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2016 Pro Bowl squad analysis: Defense

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The 2016 Pro Bowl was announced Tuesday night. We've examined the offensive selections and the notable players who didn't make the squad. Here is our breakdown of the defensive picks:

Defensive end: Ezekial Ansah, Michael Bennett, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson

Watt is the best defensive player of his generation, trending toward Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White territory in the pantheon of legends. The defining moment of his season was beating Saints right tackle Zach Strief and left tackle Terron Armstead, both lined up on the right side of an unbalanced line, for a sack in Week 12.

Mack is coming like a freight train, notching 10 sacks in the last month while providing stout run defense. Athletic marvels Ansah and Jones have enjoyed similar seasons, not just in racking up double-digit sacks but tying for the league lead with four forced fumbles. Contract year terror Wilkerson wants to be become the highest-paid defensive player in the game -- and he's playing like it. Bennett and Cliff Avril have outplayed the more celebrated Legion of Boom in Seattle this season.

Interior linemen: Geno Atkins, Calais Campbell, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, Kawann Short

Similar players in their unfair combination of strength, quickness and leverage, Donald and Atkins are authoring two of the most dominant seasons we've seen from interior linemen in the past decade. Both are strong candidates in a year where there is no prohibitive Defensive Player of the Year favorite.

Short isn't far behind that duo, anchoring a talent-laded Panthers defensive line loaded with Dave Gettleman's "hog mollies" and "blue goose pass rushers." Campbell is the lynchpin on the Cardinals' no-name front seven that has been in the top-five in run defense all season.

For years, the working theory has been that Pro Bowl recognition comes a year too late and lasts a year too long. Fletcher Cox is the perfect example of the former, as he was perhaps the biggest snub in last year's Pro Bowl. He has been just as impressive this season, as evidenced by a game-wrecking Week 14 performance that left Bills guard Richie Incognito acknowledging that Cox "ate my lunch.

McCoy rivals Ndamukong Suh as the premier defensive tackle of the past half-decade, but he was outplayed by Linval Joseph of the Vikings and Mike Daniels of the Packers this year.

Outside linebacker: Jamie Collins, Thomas Davis, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware

The key to Wade Phillips' blitz-happy No. 1 defense, Miller and Ware seemed to meet at the quarterback on every dropback in the first half of the season. Prior to Justin Houston's late-season PCL sprain, he and Hali were having the same level of impact in Kansas City.

Pro Bowl voters finally corrected a long-running injustice, granting Davis his first Pro Bowl berth in a commendable 10-year career. One of the most underappreciated players in the league, Davis steadied the ship in September while Luke Kuechly missed nearly a month with a concussion. Collins is a dynamic athlete representative of New England's talented young defensive nucleus. It's telling that Colts offensive coaches game-planned for Collins more than any other player except for two-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

From the snub department, Pernell McPhee was outstanding all year for the Bears and K.J. Wright was more deserving than fellow Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Luke Kuechly, Clay Matthews, Bobby Wagner

Even with three games missed due to an early-season concussion, Kuechly bettered his 2013 Comeback Player of the Year campaign. He's the successor to Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis as the defining middle linebacker of his era. Matthews' sack numbers were predictably down after abandoning his edge rusher role this season, but he still has 15 more QB hits and hurries than the next-closest inside linebacker.

Bowman is tied for the league lead in tackles after a dynamite performance in Week 15. He has struggled a bit in coverage this year, but was otherwise 95 percent of the All-Pro he was prior to shredding his knee in the 2013 NFC Championship game. It's hard to pick nits with a player of Wagner's caliber, but we would have rewarded the Chiefs' Derrick Johnson or the Broncos' Brandon Marshall for more consistent seasons.

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Chris Harris, Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib

As strong candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, Norman and Peterson should be the first-team All Pro picks at cornerback. If Tyrann Mathieu is categorized as a safety, then Talib and Harris were the top cornerback duo in the league this season. Revis wasn't quite as stingy as last season, but still shut down No. 1 receivers not named DeAndre Hopkins. After stumbling out of the gates, Sherman regained his shutdown form at midseason -- even departing from his Cover-3 norm to trail the likes of Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown around the field.

