In the Late 195os the Associated Press had a short-lived award called the NFL Lineman of the Year award. This award was fascinating for a handful of reasons, 1.) It was only awarded after the season for the 1956 to the 1959 seasons – very short lived indeed, 2.) The definition of “Lineman” lineman was quite vague, with offensive lineman, defensive linemen, linebackers and wide receivers all receiving votes, 3.) The award itself explicitly carved out running backs and quarterbacks, who were then – as they are now - typical MVP or Player of the Year Award Winners, and finally, 4.) For the last three of the four years the award was issued – the previous season’s runner up won the award.
|AP Lineman of the Year Winners. Graphic by PFJ|
More interesting yet; given that a true defensive player of the year award wouldn’t be awarded for almost another decade and a half, this gives one an opportunity to understand who might have been viewed as each season’s best defensive player. Let’s look season by season. First, we remove the Offensive players from the mix, second, we consider whether any non-front seven players may have been considered, finally we name our own revised Defensive Players of the Year.
The best front-seven players, as directly voted on were:
1956: Joe Schmidt
1957: Joe Schmidt
1958: Gino Marchetti
1959: Sam Huff
In order to determine which Defensive backs should be considered in the mix we go again to the voting, but this time the vote tallies for the AP All-Pro teams, did any
defensive backs approach the vote counts that the Defensive Lineman of the Year Winner did
on the All-Pro Team? Note that since the
AP officially began issuing a Defensive Player of the Year Award, the quartet
representing the typical defensive backfield – 36% OR 4 OF 11 Defensive players
– have only won 23% of Defensive MVP’s, and half of those winners lead their
team to a Super Bowl in that season.
More over the next few days and weeks as we’ll drill into the 1956 – 1959 award picture to arrive at our Pro Football Journal Defensive Players of the Year.