NFL's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year: An Introspective Look

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IISeptember 8, 2011

NFL's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year: An Introspective Look

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    The “Defensive Player of The Year” Award is probably my favorite one out of the six major awards handed out annually by the Associated Press.

    Maybe it is because I’m biased as my favorite team has recently added two winners of this award to give them the most all time winners with seven. Perhaps it is because as a Steelers fan I have come to enjoy great defensive efforts. Or maybe it is just because I feel a player has to do more defensively to be recognized than their offensive counterparts.

    Regardless of why the reality of the matter is the Defensive Player of the Year race for the upcoming season will more than likely be another nail biter. Last season’s award surely saw how much prestige the award holds as they decided to let it be the culminating award announcement for awards week. I fully expect fireworks this season.

    With that said here are the players I feel will be in the running for the award come seasons end and there will be some surprise nominations on here I can guarantee you that.

Five Players That I Can Guarantee Will Not Win the Award: Troy Polamalu

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    Polamalu is the reigning Defensive Player of The Year. In my estimation he is the league’s best defensive player without question as the difference he makes for the Steelers is night and day. However, I can comfortably say that he will not win the award for a couple of reasons.

    The first reason Polamalu will not win the award is probability. There have only been six multiple winners of the award and only one—Lawrence Taylor—has won the award in back-to-back seasons.

    The second reason Polamalu will not win the award is health. Although no longer the joker for the Steelers defense Polamalu is still given the reigns to make free plays. In doing so he comes to the line of scrimmage where he has a history of getting injured with physical play.

    The third reason Polamalu will not win the award is that he would have to surpass his 2010-11 production in order for the Associated Press to feel that a second straight award would be validated. Surpassing his statline from last season seems near impossible.

Five Players That I Can Guarantee Will Not Win the Award: Clay Matthews III

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    While many people are penciling Matthews III as the frontrunner for this year’s award and even multiple ones in the future I just do not see it. Not to say that Matthews isn’t a good defensive player but there are reasons he will not win it this year.

    The first reason Matthews III will have trouble in the running is that he will be missing hype. Sure Matthews III can eclipse the 13.5 sack mark but he would need several dominating games like Week 1 and Week 2 of last season to garner the hype that fueled his campaign last year.

    However, that argument is predicated on Matthews matching his sack total from last season. If he doesn’t do that—which is argument number two—then he will not be in the running. Just like Polamalu the Associated Press would want to feel vindicated in naming him the winner in 2012 if his production dwindled off.

    Some will say Matthews III will not be injured again but that’s not a given. Additionally, this is countered by the fact that he lead the league in untouched sacks last season. Sure Dom Capers can devise more A-Gap blitzes for Matthews III but teams are going to focus on him more which could mar his production.

Five Players That I Can Guarantee Will Not Win the Award: DeMarcus Ware

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    It feels very weird to say that Ware will not be in the running but I have to believe that this is true. In fact, despite being a two-time sack champion over the past three seasons Ware has only received votes in one season (2008).

    Ware’s “shtick” with the average NFL fan and the Associated Press was his ability to get to the passer. Ware is rightfully perceived as the league’s best pass rusher. However, that perception is almost guaranteed to drop this upcoming season.

    Prior to his sack title in 2008 Ware was merely perceived as a very good pass rusher but never a dominating player. The reality, however, is that he was a better overall defender then than he is now.

    With Wade Phillips arriving in town in 2007 Ware became his attacking specialist. Phillips has a history of making a guy or two on his team a pass rush specialist capable of 15+ sacks and Ware was certainly that guy. But Phillips is no longer in town.

    With Rob Ryan in town Ware will not rush the passer as much and with sack numbers dwindling the perception of his overall impact on games will be diminished although the exact opposite is true.

Five Players That I Can Guarantee Will Not Win the Award: Jerod Mayo

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    As the Patriots have moved to the 4-3 defense to accommodate Albert Haynesworth and the talent in their linebacking corps Jerod Mayo will be moving to the outside. In doing so Mayo has seemingly lit it up in in the preseason by making the “splash plays” that have been noticeably absent from his resume.

    However, even with an increase in “splash plays” Mayo is hurt by two factors.

    The first factor is that Mayo has been kicked to the outside. Sure a lot of the writers will probably think he’s still an ILB since he’ll be listed as such on but some people will realize he’s an OLB. Few players at both the WILL and SAM have a chance at the award due to their perceived lack of impact. In fact, only Derrick Brooks has ever received a serious nod.

