Defense wins championships, right? The AFC East All-Division team could certainly do it considering the top talent at each position. Moving right along, the AFC East teams primarily run 4-3 sets, so we’ll stick with that to make it easier.
2017 AFC East All-Division Team: The Defense and Special Teams
Defensive End: Muhammad Wilkerson
Muhammad Wilkerson has been one of the lone bright-spots for the Jets during the past few seasons, becoming one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in a league loaded with pass rushers. The Temple product had a down season in 2016, but so did everyone else for Gang Green. Look for Wilkerson to return to form in 2017.
Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh
You always want your defensive lineman to be dirty, right? Sometimes Ndamukong Suh has pushed that envelope a few times for comfort, but he is still a force to be reckoned with in the middle. Suh doesn’t “wow” you with his numbers, but demands two blockers almost every snap.
Defensive Tackle: Marcell Dareus
Marcell Dareus started out his Buffalo Bills career with a lot of hype, but has been struggling the past two seasons to find that groove again. Nevertheless, Dareus would not need to be a stats guy on this team, as the combination of him and Suh will let Wilkerson and this next guy to get one-on-one matchups on the edge.
Defensive End: Cameron Wake
While Pro Football Focus rankings can sometimes be head-scratchers, I don’t think that Cameron Wake is going to complain about his. PFF had Wake as the eighth-best pass rusher in the NFL last season and is only looking to get better. Getting after the quarterback won’t be an issue for this front-four.
Left Outside Linebacker: Lorenzo Alexander
Lorenzo Alexander finally had his breakout season in 2016, racking up a career-high 12.5 sacks and 74 total tackles. On this team, Alexander will be asked to provide additional pressure on the outside as opposed to being asked to cover.
Middle Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower
The Patriots nearly let Dont’a Hightower get away from them in free agency, but were able to retain their Pro-Bowl player with an extension. The Alabama product will be the quarterback of the defense for this team as well as the primary run-stopper.
Right Outside Linebacker: Kiko Alonso
After being involved in trades back-to-back seasons, Kiko Alonso has finally found a home with the Miami Dolphins. He also moved to outside linebacker, which was a career-saving move given his size. Alonso finished his 2016 season with 104 tackles and was able to stay healthy, playing in 15 games.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore stayed in the division and moved across state lines to play with the defending Super Bowl Champs. Gilmore was paid an obscene amount of money, but he is 100 percent worth it after his five-interception season. He was also named to his first Pro Bowl.
Free Safety: Reshad Jones
Reshad Jones was bit by the injury bug last season as he was only able to play six games in 2016 due to a nagging shoulder injury. However, Jones is still one of the most physical safeties in the league with impeccable playmaking ability. The Dolphins surely missed him last season, as they finished as the 29th ranked defense in the league.
Strong Safety: Devin McCourty
General managers everywhere would be salivating over the secondary of the Patriots. Devin McCourty is a big reason for that, as the cornerback-turned-safety has shown great ball skills since his position switch. He’s a smart player who can read a quarterback’s eyes effectively, always putting himself in the right position.
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler
How many times have we seen a Super Bowl hero receive a ton of praise and/or money to later find out that they were a one-hit wonder? Yeah, that’s not the case here. Malcolm Butler has proven himself to be one of the best cornerbacks in the game and will be for a long time. Butler enters the 2017 season as PFF’s second-best corner in the league.
Kick Returner: Brandon Tate
After spending a large chunk of his career in Cincinnati, Brandon Tate moved over to the Jets and provided quality play on special teams. He finished with the fifth most return yards in the 2016 season.
Punt Returner: Brandon Tate
Tate found similar success on punts as he did on kicks, finishing with the fifth most return yards in the league. He won’t be catching many passes on this team, so the double-duty on special teams will be plenty for him.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the league. He’s also one of the only kickers that sometimes warrant a pick before the last round of your fantasy draft. This is a no-brainer.
Punter: Ryan Allen
The punters in the AFC East were not good last season, simply put. However, since there is a need to field a punter for this team and avoiding the Madden-mindset of going for it on fourth every time, I would have to go with Ryan Allen. He finished in the Top 20 (at the 20th spot) for kicks inside the 20-yard line, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Be sure to check out LWOPF’s AFC East All-Division Team for offense.