Although five years remain until the NFL will announce its next Team of the Decade, frontrunners for this prestigious honor already have surfaced. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez takes looks at which players have dominated the 2010s with his “All Half-Decade” squad. Click onward for his defensive picks, and check out the offensive side of the ball here.
DE: J.J. Watt
Watt is so dominant in Houston’s 3-4 scheme that he might be the best player in the NFL -- period. Not only did he win his second consecutive NFL Defensive Player of the Year award last season, the Texans' sackmaster became the first player to win the honor on a unanimous vote.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
DE: Jared Allen
The NFL’s active sacks leader may be entering the twilight of his career, but even at age 33, Allen still gives all-out effort on every play. Allen’s total of 22 sacks while with the Vikings in 2011-12 were just a half-sack away from tying Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record.
Getty ImagesStreeter Lecka
DT: Justin Smith
He has never registered double-digit sacks, but Smith’s impact extends far beyond personal statistics. His selection to three All-Pro teams this decade shows the effect Smith has made on San Francisco’s defense, which has finished in the top 10 in points allowed for four straight seasons.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
DT: Ndamukong Suh
There’s good reason Suh became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history this offseason when he left Detroit for Miami as a free agent. Although his overaggressiveness has led to suspensions and fines, no interior defensive lineman provides as great a physical challenge to blockers as Suh.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsAndrew Weber
LB: Luke Kuechly
Kuechly made an immediate splash in Carolina when he was named the NFL’s 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year and followed that up the next season by becoming the youngest player (22) to ever win Defensive Player of the Year. Only 24, Kuechly is already the league’s best middle linebacker.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsJeremy Brevard
LB: Patrick Willis
A toe injury forced Willis to retire this offseason at age 30, but his stellar NFL legacy already was cemented. Willis made the Pro Bowl his first seven years in the NFL while forming the league’s best 3-4 inside linebacker tandem with 49ers teammate NaVorro Bowman.
Although he played 4-3 defensive end the past two seasons -- the last one with Denver -- Ware solidified his Hall of Fame-caliber resume playing outside linebacker in Dallas’ 3-4 scheme earlier this decade. Ware notched 46.5 of his 127 career sacks between 2010 and 2012.
USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
CB: Darrelle Revis
Revis has recovered from a 2012 knee injury to regain his place among the greatest press-coverage cornerbacks in NFL history. He was a key factor in New England’s run to victory in Super Bowl XLIX before returning to his first NFL team, the Jets, this offseason.
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CB: Richard Sherman
Sherman is such a dominant cornerback that quarterbacks often don’t bother throwing in his direction and usually regret it when they do. Seattle's shutdown corner has averaged six interceptions a year since entering the league in 2011.
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
S: Earl Thomas
The backbone of Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary, Thomas is equally sound as a tackler and in coverage thanks to his diligent study habits. Thomas has received All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition in each of his first four NFL seasons.
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S: Eric Weddle
The best compliment that can be paid to Weddle is that he has consistently made San Diego’s secondary look better than the talent would otherwise dictate. Weddle had an NFL-high seven interceptions in 2011 and led the Chargers in tackles last season with 114.
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K: Stephen Gostkowski
Thanks to New England’s prolific offense, Gostkowski has led the NFL in scoring the past three seasons en route to setting the franchise’s all-time record in that category. Gostkowski also excels on kickoffs and has converted 93.6 percent of his field goals the past two years.
Getty ImagesMaddie Meyer
P: Andy Lee
In 2011, Lee posted the second-highest gross punting average in NFL history at 50.9 yards. The 49ers punter ranks fifth all-time in gross (46.2) and net (39.2) averages while also having dropped 153 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line this decade.
Getty ImagesJamie Sabau
Returner: Devin Hester
If not for radical changes to the kickoff rules in 2011, Hester would have set the league’s all-time return record well before breaking it last season with his 20th career touchdown for Atlanta. Hester’s combined punt and kickoff return yardage led the NFL the past two seasons, as well.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
Coach: Bill Belichick
Belichick’s success from the 2000s has extended into this decade with another NFL championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVI. Under his watch, New England has won 10-plus games for 12 straight seasons and six straight AFC East crowns.