It's blasphemous to suggest that there's a better defensive player on the planet than J.J. Watt, but unfortunately that can also skew our viewing habits when it comes to non-fantasy players and this season, there are some excellent defensive players deserving of recognition.
That's why we're here to bring you this list of six defensive players not named J.J. Watt you should keep an eye on this weekend and beyond. There are some other obvious names like Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Justin Houston we'll be leaving out too, so be advised. Most, if not all of these players are coasting under the radar a bit or are rapidly evolving at their position.
1. Pernell McPhee, outside linebacker, Chicago Bears: McPhee has had a fantastic start to the 2015 season and is doing just about everything in John Fox's defense. Last week, in a rather surprising win over the Chiefs, everything extended to a blocked field goal which he essentially willed to himself out of thin air. Disappointed after the Chiefs picked on him three plays in a row down the stretch with the counter run, McPhee busted Donald Stephenson on the field goal try and nearly palmed the football. He's been by far the best player on Chicago's defense this year thanks mostly to an increased focus on the run, but in pure rush situations like a third-and-5 in the third quarter against the Chiefs Sunday, he is tough to contain with just one blocker.
2. Clay Matthews, inside linebacker, Green Bay Packers: Okay, Matthews is properly rated but mostly as a pass rusher. We're still shivering from that hit he laid on Nick Foles on Sunday. But as a true 3-4 inside backer, he's probably been one of the best especially as some of the mainstays like Bobby Wagner, Brian Cushing and Demario Davis try and recover from slow starts. Yes, Todd Gurley planted Matthews on the ground with a deft body slam but that doesn't encompass Matthews' ability against the run, which has improved tremendously and helped elevate Green Bay's defense from opening act to co-headliner at Lambeau Field.
3. Fletcher Cox, defensive lineman, Philadelphia Eagles: Cox was rumored to be a part of Chip Kelly's package for Marcus Mariota, but if he ended up leaving the Eagles would be sorely missing the player that has been the heart and soul of their defense this year. Cox was unblockable against a disappointing Saints team on Sunday, logging three sacks and two forced fumbles. Statistically, this was an anomaly given that Bill Davis' defense doesn't always lend itself to star defensive linemen, but Cox has been absolutely stout all season. Kelly the general manager will appreciate the fact that he has another year to come up with the cash to ink Cox to a long-term extension.
4. Josh Norman, defensive back, Carolina Panthers:Josh Norman came into this season determined to let everyone know he was an elite cornerback. Well, mission accomplished so far. Norman has been fearless as a playmaker and has really embodied the rise of this Panthers defense over the last five weeks. So far on his shut down list for the year: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and DeAndre Hopkins.
5. Desmond Trufant, defensive back, Atlanta Falcons: Trufant was toiling in obscurity for a while, but make no mistake: He was a huge draw for Dan Quinn in Atlanta. The defense plays to all of Trufant's strengths as an aggressive, physical cover corner. Trufant's presence on the field has greatly aided the early development of rookie pass rusher Vic Beasley, who, despite playing for a team that has trailed heading into the fourth quarter consistently, is getting some nice late-game pressure opportunities.
6. Delvin Breaux, defensive back, New Orleans Saints: Breaux's stunning red zone interception of Sam Bradford on Sunday forced me to look back further this season and I found a player that may be one of the best 10 defensive backs in football right now. An unbelievable comeback story, Breaux didn't play college football after sustaining a serious neck injury and worked his way up through the CFL and Arena League. Now, he's torturing wide receivers on nearly every snap with especially strong games against Devin Funchess (Panthers) and Terrance Williams (Cowboys).