NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks – Defensive Linemen

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks – Defensive Linemen

Voting for the NFL Pro Bowl has come to an end with official rosters set to be announced on Tuesday, December 20 on an NFL Network’s Pro Bowl Special. The game itself will be played on Sunday, January 29, 2017 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The flawed nature of the selection process and lack of competitiveness during the game itself has dulled the Pro Bowl’s appeal, but the recognition of talent is a practice that will never go out of style. Over the next three days, we will reveal the NFC North division players who we believe are the most deserving of an all-expense paid trip down to sunny Florida, and where better to begin this process than on the defensive side of the football. (See links to our other awards at the bottom of this post.)

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks – DEFENSIVE END

Danielle Hunter (MIN), Everson Griffen (MIN), Mike Daniels (GB)

The Minnesota Vikings closed the book on two of the greatest pass-rushers in franchise history when the team elected to part ways with both defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams. As a result, Minnesota was expected to regress significantly in the quarterback pressure department. Instead of enduring an expected rebuilding phase, however, Rick Spielman simply punched in the reload coordinates.

Mike Zimmer was hired to replace Leslie Frazier, Everson Griffen was re-signed to a lucrative five-year extension, defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson joined the team via free agency, Spielman wheeled-and-dealed his way into a handful of no-ceiling draft prospects and just like that, Minnesota’s lethal pass-rushing attack was back on track.

Griffen responded to his new contract with 22.5 sacks during his first two years as a starter (2014-15), Johnson produced back-to-back career years, Joseph evolved into arguably the most dominant nose tackle in professional football, Brian Robison developed a more versatile pass-rushing skill set and, after swindling the Detroit Lions, Spielman selected a “raw” defensive end prospect with his 2015 third-round pick.

Danielle Hunter, who recorded just 4.5 sacks throughout a 34-game collegiate career at LSU, promptly silenced his critics with a six-sack rookie season before taking his talent to another level as a sophomore. Through 13 games this season, Hunter has recorded 10.5 sacks — good for fifth-most in the NFL — totaling a league-high 87 yards lost on sacks, a forced fumble, a 24-yard game-sealing touchdown following a Marcus Mariota fumble, a two-point sack of Cam Newton sparking a Vikings turnaround in Carolina, one pass breakup and 44 combined tackles — the eighth-highest total among 4-3 defensive ends despite having played just 495 snaps this season (Griffen, by comparison, has recorded 33 tackles on 733 snaps).

Hunter (10.5), Griffen (8.0) and honorable mention Robison (7.0) have combined for 25.5 sacks with three games still to play — a higher cumulative total than the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and nine other defenses have recorded as a team this season.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Mike Daniels, the Green Bay Packer responsible for breaking up Minnesota’s all-purple defensive end group, has certainly earned his spot as well. Lining up primarily at 3-4 defensive end makes recording a Top-10 sack total considerably more difficult, but Daniels has notched a trio of 2016 quarterback takedowns while also imposing his will as one of the best run-defenders in professional football.

Honorable Mention: Brian Robison (MIN)

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks – DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Linval Joseph (MIN), Kerry Hyder Jr. (DET), Akiem Hicks (CHI)

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Potentially the greatest argument for Pro Bowl voting and the overall selection process being obsolete is embedded within Lions breakout defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr. Hyder, who went undrafted out of Texas Tech back in 2014, is a perfect example of a new-age defensive lineman being pigeon-holed by his listed position. Depending on your source, Hyder may be regarded as defensive tackle or a defensive end, when in reality, he is simply an edge-rusher capable of wrecking havoc regardless of initial alignment.

His 2014 NFL draft overview provided by Nolan Nawrocki explains what is likely the root of this confusion:

“His cousin Chris Houston is a cornerback for the Detroit Lions. Redshirted in 2009. Saw action in 11 games in 2010, making two starts at defensive tackle (first two games) and one start vs. Baylor at left defensive end, and recorded 13 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks with two batted passes. Missed two games with a strained hamstring. Started all 12 games at DT in 2011, logging 42 tackles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks with three batted passes. In 2012, posted 56 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks with four batted down passes in 13 starts at nose tackle. In 2013, had 65 tackles, a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss and two sacks with one batted pass, three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks in 13 starts at nose tackle. Blocked a field goal against Oklahoma and a punt vs. Oklahoma State. Team captain.”

Simply put, the Lions sack leader has shown a willingness to line up wherever necessary to make an impact. While he has spent the majority of the 2016 season coming off the blind-side edge, Hyder joins nose tackles Linval Joseph and Eddie Goldman on this list due to being initially listed as a defensive tackle this season. Regardless of the obsolete positional grouping that Hyder is listed under, his 8.0 sacks in a year that Ezekiel Ansah has suffered through an injury-ridden season-long sack drought have been a huge boost to a Detroit team on the verge of its first NFC North division title in franchise history.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Joseph, on the other hand, reaffirms his case for being considered the best nose tackle in the NFL on a weekly basis. His fellow zero-man, honorable mention Eddie Goldman, could realistically challenge him for the honor sooner rather than later — if he can stay healthy.

The Chicago Bears’ horrific season has resulted in even less praise than his “clogger” role already commands, but the hulking former second-round pick out of Florida State is quickly becoming one of the best in the business at simultaneously eating up double teams and pressuring opposing quarterbacks. With that said, playing in only six games thus far is simply not a great enough sample size to warrant a Pro Bowl trip.

Akiem Hicks, similar to Hyder, does not fit under the defensive tackle jurisdiction in the same way Joseph or Goldman do, but his 3-4 defensive end role in Vic Fangio’s defense holds him responsible for the duties of both a 3-technique and a 5-technique. Despite doing “dirty work” on a high number of snaps this season, Hicks has notched 7.5 sacks while opening up lanes for rookie edge-rusher Leonard Floyd.

Hicks ultimately beats out Goldman for a top-3 spot on this list due to being healthy on a more consistent basis and, as a result, providing greater quantitative dividends for a rebuilding Bears defense.

Honorable Mention: Eddie Goldman (CHI)

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Did we get it right? Let us know on Twitter @NFCNBarroom or via the comment section below!

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and film clips are courtesy of NFL Game Pass.

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OUR OTHER PICKS FOR PRO BOWL!

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks: Linebackers

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks: Defensive Backs

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks: Running Backs

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl Picks: Wide Receivers

NFCN Barroom Pro Bowl: Tight Ends

 

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BJ Reidell

BJ Reidell

Robert "BJ" Reidell IV is a St. Paul, Minn. native currently living in beautiful Bismarck, N.D. He began writing about the Minnesota Vikings and NFC North division shortly after graduating from Marquette University in 2014 with the goal of turning his favorite hobby into a career. In addition to contributing to NFCN Barroom, he is a full-time Sports Reporter for the Bismarck Tribune, an NFL Analyst at Vikings Territory, Co-host/Producer of About the Labor: A Minnesota Vikings Podcast and a Fred Biletnikoff Award voter. You can find him waiting in line at Chipotle, enjoying a cold soda at Plums Bar & Grill or on Twitter @RobertReidell.



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