Over the past decade, NFL defenses have been largely overshadowed. The league has become focused on pass-happy offenses that put a lot of points on the scoreboard. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of standout defensive players. With 2020 officially here, now seems like a good time to reflect on the past 10 years and highlight the best defensive players in the NFL during the 2010s.
5. Luke Kuechly
Kuechly waited until the end of the decade to retire, so his decision to walk away in his prime doesn’t hurt his standing. After winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, he proceeded to make the Pro Bowl in each of the next seven seasons. He was also an All-Pro First or Second Team member in those seven seasons.
Kuechly was also Defensive Players of the Year in 2013, won the Butkus Award three times, and twice led the league in tackles. In short, he was a tackling machine who was somehow under-appreciated for most of his career but was undoubtedly one of the best defensive players of the last decade.
4. Richard Sherman
Among defensive backs, nobody in the NFL was better during the 2010s than Sherman. Somehow, he was the 154th overall pick in the 2011 Draft and then proceeded to be the best cornerback of the decade.
He was the best player on the “Legion of Boom,” arguably the best secondary in NFL history. The fact that he bounced back from a couple of down seasons but returned to All-Pro form in 2019 leaves no doubt that he was among the best defensive players of the decade.
3. J.J. Watt
If not for injuries, Watt would likely be no. 1 on our list. However, a few lost seasons bumped him down a couple of spots. That being said, Watt is one of two players in NFL history to win Defensive Player of the Year honors three times.
He led the NFL in sacks twice over the past decade and was a First-Team All-Pro selection five times. When healthy, few defensive players in league history impact a game like Watt.
2. Von Miller
Out of all of the elite pass rushers we’ve seen during the 2010s, Miller stands out from the pack. For starters, he played almost the entire decade and went to eight Pro Bowls. Miller also won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and has been an All-Pro seven times.
Of course, the kicker is that Miller won Super Bowl MVP, making him one of just four defensive players to win that award this century. His accomplishments are undeniable, as is the profound way his pass-rushing skills impacted games all decade.
1. Aaron Donald
No defensive player has been a bigger difference-maker over the past 10 seasons than Donald. Despite being a little undersized for a defensive tackle, Donald has been unstoppable from Day 1. After six seasons, he’s already considered one of the best of all time. In those six years, he’s gone to six Pro Bowls and been First-Team All-Pro five times.
Donald has also won Defensive Player of the Year honors twice, being just the third player to win the award in consecutive years. In a league dominated by outside rushers, Donald has averaged 12 sacks per year as an interior lineman. That tells you everything you need to know about how good he’s been.