Aaron Donald has won the AP Defensive Player of the Year (AP DPOY) three of the last four years. He is certainly in the running this year but there is competition if you follow social media, especially Twitter.
Donald is as dominant as ever, his stats are similar, the sacks, the pressures, quarterback hurries, the holds he draws (called or uncalled). He passes every eye test when you watch him play. He draws the double-teams and sometimes gets three hats on him. He's strong, slippery, and is also coming on strong at the end of this season.
Dallas fans and media are pushing rookie Micah Parsons who is making a big impact in Cowboys games. he's totaled 12 sacks (Lawrence Taylor totaled 9.5 in his rookie season when he won his first AP DOPY award). We are not, of course, comparing Taylor's career with Parsons, just their initial seasons.
Parsons is an off-the-ball linebacker in the Cowboys base defense with run-stopping and coverage responsibilities but in passing situations he lines up on the edge, or in a joker spot, rushing from the interior as a blitzer. He's got plenty of hurries, pressures from all the services that track them.
The cornerbacks in play are Jalen Ramsey and Trevon Diggs (10 picks). Diggs has given up a lot of yardage but Dallas plays more man coverage than the Rams, who are mostly a zone team. Ramsey has played a lot of nickel or "star'" as they call it and has 8.5 stuffs—tackles behind the line of scrimmages to go with his three picks. But,. he does not get challenged that much.
Bosa gets the least ink (pixels) but his numbers and eye test are as good as the other two. He has 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 45 pressures (source: PFR). He also has five stuffs.
Garrett also has five stuffs, 45 pressures, one forced fumble and 15 sacks. T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks though he's missed time has 42 pressures (again according to PFR), four forced fumbles, and has recovered three.
There are others having good years, but we've outlined what we think are the front-runners.
In our view, the award will be won in the next games, whoever has the best stretch run will get it. There is not enough to separate anyone in terms of numbers. The edge guys are neck-and-neck with maybe Watt having a slight lead. The corners are different one a shutdown type the other a ballhawk in the Everson Walls category.
Then there is Donald. A marvel.
As for Donald, we think most would concede he's the best defensive player in the NFL. The question is does the best player always have the best year? And if so is Donald having the best year of all those players? Not up to us, the voters make that decision.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the best players in the National and American leagues were Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Mays won two MVP awards and Mantle three. If one looks back to their careers with the 20/20 vision of metrics like the several versions of WAR or WARP, Win Shares, Total Player Rantings and so one you'll see mays and Mantle were qualified to have won many more MVP awards—
However, back then being on a winning team was important to the baseball writers who voted on the MVP. Also, historical achievement played a part. Mays lost out to Maury Wills in 1962 in part because Wills stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb's record of 96.
Sometimes Mays had a great year and the Giants (late in their New York days) were not very good. So he wasn't even in the consideration for the MVP. Obviously, the writers had their own metrics and it didn't include WAR.
Mantle, of course, lost out to Roger Maris and his 61 homers in 1961. So it goes.
Donald may very well win his fourth. We've concluded that he's the GOAT of his position, either way. He's completed eight seasons and his peak has been amazing, equal to the Mount Rushmore of defensive tackles, Bob Lilly, Joe Greene, Merlin Olsen, and Alan Page. Those players, however, had very solid post-peak years and it is there we may get some pushback.
It begs the question—How many years of service does Donald need for others to agree with us? Ten, twelve. A totally fair question.
But we have Jim Brown, still, as the number one running back with nine years in. Dwight Stephenson is our number one center with eight. Butkus is still our number one MLB with nine.
People could say Mike Webster, 17 years, and Ray Lewis, also 17 years, deserve the number one spot because they played so much longer and they would not be wrong. Reasonable people can disagree. It's a question of peak vs. longevity. We mostly go with peak—quality over quantity when you must choose between the two.
So, right or wrong, Mount Rushmore of defensive tackles now has five faces.
Back to voter fatigue. we could be totally wrong. We're just reading tea leaves. Or Tweet leaves. We will see in February but as mentioned, really, there is work to do for all of the top defenders and someone could legitimately earn it and Donald will be a Mays/Mantle where he is the best, but someone just had a better season. And there is no shame in that. After all Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Roger Maris had some wonderful seasons, too.