Continuing our look at the top players in the division, we focus on the defensive line, where the Vikings place 2 in the top 5, which is 2 more than the Packers…
1. Jared Allen – Vikings
A few naysayers will argue that Allen padded his sack stats by feasting on terrible offensive tackles. But those of us who actually paid attention realize what a great all-around season he had in 2011, not just against J’Marcus Webb but all opponents. He disrupts offensive game plans all by himself, drawing double-teams, TE chips and forcing quarterbacks to roll away. When the Vikings need a big play to stop a drive, Jared (or Gerald as he is sometimes known) is about the only guy they can count on to consistently make it. I shudder to think how abysmal the Vikings’ defense would’ve been last year without his superhuman efforts.
2. Ndamukong Suh – Lions
He had a bit of a down year last year on the stat sheet, but I seriously doubt that will be repeated in 2012. When he’s not stomping people’s heads or getting busted for speeding, Suh is one of the most dominating forces in the league (but still a nice soft-spoken individual). According to Pro Football Focus he applied more pressure than any defensive tackle in the NFL last year, and that was even with a suspension costing him two games.
3. Julius Peppers – Bears
Peppers was all banged up last year and still managed to post a double-digit sack season (with a little help from that feeble old wreck Donovan McNabb). Every year you think guys like Peppers and Urlacher and Briggs are going to finally fade into the sunset and every year they pull themselves together for one last stand. 2012 could be the last stand of last stands for these guys as a unit so I’m guessing Peppers will be in full warrior mode once again.
4. Cliff Avril – Lions
He had a huge season in 2011 and is in line for a large pay raise. Were his 2011 totals flukey? Possibly. Will he likely tail off production-wise in 2012? Probably. But you can’t ignore what a disruptive force Avril was for the Lions last year (just ask Phil Loadholt), and as a result of that one brilliant season, he deserves a spot on this list.
5. Kevin Williams – Vikings
Slow starts have become an annual rite for Williams, who last year was hampered even more than usual by having to finally serve his StarCaps suspension. I’m not counting on Williams bucking that trend and starting fast this year, but I am counting on him finishing strong like always. When the wonks count up his numbers at season’s end he’ll be rated among the top interior linemen like every other year. And despite that production, many fans will gripe that he’s overrated. If this was Twitter I’d drop an “smh.”
Other guys to watch: Brian Robison – Vikings; Kyle Vanden Bosch – Lions; Israel Idonije – Bears; Nick Fairley (especially if you’re the police) – Lions
Oh and there was one Packer D-lineman who made an impact last year. Good, um, dancing.