#NFLRank: Three Bears defenders in top 30

Three players from Chicago’s vaunted defense earned recognition in ESPN’s NFL rank project, which lists the top 100 offensive defensive players in the league headed into the upcoming season.

Defensive end Julius Peppers checked in at No. 15, while cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs ranked 21st and 27th, respectively.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peppers accounted for 27 sacks on third down since 2008, which ties him with Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware for the most over the past four years. Since coming into the league in 2002, Peppers ranks second in the NFL behind Allen in sacks (111.5) over the past 11 years.

Peppers certainly doesn’t appear to be slowing down, either. Peppers joined the Bears in 2011, and last season became the team’s first player since 2001 and 2002 to tally back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. Peppers is also the first Bear to contributed 11 sacks or more in consecutive seasons since Hall of Famer Richard Dent in 1986 (11.5 sacks) and 1987 (12.5). Can Peppers in 2013 make it a three-repeat? Don’t bet against him.

As for Tillman, he led the NFL in forced fumbles in 2012, and tied with Janoris Jenkins for an NFL-high three interceptions returned for a touchdown. After a subpar 2009, Tillman has put together strong seasons three years in a row. Certainly, he’s getting older. But he’s also getting better.

Briggs, meanwhile, has proven to be a dynamic playmaker against the run and the pass. Briggs has led the Bears in tackles in four of the last five seasons while reaching 100 tackles or more nine times. Briggs also ranks third in NFL history for interceptions returned for a TD by linebackers.

Since the start of 2008, Briggs has broken up seven passes on throws at least 10 yards downfield in between the painted numbers, which according to ESPN Stats and Info, ranks as tops in the league over the last five years.

Full disclosure: ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson and I were among the voters in the project. But surely, you’d agree, all three players are worthy of the recognition.