With the usual Week 1 shenanigans sabotaging some of the league’s best players, let’s take a look at 11 players who had excellent weeks en route to the team of the week on defense. The team of the week will be based on the All-Pro team with two interior defenders, two edge defenders, two linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties, and one flex spot. Let’s begin.
Interior Defender – Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee Titans
Simmons demolished every player in his path. He had six pressures, two full sacks, a forced fumble, and two tackles for loss. Simmons earned a 93.0 overall grade, but he fared well in all three phases. He had an 84.4 run-defense grade. As a tackler, Simmons converted all of his chances, posting a 72.0 grade. He had a 92.3 pass-rush grade.
Interior Defender – Justin Madubuike & Michael Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
Chris Jones, Rashard Lawrence, and Quinnen Williams had excellent weeks, but the nod here goes to the pair of Ravens. Madubuike posted a 90.7 grade with five pressures. Pierce earned an 89.9 grade with a forced fumble. They combined for nine pressures, 0.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and a frustrated Joe Flacco. They had six total defensive stops.
Edge Defender – Jerry Hughes, Houston Texans
In his Texans debut, Hughes had an all-time game. Hughes had two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. In NFL history, only 13 players had ever posted that statline. Ironically, Hughes was already in the group – he pulled off the feat in Week 7 of 2020. Hughes earned a 93.6 overall grade, second to Myles Garrett.
Edge Defender – Khalil Mack, Los Angeles Chargers
Mack had an effective revenge game. He recorded three sacks and five total pressures in the victory. He forced a fumble, and he finished with a strong 87.0 overall grade. Mack had five defensive stops and three tackles for loss. He earned a 75.0 or better grade in run defense, tackling, and pass rushing.
Linebacker – Ernest Jones, Los Angeles Rams
Jones had a masterful game in run defense. Regardless of snaps played, Jones had the highest run-defense grade in the NFL with a resounding 93.8 mark. Jones’ overall 91.2 grade led all linebackers. He had four defensive stops and a forced fumble. Jones went without a missed tackle, posting a tackling grade of 80.3. He notched a pressure and allowed just 5.4 yards per target.
Linebacker – Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
Bolton finished second to Jones in overall grade, but he achieved it differently. Bolton posted two pressures, six defensive stops, and allowed 6.7 yards per target in coverage. He led the Chiefs with 10 tackles including eight solo efforts. He tacked on a tackle for loss. Bolton earned a 77.8 or better grade in run defense, tackling, and coverage.
FLEX – Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
The expectation is that the “flex” role on the defense will be renamed the “Micah Parsons” role by Week 3. Parsons lived up to the billing in Week 1, getting home for two sacks. He also added a hit and two other pressures for five total. Parsons had three defensive stops, and he was not targeted when in coverage. Parsons earned an 85.7 overall grade, strengthened by an 88.4 pass-rush grade.
Cornerback – James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles
Bradberry was the only cornerback with a pick-six during Week 1, making his inclusion fairly trivial. The Detroit Lions targeted Bradberry six times. He caught one of the passes. The Lions caught one of the passes. Bradberry allowed a 0.0 passer rating and just 13 yards. He had a middling PFF grade because he missed two tackles, but a pick-six is more than enough to make the team.
Cornerback – D.J. Reed, New York Jets
Reed produced a coverage masterclass on Sunday. He earned a 90.3 overall grade with a 90.0 coverage grade. Targeted six times, Reed allowed 0 catches and hauled in an errant Lamar Jackson pass for an interception. He allowed a 0.0 passer rating, continuing his stellar play from the 2021 season. Reed’s partner-in-crime Ahmad Gardner also had an excellent game.
Safety – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
Fitzpatrick intercepted Joe Burrow on the second play of the season, taking it back for a touchdown. After that, Fitzpatrick continued to play at an All-Pro level. He allowed just 6.0 yards per target. He notched two defensive stops, and he led the Steelers in total tackles and solo tackles. However, Fitzpatrick made the play of the week at the end of regulation, blocking an extra point to force overtime. Fitzpatrick earned a 90.6 grade.
Safety – Darrick Forrest, Washington Commanders
With Kamren Curl out, Forrest stepped in and became prime Ed Reed for 60 minutes. Forrest intercepted a pass, allowing a 25.7 passer rating. He forced a fumble and recorded one defensive stop. Forrest earned the highest grade for a safety (91.5), bolstered by a 91.0 coverage grade. He added another pass deflection in a masterclass of a game.