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Top 10 NFL Defensive Players Who Will Regress in 2014

Whether it’s because of injuries, new players coming in, or simply age, Sam Spiegelman looks at the top NFL defensive players likely to regress in 2014.

Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

We have taken a look at the 10 NFL offensive players that could regress this coming season. Now let’s take a peek at the other side of the ball.

Here are stars who are no longer in their heyday, and some began to show signs of regression in 2013. Whether it’s because of an injury riddled past, new players expected to take on larger roles, or simply age catching up to them, the following 10 players will take a step in the wrong direction in 2014:

1. Tamba Hali

Through the first seven weeks of the 2013 season, Hali was the anchor of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. Hali piled up eight sacks during that span and was a driving force in the Chiefs’ remarkable turnaround campaign.

But Hali suffered a major drop-off in production after Week 7, totaling two sacks over the final eight contests. The Chiefs drafted Dee Ford, perhaps with the fear Hali’s struggles were real.

2. Vince Wilfork

Wilfork is coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon, and though he is expected to be ready for New England Patriots training camp there is no guarantee he is the same All-Pro nose tackle we’ve become accustomed to, especially at 32 years old.

3. Champ Bailey

Bailey has the ability to prove me very wrong here, especially in a Rob Ryan defense catered around strong cornerback play. Last season, though, Bailey allowed a 96.1 quarterback rating against, according Pro Football Focus.

The New Orleans Saints have a lot of young, up-and-coming talent at the corner position, and perhaps Bailey was signed to be more of a mentor and leader than a three-down defender.

4. Jared Allen

It took quite some time before Allen signed his pact with the Chicago Bears, and this union could be one of the biggest whiffs or steals of free agency.

Allen’s production barely dropped from 2012 to 2013, but now he’s entering a new system at age 32.

5. Troy Polamalu 

Interestingly enough, I also placed Polamalu on the list of top 10 NFL defensive players that could rebound in 2014. But it’s equally possible that Polamalu will completely be a shell of his former self this season.

There are already whispers this could be Polamalu’s last season, not just with the Pittsburgh Steelers but in the NFL. He doesn’t have the same speed or quickness he once had, as injuries have taken a toll over the last few years.

6. Justin Smith

Smith has been rock steady for the San Francisco 49ers up front the past few years, but there’s two major issues he’ll have to overcome in 2014. One, he’s going to be 35 years old before the first month is over, and two, he won’t have the benefit of Aldon Smith rushing the passer beside him.

Smith’s sack production has dwindled over the years, though he bounced back a bit with 6.5 in 2013. But now he’ll have a rotation of younger, less capable edge rushers working beside him, and opposing offenses can focus more of their attention on the elder Smith.

7. D’Qwell Jackson

Jackson piled up some strong statistics last season for the Cleveland Browns, but defensive-minded head coach Mike Pettine didn’t feel he was a necessary piece of the puzzle.

Jackson missed a dozen tackles last season, and was ranked 42nd among inside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. More often than not, the film shows Jackson making tackles after misreading the plays.

8. Larry Foote

The 33-year-old Foote has the task of replacing suspended starter Daryl Washington and the now-departed Karlos Dansby, and I don’t think Foote has enough left in the tank to take on those responsibilities. The heart of the Arizona Cardinals defense has been lost, and the whole unit will likely regress as a result.

9. and 10. Adam Jones, Terence Newman

Both Jones and Newman were able to revive their careers under former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who is now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

Without Zimmer calling the shots, I’m not too confident that Jones, who will be 31 in September, and Newman, who will be 36 in September, can handle major workloads.

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