    The other issue is that the Patriots defense in the post-Crennel era hasn’t exactly been world beating. Even last season when they ranked eighth in points allowed they really weren’t that good. Unless the Patriots defense is a top one on paper and looks so when you throw on the film Mayo isn’t going to be a serious candidate as he is their perceived leader.

Five Players That I Can Guarantee Will Not Win the Award: James Harrison

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    This feels weird given that Harrison is one of only seven players in the past decade to be on the ballot for more than one Defensive Player of The Year award with more than one vote.

    However, as has been documented several times Harrison had not one but two back surgeries in the past offseason. Harrison is admittedly at “about 80 percent health” right now. At his current age—even with a low amount of mileage on his body—he has to begin to decline.

    What has made Harrison a regular candidate for the award since 2007 has been the fact that he isn’t a typical 3-4 outside linebacker. He does much more than rush the passer. His play and statistics are indicative of this. However, he won’t be able to go as hard as long and should surrender some snaps to Jason Worilds’ in obvious rush situations.

    This should hurt some of his production which will hurt his chances are appearing on the ballot for a third time.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Mario Williams

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    I personally believe that Williams is going to win this award this upcoming season. In fact, I believe that Williams will be the frontrunner as of Week 1 of the NFL season.

    As I stated for DeMarcus Ware, Wade Phillips is an astounding defensive coordinator that understands how to get the best out of his pass rushing specialists. He has had six individuals reach the 15 sack mark on an astounding eight separate occasions.

    For that reason I believe that Mario Williams—who is arguably the most talented from an athleticism standpoint—can very well produce those numbers. That would easily be a career high.

    While sack totals on their own impress the Associated Press it is the perceived difference that the sacks made that would help Williams’ case.

    For instance, if Williams comes out and records multiple sacks in Week 1 against a non-Peyton Manning lead Colts team in a victory his case is already strong. This case would be made stronger if the Texans were to make the postseason for the first time in franchise history as many would look to a difference in the defense as the key reason why.

    These are strong reasons the Associated Press will probably look to Williams for the award.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Asante Samuel

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    As much maligned as Asante Samuel’s offseason has been the hilarity of the issue is that Samuel very well has a chance at the “Defensive Player of The Year” award.

    I say this because few defensive backs in the league have the pedigree to get the ball the way that Samuel does. Only Ed Reed and Charles Woodson compare to Samuel in regards to getting their hands on the ball on the defensive side of the field.

    So why does Samuel have a chance at the award when he hasn’t in year’s past?

    Well it’s quite simple actually. With the league’s best cornerback in Nnamdi Asomugha lining up opposite of him Samuel will get a lot of passing attempts in his direction. With more passing attempts in his direction comes the opportunity to nab more interceptions for the guy who grabbed one for every seven attempts in his direction last year.

    Sure Samuel will probably return to the “gambler” of the past as opposed to the guy only tested 35 times last season but it wouldn’t matter to the Associated Press if Samuel managed to nab double digit interceptions.

    The only statistic that looms as tantalizing for the Associated Press as the sack is the interception. Samuel notching 10+ interceptions—a feat only done six times in the past decade—for a team that will certainly receive lots of press and potentially returning a few could make him a frontrunner for the award.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Darrelle Revis

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    “Revis Island” will probably be one of the few players this season that returns to the ballot which I have already mentioned is a rare thing to accomplish as of late.

    Revis is easily facing his easiest slate of wide receivers in the past three years as Miles Austin, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Hakeem Nicks are all pretty good receivers but all rank in that eight to 20 range of receivers.

    That easily gives Revis a chance at improving upon his 2009 and 2010 seasons. If you couple the fact that Revis has an easier go at his competition this season with Rex Ryan’s penchant for pimping out Revis when on his good side and the media most certainly will listen. Especially if the Jets have the number one pass defense the way they did in 2009.

    It’s not to say Revis will be the best cornerback in the NFL in 2011-12 but rather that will be the perception because Ryan knows how to influence that New York media and will do so very much so in favor of Revis if the Jets’ defense fires on all cylinders.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Ed Reed

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    I don’t actually think that Ed Reed has a shot at winning the award. His age coupled with a recent history of injuries makes me believe that he is going to miss a few games in this upcoming season.

    However, Reed—like Samuel—is consistently one of the best ballhawks in the league and as I said previously the Associated Press loves the interception. Even if Reed is noticeably absent for a string of games in the season there is a near guarantee he will string together a like set of games with interceptions which will garner him the votes of the Associated Press.

