, missing only two games in his six year career. 

The last two seasons in particular have been astounding for this young defender, where Pro Football Reference ranked Ngata’s value to be the 6th, and 9th highest in the league during 2010 and 2011. The sacks have started to become more natural to Ngata, although nose tackles are not notorious for getting to the quarterback, he has wrangled down QB’s for 12 sacks since 2009

Just Something To Think About…

From 2008 up until 2011, Ngata has made the Associated Press’ All-NFL team, which many consider to carry more weight than a Pro-Bowl nod. That being said, Ngata has dominated in that category as well, playing in the exhibition game the last three seasons.

6. Mario Williams, DE/LB, Houston Texans, 27 years old

That, my friends, is what we in the business call a bad-ass mofo.

When the Houston Texans drafted Mario Williams over the highly touted, and dangerously elusive Reggie Bush, fans went crazy, calling for the entire front office to get canned. Fast forward a few years and all of a sudden we all appreciate the men behind the curtain a little bit more than before. Williams had 38 sacks in his first five season, all while playing right defensive end. In 2011, Cowboys castoff Wade Phillips led the Houston Texans to one of their best defensive seasons even, when he took the position of defensive coordinator. However, Williams wouldn’t enjoy it very long, after tearing his pectoral in week five, it was announced he would miss the remainder of the season. 

Williams was coming into his own in his first season as an outside linebacker in the Texans new 3-4 scheme, and was one pace to set career highs for sacks, tackles, and passes defended. It will be interesting to see how Williams plays in 2012, and even more intriguing, where he will play.

Just Something To Think About…

Williams was extremely young when he came into the league, only 21 years old. If Williams plays until he is 35, and continues to average only nine sacks a season, he would still end with roughly 135-140 sacks, which would place him around 6th all time.

5. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets, 26 years old

Revis, across the entire board, is the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL today. In a league where throwing the ball 30 times a game is almost guaranteed, having someone like Revis who can easily cover the number one wideout on opposing teams is a luxury that most defensive coordinators would die for. His best season was in 2009, where he posted an AV [approximated value] of 22, the highest single season AV for anyone on the list. Revis picked off 6 passes, 47 tackles, and deflected 31 passes. Revis had yet again a great season in 2011, with four interceptions, 21 pass deflections, and 41 tackles. There’s only so much you can do when everyone’s afraid to throw it your way.

Just Something To Think About…

In 2009, many people thought Revis would win the Defensive Player of the Year, only to lose out to Green Bay’s Charles Woodson. Revis had an aforementioned AV of 22. Woodson? 16.

4. Terrell Suggs, LB, Baltimore Ravens, 29 years old

Vegas odds are 2-1 he can kill me with a single punch

Terrell Suggs just barely made our cut, coming in at 29 years old, but there would have been a serious void if Suggs had to be omitted. He can do virtually anything asked of him on the football field, and has been terrorizing quarterbacks since his rookie season in 2003. This past season may have even been Suggs best, as he won the NFL Defensive Player of The Year, as he set a career high with 14 sacks, and filled stats in almost every single slot of a box score. 

Although some people called foul when Minnesota Vikings defensive end, Jared Allen, was slighted of the award, Suggs contributed in virtually every area, raking in seven forced fumbles, two interceptions, six deflected passes, and 52 tackles. 

Just Something To Think About…

According to Pro Football Reference’s AV (approximate value) of players, Suggs had the best season of anyone on our entire list, coming in with a raw score of 17, or, three higher than Jared Allen.

3. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys, 29 years old

You’re sitting at home watching your favorite team’s quarterback drop back for a pass, and you notice a player blow through a hole in the line, you start realize how scared you just became for the life of your quarterback, and next thing you know, you’re standing and screaming “RUUUUUUN!!!” at the top of your lungs. That’s what it’s like to watch the Cowboys defense on Sunday. Ware is one of the biggest, and scariest looking dudes in the league, and plays like his life and well being depended on it. Ware has never missed a game in his career, and has averaged 14 sacks since 2005, which in itself, is unreal. Add to the fact that Ware is a linebacker, and you have the recipe for one  scary player.

Just Something To Think About…

Just plain terrifying.

2. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings, 29 years old

Trading a first round pick gave the Vikings a premier pass rusher, but more importantly, gave Jared Allen a fresh start

Sifting through Suggs, Ware, and Allen was quite the task, and in reality, the three of them are interchangeable, because of what they bring to their respective teams. Allen, once more known due to his three DUI’s from 2004-2006, is now notorious for his sack dance, which he has unleashed 55 times in the four seasons spent with the Minnesota Vikings. Allen is sober now, and has been for over three years, yet still remains the life of the party with his down to Earth and boisterous personality.

Allen unquestionably has been worth the 1st round selection the Vikings gave up to get him, and he has become the leagues premier defensive end. Missing only three games in his eight year career, Allen is also the face of good health. With 22 sacks, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and an interception, Allen turned in his best statistical season in 2011. If the Vikings can rebuild their offense in 2012, the Vikings may be able to make another Super Bowl run with Allen anchoring a strong defensive line.

Just Something To Think About…

1. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49’ers, 27 years old

Perhaps the best linebacker to come into the NFL in years, Patrick Willis is one of the best players I have ever watched play the game. Willis is a sure tackler, who wraps up ball carriers and very rarely misses a tackle. Willis has proven himself durable as well, only missing four games in five seasons. He doesn’t rush the quarterback as often as DeMarcus Ware, but Willis commands the middle of the field, and was a very big part of the Niners dominating run defense in 2011.

Willis remains the heart and soul of a tough Niners defense

The tackle numbers can tell a story all by themselves. Willis notched 137 in his rookie season, and followed it up with three more of over 100, before he finally succumbed to an 82 in the final stat line, but that was only after missing three games. Willis also proves his worth as a heads up player, with 41 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, and 12 forced fumbles, which is a tremendous amount for a player not generally hitting the quarterback. If there’s a single player I could put on my defense, it’s Willis. Bar none.

Just Something To Think About…

Since getting drafted, Willis has an AV of 77. Ray Lewis comes in with a 68, and Ware, a 69. Willis truly is the best linebacker in the game today. And at only 27 years old, there is plenty of room for growth.

In Conclusion…

The league is becoming one geared toward high powered offenses, that much is certain. Even with that being said, a focus must remain firmly on having defensive playmakers who can become a voice, a captain, and an inspiration to younger players. As gridiron greats of yesteryear begin the downhill of their career, legends like Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Jason Taylor, etc., there needs to be a new breed of stars ready to take their place. I feel as though these ten men, all under 30 years old, will continue to lead productive careers, and hopefully one day, book flights to Canton.

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