The 2018 season has seen an infusion of a lot of great young defensive talent, plus several veterans either continuing or reclaiming their feared status among NFL offenses. Even though scoring is the name of the game in this year’s NFL, there are still players on the other side of the ball who are exciting and have a huge impact on the outcome of games.
With that in mind, here are the ten biggest defensive standouts of the 2018 season so far.
10) Derwin James, S, Chargers
James has an excellent case for Defensive Rookie of the Year as a do-it-all safety who has contributed in both the pass rush and coverage. He already has six QB hits and 3.5 sacks on the season, clearly being utilized well by the Chargers in that department, as well as an interception and 44 total tackles. It’s scary how good James already is and how much better he’ll likely get, and it’s showing in the performances he’s already putting together.
Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, several popular names still lead the fray when it comes to defensive production. However, key injuries to superstars like J.J. Watt have created a void that has been filled by some surprising players, many of whom are having career years.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best defensive player so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Tyvon Branch, S
There are a lot of talented defenders on Arizona’s roster, but through six weeks, it’s hard to argue that Tyvon Branch — who has been called a “wolverine” complement to the “honey badger” — isn’t the very best. He not only leads the team and is tied for the league lead with 55 tackles, but he’s also defended four passes, forced a fumble and was named to the Pro Football Focus First Quarter All-Pro Team. Branch getting the nod says a lot about his impact this season when you consider Arizona also has Chandler Jones and his six sacks.
Atlanta Falcons — Deion Jones, LB
Deion Jones has filled out the box score this year, leading the Falcons with 38 tackles. He’s also recorded a sack, three passes defended and an interception. Jones is also among Pro Football Focus’ top 15 graded linebackers this season, alongside teammate De’Vondre Campbell, who has also landed very high grades for Atlanta. Jones is blossoming well for Atlanta in his second NFL season.
Pacman Jones and Geno Atkins got into it after the Indianapolis Colts drove for a touchdown in the first quarter of Sunday’s AFC wild-card playoff game.
The Colts went 71 yards on the Bengals on the opening possession of the game and scored on a short TD run. It’s unclear what the nature of the issue was, but Pacman was obviously ticked. He even cocked back like he wanted to slug Atkins, but head coach Marvin Lewis stepped in between them and broke it up. Atkins didn’t seem scared, maybe because he figured Pacman only threatens opponents, not teammates.
Considering how little help they got from their offense in terms of moving the ball, holding the ball and field position, Cincinnati’s defense actually played pretty well. They got three red-zone stops on the Colts and forced three short field goals.