Butler and Peters were the two most interesting picks here. Left on an island, Butler more than held his own, proving that his Super Bowl performance was no fluke. Peters might have had some missteps in coverage, but still ranks first among cornerbacks in passes defenses (30) and interception return yards (234).

Fans of the Lions, Texans, Bills and Redskins can't be blamed for believing that Darius Slay, Johnathan Joseph, Ronald Darby and Bashaud Breeland should have been selected.

Free safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Reggie Nelson, Earl Thomas

Mathieu was a lead-pipe lock, joining Norman and Peterson as the transcendent defensive backs of 2015. The "Honey Badger" is such a unique, well-rounded player that he simply can't be replaced during Arizona's playoff run. Nelson is the NFL's interception leader and an above-average starter. Still, our choice from Cincinnati's underrated secondary would have been cornerback and return specialist Adam Jones.

Much like Sherman, Thomas rebounded from a slow start to finish strong. Although he remains on a Hall of Fame track, this was not one of his best seasons. Who should have made it in Thomas' place? Start with Malcolm Jenkins, who teamed with Walter Thurmond as the NFL's most consistent safety tandem. If not for late-season injuries, Vikings safety Harrison Smith would have been a no-brainer pick.

Panthers fans shouldn't quibble with 10 players represented in this year's Pro Bowl, but Kurt Coleman has a strong case of his own, emerging as a week-to-week playmaker at the back end of Carolina's defense.

Strong safety: Eric Berry, Kam Chancellor, Charles Woodson

Berry is the NFL's most heart-warming story, reclaiming his place as one of the NFL's premier safeties after overcoming Hodgin's Lymphoma in 2015. He is obviously a frontrunner for the otherwise nebulous Comeback Player of the Year award. To Woodson's credit, this is not merely a career achievement award for the future Hall of Famer. The 39-year-old covered as well as any safety, while adding five interceptions and a league-high three fumble recoveries.

Chancellor is rightfully one of the league's most respected players, but he got in on reputation this year. Frankly, Reshad Jones of the Dolphins got robbed. No safety in the league was more disruptive at the line of the scrimmage. Jones even chipped in a pair of pick-sixes for good measure.

DEFENSE (36)

Defensive End (6)

Ezekiel Ansah (Lions)

Michael Bennett (Seahawks)

Chandler Jones (Patriots)

Khalil Mack (Raiders)

J.J. Watt (Texans)

Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets)

Interior Linemen (6)

Geno Atkins (Bengals)

Calais Campbell (Cardinals)

Fletcher Cox (Eagles)

Aaron Donald (Rams)

Gerald McCoy (Bucs)

Kawann Short (Panthers)

Outside Linebacker (6)

Jamie Collins (Patriots)

Thomas Davis (Panthers)

Tamba Hali (Chiefs)

Justin Houston (Chiefs)

Von Miller (Broncos)

DeMarcus Ware (Broncos)

Inside / Middle Linebacker (4)

NaVorro Bowman (49ers)

Luke Kuechly (Panthers)

Clay Matthews (Packers)

Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)

Cornerback (8)

Malcolm Butler (Patriots)

Chris Harris (Broncos)

Josh Norman (Panthers)

Marcus Peters (Chiefs)

Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)

Darrelle Revis (Jets)

Richard Sherman (Seahawks)

Aqib Talib (Broncos)

Free Safety (3)

Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals)

Reggie Nelson (Bengals)

Earl Thomas (Seahawks)

Strong Safety (3)

Eric Berry (Chiefs)

Kam Chancellor (Seahawks)

Charles Woodson (Raiders)

SPECIAL TEAMS (8)

Punter (2)

Sam Koch (Ravens)

Johnny Hekker (Rams)

Placekicker (2)

Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)

Dan Bailey (Cowboys)

Return Specialists (2)

Darren Sproles (Eagles)

Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)

Special Teamer (2)

Matthew Slater (Patriots)

Justin Bethel (Cardinals)

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