Following is the definitive defensive team of the decade for the years 2000-2009. The defense was much more difficult to choose than the offense because there are so many deserving players and statistics are not as helpful in evaluating the impact of a player on the game. For example, a shut down cornerback does not get many interceptions because nobody wants to throw the ball his way and a stout defensive tackle doesn’t get credit for the havoc he wreaks allowing other players to get to the quarterback or ball carrier.
As for the offense, in some cases I am choosing several players for a position, for example I have four defensive ends, because all deserve to make the team. But I rank them in the order I would place them from starters to backups. In other cases I name just one set of starters if those making the cut are deemed to be clearly better than their counterparts.
I only use statistics where needed when players are fairly close and it helps differentiate between contenders for key spots.
Fact checking was done using the following: NFL.com, 2009 NFL Record and Fact Book, Pro-Football-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com.
DE: Michael Strahan, New York Giants
DE: Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings
DE: Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
DE: Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins
I am shocked that Michael Strahan is not mentioned more often as a contender for All Decade Teams. Maybe it’s because he played from 1993 to 2007. But he had a very dominant 2000’s at defensive end and even at the end of his career was an integral part of the New York Giants unlikely Super Bowl run in 2007. In 2001 he set the single season sack record with 22.5 sacks and was named the Associated Press’s Defensive Player of the Year. In his 15 year career he made seven Pro Bowls, four of them in the 2000’s. He ranks fifth all time in sacks with 141.5, with 88 of those coming in the 2000’s. To me he was the “face” of the defense end position of the 2000’s.
Jared Allen is probably a more controversial choice, or at least his placement on the list, but to me he is the best defensive end in the league today. In his six years since 2004 he has racked up 71 sacks and plays the run equally as well as the pass. Usually he is blocked by two or more offensive linemen, helping his teammates make plays. And he has a motor that never stops running. Far after he might have seemed out of a play, he suddenly appears for the tackle or the sack. He lead the league in sacks with 15.5 in 2007.
Typically Dwight Freeney is mention as the top defensive end of this decade. I have seen way too many games where teams, smartly, run right at Freeney, successfully. He just does not play the run as well as the pass. I wouldn’t call him one dimensional but his specialty is the pass rush, which he excels at. In his eight years as a pro from 2002 to 2009 he has recorded 84 sacks, which ranks sixth among active defensive players. He has been to five Pro Bowls and was named the Associated Press’s AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
In his 13 year career from 1997 to 2009, Jason Taylor has been one of the best at his position. He has a total of 127.5 sacks, placing him 11th on the all time list (and number one among active players). He has been a mainstay at defensive end for the Miami Dolphins (discounting his failed stint with the Washington Redskins). He has been to six Pro Bowls and was the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the year in 2006. While Taylor plays the run reasonably well for his size, I give Strahan and Allen an edge in that category.
Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers would have been the fifth pick.
DT: Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DT: Richard Seymour, New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders
Kevin Williams has been a consistent and steady performer at this position in his seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings from 2003 to present. He has started all but one game in this span and has made the Pro Bowl five times. I consider him the best defensive tackle in the league as of today.
Richard Seymour has played somewhat of a hybrid position as an end/tackle but is mostly considered a defensive tackle. He, like Kevin Williams, has been a very steady performer when not injured. His impact on the Patriots defenses of the 2000’s can be seen by how those defenses struggle when he is out of the lineup. In his nine year career spanning 2001 to present he has made five Pro Bowls.
Defensive tackle was one of the toughest positions in some ways, but easy in others. There are some high impact but inconsistent players like Albert Haynesworth, the oft injured Kris Jenkins, and Shaun Rodgers. Haynesworth is the most likely to be considered a snub but he really only had one great year and a few good years, but he’s mostly been in inconsistent.
Warren Sapp was hard to leave off the team, but his career split the 1990’s and 2000’s and he had a better 1990’s as a younger player and is on the NFL’s 1990’s All Decade Team.
Jamal Williams of San Diego was also considered but was edged out by Seymour.
Haloti Nagta of the Baltimore Ravens has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the league but just hasn’t been around long enough to make the team.
La’Roi Glover of the New Orleans Saints also had a good first half of the decade.
OLB: Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
OLB: Joey Porter, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins
OLB: DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
Derrick Brooks was an easy choice for the top outside linebacker position. He was the leader of one of the best defenses in the NFL in the late 1990’s and first few years of the 2000’s. In his 14 seasons spanning 1995-2008, he made the Pro Bowl 11 times. He was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, the year the stout Buccaneers defense lead the team to it’s only Super Bowl championship.
