2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement now firmly established in the NFL, and the guarantee that we'll bee seeing snaps in 2011, it's time to begin discussing potential winners of some of the NFL's biggest awards.
Troy Polamalu made his presence in the secondary known to any player who dared set foot there throughout 2010 and was voted the Defensive Player of the year, to no one's surprise.
This being said, there were a handful of defensive standouts last year, who were arguably just as lethal to their team's defence, and who challenged Polamalu for the award.
With fresh stat sheets for 2011, you can expect many of these players to make a run at the award again, as well as some surprises from rookies and players who may have fallen short on their defensive expectations in 2010, but who will look to make amends in the new season.
Mind you, this is just a list of predictions, and although there are a great number of defensive players who could rise above the rest and take home the award, these are who I think are the top ten candidates at the start of the season to win Defensive Player of the Year.
10. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
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Eric Berry showed in 2010 that he was able to carry his star abilities from Tennessee over to the NFL, a very difficult thing to do, as we're all aware.
In his rookie season he managed 4 interceptions, one which he returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble, and an impressive 92 total tackles.
He has an Ed Reed type style and exceptional athletic abilities which he will surely continue to exploit in his sophomore year.
After getting to know how an NFL offence works, and spending an entire season learning how to read them, I would certainly expect him to improve on his production from 2010.
If he is able to do this, and rack up some more interceptions, although he'll be an underdog, he'll be an underdog with a case to make for the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.
9. Joe Haden, DB, Cleveland Browns
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The CB from the University of Florida put up a surprisingly good season as a rookie with the Browns in 2010, with six picks and 64 total tackles.
He could have arguably been the recipient of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, had he not been in such a defensively talented draft class.
It seems like a bit of a long shot for a guy with six interceptions to win the most prestigious award for a defensive player, but this prediction is based on the assumption that he will continue to excel in the NFL and in his second year, he will hopefully increase both his tackles, and interceptions.
If he does this, there is no doubt that he will challenge the league's best for Defensive Player of the Year. He sits at number 9 on this list, anyways.
8. Ndamukong Suh, DE, Detroit Lions
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The first overall draft pick of 2010 in Ndamukong Suh proved he was worth the risk for the Detroit Lions.
His rookie campaign looked like this: 10 sacks, 66 total tackles, with an interception that he returned for a touchdown, and a forced fumble.
He already has experience winning awards in the NFL, as Suh won Defensive Rookie of the Year honours.
Suh is one of the smartest, fastest, hardest hitting, and most intense young defensive linemen in the league, and he showed no signs of letting up last season.
He will very likely continue to produce the way he did in 2010 and as one of the new faces of the former laughing stocks of the NFL, he will make it his business to show anyone why they cannot make a comedic experience out of any Lions game in 2011.
7. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
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The Philadelphia Eagles may have made themselves early favourites to win the SuperBowl in 2011 with their several and strong free agency pickups they've made this offseason.
With Domonique Rodgers-Chromartie and Asomugha as their starting cornerbacks in 2011, we can expect to see big seasons from both of them as they are both going to be playing on a better defence than they've been used to in their NFL careers.
Granted, the last few seasons haven't been the most productive ones from Asomugha, his potential was proven in 2006 when he picked off 8 passes, and brought one in for a touchdown.
The reason I have him placed on this list is because his athletic abilities have made him one of the most frightening cornerbacks in the league. This is partly the reason why his stats have been so abysmal in the last few seasons.
In Oakland, many quarterbacks would not throw the ball to his side of the field because of his freakish ability to pick it off or defend it.
However, with Rodgers-Chromartie on the other side, quarterbacks will have no choice but to throw the ball his way a lot more of the time.
This season will be a make or break season for Asomugha, and his expectations are high, to say the least.
I expect him to come back to 2006 form, as he will have many more opportunities to see the ball thrown his way, and will hopefully be a defensive standout on the very defensively talented Eagles team.
If he is able to do this, the sky will be the limit for him, and we could witness the best season of his career; one that could very possibly earn him the coveted award.
6. Tamba Hali, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
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Tamba Hali is coming off of the best season of his career, in which he put up 14.5 sacks, and 51 total tackles.
He also just signed a long term contract with the Chiefs giving him the positional, and financial security to keep up the good work.
Aside from last season, Hali had played consistently well throughout his career and is poised to continue to produce at a high level for Kansas City in 2011 under his new contract.
