J.J. Watt, Texans
Khalil Mack, Raiders
Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
Cameron Wake, Dolphins
Through the first six seasons of this decade, J.J. Watt has set himself apart from his peers more than any defender in history. Not only has Watt won the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times (to match Lawrence Taylor as the only three-time winners), but he is the only defensive end this decade who has been named All-Pro more than once. The following have all earned the honor one time: John Abraham, Julius Peppers, Cameron Wake, Jared Allen, Mario Williams, Robert Quinn, Jason Pierre-Paul and Khalil Mack.
Most of these guys are either retired or on the downsides of their careers – except Mack, who last year became the first player ever named All-Pro at two positions: defensive end and linebacker. With Watt out for the year with a back injury, Mack should be in the discussion as DPOY. But according to Pro Football Focus, he’s currently ranked 27th among edge defenders.
Do I have faith that Mack will return to form? I don’t know, should anyone ever have faith in someone tainted by the Raiders? No matter, he still has a few years left in the decade to get traded to a well-run franchise that will help him turn things around.
I also still believe Clowney will pan out and dominate. The hope is that he will become the best defender on the Texans, because that would suitably piss off Watt, that attention hog.
Snubbed: Jason Pierre-Paul
Ndamukong Suh, Lions/Dolphins
Aaron Donald, Rams
Haloti Ngata, Ravens/Lions
Geno Atkins, Bengals
Contrary to popular belief, Suh has not retired. He simply took the money, joined the Dolphins and was last seen chasing a doughnut in the wind on South Beach. Once upon a time, he was a fearsome interior menace, liable to shoot the gap and blow up the offensive line on one play and to tackle a player by their eyeballs on the next. He was the talk of the league, for better or worse. Sort of how Odell Beckham is now.
Nowadays you rarely hear much talk about Suh, unless it’s to point out his dispassionate play or how he’s representative of the Dolphins’ overall mediocrity. To be fair, Suh isn’t the second coming of Albert Haynesworth – not yet, anyway.
Marcell Dareus was originally named to this team, but when we sent him the congratulatory notice, he rolled it up and smoked it.
Luke Kuechly, Panthers
NaVorro Bowman, 49ers
Patrick Willis, 49ers
Von Miller, Broncos
Tamba Hali, Chiefs
Ryan Shazier, Steelers
Kuechly has been tackling fully grown males since he was a toddler, or so you’d think given his penchant for bringing other men to heel. The guy is a tackling machine, so good he taught most people how to properly pronounce his name even back at Boston College.
Bowman and Willis once teamed up to give the 49ers the best linebacking corps in the NFL, but then Willis (a three-time All-Pro this decade) retired in advance of possibly becoming a cripple, and Bowman was left holding the bag as the 49ers set the 21st century standard for how to go from the penthouse to the outhouse in record time. (Look away, Kuechly!)
No one can argue with the inclusion of Von Miller, who is only getting better and might be the only self-avowed nerd to ever get suspended for PEDs. Hali (five Pro Bowls, 60 sacks in the decade) gets the nod over his KC mate, Derrick Johnson (four Pro Bowls).
Ryan Shazier might seem like a surprise choice, but the Steelers are an assembly line for great linebackers. Pittsburgh has had at least one on every All-Decade team since the 70s: Joey Porter in the 2000s; Levon Kirkland, Hardy Nickerson and Kevin Greene in the 1990s; Jack Lambert in the 1980s; and Lambert and Jack Ham in the 1970s. Call me a homer, but Shazier has the best chance of maintaining the streak.
Snubbed: Clay Matthews
Darrelle Revis, Jets, Patriots, Buccaneers
Charles Woodson, Raiders, Packers
Richard Sherman, Seahawks
Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
No Miko Grimes? The top-tier cornerback’s name is actually Brent. I was surprised to learn this, too; Miko is actually his wife (and the one in the family who seems to never stop making waves) and she is unfortunately ineligible to make our team because, well, she doesn’t currently play football. But the decade’s young, so she’s still got a shot.
Frankly, separating the four best here from all the rest was pretty easy. Revis was so good he had an island named after him. Woodson, a member of the 2000s All-Decade team who won the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, maintained the pace in the new decade, leading the league in INTs in 2011 as the Packers won the Super Bowl. The next year he moved to safety and played four more years, capping his career with a Pro Bowl season in 2015. His deep, manly voice can now be heard on ESPN.
