First-team All-Pro team (defense) announced by Associated Press
DE Robert Quinn (STL): According to Pro Football Focus, Quinn was the league's most efficient pass rusher from the 4-3 defensive end spot. He racked up 19.0 sacks (0.5 behind the league leader) and 91 total pressures. The 23-year old is a budding superstar.
DE J.J. Watt (HOU): Last season's Defensive Player of the Year did not get quite as much attention on the 2-14 Texans this time around, but he was just as effective despite lower statistical numbers. Watt had 10.5 sacks and seven batted passes to go along with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
DT Gerald McCoy (TB): There are plenty of things to be concerned about in Tampa Bay, but defensive tackle is not one of them. McCoy has quietly turned into one of the most dominant interior presences in football, excelling in rushing the passer. His 80 total pressures were eight more than anyone else at his position, and his 9.0 sacks were incredibly impressive for an interior lineman.
DT Ndamukong Suh (DET): Despite the constant criticism for dirty play, Suh is a dominant player. He was second to McCoy with 72 total pressures, with the next closest defensive tackle registering just 54. He added a solid 5.5 sacks.
OLB Robert Mathis (IND): In his first year playing in a 3-4 defense (2012), Mathis registered just 8.0 sacks - his lowest total since 2007. Another year of experience in the 3-4 did the trick, however, as Mathis racked up a league-best and career-best 19.5 takedowns of the quarterback. He added an astounding eight forced fumbles.
OLB Lavonte David (TB): The 2012 second-round pick is not yet a big name, but he will be. David is a stud in the Buccaneers' 4-3 defense and was the most efficient pass rusher in the NFL this season (granted, he rushed the passer much less than defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers). He racked up 28 pressures and 6.0 sacks on just 100 pass rush snaps. His greatest contribution, however, was his pass coverage, which was among the best in the league at any position.
ILB Luke Kuechly (CAR): One of the frontrunners for Defensive Player of the Year, Kuechly has been the main factor in the Panthers' vastly improved defense. Kuechly led the league's second-ranked defense in tackles while adding 2.0 sacks, four interceptions, and seven passes defended.
ILB Navorro Bowman (SF): High draft pick Patrick Willis gets most of the credit for the 49ers' ferocious defense, but Bowman has quietly become just as good of a player - if not better. Bowman is a difference-making pass rusher up the middle, excels in pass coverage, and is formidable against the run. He led the league's No. 3 scoring defense in tackles while racking up 5.0 sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), and nine passes defended.
CB Richard Sherman (SEA): Sherman has been saying it for years, and the AP now agrees for the second straight season - Sherman is one of the top-two cornerbacks in the league (though Sherman will say he's the best). He led the league with eight interceptions and defended 17 passes.
CB Patrick Peterson (ARI): The Cardinals' defense was fantastic this season, and Peterson was a huge factor in their success. He had three interceptions and 13 passes defended. I have to admit, however, that I thought there were other players more deserving of this selection. Peterson is a big name, but players like Brent Grimes (MIA), Alterraun Verner (TEN), and Darrelle Revis (TB) had better seasons, in my opinion.
S Earl Thomas (SEA): One of the league's premier cover safeties, quarterbacks rarely found success throwing Thomas' way. He had five interceptions (Antrel Rolle led all safeties with six), eight passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He also led the league's No. 1 defense in solo tackles.
S Eric Berry (KC): While he was serviceable in the run game, Berry dominated against the pass. He defended ten passes while adding three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. In addition, he led all safeties with ten quarterback hurries. He had 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and was second in tackles on the league's fifth-ranked scoring defense.
P Johnny Hekker (STL): Avergaed 46.2 yards per punt and led the league with a net average of 44.2, also leading the league with 2.6 yards per punt return.