If he can provide similar numbers to last season, or improve on them, he will certainly challenge other star linebackers like Clay Matthews for the Defensive Player of the Year honours.
5. James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
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James Harrison is probably the scariest man in America, and he seemingly has no problem giving you the worst concussion of your life if you mean to deny him of that right.
This being said, he could also have the biggest mouth in America; one so big, that it openly criticizes his team, more specifically his quarterback, and the commissioner of the league that he plays in.
However true this may be, he still has undeniable talent on the defence and can challenge for the Defensive Player of the Year every year.
In 2010, Harrison had 10.5 sacks, with 2 interceptions, and a very impressive 100 total tackles.
The only reason he isn't number one on this list is because I have an inkling that the controversy he's stirred up during the offseason might cast a shadow over his talents.
This means that I think he will either under perform due to the scrutiny of every single one of his tackles, or perform at as high a level as he always does and be snubbed for the award because of his lack of respect.
Either way, he will likely be one of the top defensive players in the NFL once again, and with that being said, you cannot deny him his case in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions.
4. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins
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The former CFLer proved why he needs to be in the NFL in 2010 when he put up 14 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 57 total tackles.
He produced the most third sacks in the NFL, and devastated quarterbacks with his blazing speed and agility.
As one of the most legitimate threats on any defence in the NFL, Wake's success story will likely continue into 2011.
It's always nice to see a player performing at the level he should be performing at, and after playing in the CFL, and transferring his skills so seamlessly into the much more fast paced NFL, Wake definitely has what it takes to be the Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
3. Justin Tuck, DE, NY Giants
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Tuck enjoyed one of the best seasons of any defensive lineman in 2010 with 11.5 sacks and 76 total tackles.
He and defensive line mate Osi Umenyiora have been the glue that holds the Giants' D-line together over the past couple years, and with the possible departure of Umenyiora, Tuck will become the leader of that defensive line.
Umenyiora also tacked on 11.5 sacks to his stat sheet in 2010, so my assumption, though it may not a completely rational correlation, is that if he is traded, Tuck's number of sacks should increase.
I understand, as well, the flip side of this equation. That the departure of Umenyiora could cause quarterbacks to favour movement to that side, giving Tuck less opportunity for a sack.
This will not likely be the case, however, as Michael Boley and Terrell Thomas are positioned in the secondary on that side, and are two of New York's stronger defensive players.
The bottom line is with all things remaining consistent, and the loss of Umenyiora, Tuck is positioned to produce an equally strong season in 2011 at the least, and if he manages to do this, or produce even stronger numbers, he should be in line to challenge for Defensive Player of the Year honours.
2. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
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I know it is extremely rare for a player to receive the Defensive Player of the Year two years in a row, and that the only player to ever accomplish the feat was Lawrence Taylor.
However, I enjoy controversy and truly do believe if there is a player who could do it again, it is Troy Polamalu.
To put it into perspective, Polamalu is coming off of the eighth year in the NFL. The same year in which he produced arguably the best defensive season of his career.
With seven interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and 63 total tackles with a forced fumble in only 14 games, there is no surprise at all that Polamalu was the recipient of the award in 2010.
The Steelers have not been the most well behaved team in the off-season thus far, especially with regards to their defence.
Polamalu is a figure of integrity, and has been the opposite type of player to his defensive teammate James Harrison throughout his time in Pittsburgh.
Expect him to maintain that mindset in 2011 and while the defensive superstar James Harrison may find himself under performing in the wake of all the controversy he's created, expect Polamalu to be one of the lone defensive standouts on Pittsburgh.
If this is the case, a back to back Defensive Player of the Year is well within the realm of possibility for number 43.
1. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers
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Clay Matthews is the definition of "beast mode."
There is very little argument that he isn't the most valuable defensive player on the Packers. And with his intense style of play, there is no doubt that he very well might end up receiving the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011.
His ability to read the offence enables him to reach the quarterback more times than many linebackers in the league. He joins Tamba Hali as the only two non-defensive linemen in the top-ten in sacks in the NFL.
Aside from him also being No. 52 on the field, he plays like a young Ray Lewis, zoning in on every play with the highest intensity. And his ability to hit offensive players as hard as anyone in the league gives him that same Lewis ability to force fumbles.
Expect Matthews to share another thing with Lewis by the end of his career, and quite likely by the end of this coming season, a Defensive Player of the Year acknowledgement.