NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2012: Odds and Predictions for Top Candidates

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2012

NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2012: Odds and Predictions for Top Candidates

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    The theory that defense wins championships probably took some beating this year given the fact that a few teams with terrible defensive rankings did so well, and one of those teams, New England, is now playing for the Super Bowl crown. 

    This era of outstanding offenses and record-setting performances by quarterbacks only makes a truly great defensive player more valuable. And make no mistake about it, there still are a handful of true defensive studs.

    Several players from this past season have a legitimate claim to the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, but there will only be one. 

    Here are the front-runners and my guess at where they'll finish. 

10. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston Texans

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    2011 Stats: 44 solo tackles, one forced fumble, four INT

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 50 to 1

    It's way too simple (and completely wrong) to look at this summer's acquisition of Joseph as the sole reason why the Texans went from 32nd against the pass to third in one year.

    You've got to give Wade Phillips a ton of credit, as well as the emergence of Connor Barwin and the additions of J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed. 

    But Joseph was a huge piece of the puzzle, and that hasn't been lost on people around the league. His consistency allowed Philips to use more pressure in the front seven and get to the passer before quarterbacks could pick apart the rest of sometimes leaky secondary. 

9. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets

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    2011 Stats: 41 solo tackles, four INT

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 40 to 1

    We all know how terrible the Jets season finished, and to be honest, at no time was their defense as intimidating and powerful as it was the previous two years.

    But don't put that on Revis, who is still the game's premier cornerback. And in an era where the passing game dominates like never before and wide receivers seem to have such an advantage, the league's best cornerback automatically earns a prominent place on the list of the league's best defensive players, period.

    Ultimately, Revis doesn't have a prayer of winning the award, but he at least deserves this defacto honorable mention. 

8. Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers

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    2011 Stats: 45 solo tackles, three forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 40 to 1

    The 49ers defense improved so much so soon, and Smith was a huge reason why: He was great against the run and as a pass rusher.

    For him to move from the inside to the outside of the defensive line and be so disruptive on one of the NFL's best defenses is a tremendous achievement. 

    And as good as rookie Aldon Smith was at times, probably half or at least a third of those sacks should be halved to Justin Smith. 

    But voters will likely look at the 7.5 sack total and not think it enough to warrant their selection...even if he was playing in a scheme that sets up the OLBs to rack up the stats. 

7. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys

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    2011 Stats: 47 solo tackles, two forced fumbles, 19.5 sacks

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 30 to 1

    The Cowboys season was again another total failure, and that's one of the few reasons why Ware falls relatively far on this list.

    Ware is certainly the best player on the Cowboys defense—maybe their entire roster—and one of the best pass rushers in the game. 

    But the Dallas defense was inconsistent and at times lifeless during their late-season swoon and as much as it is an individual award, being the best player on one of the NFL's best defenses is probably the best way to earn votes. 

6. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

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    2011 Stats: 48 solo tackles, four forced fumbles, one INT, 22 sacks

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 30 to 1

    Again, a defensive player on a putrid defense is almost always going to be shut out of the running for this award. It may be an individual prize, but plenty of people believe that if someone is that dominant, they should have an impact on those around them. 

    So despite Jared Allen's beast-like pass-rush figures this year—he only had three games where he wasn't in on a sack—his case for the DPOY is an uphill climb considering the Vikings allowed the second-most points in the NFL. 

    And as good as his numbers were, grabbing 3.5 of those sacks in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Bears—bad offensive line, no quarterback, no running game—means you take that 22 with a grain a of salt.

    Still, can you imagine how much worse the Vikes would have been without him? 

5. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens

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    2011 Stats: 44 solo tackles, one forced fumble, three INT

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 25 to 1

    Barring an injury that keeps him out of more than half the Ravens games, Ed Reed will probably always be on this type of list. 

    But although the numbers don't really bear this out, Reed's 2011 regular season should be considered among the best in a career filled with them, and here's why.

    Not only did the Ravens lose Dawan Landry to free agency this offseason, and not only was Ray Lewis another year older/slower, but they also lost Josh Wilson to free agency and played rookie Jimmy Smith a ton in passing situations. 

    Yet the Ravens still had an exceptional year on defense and broke through to win the division for the first time since 2006. Chalk that up to Reed's omnipresence on the football field. 

4. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    2011 Stats: 64 solo tackles, two INT, one sack

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 25 to 1

    In some ways, I think Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning, Wilt Chamberlain/Bill Russell, Joe DiMaggio/Ted Williams of today's NFL.

    They are the two best players at their positions, routinely go head-to-head and will be first-ballot Hall of Famers. So perhaps it's fitting that they are next to one another on this list.

    Like Reed, Polamalu's numbers weren't fantastic, and there were even times when he had notable slip-ups: take that game in Houston, for example.

    But the Steelers battled so many injuries—LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and James Farrior all missed multiple games—and their corners are mediocre at best, yet Pittsburgh still had the NFL's top defense in almost every meaningful stat. 

    Polamalu's unique abilities both in coverage and against the run and his uncanny instincts were the chief reason why.

3. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

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    2011 Stats: 65 solo tackles, two forced fumble, 16.5 sacks

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 10 to 1

    Remember, this award is voted prior to the start of the playoffs, so as much as some people would probably like to have their vote back right now, they can't.

    The Giants may have squeaked into the playoffs in the last game of the regular season and they may have been schizophrenic at times this year, but Pierre-Paul was one of the few consistent players on that team in 2011.

    He had five multi-sack games, recorded a sack in 12 of their 16 weeks and repeatedly opened up lanes for the rest of that Giants pass rush.

    This is my personal choice for Defensive Player of the Year because the Giants had so many costly injuries this year (Terrell Thomas most notably, but also Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and even rookie Prince Amukamara) as well as the free-agent loss of Barry Cofield.

    But because the Giants finished middle-of-the road or worse in most defensive categories, he has a few strikes against him. 

2. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens

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    2011 Stats: 50 solo tackles, seven forced fumbles, two INT, 14 sacks

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 5 to 1

    Throughout this slideshow I've been harping on the fact that players on teams with poor overall rankings or win-loss records have a tremendous disadvantage in this particular race.

    Well, that certainly doesn't apply to the Ravens or Terrell Suggs: Baltimore was top four in the most important defensive rankings (total defense, vs. pass, vs. run, sacks, points-per-game) and Suggs put up incredible numbers, especially in the sack department. 

    And don't discount what he did in pass coverage as well: He has tremendous instincts and that interception of Ben Roethlisberger may be the No. 1 reason why Baltimore won the AFC North. 

    But I do think there is a good chance that while Suggs benefits tremendously on the field by the presence of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, in the voting, I think it ultimately hurts him. I'm not so certain people want to vote a third different Ravens DPOY in the span of nine seasons.

1. Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers

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    2011 Stats: 72 solo tackles, four forced fumbles, two sacks, one INT

    Odds of Winning DPOY: 3 to 1

    What I just said about Terrell Suggs' chances of winning the DPOY is the precise reason why I think Willis wins this award. Again, I'm not so certain that he is the most deserving winner, just the one who ultimately does claim the prize.

    The 49ers were such a great story this season and gave us a new truly dominant defense: How many people want to vote for another Raven or Steeler? 

    The variety that the 49ers, led by Willis, provided this year gives him a leg up on the competition. So did his unit's near-perfect mark against the run (14.5 games without a rushing TD, 77 yards per game).

    And his versatility—he can rush the passer, play the run, cover the flats and medium zone and tackle in space—is the clincher.