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On Monday, I looked at the Defensive Player of the Year voting in every year from 2000 to 2006. Today, the last eight years.

2007: Bob Sanders, Indianapolis Colts

AP voting: Sanders (31), Patrick Kerney (4) (Seattle), Albert Haynesworth (4) (Titans), Antonio Cromartie (3) (Chargers), DeMarcus Ware (3) (Cowboys), Mike Vrabel (2) (Patriots), James Harrison (1) (Steelers), Ronde Barber (1) (Buccaneers), Patrick Willis (1) (49ers), Mario Williams (1) (Texans)

Sanders picked up 62% of the vote, yet nine other names split the remaining ballots.  It is weird to think of a player like Kerney as being the runner up for DPOY. But in his first year in Seattle, Kerney had 14.5 sacks, forced five fumbles, and recorded an interception, good enough to get him the KC101 NFC Defensive Player of the Year award.

But Sanders was the clear choice for DPOY. Only a couple of random places (like the Kansas City Star, which went for Ware, the New York Daily News (Cromartie), or the Miami Herald, which went for Vrabel because LBWINZ) didn’t select Sanders as the top defender that season.

Verdict: A worthy DPOY season for Sanders. And the first of back-to-back DPOY-caliber seasons that would land Haynesworth a $100M contract.

2008: James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

AP voting: Harrison (22), DeMarcus Ware (13) (Cowboys), Ed Reed (8) (Ravens), Albert Haynesworth (5) (Titans), Troy Polamalu (2) (Steelers)

This was another close vote: Harrison didn’t quite get half of the AP voting, but did win by a healthy margin. This was far from a unanimous seletion: Peter King at Sports Illustrated, John Clayton at ESPN, and Mark Gaughan at the Buffalo News all chose Ware, Rick Gosselin at the Dallas Morning News and Leonard Shapiro at the Miami Herald selected Reed, while the Sporting News poll of players, coaches, and general managers landed on Haynesworth. The KC101 awards went to Harrison and Ware as the top defenders in each conference.

The Steelers defense was outstanding in 2008.  It finishes two standard deviations above average in points allowed, and ranked as the 10th best pass defense ever.  And Pittsburgh ranked 1st or 2nd in yards per carry allowed, rushing yards allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed. Harrison, of course, cemented his play in ’08 with one of the greatest plays in NFL history, a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.

Verdict: Harrison’s 16 sacks finished 4th in the NFL, and he was second on the team in tackles.  A very deserving choice for the award. As for Ware, this was the closest he ever got to winning the DPOY award.  In fact, he received just 3 other votes over the remainder of his career from AP writers, all in 2007 (although he did have a DPOY-caliber year in ’11, too).

2009: Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers

AP voting: Woodson (28), Darrelle Revis (14) (Jets), Darren Sharper (3) (Saints), Elvis Dumervil (3) (Broncos), Jared Allen (2) (Vikings)

One of the more interesting DPOY races, as the top two players played the same position — but in very different ways. Revis was a dominant shutdown corner, having one of the greatest individual coverage seasons in recent history. Woodson was a great coverage corner who also played in the slot, or at safety, and was a pretty effective blitzer, too. The AP voters preferred Woodson’s all-around game at a 2:1 ratio, but there were dissenters.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King selected Revis, as did the New York Daily News. USA Today had Revis winning by the narrowest of margins over Woodson and Dumervil. But Woodson did take home the majority of the hardware, including from Pro Football Weekly / Pro Football Writers of America and the Sporting News and the majority of sources out there. There were a couple of straggler votes — Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer chose Dumervil, Leonard Shapiro of the Miami Herald selected Sharper — but this was largely a two-man race.

Verdict: The ’09 Jets led the league in net yards per attempt allowed, points allowed, yards allowed, first downs allowed, passing yards allowed, and passing touchdowns allowed. Revis was the main reason for the defense’s success, and I’m not sure he had a finer year. Both he and Woodson appear to be future Hall of Famers. Of note: Woodson was named the Defensive Back of the Year by the NFL Alumni voting, and each player took home the Defensive Player of the Conference award from he KC101 organization.

