NFL Network will unveil the final 10 players in "The Top 100: Players of 2012" tonight, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Looking at who hasn't appeared in Nos. 11-100, four defensive superstars -- Haloti Ngata, Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware and Patrick Willis -- are in line for top-10 placement. How would you rank these four standouts?
Based on impact and overall beast-mode ability, my top four defenders would rank in this order:
Although inside linebackers tend to be devalued because they get lost a lot when teams go to sub or nickel packages, Willis is a three-down monster who no player in the NFL wants to wrangle with. He tackles, covers, takes on blocks and just does so much for a fearsome defense. I'm glad he's at least in the top 10.
Players probably will place Ware and Revis as the top two defenders -- in that order -- because Ware is the game's top pass rusher and Revis the top cover man. Both play more-appreciated and better-compensated positions.
The best defenders are the ones who not only make plays, but do so while being the focal point of game plans. They still get the job done. That's why, based on 2011, Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware should be ranked the highest in this quartet. His 19.5 sacks was the second-highest total of his career (20 in 2008), and he did so while there was chaos all around him with Rob Ryan implementing a new defense. He was so obviously the best defender last season and the only one on his team to really get it.
Next is Jets CB Darrelle Revis, then 49ers LB Patrick Willis, then Ravens DT Haloti Ngata. Revis consistently brought it, despite his team's issues. Meanwhile, Willis ceded some of the spotlight to sidekick NaVorro Bowman. Ngata was solid, but not quite to the level of teammate Terrell Suggs.
If I had to rank the four stars by impact, I would go in this order:
While I absolutely love Revis and what he does on the island, pass rushers are the most valuable commodities on defense. A team with a legitimate threat along the front line can mask deficiencies in the secondary with sacks and persistent pressure in the pocket. Just look at the New York Giants, who won another Super Bowl on the strength of a dominant defensive line that wreaked havoc on quarterbacks. With Ware and Ngata capable of creating disruption on every play, I would have to place them higher on the list than Revis and Willis.
I would divide these four players into two groups. The first is DeMarcus Ware and Darrelle Revis. Both are the best at their respective positions. Ware is an excellent pass rusher who can also play the run very well. He wouldn't be considered a cover LB, though, as he rarely defends the pass. Revis is a true shutdown corner who can play both press and off coverage. He also can play effectively in any zone. Initially, I'd rank Revis ahead of Ware because he is a more complete player. If I was picking for a team, though, I would take Ware first because you always take the pass rusher over the corner if they are close. Also, looking ahead to this season, if Revis holds out through training camp, that could affect his play.
The second group is Haloti Ngata and Patrick Willis, and they are the best at their respective positions, too. Both are complete players. Willis will play more snaps in a game, but dominant defensive tackles are harder to find, and I think Ngata makes more of an impact on the offensive game plan. I would take Ngata before Willis in a draft, but I think Ngata's effectiveness could suffer from the loss of Terrell Suggs next season.
In summation, here is how I would rank these four players on predicted 2012 performance:
Each of these four difference makers brings great value to his respective defense. But if I had to select one of them to add to my roster, it would be DeMarcus Ware because of his ability to chase down quarterbacks, as well as corral the league's most elusive ball carriers.
Darrelle Revis brings some challenges to a team because of his annual contract complaints, but I'll still rank him second in this group because it is so difficult to find a cornerback with his coverage skills.
The decision of whether to pick Haloti Ngata or Patrick Willis next is excruciating. Ngata isn't credited with as many tackles or sacks as Willis, but his elite combination of size and athleticism allows him to make plays and give his fellow defenders chances to rack up superior statistics. The leader of the 49ers' stout defense doesn't deserve to be fourth on any defensive list, as he has proven himself capable of attacking gaps and going sideline-to-sideline to track plays. But when you're ranking the elite of the elite, one player must be last.
Darrelle Revis is the top defender in the NFL today. He locks up half of the field just by showing up to work, a quality which shouldn't be overlooked in the pass-happy NFL.
You can make your case for a pass rusher like DeMarcus Ware, because a good pass rush will often mask deficiencies in the secondary. And this might be harsh to say about Ware, but the Cowboys weren't exactly shutting teams down last year. Plus, you can scheme around Ware and Haloti Ngata, who is a dominant force in the middle.
There is no way to scheme around Revis, however. So my rankings for the final four would be: