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2018 NFL All-Pro teams, eye test vs. Next Gen Stats: Defense

Numbers don't lie -- but neither does the well-trained eye. Seasoned football watcher Chris Wesseling and Next Gen Stats maven Nick Shook provide their All-Pro Teams from the 2018 NFL season.

Edge rushers

Chris Wesseling: Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans. Mack transformed a Chicago defense that became the first since the 2006 Ravens with at least 45 sacks and 25 interceptions in a season. He might not have led the league in sacks, hits or hurries, but his disruptions forced a higher percentage of game-changing turnovers. In terms of pure speed and explosiveness, Watt has lost perhaps a half step due to major back and leg surgeries over the past few years. He still wins his matchup almost every play, revving a non-stop motor that makes him a relentless pass rusher as well as a force in the run game. After a sack drought that lasted nearly two calendar years, who expected Watt to fall right back in line behind Aaron Donald in the defensive pecking order?

Nick Shook: Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; Von Miller, Denver Broncos. There is a really solid group of edge rushers to choose from, including Kansas City's Dee Ford, Cleveland's Myles Garrett, Houston's J.J. Watt and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes. What separates Miller and Mack from the rest of the pack is their ability to wreak havoc with comparatively fewer opportunities. Of the aforementioned group, only Mack, Miller and Hughes logged less than 500 pass rushes. Miller, Mack and Watt were the only three to break 6 percent in tackle percentage. Mack and Miller each recorded double-digit sacks (12.5 for Mack and 14.5 for Miller) and were the only ones of the group to break 3 percent in sack percentage, while also finishing with 67 or more disruptions and 13.9 percent or better in QB pressure percentage. Miller and Mack ranked fourth and sixth in the NFL in total QB pressures (61 for Miller, 59 for Mack) -- though again, they had far fewer pass-rush opportunities than the players ranked above them. Mack was a leading force in transforming Chicago's defense into one of the league's best, while Miller continued producing at an All-Pro level despite Denver's down year.

Interior linemen

Wesseling: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs. I've already written about Donald as the obvious Defensive Player of the Year as well as a legitimate MVP candidate. He just put the finishing touches on what was perhaps the finest season ever enjoyed by an interior defensive lineman. While Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox and Chicago's Akiem Hicks present strong cases for the spot opposite Donald, it's hard to ignore Jones' torrid stretch in the second half of the season. Jones set an NFL record with a sack in 11 consecutive games, teaming with Dee Ford to create havoc as the pocket-crashing tandem that saved Kansas City's otherwise anemic defense from collapsing.

Shook: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs. Donald is the runaway pick here, tallying 16 stuffs, 73 QB pressures, and 20.5 sacks while also being the only interior lineman in the NFL to break double digits in disruption percentage (10.4 percent). Donald also led the way among defensive tackles in total stops by a wide margin, finishing with 52 (the next closest DT was New York's Dalvin Tomlinson with 43). Jones had a full-blown breakout season in Kansas City, recording 15.5 sacks and jumping off the screen in film study while trailing Donald in QB pressures by 27. Donald's get-off, renowned in the All-22 community, produced the quickest time to sack among rushers with 10-plus sacks by a wide margin at 3.60 seconds. Only Tomlinson and Kawann Short were better than Donald in total stuffs, too, with Donald finishing third with 16, further emphasizing his all-around, all-world ability.


Wesseling: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers; Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts. Kuechly made plays behind the line of scrimmage at an unprecedented rate, recording the most stuffs ever by a linebacker, per research done by Pro Football Journal. He might have reached J.J. Watt's 2012 record for most by any player had the Panthers allowed him to play more than a handful of snaps in the season finale. Wagner is an anomaly. The same bully who blows up runners in the hole without missing tackles also boasts the delicate footwork to hang with scatbacks and tight ends as one of the stickiest coverage linebackers. Indianapolis' defense was widely derided as the NFL's least-talented unit entering the 2018 season. They closed out the campaign as the No. 1 scoring defense over the final 10 weeks, with Leonard as the beating heart. The favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors is the first player ever to notch at least 160 tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions.

Shook: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers; Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks; Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts. Kuechly was again all over the field against all opponents, recording the most hustle stops by any linebacker with 22 (the next closest were Los Angeles' Cory Littleton and New Orleans' Demario Davis, with 16 each). Kuechly also finished fourth in average tackle distance among linebackers with at least 400 snaps, averaging 17.8 yards traveled per takedown. Kuechly's total tackles (130) were also in the top seven of all linebackers, and his 25 run stuffs were the most among linebackers, as were his 33 disruptions. Only Leonard had more total stops with 66, two more than Kuechly's 64. Leonard led the NFL in total tackles (163) as the rookie forcefully introduced himself to the league. Wagner was again among the league's best in pass coverage, allowing a 70.3 passer rating to targeted receivers when he was the nearest defender, trailing only Tennessee's Jayon Brown (62.4) among linebackers who were targeted 30-plus times. Wagner also blanketed pass-catchers, qualifying as a tight-window target 22 percent of the time, the third-best mark among linebackers with 30-plus targets. Cleveland's Joe Schobert also had a good case to end up in here in pass coverage, finishing third among qualifying linebackers in passer rating to targeted receivers when he was the nearest defender (73.4).


Wesseling: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans. I had Gilmore as the stingiest cover corner this year, leading the league in pass deflections and ranking second in completion percentage in his coverage. He smothered Robby Anderson, in particular, giving the Jets' deep threat fits in their two matchups. Although Patrick Peterson was typically excellent in Steve Wilks' new scheme this year, Jackson merits recognition for a phenomenal season which started at safety and ended at cornerback. The surest-tackling cornerback I saw all year, Jackson devastated the Broncos, Bills and Jaguars with big plays and hard hits reminiscent of former Vikings Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield.

Shook: Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Brandon Carr, Baltimore Ravens. Fuller was the nearest defender on 109 targets and served as a walking blanket, allowing a passer rating of 65.5, the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL among all cornerbacks with at least 50 targets. His seven total interceptions served as an example of his ability to create opportunities for his team via takeaways, and his minus-2.9 percent differential between expected completion and actual catch percentage proved he is a disruptive force in coverage. Fuller also forced tight-window throws on 30.3 percent of targets, doing so while pressing on just 23.9 percent of targets, meaning he closes space better than most anyone. Carr allowed the lowest passer rating of any cornerback when serving as the nearest defender to targeted receivers (62.3), and his 0:2 TD-to-INT ratio allowed and minus-7.3 percent difference between expected completion percentage and catch percentage proved throwing in his direction tended to mean trouble for opposing passers.


Wesseling: Jamal Adams, New York Jets; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers. The Jets have their defensive leader for the next decade in Adams, who controls the line of scrimmage like no other safety in the game. Pro Football Focus has a "stuffs" metric that tracks the number of solo tackles which constitute an offensive failure. Adams' 44 stuffs stood toe-to-toe with the league's premier playmaking linebackers and defensive ends. Much was made of the Bolts' brilliant game plan to deploy seven defensive backs versus Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' dominant ground attack last week. It worked because James has overtaken Tyrann Mathieu as the game's most versatile defensive back, disrupting the offense as a blitzer off the edge, stuffing the run as a linebacker in the box and deflecting passes as the last line of defense. As Bill Belichick noted this week, James is simply "good at everything."

Shook: Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears; Jamal Adams, New York Jets. Throwing in Jackson's direction almost always produced a negative result for opposing passers. Jackson's difference in catch percentage versus expected completion percentage was an eye-popping minus-21.6 percent. When he was the nearest defender to a targeted receiver, he allowed a passer rating of 28.9, the lowest in the league among players targeted 20-plus times. Pair those stats together and it's clear his presence essentially designated his area of the field as a no-fly zone. Adams was an all-around issue for opposing offenses, finishing first among safeties in stops with 44 and sacks with 3.5. Adams' nine hustle stops were tied for second most in the NFL among safeties, trailing only Tyrann Mathieu. Adams' minus-15.6 percent difference in catch percentage and expected completion percentage was third-best in the NFL among safeties targeted 30-plus times. His passer rating allowed (76.1) was sixth-best in the league among that group. In just his second year, Adams is clearly a budding star on the back end of the Jets' defense.

Defensive back

Wesseling: Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears. The league's premier ball-hawking center fielder, Jackson intercepted six passes, forced two fumbles and returned three turnovers for touchdowns -- including a pick-six that swung the tight Thanksgiving tilt with the Lions in his team's favor. Bears faithful can't help but wonder if their fortunes would have been different had their best defensive back been healthy enough to face Nick Foles in Chicago's season-ending loss.

Shook: Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers. Phillips is near Jackson and Adams in most of the prominent safety metrics, finishing fourth in passer rating allowed among safeties targeted 30-plus times when serving as the defender nearest to a targeted receiver (64.3). He did so while also pressing on just 7.9 percent of targets, and he posted the second-best difference in catch percentage and expected completion percentage (minus-16.5 percent). Phillips' 247 yards allowed on 38 targets was 13th-best in that group, while his tackle percentage of 12.1 was fifth-best among safeties with 400-plus snaps. His eight hustle stops were tied for fourth in that group.


Wesseling: Tress Way, Washington Redskins.Seahawks rookie Michael Dickson was my pick until he had two punts blocked and another returned 45 yards in the regular-season finale. Johnny Hekker may be the best to ever do it, but he punted only 43 times this year. For comparison's sake, Way landed 41 kicks inside the 20-yard line -- without a single touchback. That's some impressive sharp shooting.

Shook: Tress Way, Washington Redskins. The numbers are skewed in favor of two punters who did little actual punting: New Orleans' Thomas Morstead and Los Angeles' Johnny Hekker. Among those who actually punted a decent amount, Way leads the, well, way in that department, averaging 41.5 net yards per punt, tied for ninth best. Way also finished with the most punts inside the 20 with 41, with zero touchbacks, as Wesseling pointed out. Way also went without a punt blocked and left his kicks for his coverage team to down more than any other with 19.

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