It pains me to put Joey Porter on this list because he is one of most unlikable and despicable players in the league. But in his 11 year career spanning from 1999 to present he has wracked up 91 sacks, second among active players only to Jason Taylor. He has been a very stout run defender throughout as his career as well and an integral part of the great Steelers defenses of the decade.
DeMarcus Ware has been in the league only five seasons (2005 to 2009) but has already achieved 64.5 sacks, which is his specialty. Frankly, he is a bit one dimensional and does not perform nearly as well against the run. He lead the league in sacks in 2008 with 20, threatening the record held by Michael Strahan. He has been to the Pro Bowl four of his five seasons.
ILB: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
ILB: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
Ray Lewis has been the dominant defense player of this decade. Year after year, even when aging, he continues to amaze with his performances. He lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in the 2000 season. How often do you hear that about a defense player? The Ravens defense in 2000 is considered one of the best defenses of all time alongside the 1985 Bears, and Ray Lewis was the most important component of that defense. In his 14 years with the Ravens, 1996 to present, he has been named to 11 Pro Bowls and was the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year twice (in 2000 and 2003). He is also the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV.
Brian Urlacher has been in the league ten years, ironically 2000 to 2009, although he has lost most of two seasons to injuries. When healthy, his size and speed at middle linebacker make him one of the most versatile defensive players in the league. Urlacher was the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the year in 2000 and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. He’s been to the Pro Bowl six times.
The only other player considered for this award was London Fletcher, currently with the Washington Redskins. He has been consistently one of the best inside linebackers in the league during his career spanning 1998 to present with the St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, and now Redskins. Ironically, he has never made a Pro Bowl, which is a travesty.
Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49’ers has only been in the league three years but seems poised to have a Hall of Fame caliber career.
CB: Champ Bailey, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos
CB: Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Champ Bailey has easily been the best cornerback of this decade. He is perennially seen as one of the best cover corners in the league but he plays the run equally as well. He is not afraid to make a tackle. Now in his 11th season, spanning 1999 to present, he has made nine Pro Bowls. He was named Doug Baker’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 (over Jason Taylor).
Ronde Barber is in his 13th season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a career spanning 1997 to present. He is the only cornerback to have recorded 20 interceptions and 20 touchdowns in a career. He lead the league in interceptions with 10 in 2001 (tied with Anthony Henry of the Cleveland Browns) and was an important part of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl run. He is a five time Pro Bowl selection.
Other noteworthy players considered were Ty Law who spent most of his career with the New England Patriots, Antoine Winfield of the Buffalo Bills and now Minnesota Vikings, and Charles Woodson of the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers.
SS: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
SS: Brian Dawkins, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos
Troy Polamalu may be the best strong safety I’ve ever seen. He has an uncanny nose for the ball and seems to be in on nearly every play. He often comes from very odd angles or far away from the play to get into the action. Now in his seventh season (2003 to present) with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has been a leader on the defense that has been the primary reason the Steelers have won two Super Bowl’s this decade. He has made the Pro Bowl five times.
Brian Dawkins has to make this list and some will strongly argue he deserves to be in the number one slot. In his 14 year career spanning 1996 to present he has made 8 Pro Bowls and has been not only the leader one some of the best defenses in the league, but a high character player who makes his teammates better.
Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots is my favorite strong safety of all time along with Tim Fox, and hopefully my fellow Patriots fan will recognized that hard nosed, hard hitting name from the 1970’s.
FS: Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens
Ed Reed has been the most dominant free saftey this decade. He is an unbelievable ball hawk and, along with Ray Lewis, has kept the Baltimore Ravens near the top in among defenses in the NFL. In his eight year careeer he has made eight Pro Bowls and was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He also has the longest interception return for a touchdown (108 yards) and lead the league in intercpetions in 2004 and 2008.
P: Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
From 2000-2009 he is the all time career leader in punting average with a 47.3 yards per kick. Don’t let that fool you, he can stick it in an ear hole and pin the ball deep too.
Special Teams: Larry Izzo, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets
Larry was special teams standout throughout his tenure with the New England Patriots and their championship seasons. Like Steve Tasker for the Bills in their heyday, he made play after play in a an oft overlooked but important aspect of the game.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE DECADE: RAY LEWIS, BALTIMORE RAVENS
Hands down, Ray Lewis has been the best defensive player of the decade. Who else?