The new NFL season is fast approaching and its time to start looking at some of the possible candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. Last season's winner, Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, is out for an extended period of time with a torn achilles which means that there will be a new DPOY in the NFL this year.
Will it be won by another sack master or will a ball-hawking defensive back win the award this year? If history tells us anything, it tells us that the same position usually does not win the award two years in a row. In the past 15 years, it has happened exactly zero times. The last 15 winners are defensive end, defensive tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker, defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, safety, inside linebacker, defensive end, safety, outside linebacker, cornerback, safety, outside linebacker. So without further ado, lets look at ten candidates for the award this year.
1. LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers - Woodley was having a massive year last year once James Harrison went down with an injury, acquiring nine sacks in ten games. Had he stayed healthy and continued to produce at a high level, he could have easily broken 15 sacks. This year, with Ziggy Hood supposed to start at the DE spot in front of Woodley, Woodley will be able to reek havoc on opposing QBs.
2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Dallas Cowboys - It is incredible that Ware is yet to win this award. He has had double digit sacks every year except for his rookie year but has always failed to compile other statistics. He has never eclipsed 85 tackles and has only forced an average of about 4 fumbles a year. If he can improve in those two areas and continue to compile sacks at his rate, he will be in a strong position to win the award for a first time.
3. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings - Allen is in a very similar position as Ware. He is an absolute beast when it comes to pressuring the quarterback but has been unable to fill out the stat sheet. Last year, despite having 22 sacks, he failed to win the award. However, another 20 sack season and he should finally capture his first DPOY award.
4. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants - Pierre-Paul took the league by storm last year, compiling 16.5 sacks and 86 tackles. Many say he should have won the award over Suggs, but Suggs was able to do more things in pass coverage and force more fumbles. However, if Pierre-Paul is able to continue to improve on rounding out his game, this year could be the first of possibly many DPOY awards for him.
5. Jason Babin, DE, Philadelphia Eagles - Babin had a huge year last year, his first after signing with Eagles as a free agent from Tennessee. He compiled 18 sacks but just 40 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. If he wants to be a serious competitor for the award this year, he will have to get at least 70 or so tackles and 5 forced fumbles.
6. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers - Polamalu is coming off a down year (by his standards) in which he only forced 2 turnovers and had just one touchdown. However, he did have an impressive total of 93 tackles. If he can keep the tackle mark above 80 and get back to forcing 5+ turnovers a year, he could easily win the award for a second time.
7. Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers - Willis missed three games last year but still was able to get 97 tackles, 2 sacks, an interception, and four forced fumbles. If he can stay healthy and have a 120 tackle, 5 sack, 2 interception, 5 forced fumble season, it would be hard to keep the award away from Willis.
8. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets - Revis is the best cornerback in the game and if any corner can win the award this year, it will be him. While he may not intercept as many passes as other corners or make as many tackles, voters will notice his absolute lock down coverage. If he gives up two catches in a game, its a bad game for him. If he can continue to lock people down like he does and maybe get 3 to 5 interceptions, he would be right in the thick of things for the DPOY award.
9. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks - Earl Thomas is an upcoming safety who is poised for a breakout year. Last year, just his second in the league, Thomas had 98 tackles and 2 interceptions. If he can improve his interception total, he could emerge not only as a DPOY candidate, but he would also throw his name into the hat with Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed as the best safety in the game.
10. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers - Smith is a sleeper candidate who could break the 20 sack mark this year. Last year, playing a very limited role, he accumulated 14 sacks. This year, being stronger and smarter, he will play a bigger role and could definitely improve not only the sack total, but also the tackle total. Look for Smith to have a monster season.
SB Nation highlights a few of these players in its Training Camp Battle series. You can watch all of them here.