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NFL Defensive Player of the Year Candidates and My Vote for the Winner

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The Steelers have had a great year defensively, which was a large relief after last year's defense that always seemed to take its foot off the gas in the 4th quarter.  Most fans spent 2009 gripping onto their chairs or taking Bayer Aspirin to help fight off a heart attack.  I still have nightmares about the Raiders game that would almost make Freddy Krueger a preferred nocturnal substitute.  The reemergence of our defense in 2010 has settled my terrifying hallucinations and limited my visits to my sport's therapist.

The defense has performed this well, because it has functioned as a unit (and yeah, because Troy Polamalu played more games).  However, several players have stood out among them, who I believe could be considered in the defensive player of the year votes.  Let's take a moment to compare them with the rest of the defensive standouts across the league, shall we?

Here is a list of players that will most likely be considered for the Defensive Player of the Year award. The players I believe will get strong consideration are highlighted in green.  (FF = Forced Fumbles, PD = Passes Deflected, bold indicates league leader):

Name Team Tackles Sacks INTs FF PD Def. TD
James Harrison Steelers 100 10.5 2 6 7 0
Troy Polamalu Steelers 63 1.0 7 1 18 1
Lawrence Timmons Steelers 135 3.0 2 2 11 0
LaMarr Woodley Steelers 50 10.0 2 3 7 1
Terrell Suggs Ravens 68 11.0 0 2 0 0
Ray Lewis Ravens 139 2.0 2 5 6 1
Ed Reed Ravens 37 0.0 8 1 24 0
DeMarcus Ware Cowboys 66 15.5 0 2 0 1
Tamba Hali Chiefs 52 14.5 0 4 0 0
Cameron Wake Dolphins 57 14.0 0 3 0 0
Clay Matthews Packers 60 13.5 1 2 5 1
Justin Tuck Giants 76 11.5 0 6 0 0
Osi Umenyiora Giants 48 11.5 0 10 0 0
Devin McCourty Patriots 82 1.0 7 2 24 0
Asante Samuel Eagles 26 0.0 7 0 21 0
Joe Haden Browns 64 1.0 6 1 24 0
DeAngelo Hall Redskins 95 0.0 6 2 22 2
Jerod Mayo Patriots 175 2.0 0 1 0 0


That makes 9 players that I believe will be considered strongly for the award.  I selected those players, because I believe the NFL looks at the "sexy" stats and gives the award to the most well-rounded player.  The "sexy" stats would be sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and defensive TDs.  I believe a player like Jerod Mayo, despite his impressive league leading 175 tackles, will not win because he has claimed very few of these numbers. Additionally, a player like Joe Haden may have a ton of one "sexy" stat, but is completely lacking in all of the other categories, which will severely hurt his chances of winning the award.  Just take a look at the last 2 DPotY winners: 2009 Charles Woodson (2.0 sacks, 9 INTs, 4 FF, 3 TD) and 2008 James Harrison (16.0 sacks, 1 INT, 7FF, 1 safety).

Below let me explain why I believe those 9 players have a chance and also why they might not win it.

James Harrison

Harrison has been a huge part of the Steelers defensive success this year, as usual.  Just by looking at the numbers I believe Harrison is the most well-rounded.  Additionally, he has name recognition after winning the award in 2008.  However, the NFL will not likely want to award Harrison who has been the poster boy for "illegal" hits this year, albeit he has not gotten fined in 5 games or so.  Lastly, Harrison really had no sexy stats in the last 5 weeks of the season with only 0.5 sacks.

Troy Polamalu

Just an absolute beast that already won the Steelers MVP.  His sack-fumble in the Ravens game was the turning point in that game and I believe the single play that defined our season.  In the last 5 games that Troy played he had 5 interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.  The fact that Troy missed 2 of the last 3 games may hurt his chances and the fact that he disappeared in the middle of the year will hurt.

Ray Lewis

No surprise here, but the future HoFer had another good year.  Very well rounded, but nothing eye-popping in any of the "sexy" stats.  Name recognition will probably push him up the voting further than other more deserving candidates, but so it goes.  Additionally, he looks ridiculous in his snuggie.

Ed Reed

Despite missing over a third of the season, Reed leads the league in interceptions.  He may be out of position occasionally, but when he does get that big interception it always seems to be a game changer, much like Troy.  He finished out the season by snatching 4 interceptions in the last two games.  However, the missing 6 games hurts him in pretty much every other category.

DeMarcus Ware

Another monster sack year from the monster pass rusher from Dallas. 15.5 sacks is nothing to sneeze at, nor is 6 sacks in the last two games of the season.  Unfortunately for him, he was pretty much non-existent in every other category on the board except his 2 forced fumbles.  Moreover, he was part of a 6-10 team and the DPotY is almost always on a playoff team.

Clay  Matthews

Matthews was pretty much the run-away candidate for the award at the beginning of the year.  He recorded 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his first 5 games.  Since then, he has come back down to Earth and only recorded 5 sacks in the remaining 11 games, which is not bad.  The thing that strikes me most though, is that he is a pass rusher with only 2 forced fumbles on the season.  When you compare his numbers to Harrison, or any of the well-rounded guys with larger sack numbers, I do not see how you could put this guy above them.  Moreover, it is rather revealing when you consider nearly half his sacks came in the first two games of the season.

Osi Umenyiora

That 10 forced fumbles ties an NFL record set by Dwayne Harper in 1993.  Any time you set or break a record you are going to get heavy consideration in the vote.  Osi actually had back to back to back games where he recorded 2 forced fumbles and 2 or more sacks.  The problem is, looking outside of those 3 games, he had an average year with just 4.5 sacks and 4 FF in 13 games.  Also, because he plays as a 4-3 end his only job really is to blitz the QB and he does not drop into coverage like a Harrison or Woodley 3-4 OLB.  That is the big reason he has little to nothing outside of pass rush numbers.

Devin McCourty

What an insane season for a rookie CB.  McCourty really got hot toward the end of the year, tallying 5 of his interceptions, his lone sack, and both of his forced fumbles in the last 7 games.  His 24 pass deflections are quite impressive too.  What hurts him is that he is a rookie and his stats as a whole are not as impressive as the next guy who plays the same position.

DeAngelo Hall

I would say Hall's year is more impressive, because he had 2 defensive touchdowns.  One came from an interception of Jay Cutler and another was off a fumble he forced and recovered.  When you include his 6 interceptions and 95 tackles you have to admit he had a good season.  His impressive season included a 4 pick game. The reasons I think he cannot win are that he plays for a non-playoff team and two-thirds of his interceptions came in one game.


Decision Time

Personally, I think it comes down to James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Osi Umenyiora, and Devin McCourty.  I said around the middle of the season that I thought Umenyiora had the best shot of winning the award.  It really would not surprise me if he won it.  However, if I had to place all my chips on one number, I would go with 43.  Troy Polamalu has been such a difference maker this year that it is hard to ignore.  He got hot when it mattered most and several of his big plays pretty much won 2 or 3 games for us.  I believe that the voters will look at our defense last year and this year and make the same conclusion that everyone does: Troy Polamalu is the heart of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.