When it comes to mentioning the top-rated players that are on the defensive side of the football, you usually here the names of Aaron Donald, Stephon Gilmore, Khalil Mack, and J.J. Watt. Rightfully so, those individuals listed deserve the recognition that they receive.
However, there are a few players on defense that have shown that they are vital contributors in today’s NFL. In today’s post, Strike 7 Sports will list and breakdown five players that the outlet considers to be the most underrated on the defensive side of the football right now. The players that are listed have made a significant impact on their ball clubs over the past couple of seasons.
5. Demario Davis: WLB, New Orleans Saints
Before Demario Davis arrived in New Orleans, the Saints were stagnant at the linebacker position. The team did not have an impact performer from the position since the days of when Jonathan Vilma wore a Saints uniform. Vilma was instrumental in the Saints 2009 Super Bowl run. Davis has brought the same type of energy as Vilma and the intelligence of what made him so great during the 2009 campaign.
Davis can do a multitude of things at his position, such as defend against the pass, take down the quarterback, and slow down an opposing team’s rushing attack. His contributions to this Saints team has allowed them to become one of the closest nit units in the league right now. Last season, Davis received a way overdue accolade. He earned his first-ever All-Pro honors in his career in the NFL.
4. Kevin Byard: S, Tennessee Titans
Kevin Byard has elevated himself to becoming one of the best safeties in the National Football League right now. Byard is the one consistent performer on defense that shows up to play on a weekly basis for the Tennessee Titans. In Byard’s second season in the league, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and the First Team All-Pro and was the co-leader for most interceptions throughout the 2017 campaign.
Additionally, he led the NFL in takeaways with 10 (8 interceptions and two fumble recoveries). Kevin Byard’s contributions are one of the driving factors as to why the Titans have been in the hunt for a playoff appearance over the past four seasons in the AFC.
3. Cam Heyward: DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Whenever there’s a discussion about who are the elite defensive tackles in the league, you hear names such as Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, and Chris Jones being mentioned at the top of the list. A player that deserves to be in the same conversation with the other three that were mentioned is Cam Heyward.
The former Ohio State standout is one of the cornerstones of a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has transformed over the years. As a defensive tackle, Heyward has recorded seven or more sacks on five separate occasions during his ten-plus seasons in Pittsburgh.
Sacks are usually hard to come by for a defensive tackle unless its Aaron Donald. Heyward has been in the league for ten years and has only received All-Pro honors only two times in his career (2017, 2019). Based on his resume as a defensive tackle, it should have been a lot more than just two.
2. Darius Leonard: Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
Here are some of the many accolades that are on the resume of Colts linebacker Darius Leonard.
- Pro Bowl (2019)
- First-team All-Pro (2018)
- Second-team All-Pro (2019)
- NFL Tackles leader (2018)
- NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2018)
- PFWA All-Rookie Team (2018)
The former second-round pick out of South Carolina State has only been in the league for about three seasons. He will only get better as the years go by. Leonard takes the mantle of leading the Colts defense from the great Robert Mathis, who retired after the 2017 season. As long as the Colts front office continues to surround Leonard with viable complementary players, he will continue to ascend as one of the league’s best players on defense.
1. Chandler Jones: OLB, Arizona Cardinals
There’s a saying among various media members about teams being wary of players that Bill Belichick move on from. When it comes to Chandler Jones, that’s not the case. Ever since being traded to the Arizona Cardinals back in 2016, Jones has been a force to be reckoned with. He has not received the recognition that he rightfully deserves due to playing in obscurity with the Cardinals.
However, that may be changing soon due to the recent moves the team has made over the past two seasons. Quarterback Kyler Murray is showing the potential of becoming an elite-level passer in today’s NFL. Murray will get a chance to build on what he did last season by having star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to throw the football to in 2020.
Despite playing on a subpar roster in Arizona, Chandler Jones has excelled at his position like none other. Listed below are the numerous achievements that Jones has earned throughout his career.
Super Bowl champion (XLIX)
3× Pro Bowl (2015, 2017, 2019)
2× First-team All-Pro (2017, 2019)
NFL sacks leader (2017)
NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
New England Patriots 2010s All-Decade Team
A trip to Canton, Ohio, will be in the works if Jones continues the career trajectory that he is on right now.