As NFL rules start becoming more favorable to offenses, it’s now harder than ever to find defensive players capable of playing at a high level. While there are several good players who can fill a role, there are only a handful of top-level talents capable of disrupting an offense on every single snap. In order to pass the time between minicamp and training camp, Last Word on Pro Football has compiled the All-AFC East team for offense and defense.
Ranking defensive players by position can be difficult, as one player could fit multiple positions depending on scheme. For the sake of this exercise, the imaginary All-AFC East team runs a 4-3 base defense. Also note that rookies have not been included in this exercise, as there is no NFL tape on which to judge their play.
2019 All-AFC East Team: Defense
EDGE: Leonard Williams
Leonard Williams plays all over New York’s defensive front, but we’ll classify him as an edge defender for this exercise. The former sixth overall pick makes a living disrupting the quarterback and finished 2018 with five sacks, 42 tackles, and 20 quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 30th best defensive lineman in the league, and he should only improve with Quinnen Williams taking away some defensive focus.
Second Team: Henry Anderson
Defensive Tackle: Lawrence Guy
Lawrence Guy is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. The former Baltimore Raven is great against the run and the pass, finishing 2018 with one sack, 59 tackles, and 11 quarterback hits. Stats don’t do him justice, as New England often asks him to eat up space and free up plays for the other defenders. Pro Football Focus called him the 10th-best interior defensive lineman in the game, and he should have similar success in 2019.
Second Team: Davon Godchaux
Defensive Tackle: Mike Pennel
The Patriots may have lost Malcom Brown in free agency, but they upgraded with former New York Jets defensive tackle Mike Pennel. Pennel isn’t a superstar by any means, but he’s great at eating up blocks and holding his own in the trenches. The Arizona State product ended the year with 27 tackles and two quarterback hits with New York.
Second Team: Star Lotulelei
EDGE: Jerry Hughes
Former Indianapolis Colts flameout Jerry Hughes has been one of the most consistent and reliable edge defenders in the NFL ever since he arrived in Buffalo. The former first-round pick had another season last year, finishing his campaign with seven sacks, 37 tackles, and 18 quarterback hits. Even though he’s entering his age-31 season, Hughes should have plenty of good football left in his tank.
Second Team: Michael Bennett
Linebacker: C.J. Mosley
Tackling machine C.J. Mosley is set to terrorize AFC East running backs after spending five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Mosley has recorded 105 or more tackles in four of his five seasons and has played in 77 of a possible 80 games. While he doesn’t provide much against the pass, the four-time Pro Bowler should remain one of the elite run stuffers in the league.
Second Team: Kyle Van Noy
Linebacker: Lorenzo Alexander
Lorenzo Alexander is another one of those players who doesn’t get nearly the recognition they deserve. A linebacker made for today’s NFL, Alexander boasts the ability to make plays as both a pass rusher and a run stuffer. The linebacker recorded 6.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 74 tackles while ending the year as PFF’s fifth-best linebacker.
Second Team: Tremaine Edmunds
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower
Dont’a Hightower started 2018 slow as he returned from a season-ending injury. However, the three-time Super Bowl champion rolled into his old form as the season wore on. The former first-round pick recorded 48 tackles, six quarterback hits, and one interception while saving his best plays for the game’s biggest stage. During Super Bowl LIII, Hightower recorded two sacks, two tackles-for-loss, and three quarterback hits.
Second Team: Kiko Alonso
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is probably the most important piece to New England’s defense. The former first-round pick ended the year as PFF’s top-ranked cornerback and earned a spot on the First-Team All-Pro unit. Nobody played more man coverage than New England, and Gilmore was primarily responsible for covering an opponents’ best wide receiver. He truly did it all, and even delivered the game-sealing interception in Super Bowl LIII.
Second Team: TreDavious White
Cornerback: Xavien Howard
Xavien Howard earned a massive pay raise this last off-season, and his play certainly justifies the salary. A former second-round pick, Howard has developed into one of the better cornerbacks in football and has flashed lockdown potential. While he struggles with consistency, he’s good far more often than he’s bad and has a chance to be a top-10 cornerback in 2019.
Second Team: J.C. Jackson
Safety: Jamal Adams
New York Jets safety Jamal Adams has a case for being the best all-around safety in football. The former sixth overall pick is a menace in every phase of the game and possesses the ability to completely shut down opposing tight ends. Adams finished the year as PFF’s second-best safety and is at the point in his career where he should only improve with age.
Second Team: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Safety: Marcus Maye
The New York Jets might have the best safety tandem in the NFL. While Marcus Maye isn’t on the same level as Adams, he’s still a borderline top-10 safety in football. Injuries limited Maye to just six games in 2018, but the former second-round pick looked great when he was on the field. Pro Football Focus had him on the ninth-best safety in football, and his skill set perfectly complements Adams. Hopefully, he can stay healthy in 2019.
Second Team: Devin McCourty
After reading the All-AFC East Defense, check out the rest of our articles.
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