Each NFL team’s best defensive player so far
Detroit Lions — Darius Slay, CB
Darius Slay has had his ups and downs this season, but there have been more ups than downs. And his ability to flush away a bad play or game is a testament to how far he’s come. Slay is currently fourth on the team with 25 tackles and leads with eight passes defensed and three interceptions. Those three interceptions are also tied for second in the NFL. His 83.3 PFF grade isn’t too shabby, either. He’s certainly been earning his “big play Slay” nickname this season.
Green Bay Packers — Blake Martinez, LB
The Packers have several defenders who could fill this space, but Blake Martinez is among the league leaders in tackles (48) and his five tackles for a loss lead the team. Add in one sack, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery and it’s easy to see why he’s having such a quality season. He also sports an 83.1 PFF grade, which is top 15 for linebackers league-wide.
Houston Texans — Johnathan Joseph, CB
J.J. Watt would have been the obvious choice here, but a season-ending injury removed him from consideration. Accordingly, Johnathan Joseph gets the nod. The veteran cornerback has a team-leading six passes defensed and two interceptions. Both of his interceptions came in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns, including one he returned for a touchdown.
Indianapolis Colts — John Simon, LB
John Simon may not be a superstar at linebacker, grading out with a 79.3 courtesy of Pro Football Focus, but he’s done a solid all-around job for the Colts defense. In addition to his 38 tackles (24 solo, three for a loss), Simon has recorded 3.0 sacks, one pass defensed and one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Rookie Malik Hooker and his three interceptions, as well as former Patriot Jabaal Sheard, also deserve mention here.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Calais Campbell, DE
Few free agent signings have had a greater impact this season than Calais Campbell. Campbell is second in the NFL with 8.0 sacks through six weeks, and the 48 yards lost rank third overall. He’s also recorded 28 tackles (18 solo and one for a loss), one pass defensed and one forced fumble. Campbell’s 89.5 Pro Football Focus grade is third among edge rushers league-wide. He’s more than earning his $60 million contract for the vastly improved Jags.
Kansas City Chiefs — Justin Houston, LB
After missing 16 games over the previous two seasons, Justin Houston is back and healthy in 2017, and it’s showing in his play. He’s tied for seventh in the league with 5.0 sacks, which leads the Chiefs. He’s also added 26 tackles (20 solo and two for a loss), three passes defensed, one fumble recovered and one touchdown. Houston has an 85.7 PFF grade, which is just outside the top 10 for edge rushers. He is in line for what could turn out to be the second-best season of his career, after his 22-sack effort in 2014.
Los Angeles Chargers — Melvin Ingram, LB
Joey Bosa deserves strong consideration for this spot, but Melvin Ingram is having a career season through six weeks and gets the nod. He’s third in the league with 7.5 sacks — 2.0 more than Bosa — and the 64 yards lost are second only to DeMarcus Lawrence. Ingram’s 89.3 PFF grade is also fourth among all edge rushers. On top of that, the former No. 18 pick has a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Los Angeles Rams — Mark Barron, LB
The Rams have a surprising number of quality defenders in 2017, particularly in their secondary. However, Mark Barron gets the nod here because of his ability to make an impact in every area. He’s currently tied for fifth in the NFL in tackles (49) and has added one sack, one pass defensed and one interception. Barron seems to be getting better each week and is on pace for a career-high in tackles.
Miami Dolphins — Reshad Jones, S
Reshad Jones has developed into a do-it-all man for Miami on defense. He leads the team with 33 tackles (28 solo and two for a loss) and has also recorded 0.5 sacks, one pass defensed, two fumble recoveries, one interception and one touchdown. His interception is the only one the defense has managed all season to this point. His two fumble recoveries also lead the team. Miami certainly hit a home run with this 5th-round pick.
Minnesota Vikings — Harrison Smith, S
Harrison Smith isn’t just the best Vikings defender, he’s also the highest-graded safety via PFF with a mark of 93.9. Through six weeks, Harrison has recorded 32 tackles (23 solo and two for a loss), 1.5 sacks, six passes defensed and a team-leading three interceptions. He’s well on his way to a Pro Bowl, All-Pro nod and, quite possibly, consideration for Defensive Player of the Year if he can keep this up. Everson Griffen and his seven sacks deserve a mention here too.
New England Patriots — Malcolm Butler, CB
The Patriots have surprisingly struggled defensively in 2017, and the entire roster is essentially to blame. Few have stood out or stepped up for this unit, but Malcolm Butler has arguably been the best of the bunch. His 79.4 PFF grade isn’t much to write home about, but he leads the team with two interceptions and six passes defensed — all coming after a long offseason that saw him featured in multiple trade rumors.
New Orleans Saints — Cameron Jordan, DE
Cameron Jordan leads the Saints with 5.0 sacks on the season, but his pass rush productivity extends well beyond the box score. He’s been dominant all season, pressuring quarterbacks with ease and consistency. Jordan’s 92.7 PFF grade is also tops among edge rushers this season, and his 11.2 PRP grade is ranked within the top 10. Add in an interception, forced fumble and a touchdown, and it’s easy to see why Jordan gets the nod here for an improved Saints defense.