The NFL may showcase its stars on offense but it’s defense that wins championships. A team’s defense can make a difference between a bad team or an average one. Every year we debate on who has made more impact on the defensive side of the ball. For instance, we watched Khalil Mack transform a good defensive bears team into a great one and Aaron Donald’s impact on the defensive side of the ball helped the LA Rams go to the Superbowl. The following candidates have made a huge impact on their perspective teams.
Mikah Fitzpatrick FS- Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed a spark. Early in the season, their future hall of fame quarterback went down and their record was 0-2. Their starting safety went on IR for the season. The Steelers took a gamble and traded for Fitzpatrick giving up a first-round and fifth-round pick in 2020 and 2021 sixth-round pick. Many questions were asked if Fitzpatrick worth it? That can be answered due to the impact Fitzpatrick has made since joining the Steelers.
The Steelers have gone 6-3 with Fitzpatrick on their team. He has been nothing less than dominate. Since joining the team, he’s posted 42 tackles, five interceptions and one forced fumble. He leads the NFL in interceptions. Steelers have been carried for the majority of the season by their defense and Fitzpatrick has tremendously helped with that progress. Right now, he’s leading the Pro bowl in votes. Steelers are currently in the wildcard race.
Stephon Gilmore CB- New England Patriots
The impact that Stephon Gilmore is having on the Patriots has been nothing short of perfect. Gilmore is the Patriot’s number one cornerback. He has been a huge contributor to the New England defense. They are currently 2nd in pass defense. But what separates him from other candidates is his coverage skills.
He has not allowed a touchdown this season and only 223 yards against him in coverage. For instance, week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, Gilmore was guarding Dallas number one receiver Amari Cooper. He held Cooper to no catches and yards. If he continues at this pace, He will be the first Defensive Player of the year Bill Belichick has had on his Patriots teams.
Joe Schobert LB- Cleveland Browns
Schobert has been putting together a pretty good season. The Browns have recovered lately from a slow start and he has been an important piece in the current winning streak. He currently has four interceptions which is tied for third in the NFL. Also, he’s the first linebacker to have multiple interception games back to back since 2005. He is also top 10 in tackles. Schobert is Brown’s most consistent linebacker on defense and currently has made a big difference on the field when they have needed it.
Shaquil Barrett LB- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers season hasn’t gone like many would have thought but they have had some good. So far that “good” has been Barrett. He has been an absolute monster of defense this year.Currently, Barrett is second in the NFL in sacks and tied in Forced fumbles with five. Also, He won defensive player of the week for his three-sack performance against the Carolina Panthers. The impact that he’s made has improved the Bucs into one of the best rush defenses in the NFL.