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Midseason All-Pro teams, eye test vs. Next Gen Stats: Defense

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  • By Chris Wesseling and Matt Harmon NFL.com
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With eight weeks of the 2017 NFL campaign in the books, Chris Wesseling and Matt Harmon provide their Midseason All-Pro teams. Where do Wesseling's seasoned eye and Harmon's Next Gen Stats-based evaluations differ -- and where do they converge?

Edge rushers


Chris Wesseling: Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars and Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings. The first player since Justin Houston in 2014 to record at least 10 sacks in the season's first seven games, the well-rounded Campbell also leads the league in tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. It doesn't matter who your left tackle is -- he had better get some help from a chip blocker, or it's a going to a long afternoon against Griffen's relentless speed rush, bull rush and spin move. Griffen is the beating heart of the NFL's most disruptive defensive line, also featuring run-stuffer Linval Joseph and emerging star Danielle Hunter.

Matt Harmon: Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings and Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys. Feel free to get upset at this statement, but Griffen has been the most dominant player in the NFL this season. His 45 pressures currently lead the NFL by a wide-margin, and he should be squarely in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion. It was tougher to nail down the second spot, but Lawrence's early-season dominance earns him the nod. His 16.0 percent pressure rate ranks fifth among defenders with 100-plus pass rush attempts.

Interior linemen


Wesseling: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams and Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears. Even before J.J. Watt's superlative career hit a crossroads due to the serious back and legs injuries of the past 18 months, Donald was threatening his status as football's transcendent defensive lineman. While NFL coaches and scouts place a premium on size along the defensive front, Donald and Cincinnati's Geno Atkins have shown the value of leverage, uncanny hand strength and first-step quickness up front. The crown jewel in Bears general manager Ryan Pace's newfound job security, Hicks has been an unblockable force as the face of Chicago's suddenly swarming defense. Strong cases can also be made for Joseph, the Steelers' Cameron Heyward, the Eagles' Fletcher Cox and the Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh.

Harmon: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams and Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles. If ever the phrase "pay the man" was warranted, it's in the case of Donald. The Rams' star might be in the middle of his best season, despite it being his first in a new defense. Donald is a nightmare for opposing offenses and leads all interior linemen with 27 pressures this year. Cox is nipping at his heels with 26 pressures in six games. The Eagles have the top-ranked run defense in terms of rushing yards per game allowed.

Linebackers


Wesseling: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers; Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars. Panthers standout Luke Kuechly will be there at the end of the year, but another concussion scare has left us with a chance to highlight the speedy Smith's torrid start in Jacksonville. No linebacker showcases more intimidating closing speed, though, than the leopard-like Shazier, who looks like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in his best weeks. While defenses are trending toward safety/linebacker hybrids to chase running backs and tight ends, the Seahawks lose nothing with Wagner and K.J. Wright in coverage. Wagner is even more stout against the run, rivaling Kuechly as the best all-around linebacker of his generation.

Harmon: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers; Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks rank 11th, first and first in passer rating allowed in the intermediate left, middle and right areas of the field, respectively. Wagner's coverage is a massive reason why. Shazier has taken his game to a new level -- he sports a 15.6 percent pressure rate on 45 pass rushes, the highest pressure rate of any Steeler. Kuechly remains one of the best defenders in the game. His 11.7 percent stuff rate ranks fourth-highest among linebackers.

Cornerbacks


Wesseling: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars and Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints. It was a year ago when Ramsey began shattering the conventional wisdom that rookie cornerbacks were doomed to take their lumps for a year before adjusting to the higher level of competition. By December of last season, Ramsey was already rivaling the best in the business. Now he's the blue-chip matchup nightmare erasing No. 1 receivers and manufacturing turnovers for a pass defense that is beginning to show "Legion of Boom" levels of ballhawking dominance. Lattimore has followed in Ramsey's footsteps, erasing the NFL learning curve as the key to New Orleans' amazing turnaround on defense. He's gone weeks without allowing a reception in his coverage. Kudos to the Saints' brass for an impact 2017 draft class featuring Lattimore, big-play back Alvin Kamara, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and safety Marcus Williams.

Harmon: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars and Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals. Not many players look destined for true greatness as soon as they hit the NFL field, but Ramsey fit the bill. Quarterbacks register a 46.5 passer rating when targeting the Jaguars' suffocating corner in coverage this year. Arizona has a litany of holes on defense. Peterson is not one of them. The star cornerback has allowed a mere 98 yards in coverage on the season, with a 34.8 percent completion rate.

Safeties


Wesseling: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings and Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks. Smith recently authored a phenomenal seven-day stretch, sealing the Vikings' Week 5 victory over the Bears with an instinctual interception of Mitchell Trubisky before notching 1.5 sacks and a spectacular diving pick in the Week 6 win over the Packers. There's no weakness in his game. A future Hall of Famer with a career-long penchant for game-changing plays, Thomas has been Johnny-on-the-spot for Seattle's defense this season. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Buffalo's playmaking duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, a pair of under-the-radar free-agent acquisitions anchoring Sean McDermott's stingy secondary.

Harmon: Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings and Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills. Smith is one of the many studs littering the Vikings' defense. Opposing teams have attempted just one pass down the deep middle of the field against Minnesota, and the team ranks inside the top five in passer rating allowed in the intermediate middle. Hyde is just the latest veteran work of art by pass-defense miracle-worker Sean McDermott. The Bills give up a 26.9 percent completion rate on deep passes.

Defensive back


Wesseling: Glover Quin, Detroit Lions. A converted cornerback, Quin combines sticky coverage with advanced ball skills, top-notch instincts and bone-jarring run support. Other defensive backs flashing All-Pro ability: Xavier Rhodes of the Vikings, Jason McCourty of the Browns, Aqib Talib of the Broncos, Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals, A.J. Bouye of the Jaguars, Casey Hayward of the Chargers and Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles.

Harmon: Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings. The top-notch cornerback started off 2017 with a bang in two shadow coverage games. Rhodes covered Antonio Brown on 71.4 percent of the Steeler receiver's pass plays in Week 2, allowing just three catches for 28 yards on eight targets. Rhodes followed that up by giving up just five catches for 53 yards on nine targets to the Buccaneers' Mike Evans in Week 3. He's earned his "Rhodes Closed" nickname with no touchdowns allowed on the year.

Punter


Wesseling: Marquette King, Oakland Raiders. The Rams' Johnny Hekker is a punter's punter, mastering the nuances of the position, offering a legitimate passing threat, eliminating touchbacks and leaving returners with no room to run. That said, it's hard to ignore King's booming leg, unrivaled hang time and penchant for dropping kicks inside the 5-yard line.

Harmon: Marquette King, Oakland Raiders. The Raiders' exciting punter ranks second in the NFL with 50.6 yards per punt and can boom the ball with the best of them. If you need a Next Gen Stats note here, King traveled 22.5 yards of raw distance on his lone run of the season. Yes, it went for negative yardage in the box score, but that should count for something.

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