Withe the regular season in the books and only one game left to play, I figured this would be a good time to discuss the major awards for the 2012 season and who should win them, as well as who will. I’m a defense guy, so I think I’ll kick off this series with the defensive player of the year. First, the candidates.
Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
After a stellar season that still has one game left to make an impact, Smith has to be as likely to win this award as any previous suitor. He’s had the biggest impact on that side of the ball for a team playing in the Super Bowl. Any other season, a guy that finishes the regular season with 19.5 sacks, 49 tackles, and interception and 3 forced fumbles would be a slam dunk to win this award.
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
While most pundits expected a sophomore slump for Watt, he actually improved over his already terrific rookie season. To do what Watt did from his position in a 3-4 defense was truly remarkable. With 20.5 sacks, 69 tackles and a league record 16 passes batted down. But it didn’t stop there; he also led the league in tackles for loss, had 76 QB disruptions, and posted a defensive stop on 17.2 percent of his snaps. There are some who call this one of the best defensive seasons’ ever.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Miller was far and away the most dominant run defender at linebacker in the league in 2012. Add to this, 18.5 quarterback sacks, 55 tackles, an interception and 6 forced fumbles and it’s easy to see why the Broncos defensive anchor helped lead the team to the long winning streak they saw to end the regular season. But Miller also does a lot of things besides get the opposing quarterback and destroy the running game; he’s already a team leader in his second year in the league and is stellar when needed in coverage.
There are a handful of guys who might get some light consideration or maybe even a vote here or there, but these three have been the most consistent and talked about all season. If someone named something other than these three above, it’ll be considered a huge upset. So who is going to bring home the honors?
Who Should Win?
In my opinion, J.J. Watt has to be the one to take this one. He is talked about already with guys like Howie Long in just his second season. He was unblockable all season, no matter who was on him or how many guys. In a Texans defensive front that did little else behind him, Watt was a one man gang. We saw how Aldon Smith backed off after the Justin Smith injury; well, Watt was Aldon Smith AND Justin Smith in 2012.
Who Will Win?
Judging from the media hype this week, J.J. Watt will be taking home the trophy. I’ve yet to hear anyone outside of San Francisco or Denver give another answer when asked the best defensive player in the league in 2012. Something that you don’t see on the stat sheet for Watt was that of his 16 batted passes, 6 of them resulted in turnovers. And to do what he did at defensive end in a 3-4 is unheard of.
In the end, the fact that these three guys are the finalists for such esteem is just a testament to the greatness of the 2011 NFL Draft that they all were top 11 picks in. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see such defensive dominance from the top third of an NFL Draft this quickly again any time soon.