Who Will Win Defensive Player Of The Year?

This is something I've been pondering. It seems to me in recent years that guys who win the Defensive Player Of The Year award are players that can do everything. Not only do they do their original position very well but they also do a bit of everything. They can tackle, they can sack the quarterback, and they can intercept passes- the three basic functions of a defense. Players like Brian Urlacher (2005), Jason Taylor (2006), and Charles Woodson (2009) are players that fit this mold.

But that doesn't seem to be the case this year. There have been players that have been extremely dominant at doing that one thing they're supposed to do (EXAMPLE: Jared Allen at getting after the quarterback and getting sacks; Darrelle Revis at intercepting the ball and shutting down receivers, etc) but no player stands out as being able to do everything and do everything extremely well.

In the past it has been decently easy to predict who will win NFL's coveted Defensive Players Of The Year Award but this year I legitimately have no clue. The problem (at least for me) is trying to distinguish the qualifications of an award winner when there has not been a guy who has been able to everything. What makes the best corner back better or worse than the best defensive tackle? I don't know and I really don't believe there has been a conclusive answer to that question.

So this post is going to attempt to break down who I believe will win the Defensive Player Of The Year. It won't be pretty and you (nor I) might not like the end results, but here we go.

I think it is best to determine who are the best players at each position. Later it will be harder to try and distinguish the best from the best but let's try anyways.


Jared Allen (MIN): Allen almost broke Michael Strahan's record for most sacks in a year- by only half a sack. He led the league in sacks (obviously) with 22.0 sacks and did it without the help of anyone taking pressure off of him on the defensive line. Allen's been top three, if not THE best defensive end, in recent years and this year he was just amazing with absolutely no help from anyone on the 31st ranked defense of the Minnesota Vikings.


Darrelle Revis (NYJ): While Revis *only* had four interceptions, he was again THE shut down corner in 2011. Interceptions are overrated. DeAngelo Hall is an interception machine and he's terrible. The only reason he gets so many interceptions is because he's so bad quarterbacks throw on him all day. When you get that many passes thrown to you, you're bound to catch one every now and then. This is part of the reason that a New England Patriot (Kyle Arrington), the team that had the worst secondary in the league lead all defensive backs in interceptions. Point is, the most important thing I want out of a corner back is to make sure that the receiver he's covering does not catch any passes. And the best corner in the league at this is Revis Island. In 2011, the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets were #1 in lowest DVOA allowed to teams #1 wide receiver. What all that mumbo-jumbo means is that Darrelle Revis was amazing. Again.


Patrick Willis (SF): To be honest I really don't have anything to back this up. No advanced statistic (mainly EPA and WPA) will prove that Willis had an actual effect but here is what I base my conclusion that Willis was the best linebacker in the league is: 1) The San Francisco 49ers had the best regular season defense in 2011 2) Willis was the best linebacker in the league before 2011 so I find it hard to believe that while playing in the best defense he's ever played on that he's suddenly terrible and/or didn't have a major impact 3) The high marks that advanced statistics give to NoVorro Bowman and other defensive players tells me opposing offensive players are running away from Willis. Teams are purposefully strategizing around Willis. Sometimes the plays you don't make are better than the plays you do make and things like that do not show up on statistics 4) The 49ers have had an excellent defensive line. As the history of the Chicago Bears have proven, an outstanding defensive line makes linebackers better.

I will say that if you want to argue for a guy like DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys was the best linebacker this year you'll find very little argument from me. The problem with linebackers is that there's a difference between the 3-4 linebacker and the 4-3 linebacker. A 3-4 linebacker will generate sacks and give you quantifiable stats whereas it is much, much harder to judge a 4-3 linebacker because those are guys who just have to watch to see how amazing they are. Hell, Mario Williams was a linebacker in 2011 just because the Texans ran a 3-4 this year. Ware is a 3-4 linebacker which makes it easier for you to make an argument for him just because of the nature of his system versus a guy like Patrick Willis who is a 4-3 linebacker. I still think Willis is the better linebacker even though both guys do different things.


Haloti Ngata (BAL): For the past three seasons, Advanced NFL Stats rated Arizona DT Darnell Dockett as a top three DT and the best DT for the past two years. They do this despite the fact that I've never heard anyone around the league talk about him and the fact that the league doesn't respect him enough to vote him into the Pro Bowl every year. This could be that the league and everyone is dumb for not recognize Dockett's talent or it could be the solution I choose to believe: that Advanced NFL Stats is not even close to the perfect system to how to correctly rate NFL talent- especially defensive tackles. Listen, I love ANS and respect them immensely, but I also don't completely follow them with a blind faith either. Not because I believe they do shotty work (not even close) but because I believe we're still a far ways away from correctly quantifying specific defensive players.

To me, the best DT's in the league right now are Ngata and New England's Vince Wilfork. Ngata (5.0) has more sacks than Wilfork (3.5), more forced fumbles (2) than Wilfork (1), the same amount of touchdowns as Wilfork (1) and has the better EPA and WPA. While Wilfork has an astonishing 2 interceptions as well, I'm giving the nod to Ngata.

Just real quick, I want to give a shout out to San Fran's Justin Smith who has been nothing short of spectacular in 2011 but I think Wilfork and Ngata are better players right now.  


Troy Polamalu (PIT): I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who believes that there are better safeties out there than Polamalu and Ed Reed (both DPY winners). They changed the game of football. The safety position is also by far and away the toughest position in football to quantify. A safety can be doing his job extremely well by being in coverage and giving a corner over the top help thereby causing the quarterback to throw the football in a different direction. Because the safety was so good and existing in space, the ball was NOT thrown to the safety. Seriously, how do you quantify that? You can't. Getting back on point, I think Polamalu was the better safety in 2011 by being top five in both WPA and EPA this year. Something Ed Reed did not accomplish.

San Diego Chargers' safety Eric Weddle had a fantastic season and was probably better than Ed Reed this year but I still think Polamalu was better.

So, who will win the Defensive Player Of The Year in 2011? To me, this race is a three way tie between Allen, Revis, and Willis. Polamalu has been great but he's lost something this year. I don't know if his instincts are off or he's missing a step but as great as he looks, he does not look like the dominant Polamalu of old. I also believe Ngata is out of the race- mainly because of his position. It's extremely difficult for defensive tackles, especially ones with low sack totals like Ngata (and Wilfork) have. He probably deserves a Defensive Player Of The Year Award, I just think that he (or any or other DT) needs to have a Warren Sapp type season in order to get one. I truly believe that Ndomukong Suh will get one if he stays healthy but he regressed in his sophomore season and needs to improve on his incredible rookie season in order to do so (and NOT stomp on players. Voters tend to not like that).

If I had a vote, I'd vote Patrick Willis. Even though I have absolutely no shred of evidence to prove this, Willis is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in football. After that I vote for Allen, Revis, Ngata, and Polamalu respectively.

Who do I think will win it? Your guess is as good as mine. Honestly, this post did nothing to clarify who the NFL will vote for but only helped narrow down the candidates. If I had to guess I would say Jason Pierre-Paul, the DE for the New York Football Giants WILL win it, but I just don't know.

Personally, I think any player I mentioned in this post (past the opening paragraph) deserves to win the Defensive Player Of The Year Award. Like I said, there's no proof that you can give me to say that Jared Allen as a defensive end was better than Darrelle Revis as a corner back. I think both players played for terrible teams and terrible defenses which severely hurt their chances (which is dumb considering those players are obviously not the fault why their team's defense was so bad in 2011) but that's life. And that's also part of the reason why I'm throwing my hat in the ring for Patrick Willis.