Charles Woodson

Justin Smith’s case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Justin Smith probably isn’t going to receive enough votes to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. However deserving he may be, winning the award is a longshot — even though today Smith was named to First Team All-Pro along with four of his teammates. Smith was such a force this year, he was named to the team as a defensive tackle and came in third in the voting at defensive end.

While the local guys know how good Smith is



…there are probably too many guys like ESPN’s Jamison Hensley (a former Ravens beat guy whose hair definitely matches his name), who had this to say in a short article about Terrell Suggs winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December/January:

Suggs is considered a strong contender for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. His strongest competition will come from Minnesota’s Jared Allen, Green Bay’s Charles Woodson, New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware and Philadelphia’s Jason Babin.

While excluding Smith from such a list isn’t exactly fair — and I’d probably swap out Woodson for Clay Matthews as Green Bay’s representative, as well as Trent Cole instead of Jason Babin — Hensley’s list is probably accurate in terms of the consensus among voters. Those six guys Hensley mentioned are probably the top contenders for Defensive Player of the Year, unless some famous media personalities like Peter King, Michael Silver, John Clayton or Jay Glazer decide to push for Smith or someone else.

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of each player’s statistical resume, plus Smith’s and Von Miller’s. Just to warn you, I bought the premium membership at Pro Football Focus, and their stats are outrageously good for football … so a lot of their findings are included.

Here’s a glossary to clarify what all we’re looking at:

QBP = QB pressures; QBH = QB Hits, MT = Missed Tackles, Stops = The number of solo defensive tackles that constitute an offensive failure (including sacks); PFF Rtg = Pro Football Focus’ overall rating. The last two categories are where each player’s team ranked in points and yards allowed.



In the 40 years that they’ve been giving out the award, only six players from non-playoff teams have ever been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Cortez Kennedy, Michael Strahan, Ed Reed and Jason Taylor), and only four players (Lester Hayes, White, Bryce Paup and Strahan) came from defenses that finished outside the top 10 in yards allowed. That’s probably the way it should be, too. Football isn’t baseball, where individuals perform one-on-one feats in a vacuum. Team performance has to have something to do with it, unless one player is far and away better than everyone else.

With that being said, let’s start checking out resumes.

Jared Allen

Why he could win: 22 sacks; outsized personality; tied with Calvin Johnson for most All-Pro votes.

Why he won’t win: He came 0.5 sacks short of tying Michael Strahan for the all-time single season record. If he surpassed Strahan he’d have a great shot at winning DPOY, but the Vikings were terrible this season.

Jason Babin

Why he could win: Babin plays on the east coast.

Why he won’t win: The Eagles were a disappointment to say the least, and one could easily argue that teammate Trent Cole had a better year.

Jason Pierre-Paul

Why he could win: The “Pierre” in his name is unique and allows people to call him “JPP,” and you can’t underestimate how much a cute nickname helps in matters like these; Pierre-Paul was the best pass rusher on the Giants, who finished tied for third in total sacks with the Ravens.

Why he won’t win: Sacks aside, the Giants aren’t actually that good at defense.

Terrell Suggs

Why he could win: Outshined teammates and perennial NFL DPOY candidates Ed Reed and Ray Lewis this year; Ravens’ defense was a top-4 group along with the Steelers, 49ers and Texans; led all candidates in forced fumbles and posted outstanding sack numbers to go along with a couple interceptions; outstanding career resume.

Why he won’t win: Hmmm … good question.

DeMarcus Ware

Why he could win: Ware’s pretty much like Allen on a better team.

Why he won’t win: The Cowboys’ collapse (and overall mediocrity on defense) will keep voters from calling Ware out as the league’s best defensive player.

Charles Woodson

Why he could win: Interceptions, reputation.

Why he won’t win: He’s amazing for a 35-year-old cornerback, but Woodson isn’t the same player he once was. Plus, the Packers’ pass defense gave up more yards than anybody, including the Patriots.

Von Miller

Why he could win: Miller had an amazing year, ranking at the top of Pro Football Focus’ list in overall rating; when the Broncos were winning despite the fact that Tim Tebow’s passes looked like they were thrown by a right-handed guy trying out his left arm for fun, it became in vogue to credit Miller and Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey for anchoring a defensive unit that was keeping Denver in games.

Why he won’t win: LT’s the only rookie to ever win NFL DPOY, and Denver’s defense wasn’t as good as people think. But unfortunately for Aldon Smith fans, Miller’s going to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Justin Smith

Why he could win: Smith’s game is unique — nobody else in this group could be considered at the top of their profession at both defensive tackle and end; taking QB pressures and hits into account, Smith was arguably the best pass rusher in the league this season, and anchored the NFL’s best run defense; Smith, Miller, Cameron Wake (44.2) and Cole (40.4) were the only defensive players with a rating over 40 from PFF (not that the voters are paying attention to everything PFF says, but it’s still worth noting).

Why he won’t win: First, Smith’s traditional stats aren’t overwhelming. Second, Smith’s been as consistent a player as any in the NFL over the past decade (Smith hasn’t missed a game in over 10 years), but this is the first season where he’s received recognition as one of the best defensive players in the league. Finally, there’s the Willis/Bowman factor, which might lead some voters to believe that the foundation of the 49ers’ defense is at middle linebacker.

The BASG DPOY goes to … (you can probably guess)

Smith should win this, even though he almost certainly won’t. Taking into account performance, durability (until the season’s last game Smith played pretty much every down for the 49ers this season), versatility, toughness, the 49ers’ overall performance (both in terms of defensive statistics as well as wins and losses), and a couple game-saving plays (the strip of Jeremy Maclin in Philadelphia the most memorable, but the bat-down of Eli Manning’s fourth down pass deserves consideration, too), Smith deserves to be known as the best of 2011.

If I had a vote, here’s how I’d rank them:

  1. Smith
  2. Suggs
  3. Miller
  4. Allen
  5. Ware


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