NFL: Top 5 Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
The focus is primarily on the offensive side of the ball in the early going of the 2011 NFL season, but a huge number of sacks are taking place as teams are throwing more than even.
As the season goes on, expect more sacks from not only usual but also unusual suspects, like Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants, who already has seven. In a season about sacks, it's likely that a pass rusher will earn the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Defense could wind up deciding the fate of many teams because the top teams' offenses are very close in production. It's hard to pinpoint specific players sometimes, because all parts must be working in order for a defensive unit to succeed, as the Philadelphia Eagles have shown through five games.
Offensive players can be judged more on numbers than defenders, and it's easier to determine the favorites for the Offensive Most Valuable Player Award.
These five players need to be highly regarded for the award in the early going, even if not every person listed is dominating statistically.
5. Ed Reed
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It's great to see Ed Reed playing great again after concerns due to his serious neck injury. In four games, Reed has two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. His per-game averages could easily shoot up, seeing how Reed led the NFL in interceptions last year despite playing in only 10 games.
Ray Lewis may still be the team's defensive leader, but Reed is better at what he does now. Haloti Ngata helps Lewis more than he aids Reed anyway.
Reed is feeding off other teammates more than any other player listed, but he's still playing phenomenally well, and he could easily get the Defensive Player of the Year award with 10 or more interceptions.
4. DeMarcus Ware
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Rob Ryan's new toy has five sacks in the early going despite playing one less game than all players ranked ahead of him in the category.
What will aid DeMarcus Ware are the games against prime-time teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Direct TV's Sunday Ticket helps exposure for many teams, but these NFC East games will still be watched for than NFC West match ups.
Past success could actually be a burden to Ware, as the linebacker has already seen 20 sacks in 2008 without winning Defensive Player of the Year. In Ware's case, as well as Jared Allen's, there is a ton of competition for being the leader in sacks in 2011.
3. Patrick Willis
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Patrick Willis has been the best middle linebacker in the entire league for over two seasons now, and he should get more credit now than ever, although it appears he won't rack up the same amount of tackles as he did previously. Tackling numbers can easily be skewed, seeing how Indianapolis' Pat Angerer leads the league in the category.
Willis is leading his 49ers to second in points per game allowed on defense with 15.6 while getting unknown names at the linebacker positions beside him to play at a very high level. Players like Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers are playing well in the secondary, but they aren't well-known, either.
In a league that is believed to now lack physicality, Willis is the best defender on the most physical unit in football.
2. Troy Polamalu
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Troy Polamalu has been a part of the disappointing Steelers defense in the early going, but he's the exception of under-performing players in Black and Yellow. How good would Pittsburgh look defensively without their best defender?
The safety position is odd when it comes to judging statistics, but Polamalu is on pace to have a career-high in passes defensed, sacks and tackles. Warren Sapp's criticism of the Steelers may be valid, but saying Polamalu is "old and slow" is far from the case.
Anyone who had the chance to watch Sunday Night Football in Week 3 when the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis noticed how Polamalu still looks to be in his prime. The man's prime is good enough to earn Defensive Player of the Year, so why couldn't he get the award back-to-back?
1. Jared Allen
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Vikings' defensive end Jared Allen has already racked up 8.5 sacks in five games this season, with double-digit performances in the category the past three weeks.
Minnesota ranks in the middle of the pack defensively, and the team blew double-digit leads in Week 2 and 3. The NFL has many great performances from defensive ends in the early going, and it should continue as teams pass a ton throughout the season.
Allen has the sack lead by 1.5 over Jason Babin and Jason Pierre-Paul, but the Vikings get the Lions once more, and the team still awaits both meetings against the Bears.
Allen will add another great season to his resume, but it'll probably be done in relative obscurity like his 2007 campaign with the Chiefs. It may not matter if his sack totals are not only ridiculous, but far ahead of his competition, which they may be because of the Vikings' schedule.