No.40: Derwin James, Safety, Los Angeles Chargers
James had his first healthy season since 2018, playing in 15 games. He made his second Pro Bowl and earned a first-team All-pro nod from the Sporting News. James had a spectacular all-around campaign, posting 11 pressures, 31 defensive stops, three forced fumbles, and a pair of interceptions. His 71.9 passer rating allowed was in line with his 2018 figures (71.8). James is an All-World caliber player and a major force in the Chargers’ defense.
No.39: Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Carolina Panthers
Like James, McCaffrey has battled health concerns in recent years. McCaffrey played in just seven games in 2021, but he was on pace for over 1,900 yards. When healthy, McCaffrey is one of the most overwhelming offensive stars in the league. For his career, McCaffrey averages 114 scrimmage yards per game and has 47 touchdowns in 58 games. Health permitting, McCaffrey will be in the top 10 of the 2023 list.
No.38: Demario Davis, Linebacker, New Orleans Saints
The 2019 All-Pro has been on one of the top two teams in each of the last three seasons. Davis has five straight seasons with at least 100 tackles and nine seasons with at least 90. He has been a havoc wreaker in his Saints’ tenure, posting 45 tackles for loss and 28 pass deflections in four seasons. He has also tacked on 16 sacks and a quarter of strong PFF grades.
No.37: Shaquille Leonard, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
“Maniac” is now a three-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler. Last season, he led the NFL with eight forced fumbles. He also had four interceptions and posted 120 tackles for the fourth year in a row. With 28 total takeaways in four seasons, Leonard is one of the most influential defensive players in the league. He is a reliable tackler, steady coverage player, and elite run defender.
No.36: Fred Warner, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Warner has been steadily improving, and he now has a solid case for being the best linebacker in the NFL. He posted career-best marks in run defense (73.6) and tackling (73.2). Warner is a premier cover linebacker, even if the base stats did not reflect that in 2021. Warner is the ultimate do-it-all linebacker in the league, and the future is bright.
No.35: Kevin Byard, Safety, Tennessee Titans
After a bit of a lull, Byard returned to All-Pro level. He picked off five passes for the third time in five seasons, and he had a pair of forced fumbles. Byard was a major reason why the Titans were better defensively than they were in 2020. He was elite in coverage (90.7) and surrendered just an 82.0 passer rating. For the time being, Byard is the best safety in the NFL.
No.34: Tre’Davious White, Cornerback, Buffalo Bills
Without missing the last chunk of the season, White was well on his way to his third Pro Bowl in a row. He allowed a 61.4 passer rating when in coverage, not allowing a touchdown. White allowed just 9.8 yards per catch, nearly two yards better than his 2019 All-Pro season. White is recovering from a torn ACL, but he should be right back to his usual elite self by the end of September.
No.33: Xavien Howard, Cornerback, Miami Dolphins
Howard continues to be a takeaway machine. He had five interceptions and two forced fumbles, his third season with at least seven takeaways. Howard allowed a completion percentage below 60% in five of six seasons in his career. He can be handsy at times, and he did allow 717 yards, but Howard is one of the few game changers at the cornerback position. Howard has made three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro in six seasons.
No.32: Trey Hendrickson, EDGE, Cincinnati Bengals
Hendrickson has 27.5 sacks in two seasons, making his first Pro Bowl in 2021. He had a streak of 11 straight games with at least 0.5 sacks. In the playoffs, he stepped up his game to the tune of 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Hendrickson had a career-high 75 pressures en route to an 83.9 pass-rush grade. In the playoffs, Hendrickson had 12 pressures and an 81.7 pass-rush grade.
No.31: Von Miller, EDGE, Buffalo Bills
After missing 2020 with injury, Miller had a bounce-back campaign. Splitting time between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams, Miller posted 9.5 sacks and 60 pressures. However, in the biggest moments, Miller elevated his game. In the playoffs, he had 22 pressures and four sacks en route to his second Super Bowl win. As a result, Miller earned a 93.0 overall grade for the second time in his playoff career.
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