Commentary

Budding stars, reliable vets make up midseason defensive team

Midway through the 2007 season, who are the league's best players on defense? Len Pasquarelli shares his selections.

Originally Published: November 7, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

My midseason defensive All-Pro team is nearly split between the AFC and NFC. Two members of the undefeated Patriots made our elite 11: cornerback Asante Samuel and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. For my offensive All-Pro team, click here.


Right end

Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs

Reasoning: Despite missing the first two games of the season because of a league-imposed suspension, the four-year veteran has 29 tackles, 8½ sacks, two forced fumbles and three pass deflections. He's been a monster so far, and has at least a half-sack in all but one game in which he's played.



Right tackle

Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans

Reasoning: In his sixth season, Haynesworth has finally matured on and off the field and has become arguably the NFL's most dominant interior defender. He is strong and active and more athletic than people think, and he has posted 30 tackles, five sacks and three passes defensed.



Left tackle

Tommie Harris, Chicago Bears

Reasoning: Coming back from late 2006 surgery to repair a hamstring injury, Harris has regained most of the quickness and explosiveness that were his hallmarks. He still isn't playing the run as well as he did, but he is disruptive in the gaps and already has a career-high seven sacks.



Left end

Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers

Reasoning: The consummate self-made player, Kampman might be the NFL's best two-way end; he plays the run tough and has increased his sack total every season. After notching a career-best 15½ sacks in 2006, he has nine in eight games this season, along with 39 tackles.



Outside linebacker

Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots

Reasoning: The acquisition of Adalius Thomas, and the decision to use him inside, has allowed Vrabel to flourish again at his more natural outside spot. He has 47 tackles, 8½ sacks and five forced fumbles. In his 11th season, Vrabel actually seems a step quicker. Vrabel also has two touchdown catches as a tight end.



Middle linebacker

Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Reasoning: In his first season as a starter, Ruud has continued the tradition of terrific middle linebackers in the Bucs' defense. Not blessed with imposing physical tools, he is nonetheless very instinctive and gets to the football, as evidenced by his 79 tackles and three forced fumbles.



Outside linebacker

Keith Bulluck, Tennessee Titans

Reasoning: Consistently one of the best and steadiest outside 'backers in the league, Bulluck has only one Pro Bowl on his résumé. He gets overlooked in part because he doesn't rush the quarterback, but he does everything else well. He's excellent in coverage and has four interceptions and four passes defensed.



Cornerback

Asante Samuel, New England Patriots

Reasoning: He missed the entire offseason program and all of training camp and didn't open the season as a starter, but he still has been brilliant in picking up where he left off in 2006. A naturally gifted ball athlete, he has great short-area burst and has notched four interceptions and 16 passes defensed.



Strong safety

Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts

Reasoning: Pound-for-pound, Sanders is arguably the baddest man in the league and is a true difference-maker in Indianapolis' defense. At just 5-foot-8, he is a human torpedo, at his best when playing close to the line. The Colts are starting to use him more as a blitzer, too, and he has been effective in that role.



Free safety

Sean Taylor, Washington Redskins

Reasoning: The addition of first-round strong safety LaRon Landry has permitted Taylor to back off the line of scrimmage and display his ball-hawking skills. He has five interceptions and nine passes defensed while demonstrating great range, but he is still a big hitter and has 38 tackles.



Cornerback

Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers

Reasoning: Woodson revived his career when he signed with the Packers in 2006. At 31 and in his 10th season, he's still getting it done. A complete corner who comes up and supports the run, Woodson has 38 tackles to go along with his two interceptions and seven passes defensed.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.