2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Defensive Player of the Year

Dmitriy Ioselevich@dioselevSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 13, 2011

2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Defensive Player of the Year

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    ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rolls out of bounds after intercepting a pass against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Pittsburgh
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    We all know who the NFL MVP is going to be, but there's still some debate over who will take home the award for Defensive Player of the Year.

    This has been another standout season for several of the league's top defenders. Each of them are leaders of their respective defenses and threats to make an impact on every play. But only one of them can take home the award.

    Who will it be?

    For other NFL Awards columns, please follow the links below.


    Coach of the Year

    Offensive Rookie of the Year

    Defensive Rookie of the Year

    Comeback Player of the Year 

10. Ed Reed

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 21:  Ed Reed #20 of the Baltimore Ravens against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Reed is without a doubt one of the best players in the NFL, on either side of the ball, and even an average season for him makes him a candidate for this award. But unfortunately, the Baltimore Ravens safety missed the first six games of the regular season, and that eliminates him from serious consideration.

    Still, the veteran had an outstanding season in limited playing time. He recorded 37 tackles, defended 16 passes and led the league in interceptions with eight. 

    Reed closed out the season with two interceptions in each of his last two games, helping the Ravens secure a playoff spot. 

9. DeAngelo Hall

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    LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 12:  DeAngelo Hall #23 of the Washington Redskins celebrates a fumble recovery that lead to a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedExField on December 12, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins lead the Buccaneers at
    Larry French/Getty Images

    Hall was one of the few bright spots for the Washington Redskins this season and was by far their best defensive player.

    The 27-year-old corner was third on the team in tackles with 95 and also had six interceptions, two forced fumbles, 22 passes defended and a touchdown. Four of those interceptions came in one game against the Chicago Bears, but that shouldn't take away from Hall's season. He's been as consistent of a defensive back as there is in the NFL this year.

    His candidacy is going to take a hit because the Redskins had the second-to-worst pass defense in the NFL and finished only 6-10, but none of that is Hall's fault.

8. Ray Lewis

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 09:  Linebacker Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens reads the play in 2011 AFC wild card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/G
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Lewis won this award in 2000 and 2003, and it's hard to fathom him ever finishing out of the top 10 in voting. But with so many players having incredible seasons this year, Lewis will have to settle for the No. 8 spot here.

    The Ravens longtime linebacker was sixth in the NFL in tackles with 139. Lewis also added two sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles, six passes defended and a defensive touchdown.

    A great season by most standards but only average for Lewis. 

7. DeMarcus Ware

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    ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Quarterback Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions scrambles with the ball under pressure by Demarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  The Cowboys beat the Lions 35-19.
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    This is where separating the great from the really great starts to get challenging. Ware was one of several premier pass-rushers to have a monster season, but the fact that he played for the 6-10 Cowboys is definitely going to hurt him in the voting.

    But playing for a losing team didn't stop the linebacker from leading the NFL in sacks with 15.5. That sort of performance is nothing new for Ware, who has 80 sacks in just six career seasons.

    Ware did little else except for rush the quarterback. He finished the season with 66 tackles, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown.

6. Cameron Wake

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    MIAMI - OCTOBER 4: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is hit as he passes by Cameron Wake #91 of the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Field on October 4, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Wake's numbers are strikingly similar to Ware's, but the difference between the two players is that Wake actually played for a good defense. Miami finished the season ranked sixth in total defense while Dallas was ranked just 23rd. 

    Wake was third in the NFL with 14.0 sacks, and he also added 57 tackles and three forced fumbles.

    The scary part? It's only his second season.

5. Julius Peppers

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 26: Julius Peppers #90 of the Chicago Bears rushes against D' Brickashaw Ferguson #60 of the New York Jets at Soldier Field on December 26, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jets 38-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Gett
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Bears threw a lot of money at Peppers to convince him to come to Chicago and become the team's primary pass-rusher. The 30-year-old answered the call and then some, having one of the best defensive seasons of his career.

    Playing at defensive end, Peppers finished with 8.0 sacks, 54 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. The numbers seem underwhelming for a player who has six times finished with double-digit sacks, but consider this:

    Peppers was double-teamed on almost every play, leaving much of the pass-rushing up to the other defensive end—Israel Idonije. Idonije also finished the season with 8.0 sacks, tied with Peppers for the team-lead. His previous career-high in sacks was 3.5. He can thank Peppers for that.

4. Osi Umenyiora

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 28:  Osi Umenyiora #72 of the New York Giants in action against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their game on November 28, 2010 at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Both Umenyiora and his partner-in-crime, Justin Tuck, probably deserve equal mention on this list, but Umenyiora's season was a little extra special.

    The eight-year pro finished the year with 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks (7th in the NFL, tied with Tuck) and an eye-popping 10 forced fumbles, tying an NFL record set in 1993.

    Thanks to Umenyiora's prowess along the defensive line, the Giants were seventh in the league in total defense and were fifth in the NFL with 46.0 sacks.

3. James Harrison

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches from the sidelines against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The 2008 winner of this award probably deserves to be at least in the top two. But we're not even sure if he's the best defensive player on his team, so it's hard to put him any higher than here.

    Harrison has done everything this season except for scoring a touchdown and decapitating a ball carrier, and the second one is still up for debate. His stat line reads like something out of a Madden game—100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, seven passes defended.

    He can rush the passer, he can drop into coverage and he tackles like he wants to send players into another dimension. What more do you want?

2. Clay Matthews

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a sack against the Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelp
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Matthews was an early favorite for this award after recording six sacks in his first two games. His production fell off a bit later in the season with only two sacks in the final six games, but that's probably because coaches figured out that no single player could block him and began doubling him.

    Still, Matthews finished with one of the best seasons for a defensive player ever. There's the 13.5 sacks (fourth in the NFL), 60 tackles and two forced interceptions. Matthews was also a force in pass coverage, deflecting five passes and returning an interception for a touchdown.

    The second-year linebacker was the key player for a Packers defense that finished second in the NFL in sacks (47.0), fifth in total defense and second in scoring defense.

1. Troy Polamalu

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    PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 13: Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stands during the National Anthem prior to a preseason NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals  on August 13, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Gett
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    It's almost hard to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers safety hasn't won this award before, especially considering he's been one of the top players in the league since he was drafted in 2003. But Polamalu's wait should finally be over this year.

    The heart and soul of the Steelers defense had a monster season, collecting 63 tackles and seven interceptions (second in the NFL). He also added a sack, a forced fumble, 18 deflections and a touchdown just for good measure.

    Polamalu missed two games late in the season, but he was at his best when it mattered the most. He sacked Joe Flacco and forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter, giving the Steelers the ball, the win and the division title.

    The Steelers surrendered an NFL-best 14.5 points/game during the regular season, and they couldn't have done it without Polamalu—the best player for the best defense in football.