Griffen was a free agent last March, and the Vikings signed him to a 5-year, $42.5 million deal. He made up for it in spades in 2014. He had 12 sacks (good for the ninth highest total in the league), 39 tackles, and defensed three passes ... as a defensive end!
Bill Wippert/Associated PressBill Wippert
Ndamukong Suh (Lions DT)
Suh was a beast this season. He's normally a very good defensive tackle, but he was unleashed in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's scheme. He had 8.5 sacks and 46 tackles, plus he was a huge key to that Lions defense and their ability to completely neutralize the opposition's running game. The big-ticket FA may not be a part of an NFC North member team for too much longer, but for now, he's a central part of the All-NFC North defensive squad.
Sharrif Floyd (Vikings DT)
It was tough not putting Lions DT Nick Fairley in this spot given his stellar 2014. But Fairley played in only eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Floyd played the whole season and was the next best choice as a guy who played in the middle of the NFC North's second best statistical defense up in Minnesota, which was in the top half of the league in almost every major defensive category. Floyd had 29 solo tackles and assisted on 13 more, and was a major piece of the Vikings d-line.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Ezekiel Ansah (Lions DE)
Ziggy was another one of the Lions' beasts up front on the defensive line. The sophomore rush end from the nation of Ghana was an enormous piece of Detroit's rejuvenated and elite defensive unit in 2014. Ansah had 49 tackles (37 solo and 12 assisted), 7.5 sacks, and he forced three fumbles.
Julius Peppers (Packers OLB)
Peppers is 35, playing in his 13th season, and he has already played 10 career playoff games. Despite all that, Julius masterfully integrated himself into defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme without missing a beat, which is impressive considering this was his first season as a Packer. The future Hall of Fame LB/DE had two interceptions, seven sacks, two touchdowns, 29 tackles, and forced four fumbles, recovering three of them. He also freed up space for his younger teammates like Clay Matthews so they could get after the passer, and when teams doubled his teammates, he made them pay himself. He was a difference maker on an underrated defensive front. Not bad for an old man.
Paul Sancya/Associated PressPaul Sancya
Clay Matthews (Packers MLB)
Matthews is really an outside linebacker, but in the middle he can still get after the passer and try his hand at stopping the run. At the midway point of Green Bay's 2014 season, he was switched to the middle of the linebacking corps and asked to defend the opposing run game, which he was able to do very well. His versatility in 2014 was incredibly impressive, and it helped the gradual imporvement of the Packers defense from October on. Besides all that versatility, he also had some big numbers: 11 sacks, an interception, nine passes defended, two forced fumbles, and 45 tackles.
Tom Lynn/Associated PressTom Lynn
DeAndre Levy (Lions ILB)
Levy is technically an outside linebacker, but this All-NFC North defensive squad wouldn't be complete without him somewhere. Levy was an absolute stud in 2014. 151 combined tackles, 117 of which were solo tackles! He had five passes defended, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. He's quietly been one of the best-kept secrets in the league at the LB position.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Xavier Rhodes (Vikings CB)
Rhodes evolved into a shutdown corner by the time the 2014 season ended in Minnesota. He absolutely dominated his one-on-one matchups with opposing receivers and seemed to relish and rise to the challenge each time. He became one of Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer's favorite players. It's easy to see why, both by traditional and advanced measurements, he was elite in 2014. He was ranked in the top ten of Pro Football Focus' league-wide player rankings among his poisition group. He was an anchor on a passing defense that finished in the top ten. He defended 18 passes and had 39 combined tackles and an interception in 2014, all while shutting down the opposing offense's best or second-best receivers.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
Kyle Fuller (Bears CB)
The Bears corner is the only member of Chicago's defense on this list. Some may wonder why Detroit's Darius Slay or Green Bay's Sam Shields (corners who also had stellar seasons for better defensive units) aren't on here. Fuller was one of the best players on the division's worst team (both record-wise and defensively), and he grew by leaps and bounds over the course of his 2014 rookie campaign. He had 51 tackles (solo), ten passes defended, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY SportsLance Iversen
Glover Quin (Lions FS)
Quin led all defensive backs with seven interceptions; in fact, he was the first Lion since Lem Barney over three decades ago to lead the NFL in picks. He also played all over the field, constantly confusing opposing QBs and forcing them to make throws in less comfortable places due to his presence. He was a big part of the team's change in culture: the former Houston Texan brought an attitude to the Lions' previously soft secondary. He also defended 10 passes and had 57 solo tackles.
Rick Osentoski/Associated PressRick Osentoski
Harrison Smith (Vikings SS)
Smith is technically a free safety but is rangy enough to play at either safety spot. Smith had a real breakout year in his third season out of Notre Dame. He had 93 combined tackles (72 of which were solo tackles), three sacks, nine passes defensed, five interceptions (that totaled 150 return yards), and he forced a fumble and scored a touchdown throughout all sixteen games that he both played and started in this year. The NFC North had a surprisingly deep group of defensive lineman and defensive backs. Smith was one of the best of the whole lot, as well as the other 2014 NFC North defensive standouts.