The end of a decade is the perfect time to look back and see what has transpired over the last ten years. Which players have stood out. Who has dominated. And what player has received the most plaudits. With all that in mind we (like many sites and news outlets!) wanted to put together a team of the decade.
Players were nominated by Jonny Thrash and Griff with myself deciding as defacto GM. I also had the ability to use a veto once and select my own player.
For the defence we agreed on two defensive tackles, two edge rushers (defensive ends or outside linebackers), two middle linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties and a defensive flex that could be any of the positions.
Defensive Tackles: Aaron Donald & Geno Atkins
There were so many to choose from and whilst Donald was a consensus pick, I had to use a veto to select Geno Atkins with both Ndamukong Suh and Fletcher Cox running him close.
Donald has been a colossus in the middle of the Rams defensive line since he came into the league in 2014. Five pro-bowls, five All-Pros, three time defensive player of the year. There’s no way that Donald could not make this team.
Atkins might be slightly more controversal but since 2010 (when he was a 4th round pick by the Bengals), Atkins has notched up 75.5 sacks and been to eight pro-bowls where he was All-Pro twice. He’s guilty of playing on an unfashionable Bengals team but remains a powerful force in the middle of the line.
Honourable mentions of course for Suh and Cox as well as Gerald McCoy, Haloti Ngata, Kyle Williams and Vince Wilfork.
Edge Rushers: JJ Watt and Von Miller
This was easy and a consensus from most of us (to be fair, I’d previously said if JJ Watt wasn’t selected I would veto!). Both players selected in the first round of the 2011 draft where fellow pass rusher Aldon Smith was also selected. Had Smith had stayed clean he would also be in this discussion as was immense in his first few years in San Francisco.
Like Donald, Watt has been a three time defensive player of the year. He’s been to five pro bowls where he was All-Pro on each occasion. He’s notched up 96 sacks in a career laden with injuries in the latter half of the decade.
Von Miller was the 2011 defensive rookie of the year and has been to eight pro bowls and a three time All-Pro. Miller also has the rare honour of being a defensive player that has won the Super Bowl MVP where he reeked havoc against Cam Newton’s Panthers. Currently has 106 sacks to his name and 26 forced fumbles – don’t expect him to slow down any time soon.
Honourable mentions for Justin Houston, Calais Campbell, Kahlil Mack, Terrel Suggs and DeMarcus Ware.
Middle Linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner
Again, a lot of consensus on this pick with both players being favourites of the podcast crew. Even as a 49er fan, I greatly admire Wagner (mainly because of the amount of times he intercepts me in Madden!!!).
Whilst few can be surprised he retired earlier this year, it was still disappointing to see a player like Kuechly leave the game. Is celebrated as workaholic and student of the game who watches more game tape then most analysts (check him out on last years series of All or Nothing on Amazon). Kuechly was 2012 defensive rookie of the year, 2013 defensive player of the year, went to seven pro bowls and was a five time All-Pro. Kuechly recorded an astonishing 1,092 tackles during his time in the league, 75 of those for a loss.
Wagner is another player that is the heartbeat of the defense that plays around him. Yes, the ‘Legion of Boom’ got most of the plaudits during the Seahawks run to two Super Bowls, but a lot of their success was dependant on Wagner. Six pro bowls and a five time All-Pro, Wagnertopped the tackle count in the league in 2019 with 159 tackles.
Honourable mentions for NaVorro Bowman, Thomas Davis, Lavonte David, D’onta Hightower, Sean Lee and Patrick Willis.
Cornerbacks: Richard Sherman & Patrick Peterson
Like many a 49er fan, I hated Richard Sherman when he was in Seattle. But that all changed when he joined the 49ers where we jubilant because, despite injuries, we celebrated in getting one of the best cornerbacks in the league. It’s safe to say that Sherman is pretty outspoken, but a lot of the time, the stuff he says is intelligent (if you can see through how it’s said!). Five pro bowls in a row and three All-Pro appearances to go with his 35 intercpetions to date which would be more if quaterbacks dared to throw in his direction more often.
Another inductee from the 2011 draft, Peterson has been a super star on a sub par Cardinals team. During his time in the league, Peterson has been to eight pro bowls and an All-Pro three times. As well as a complete shut down corner, Peterson has also provded to be a useful punt and kick return player.
Honourable mentions for Darelle Revis, Aquib Talib, Chris Harris Jr and Stephen Gilmore
Safeties: Earl Thomas and Eric Weddle
Completing a trio of players from the dominant Seahawk team, Earl Thomas was the first name we all had for safety. Seven pro bowls and a three time All Pro, Thomas was the elite safety in the league for a number of years and has again been instrumental in the Ravens defence plalying so well in 2019.
Weddle rather quietly became a brilliant safety in the league through the decade. He’s been a leader of the defence on all three of the team he’s been on (Chargers, Ravens and Rams) and hasn’t missed a game since 2015. Whilst his stats may not be as high as others, he’s still been to six pro-bowls and named All Pro twice. He’s also had a great beard.
Honourable mentions for Eric Berry, Kam Chancellor, Harrison Smith and Devin McCourty.
Flex: NaVorro Bowman (Middle Linebacker)
Some might say that I chose Bowman to ensure that there would be another 49er on this list! There’s an element of truth in that, but few can argue that during his prime, Bowman was a dominant linebacker and in tandem with Patrick Willis formed an incredible partnership at the second level. Bowman went to three pro bowls but was an All-Pro four times. His career changed after a huge injury versus the Seahawks where he still made the play, and never really got back to his very best.