It’s the middle of the summer and training camps are just starting to kick off. I’ve been trying to come up with a new series of articles to post and I’ve come up with nothing over the past week. For some reason, I just decided to start writing this article the other day, and I think I’ll write similar ones for the other major award categories.
Even though the season is just beginning to ramp up, I always like to project forward. I know some people don’t enjoy these kinds of predictions, but I always loved reading through them as a kid. I also always enjoyed focusing on the defensive players while other people preferred offensive stars. This article will focus on the best defenders in the league and their chances to win the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award in 2019.
Two players in NFL history have won the DPOY) award three times: Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt. Donald will be trying to expand that pantheon in 2019. Donald has won the last two DPOY awards. Over the last two seasons, Donald has produced 100 combined tackles, 31.5 sacks, and nine forced fumbles. Assuming he remains healthy, he will be the front runner to win the award again in 2019.
Watt’s return to form last year was glorious. While he may never reach the DPOY form he once was in, his name will remain in the conversation. After playing just eight games in 2016 and 2017, Watt burst back onto the scene in 2018 with 61 combined tackles, 16 sacks, and a league-leading seven forced fumbles. Watt was the DPOY in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He’s the only player, since sacks became an official stat, to record 20 or more sacks in multiple seasons.
The Bears couldn’t be any happier that the Oakland Raiders traded Mack to them last season. While Mack has never produced eye-popping sack numbers, he already was the DPOY in 2016. A hot start to last season put him in the conversation again. Mack didn’t win the award last season, but he established himself as the centerpiece of a dominant Bears defense. His role with the Bears has seen his tackle numbers drop, but Mack’s true impact has never been in doubt.
Wagner is one of the two best defenders in the league right now who hasn’t won the DPOY award. While fellow middle/inside linebacker, Luke Kuechly has already won the award, Wagner is still looking to claim the elusive title. Last season, Wagner recorded 138 combined tackles, one sack, 11 passes defensed, one interception, a defensive touchdown, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He missed one tackle all season. Wagner has been playing at this level consistently too. He’s been a First Team All-Pro in four of the last five seasons.
Two players on this list are already Canton bound, but they surprisingly haven’t won a DPOY award. Miller is one of those players, and Wagner is the other. Except for 2013, Miller has been an All-Pro in some form every year of his career. In 2018, he was voted a Second Team All-Pro as both a defensive end and a linebacker. In the last two seasons, Miller has posted 105 combined tackles, 24.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. If Miller retires without a DPOY award, he will be one of the greatest players from this generation to not win one.
No player in the entire NFL was more well-rounded statistically than Leonard last season. He filled the entire stat sheet in a way that makes me think back Patrick Willis. In 2018, Leonard recorded 163 combined tackles, seven sacks, eight passes defensed, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 15 games played. He’s a vicious, hungry player who is always around the ball. I’m curious to see what he does for an encore in 2019.
The Panthers linebacker already won the DPOY award back in 2013. Six years later, Kuechly is still only 28 years old, and he’ll have a shot to add another trophy to a résumé that is already brimming with success. The heart and soul of Carolina’s defense has been a First Team All-Pro in five of the past six seasons, only missing out in 2016 because injuries limited him to ten games. Kuechly has been healthy lately though and it shows in his production. He finished with 130 combined tackles, two sacks, six passes defensed, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery last season. ESPN credits him with 22 “stuffs” (tackles for loss not including sacks) as well.
It’s hard to get a read on Smith sometimes. He’s a versatile coverage player, but not the best man or zone safety in the NFL. He’s also a terrific tackler, can bring pressure off of the edge, and has an X-factor to his game. That makes him well-rounded, but it also prevents him from reaching the highs in any one statistical category that would attract voters. Smith has had numerous great seasons throughout his career, but he has yet to put together that complete season that would put him over the top.
Bosa missed a lot of last season with injuries, but he showed us his potential in 2017. That year, Bosa recorded 70 combined tackles, 12.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. That alone won’t be enough to win the award, but it’s proof that Bosa is one of the best overall defensive ends in the league. It’s a shame the 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year was never fully healthy last season because I was expecting a big year from him.
There are a lot of safeties bunched together in the NFL right now. James contributes in similar ways to Jamal Adams, who I also considered for this spot. There’s also Eddie Jackson who was a First Team All-Pro in 2018. I’m sticking with James for this final spot though. In 2018, he recorded 105 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 passes defensed, and three interceptions. Assuming he avoids a sophomore slump, James will look to defend his spot as a First Team All-Pro in 2019.
While Garrett will become a generational talent, I think that Bosa will perform better than him. That’s the main reason why Garrett isn’t on the list. Bosa is more of an unstoppable force and is more productive against the run. Garrett has good power though, and he needs to find a way to turn that into larger sack totals. Pairing him with Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon could pay off with a great 2019 season.
As previously mentioned, Adams is on a similar level to James. He’ll post sacks, forced fumbles, passes defensed, and tackles galore. However, Adams has just one interception in his two years with the Jets. While he’s a great player, to be considered for the DPOY award as a safety, you need a complete stat sheet. That means posting around five interceptions like Landon Collins did in 2016 and Tyrann Mathieu did in 2015.
I still view Thomas as the best safety in the NFL, despite his injury last season. He’s been the most consistently great safety since Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed retired and will be the X-factor on whatever team he plays for. I just don’t view him as a guy who will post DPOY numbers though.
This one is for you Eagles fans. Cox may have only finished with 10.5 sacks last season, but he was getting after quarterbacks consistently. After plateauing in 2016 and 2017, Cox was resurgent this past season. It remains to be seen if he can repeat this performance though. Unfortunately for Cox, with players like Donald, Mack, Wagner, and Watt in the league, there’s no chance he wins the DPOY award.
Hunter’s career has gone up and down a bit through four seasons. It was up in 2018 though, and Hunter finished with 72 combined tackles and 14.5 sacks. He was named a Second Team All-Pro by The Associated Press. Right now, Hunter hasn’t produced the forced fumble numbers to compete with the best defensive ends. He didn’t force one in 2018 and only has three in his career.
There are plenty of players who could arguably occupy this spot other than Campbell. The 6-8 behemoth has never gotten the credit he deserves though. So, I’m using this spot to show appreciation for a player who seldom gets it outside of his own fanbase. Since joining the Jaguars in 2017, Campbell has 139 combined tackles, 25 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. I guess you could call him my dark horse to post the best defensive campaign in 2019.
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