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2015 NFL Honors Predictions: Defensive Player of the Year
Who will win AP Defensive Player of the Year?
On January 31st, the evening before the Super Bowl, the fourth annual National Football League Honors Show will air on NBC and NFL Network. The NFL’s version of the Academy Awards, yearly awards will be handed out to the best players and coaches in the NFL. Among standard awards such as Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, there will also be awards like the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and the Fed Ex Air and Ground Players of the Year. In anticipation for this exciting night I decided to select each player or coach I believe deserves to win the award. To be honest, there are a few cases were the player I feel SHOULD win isn’t the player I think WILL win. Over the next week or so I will write an article for each award and each winner for said award. Some of the selections are pretty much a given, others are up in the air. It’s always fun to make our guesses at who will win, so please feel free to submit your own thoughts in the comments.
AP Defensive Player of the Year
The defensive player of the year is probably the second most prestigious award in the NFL, with the MVP obviously being the first. The MVP is an offensive player 99% of the time, almost always being a quarterback. This year’s defensive award seems to be a run away, as the top candidate also appears to have the first legitimate shot at being the first defensive player to also win the MVP since the great Lawrence Taylor back in 1986. Still, even with one player’s dominance, 2014 produced some fantastic seasons for defensive stars.
Justin Houston: Lead the league in sacks and you probably have a good shot at winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award. End up with 22 sacks and miss Michael Strahan’s all time single season mark of 22.5 by just a half sack and your chances jump up even higher. It’s ashamed there’s another defensive stud whose name is “Justin” in the running for the award, because Justin Houston’s efforts are good enough to take home the prize in most seasons. Houston led the Kansas City defense that consistently made disruptive plays behind the line of scrimmage. Along with his sacks, Houston posted 69 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, and 24 hurries of the QB. If voters are fans of the “What have you done for me lately” principle, Houston’s final game of the season could be enough to sway some people. With Kansas City’s playoff hopes still alive, the Chief’s put together a dominant effort against the Chargers. KC knocked San Diego out of the playoffs and gave themselves a shot to get the invitation. Houston ended that game with an astonishing 4 sack, 6 tackle, 1 pass deflected, and 1 forced fumble. If KC had snuck into the playoffs, no team would have been excited to face them, specifically the defense and Justin Houston.
Von Miller: After coming off of major ACL surgery, no one knew who quickly Von Miller could come back and how quickly he’d be back to his 2012 form. Miller simply responded with 14 sacks, 59 tackles, and a forced fumble. Not quite his 2012 output, but phenomenal nonetheless. Miller led the Broncos defense that was third best in the league in yards allowed. Miller is incredible active in the passing game, as evident with his 14 sacks and 21 hurries. But he’s just as vigorous in the run game and helped lead the Broncos to be the second overall rushing defense in the NFL. Coming off of surgery and being that effective is impressive, he’s a candidate for the comeback player of the year as well. One would think that after more time for healing, Miller could come back even stronger in 2015.
J.J. Watt: Here’s where the conversation ends. Justin James Watt is the most overpowering, unstoppable, uncontrollable defensive force the league has seen in a decade. And if Watt can duplicate his success over the next decade, he’ll go down as perhaps the greatest defensive player in NFL history. Watt is physically talented, but it’s his motor and his will that takes over on Sundays. Watt ended 2014 with 20.5 sacks, second most in the league. But he is not just a pure pass rusher. His 78 tackles lead all defensive linemen and proves he’s always around the ball. His 10 pass deflects prove his awareness is top notch. His 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 2 defensive touchdowns, and 1 safety proves he’s disruptive and makes impactful game changing plays on a regular basis. He led the league with 32 hurries, 8 more than the sack leader Justin Houston. He led the league in stuffs, an underrated statistic, with 14 for 34 yards. A stuff in the NFL is when a defensive player denies a running play from the offense by tackling the runner at or behind the line of scrimmage, it’s basically a running play’s version of a sack. No matter how you slice it, J.J. Watt absolutely crushed offenses all year long. He even got in the action on the offensive side and scored touchdowns receiving the football!
