Now we get to the top three awards, beginning with the DPotY. For much of the season, media and fan focus on defense was directed at the pursuit of the sack record by Aldon Smith and JJ Watt, with Von Miller not far behind. And while some consider sacks to be an overrated statistic (as it is not reflective of the amount of total quarterback pressure applied by a team), it is certainly something that grabs our attention and keeps us interested in defensive players. But there were many good defensive stories in 2012, and our nominees reflect the best defensive accomplishments across the league this season.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Our nominees in this category included NaVorro Bowman (SF), Chad Greenway (MIN), Tim Jennings (CHI), Luke Kuechly (CAR), James Laurinaitis (STL), Jerod Mayo (NE), Von Miller (DEN), Patrick Peterson (ARI), Aldon Smith (SF), and JJ Watt (HOU).
3rd Place – Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith finished second in the sack race with 19.5 sacks on the year, but is a disruptive presence well beyond his sack production. Smith tallied 66 combined tackles, one interception, and three forced fumbles in addition to his pursuit of Michael Strahan’s single season record. But playing alongside NaVorro Bowman, who racked up 149 combined tackles and who was also a disruptive presence for the 49ers’ defense, clearly hurt Smith in the voting.
2nd Place – Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Miller had 68 combined tackles to go along with his 18.5 sacks, one interception, and six forced fumbles as he helped bring the Broncos’ defense back to respectability after the unit struggled at the end of the 2011 season. Miller has quickly established himself as one of the game’s elite pass rushers, accumulating 30.0 sacks in his two NFL seasons.
WINNER – JJ Watt, Houston Texans
If you look up “disruptive” in a dictionary, you just might see this picture next to the definition. Watt was an amazing force in 2011, particularly after the Texans lost defensive anchor Brian Cushing for the season. Watt amassed 81 combined tackles, 20.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and an incredible 16 passes defended as the Texans posted a 12-4 record and won the AFC South for the second year in a row. In his two seasons in the NFL, Watt has established himself as a player for whom game plans must be developed. Because of his knack for batting balls down at the line of scrimmage, he was nicknamed “JJ Swatt” by former NFL head coach Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football.