Best defensive player in the NFL?

Who is the best defensive player in the NFL right now? We asked our experts to answer that question.

Originally Published: March 26, 2007
ESPN.com

Who is the best defensive player in the NFL?

Cornerback
Denver Broncos

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast FF Sack Int
86 74 12 0 1 10
Eric Allen: Champ Bailey gets my vote for top defensive player in a tight race over Shawne Merriman. It's amazing to watch Bailey play the same position that I played. He doesn't dominate because he's physically better than his opposition, but because he has worked on his technique and put in the time in the film room. He not only dominates the other team's No. 1 receiver from 20-yard line to 20-yard line, but he gets better in the red zone. That's the sign of a truly great cornerback. Bailey gets better in the red zone where a quarterback can throw to a spot for a touchdown or a receiver can get just enough space to make a play that can devastate a team.

Linebacker
San Diego Chargers

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast FF Sack Int
63 49 14 4 17 1
John Clayton: Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman has emerged as the game's best defender last season. Merriman was suspended for four games last season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Despite that, he had 17 sacks. The league hasn't seen a pass-rushing threat like Merriman since Lawrence Taylor. Merriman brings the pass-rushing skills of Taylor along with the on-the-field energy of Junior Seau. The NFL has a tight race for the top defender with Merriman competing against Jason Taylor of the Dolphins, Champ Bailey for the Broncos and Brian Urlacher of the Bears every year.

Defensive End
Carolina Panthers

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast FF Sack Int
58 49 9 3 13 0
Jeremy Green: There are many great defensive players in the NFL. However, when you talk about the best, you have to talk about a player that changes the game. He has to be a guy that an offense has to game plan for. A guy that keeps offensive coordinators up at night.

In my opinion that player is Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. He can play on the right and left side. He is a dominating pass rusher who has to be double teamed on a consistent basis. What makes Peppers special though is that he is equally effective against the run. He is excellent playing the run at the point of attack and can also chase laterally and make plays down the line of scrimmage.

Peppers is a player that you have to build your game plan around. He can line up all over the defensive front and needs constant attention. That attention frees up other players. He is a player that dominates on a weekly basis and makes everyone around him better. To me that defines being the best defensive player in the NFL.

Len Pasquarelli: Because quarterbacks generally avoid throwing in the direction of Champ Bailey, no defender in the NFL gets fewer chances for big plays than the Denver Broncos' seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback. And no defender takes advantage of more of his chances to alter a game. Bailey is the closest thing to a true shutdown corner the league has seen since Deion Sanders was in his prime. At a position where it's difficult to dominate, Bailey does. Blessed with incredible instincts and great hands, Bailey tied for the NFL high in 2006 with 10 interceptions and has 18 of his 39 career pickoffs the last two seasons. How good is that? There are eight modern-era cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame and none ever had more than 17 interceptions over a two-season stretch.

Defensive End
Miami Dolphins

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast FF Sack Int
62 42 20 9 14 2
Sean Salisbury: I'm going with Jason Taylor, the defending NFL defensive player of the year. Sure, Merriman probably had better stats and Bailey plays the sexier position, but Taylor means more to his team. I'm excited to see him play with Joey Porter this season. Taylor has the ability to play with his hand down or upright as well or better than pretty much any player in the league. He does a tremendous job of making big plays and confusing opposing quarterbacks. Quarterbacks simply have no idea what he's going to do and where he's going to line up.

Joe Theismann: The best defensive player in the league is Merriman. His stats are straight out of a video game and he has quickly become the most feared defensive player in the league. He's done a great job of combining his intelligence with his amazing physical gifts to become as close to the perfect linebacker as you can get. He's going to dominate for years to come and may end up with the sack record before it's all over.