Peterson, meanwhile, has been a Pro Bowler since his 2011 rookie season and a three-time All-Pro. Sherman has walked back his look-at-me antics since the Seahawks won their Super Bowl — behavior that distracted people from realizing he went to Stanford. The same personality turn might happen for l Pacman Jones, Josh Norman or Grimes if they ever escape from success-avoiding franchises like Cincinnati, Washington and Tampa Bay.
Snubbed: Peanut Tillman
Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Troy Polamalu, Steelers
Eric Weddle, Chargers/Ravens
Kam Chancellor, Seahawks
It’s ironic that the football players who earned the reputations for laying out the biggest hits – Andre Waters, Rodney Harrison, Steve Atwater, Jack Tatum – played a position called “safety.” Whenever I’m on defense playing Madden, I always play with one of the players at the third level. You have the best view of the field, you’re unencumbered by nearby bodies and you can pull the stick down (hey now!) and get a full head of steam as you launch your guy toward some unsuspecting amalgamation of pixels. Safeties are badass.
Thomas has been a three-time All-Pro this decade (with five Pro Bowl selections), playing center field on a Seattle secondary that arguably has three future Hall of Famers in Thomas, Richard Sherman and thumper Kam Chancellor.
You knew Ezekiel Elliott was for real when he took on and steamrolled Chancellor in the preseason.
Polamalu only played through 2014 and was a shadow of his former self by the end. But he opened the decade by winning Defensive Player of the Year, only the fifth safety to win the award since 1971. He should join Charles Woodson, Tom Brady and Devin Hester as the only players to repeat on the All-Decade team (along with the first-team head coach; see below).
Johnny Hekker, Rams
Andy Lee, 49ers/Browns/Panthers
Hekker and Lee have both been All-Pro twice this decade, and Hekker continues to play for a team where punting is emphasized. Hopefully I won’t see either of them signing autographs at Stop & Shop in a few years.
Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Justin Tucker, Ravens
As a Steelers fan, I hate two teams above all: New England and Baltimore. (Cincinnati isn’t worth the effort.) How good are the Patriots and the Ravens at drafting? They have the two best field-goal kickers in the league. The Patriots’ two kickers since 1996 are Adam Vinatieri, second-team kicker on the 2000s All-Decade team, and now Gostkowski. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure Tucker could kick Blair Walsh through the uprights from 40 yards-plus. So, yeah, hold Tom Brady and Joe Flacco out of the end zone, and here come their kickers for an automatic three. Stab me.
Devin Hester, Bears/Falcons
Antonio Brown, Steelers
I remember exactly where I was for the 2014 NFL season opener when Antonio Brown fielded a punt, darted down the middle of the field past Browns defenders and leaped into the air and karate-kicked Browns’ punter Spencer Lanning in the helmet. I was ROTFLMAO.
Brown was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, which is a nice way of saying “that was kind of cold, dude.”
Hester has tailed off since 2010, when he led the league with 3 return touchdowns. But he still has more punt return TDs (7) than anyone else this decade and the highest yards per return (12.62).
Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings
Jacoby Jones, Texans/Ravens/Steelers/Chargers
With all the new kick return rules implemented this decade – moving the kickoff spot up to the 35-yard line five years ago; and this year moving a touchback up to the 25-yard line – the sport’s most exciting play (and most dangerous) has been tempered considerably. Only six players have 3 or more kick return touchdowns this decade, and the only one of those players still filling that role is Patterson – and probably because he only started doing it in 2013.
His 30.10 per yard return average is more than a yard higher than anyone else with at least 2 kick return TDs this decade. Appreciate him now before he goes the way of Leon Washington, Jacoby Ford, Jacoby Jones, Percy Harvin and kickoff returns in general.
Bill Belichick, Patriots
Pete Carroll, Seahawks
As someone who can clearly remember Belichick floundering as the head coach of the Browns in the 1990s, it’s still astounding to me that he now has the most playoff victories in history (23), 4 Super Bowl rings and 6 AFC Championship Game wins. He’s exactly 100 victories behind Don Shula for most wins by a head coach, but at 64 years old seems like a long shot to pass the Dolphins’ great, who won coach of the decade in the 1970s.
Belichick and Carroll are both 1-1 in Super Bowls this decade. Among all the coaches who have won since 2010 — Gary Kubiak, Tom Coughlin, John Harbaugh and Mike McCarthy — Belichick and Carroll seem like the clear favorites to pad their championship totals.
Just about everyone outside of New England thinks every Patriot win under Belichick and Brady deserves an asterisk. But until they get caught cheating red-headed — ya know, again — you have to grin and bear it. Enjoy the rest of the decade!