    However, the caveat here is that the Ravens defense remains one of the five best in the league because there are murmurs around the league that people feel this is the year the Ravens defense truly falls off.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: James Laurinitis

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    Laurainitis is considered the leader of the Rams defense. In case you didn’t know the Rams defense is showing signs of emerging as an elite one—or at least a very very good one—in this league.

    Chris Long, Ron Bartell, Fred Robbins, and Quintin Mikell are all very good players and pieces that should help Laurainitis—a very good player himself—shine as the defense begins to look very good. 

    I wanted to choose Chris Long here, however, unless Long produces over 12 sacks I do not see the Associated Press hopping on his bandwagon. But with the Rams defense emerging they will have to find somebody to attach the success to outside of head coach Steve Spagnuolo.  Laurainitis is that guy.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Jon Vilma

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    The Saints are looking to reach a Super Bowl for a second time in the past three seasons. If they are going to do this they need to resemble the 2009 Saints more than the 2010 version. The 2009 version featured a clock-killing rushing attack and a good defense to aid the offense. The 2010 version was better defensively but nobody noticed because the lack of run game hurt the team overall.

    Conversely, Jonathan Vilma will have to be more like his 2010 self as opposed to his 2009 self in conjunction with the aforementioned sentiment in order for the Saints to have success this season.

    Last year Vilma was a monster that went vastly overlooked by the media. Had the Saints experienced the success as a team that they did in 2009 he probably would have received votes for this award last year. He was arguably the league’s best linebacker in coverage last year. And while not astounding when he did attack the line of scrimmage he held opponents to minimal gains rushing.

    If Vilma were to play exactly the same way he did last season  and the defense plays for points like last season while forcing turnovers like in 2009 the defense should get some national recognition. In addition to this Vilma should as well which would result in votes if the Saints fulfill most of their potential.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Ndamukong Suh

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    The Lions defense has all the preseason hype that it needs. In fact, the Lions team as a whole has all the preseason hype that it needs. As a result Suh already has an inside track to start the season as one of the front runner for a multitude of reasons.

    The first reason Suh has an inside shot is because of that aforementioned media hype. Many members expect Suh to be that rare under tackle that reaches double digit sacks. They feel he will not be capable of being doubled due Nick Fairley’s presence. If Suh actually were to meet that number of sacks it would be very impressive to the media.

    Additional to this is that the media believe the Lions will finally emerge from the cellar of the NFC North. If they actually manage to do this and Suh produces at an elite level a lot of the success and turnaround for the franchise would be attributed to him. The voters love the concept of team turnaround and importance in the voting.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Derrick Johnson

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    While many people believe that Tamba Hali is the best linebacker on this team—and therefore the bigger candidate—the reality is that the better linebacker is Johnson. I can see an argument for Hali if he were to surpass his sack totals from last season but I do not realistically see that happening.

    I do, however, see Johnson continuing to produce across all statistics at a high level. If the Chiefs continue to rise the way they did last season and manage to crack the postseason then Johnson has a very good chance at getting the nods that he missed out on last season.

“Surprise” Candidates That Actually Are the Front-Runners: Lawrence Timmons

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    Lawrence Timmons was probably the best middle/inside linebacker in the National Football League last year. Unfortunately the Associated Press was unaware of this as they voted Jerod Mayo as the First Team All-Pro based on tackle totals.

    Timmons was phenomenal at attacking the line of scrimmage, covering tight ends and slot receivers and making splash plays when the team needed him to. I have no doubt that he will continue to this and etch himself as the clear cut best linebacker on the best linebacking corps in the league.

    That “best linebacking corps” just so happens to be on a team that has finished with the best defense in the league three of the previous four seasons. Last I checked finishing first in points per game and/or “total” defense gives a player a good shot at winning this award.

    If the Associated Press does their research this season Timmons will certainly be in the running.

Don't Be Angry... Awaiting Comments/Criticisms

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    So there you have my picks for guys that will be in the running for the 2012 Defensive Player of The Year Award.

    You can scream and be angry that the perceived best player from your team isn’t on the list.

    You can scream and be angry that guys that were in the running last season aren’t on the list.

    But just remember only seven guys—Polamalu (‘05, ‘08, ’10), Harrison (’08, ’10), Urlacher (’05, ’06, ’10), Reed (’04, ’08, ’10), Hayneworth (’07, ’08), Peppers (‘04, ’10) and Lewis (’00, ’03)—this entire decade have received more than one vote on more than one ballot.

     So therefore there was some logic and reasoning put into each selection other than “this guy is very good and was in the running last season”.