You've got to love this job to do it. You've got to be a defensive lineman in a DB's body. You've got to have speed and a killer instinct, because if you're crafty enough and time your blitz just right, you might get a free shot at the passer. Lawyer Milloy of the Patriots excels in this area, but Dawkins is the master.
INTERIOR LINEMAN TO HIT THE GAP AND CREATE HAVOC: CHRIS HOVAN, VIKINGS DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Warren Sapp of the Bucs is good at this, but not if he has to contend with too many bodies. The Saints' Grady Jackson is probably the best at it, but by the fourth quarter he has the oxygen mask on. What we need here is a burst off the ball, great leverage and late-game fortitude. Hovan qualifies on all counts.
LINEMAN TO STAND FIRM AGAINST THE DOUBLE TEAM AND STUFF THE RUN ON FOURTH-AND-INCHES: KRIS JENKINS, PANTHERS DEFENSIVE TACKLE
You need a big, strong guy to fight off 700 pounds of blockers, and sometimes that guy puts on too much weight. Then his stamina goes, then his legs, and pretty soon he's a Gilbert Brown—able to stuff the occasional early play, but a nonfactor in the final moments. At 6'4", 315 pounds, Jenkins is just the right size to hold the point. In coach John Fox's beautifully coordinated defense, which ranked second in the league last season, Jenkins is the fulcrum.
LINEBACKER TO STUFF THE RUN ON FOURTH-AND-INCHES: EDGERTON HARTWELL, RAVENS
"The Sluggo linebacker is a dying breed," says Mike Giddings, who runs Pro Scout Inc., a personnel service for 15 NFL teams. "It's all speed now" And, yes, I had trouble finding the throwback linebacker who could fight through the blocks of the guards and center. The Ravens' Ray Lewis, the most gifted middle linebacker of this era, runs around blocks to penetrate and make the big play. The Bears' Urlacher, a unanimous All-Pro last year, plays it soft in short-yardage situations. For my purposes it came down to Hartwell, a 6'1", 250-pound fireplug, over the Broncos' Al Wilson. Hartwell is the hardest to budge.
CORNERBACK FOR MAN-TO-MAN COVERAGE WITH NO HELP: ANTOINE WINFIELD, BILLS
I thought the Bucs' Ronde Barber was the best corner in the NFL in 2002, but in the nickel he went inside and Dwight Smith was alone on the corner. Winfield, built like former All-Pro Darrell Green at 5'9", 180 pounds, might get beaten on occasion, but he'll pound his fist on the ground, grit his teeth, and for the next three or four plays he'll be glued to his man. With the game on the line there's no way Winfield would give up a completion.
KICK RETURNER: DANTE HALL, CHIEFS