Ndamukong Suh: The player who is known more by the general public for his on field violations than his on field play, Ndamukong Suh put together one of his finest seasons. Suh lead the Detroit Lions to the number 2 overall defense. The Lions were first against the run, and that’s Suh’s department. Ndamukong’s 53 tackles led all defensive tackles. He is one of the most difficult defensive players to defend in the NFL. He posted 8.5 sacks and 10 stuffs. Suh is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, and he’s about to be paid like he’s the best defensive player overall.
DeAndre Levy: It could be argued that DeAndre Levy is the more important defensive player on the Lion’s roster. While Suh is seemingly the more central player on the defense, Levy is the leader. Levy had 151 tackles in 2014, just a couple behind the tackle leader. Levy added 2.5 sacks and 8 stuffs. Throw in an interception and a safety and Levy had one of the best seasons of any defensive player this year. Suh and Levy almost cancel each other out for this year’s award, unless they wanted to share the award and give it to both of them.
Richard Sherman: Sherman talks up his game like no corner since Deion Sanders. But he also produces on the field like no corner since Deion Sanders. Since coming into the league in 2011, no corner back has posted better numbers. And while 2014 may seem like a bit of a drop off compared to 2013 or 2014, teams are avoiding Sherman like the plague. It’s tough for Sherman to put up 8 interception, 24 pass deflected seasons every year when quarterbacks only throw his way a few times a game. Going back to the Deion Sanders comparison, Sanders’ numbers were altered because teams simply stopped throwing it his way. Sanders cut the field in half for opposing quarterbacks who chose to almost never throw the ball on whatever side Deion lined up on. Sherman has dealt with this all season. In week 1 against the Greenbay Packers, the great Aaron Rodgers literally never threw the ball to Sherman’s side. Then again in the NFC Championship game, Rodgers only threw Sherman’s way a few times, resulting in an interception, a pass deflected, and two catches for the receivers. Sherman may be playing in the Legion of Boom on the number 1 ranked defense. But he is still one of the most important reasons to the Seahawks’ success.
Who should win: J.J. Watt—Watt is the best defensive player in years. If I could compare his impact to three former Defensive Player of the Year winners I’d say he has qualities of Troy Polamalu, Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp, and Reggie White. Polamalu won in 2010 based on his incredible knack for making impact plays. At any given moment Troy would completely take over the game with a strip sack or an interception returned for a touchdown. He was also a lightning bolt to the ball, he’d be 20 yards away and still come flying in for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a screen pass. Watt is the same way, he never takes a play off and he always fights to the ball. And one single moment in the game can change everything when Watt takes over and makes those impact plays. Then of course it’s easy to compare Watt statistically to Strahan, since Watt was just two sacks away from Strahan’s mark. But still, Watt is the better overall player to Strahan. And when I think of defensive linemen of the past two decades just dominating the line-of scrimmage, I think of Reggie White and Warren Sapp. The ability to force your will on the opponent, no one does it like Watt does.
Who will win: Justin. James. Watt—the voters know, the fans know, the media knows, everyone knows. This is Watt’s award. The bigger question is if it was an MVP performance as well.
My favorite to watch: J.J Watt—“All I know, You mess with me, you got problems!” J.J Watt is perhaps the most fun player to watch in the entire NFL, and he was that hands down in 2014. Whether it’s highlight reels or the scoreboard, Watt lights it up. When I watch the Texans I just find Watt pre-snap and I watch him the whole play. I don’t pay attention to the quarterback or running back or receivers. I don’t look at the play and watch it unfold as I see the pocket forming and the route combination opening up a throwing lane to a receiver on the out-route the way I normally love to watch the game. No, when I’m watching the Texans play football I just watch Watt the whole time, because he always ends up where the ball is and he’s one play away from taking over the game.