2010: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

AP voting: Polamalu (17), Clay Matthews (15) (Packers), James Harrison (8) (Steelers), Julius Peppers (6) (Bears), Brian Urlacher (2) (Bears), Haloti Ngata (1) (Ravens), Ed Reed (1) (Ravens)

The Steelers safety received just 34% of the vote, narrowly edging Matthews for the AP honor.  Was Polamalu the best defender in 2010? Well, in the Sporting News poll, Matthews took home the award with the voting going 188-148; the Packers outside linebacker was also the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers choice. As you would suspect, Peter King was again an outlier, going with Peppers as his top choice. Polamalu received the AP nod by a tiny margin, but

Verdict: Matthews deserves at least as much credit as Polamalu for what he did in 2010. The fact that the AP Trophy is considered “official” is kind of silly, but that goes double when the voting was this close. The Packers outside linebacker may be building a Hall of Fame career, and it would be ridiculous to think that two out of 50 votes from certain AP writers in one season would make a difference in that outcome. Then again, while Polamalu seems like a HOF lock, if he came in second place in ’10, would his case be any different?

2011: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

AP voting: Suggs (21), Jared Allen (14) (Vikings), Justin Smith (6) (49ers), Jason Pierre-Paul (5) (Giants), Patrick Willis (2) (49ers), NaVorro Bowman (1) (49ers), Charles Woodson (1) (Packers)

Suggs was also the Pro Football Weekly / Pro Football Writers of America DPOY and the choice of a panel of 8 writers at Sports Illustrated.  The Sporting News chose Allen as its top player, with DeMarcus Ware as the runner up there.  The KC 101 chose Suggs and Allen as the top player of each conference. This wasn’t unanimous, and it wasn’t a runaway win, either, but Suggs was a legitimate winner. The Ravens defense ranked in the top 3 in points, yards, net yards per pass attempt, yards per carry, and rushing yards, while Suggs had 14 sacks.

Verdict: Allen had 22 sacks, making it the second most impressive sack season since ’82. Suggs was a worthy choice, but Allen — who is a borderline HOF candidate — deserves a ton of credit for his monster season while playing for a 3-13 team.

2012: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

AP voting: Watt (49), Von Miller (1) (Broncos)

This was one of the most dominant defensive seasons in NFL history, and that is reflected in the voting. Consider this: over the course of their careers, Reed (29) and Polamalu (22) combined for 51 DPOY votes from the AP. Meanwhile, Watt had 49 just this year.  Aldon Smith was named the KC 101 NFC DPOY and the runner up according to The Sporting News, but Watt was basically a unanimous choice here.

Verdict: J.J. Watt is the man.

2013: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

AP voting: Kuechly (13), Robert Mathis (11.5) (Colts), Earl Thomas (7.5) (Seahawks), Robert Quinn (6) (Rams), Richard Sherman (4) (Seahawks), J.J. Watt (2) (Texans)

Sandwiched in between Watt’s two scorched-earth campaigns was one of the closest DPOY races in NFL history.  Mathis actually received more All-Pro votes than Kuechly, although the Colts star wasn’t the only one with a good case for the award.

The Pro Football Writers of America and Sports Illustrated chose Quinn, although the Sporting News also went with Kuechly. Pro Football Focus chose Watt, while the KC101 went with Kuechly in the NFC and Mathis in the AFC.  Oh, and the Seahawks had a historically dominant pass defense and two very deserving candidates, too.

Verdict: There were a number of great candidates during the ’13 season. Kuechly may be building a HOF career: he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, the DPOY in 2013, and has been a first-team All-Pro by the AP in 2014.   Last year may have been his best season, and he was Pro Football Focus’ top inside linebacker. But I’ll still always remember him as this guy.

2014: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

A unanimous winner, the first of its kind since the AP began giving out this award.  Watt also received 13 votes in the MVP voting, so it was that sort of season.  Everyone chose Watt as the league’s best player, although it’s worth noting that Richard Sherman did get chosen by the KC101 as the top defender in the NFC.

Verdict: J.J. Watt is the man.

  • sacramento gold miners

    It’s really unfortunate Bob Sanders faded after winning the DPOY, he was fun to watch, but couldn’t take the pounding. Albert Haynesworth was one of those guys who lost the passion after receiving the big payday.

    • It does suck that Haynesworth basically lost the will to play. When he was at his best, he was a force of nature.

      • Wolverine

        I’m too lazy to search for it on the internet, but I love that priceless GIF of him falling on his face against the Eagles while being blocked, and deciding he didn’t want to put forth the effort to get up, even though play was still going on!

        • jtr

          I love the reaction from the guard. He’s never had a guy just decide to stay on the ground before.


          • Wolverine

            Thanks for digging that up! Still makes me chuckle every time. Yea, the guard had no idea what to do at that point.

            • Richie

              He probably thought he was getting the rope-a-dope.

      • Wolverine

        Some people have posited that this will happen to Ndamukong Suh after his big payday, but I’m not one of them. Whatever you want to say about his poor judgement and/or malicious personality on the field, the dude has a solid work ethic.

