The NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award is given out annually by the Associated Press to recognize the most outstanding defensive player. The award was first given out in 1971 to Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings. In 2014 J.J. Watt, brother to Steelers’ Derek and T.J. Watt, is the only player to ever receive a unanimous vote and win the DPOY award. J.J. went on to win this award two other times in the first five years of his career.
The first Steelers player to win DPOY was none other than legendary Hall of Fame defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene. He earned the award in 1972 and 1974 with his best year statistically coming during the 1972 season where he recorded a career-high 11 sacks and 63 tackles.
The next Steelers player to win the award was Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount in 1975. Blount finished the season with 43 tackles and 11 interceptions.
Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert won the DPOY award in 1976. Lambert finished the regular season with 159 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 7 fumbles recovered. The Steelers had a player win DPOY four out of five years from 1972 to 1975 with Greene, Blount, and Lambert being the only time in NFL history where one team won the award three straight seasons, let alone by three different players.
It wasn’t until 17 years later when Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson won the award. Woodson finished the 1993 season with 8 interceptions, 2 sacks and 95 tackles. Woodson also returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown.
The fifth Steeler to win Defensive Player of the Year was outside linebacker James Harrison in 2008. Harrison finished the regular season with 101 tackles, 16 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 1 interception. Harrison is also the only undrafted player to win the award.
The latest Steelers player to win this coveted award was Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu. He finished the 2010 season with 63 tackles, 7 interceptions and a touchdown.
After looking over the Steelers current roster, three players come to mind as having the pedigree to win this award. The first player is All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. He plays the same position as Aaron Donald of the Rams, who was the recipient of DPOY in both 2017 and 2018. Heyward and Donald had very similar statistics in the 2017 season. Heyward finished the regular season with 45 tackles and 12 sacks while Donald finished the season with 41 Tackles and 11 sacks. The striking difference between these two players was Aaron Donald had 5 forced fumbles and Cam Heyward had none. In order for Heyward to be considered this season he would have to exceed his 2017 career best statistics and add a couple of turnovers.
The next player on the roster that has a lot of potential to become DPOY is All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. With only two seasons under his belt, Fitzpatrick has already produced strong statistics to be considered for the award. In the 2019 season he recorded 57 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 2 defensive touchdowns. These numbers are very similar to Troy Polamalu’s numbers in 2010 when he won DPOY.
The final player on the roster who received 10 DPOY votes for his outstanding 2019 performance is T.J. Watt. The linebacker finished the regular season with 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions. These numbers were very similar to those of James Harrison’s 2008 DPOY season.
History shows voters tend to favor players with a high number of turnovers. My prediction for the 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award is T.J. Watt with 16 plus sacks and 5 turnovers. ‘Yinz’ will just have to wait and see how the upcoming season plays out.
Which member of the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers has the best chance to win Defensive Player of the Year?
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