  • jtr

    I thought Polamalu’s best season was 2008 and the 2010 award was partially voters feeling like they needed to give him one before his prime ended (they did it just in the nick of time, too). He even missed some time in 2010, and it’s hard to argue a guy was the most impactful defender in the league when he missed 1/8 of the season. Matthews probably should have had that one.

  • Richie

    Refresh my memory: what is KC101?

  • Rivers McCown

    Yes, J.J. Watt is the man.

  • Nicholas Webster


    My piece from February, might be interesting in the context of this article.

  • Nicholas Webster

    JJ Watt’s three year run is the greatest in the last 45 years as a defender. Maybe Deacon somewhere in the 1964-1968 range put together this type of dominance.

    • Jones had seasons of 26, 24, and 22 sacks, according to the Turney research. However, he also played in an era when offensive linemen weren’t allowed to fully extend their arms or use open hands to block. Imagine how many sacks, hits, hurries, pressures, TFLs, etc. Watt would have if Tyron Smith essentially had to block him with his elbows and forearms.

      The 1978 Mel Blount rule had a huge impact on offensive football, but the blocking allowances the same year were arguably equally important.

      • Arif Hasan

        I’ve been doing work breaking down sack percentages using opponent pass attempts+team sacks and Turney sacks. I haven’t figured it all out yet (because there’s not a ton of data on individual seasons for sacks) and I’m focusing on DTs over edge players but I’ve looked at 12 careers so far.

        1. Alan Page: 3.4%
        2. J.J. Watt: 2.6%
        3. John Randle: 2.0%
        4. Randy White: 2.0%
        5. Bob Lilly: 1.8%
        6. Merlin Olsen: 1.6%
        7. Warren Sapp: 1.6%
        8. Joe Greene: 1.4%
        9. Ndamukong Suh: 1.3%
        10. Geno Atkins: 1.1%
        11. Cortez Kennedy: 1.0%
        12. Haloti Ngata: 0.5%

        I am not confident that there’s evidence that it was easier to sack back then, even with the odd pass protection rules and Deacon Jones’ advantage with his now-illegal headslap maneuver. It will be easier to do this with edge players because there’s more sack data for them (I found every player with at least 100 sacks according to Turney plus official data, but that excludes a lot of interior defenders for obvious reasons).

        When I look at edge defenders (or someone like you does), we’ll be able to do a better job of determining whether or not it was easier to get sacks on a particular play in the past. Deacon Jones might have just been incredible (which is not an insane presumption).

        This would suggest that it wasn’t as easy as it “should have been” to sack the quarterback back then because of:

        1. Technical deficiencies in pass-rushing
        2. Priorities (run-first league? I don’t know the ’60s was pretty pass-happy)
        3. Scheme deficiencies that prevent sacks
        4. Mobile/sack-aware quarterbacks (like #2, I doubt this reason as well)
        5. Reasons


        • I wish I could find the full breakdown of Turney’s numbers on the internet, but I have only been able to find bits and pieces for guys over 100 sacks. From what you’ve presented, the biggest surprise to me is seeing Merlin Olsen rate above Warrern Sapp. Olsen has a legacy of a space eater who swallowed double teams to let Deacon Jones kill QBs, while Sapp is known for his pass rushing prowess.

          I’m definitely not surprised to see Page so high. Look at him coming off the ball, I feel pretty confident he could play today. He’d have to play end instead of tackle, but I think he could do it.

  • With all due respect to the wisdom of the masses, I don’t think pluralities always equate to the right choice. When Chase uses phrases like “Sanders was the clear choice for DPOY”, I have to disagree. I name a DPOY every season, and my selection has only matched up to AP’s in three of these seven years. I chose DeMarcus Ware in 2007, James Harrison in 2008, Darrelle Revis in 2009, Ndamukong Suh in 2010, Jared Allen in 2011, J.J. Watt in 2012, Richard Sherman in 2013, and J.J. Watt in 2014. That agrees with AP on Harrison and twice on Watt.

    The hardest years to pick were 2010-11, when I don’t think anyone really had a DPOY-quality season, and some of the most outstanding players were stuck on awful teams. The AP’s worst selection during this period, IMO, was Kuechly in 2013. I wasn’t surprised he won, but Kuechly wasn’t even on my radar. Mathis, Quinn, Sherman, and Watt all had better seasons, and all except Watt got more all-pro votes (as did Earl Thomas).

    • Nicholas Webster

      Couldn’t agree more on Kuechley, he essentially won the award on the back of one huge tackle game. He wasn’t even the best LB that season, an honor that should’ve go e to Lavonte David. And I’d have been perfectly happy had he come in fifth.