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Playoffs 01-05-2013 01:18 PM

ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year
2012 PFF Defensive Player of the Year
Ben Stockwell | 2013/01/03


After four months in the fall we have reached the end of another NFL regular season, and that means that it’s time to hand out the end of season awards. Unlike MVP voting which becomes a vote based around a lot of hypothetical circumstances and the perceived ‘value’ of an individual player, the award for Defensive Player of the Year is simply a matter of deciding who was the most outstanding defensive player in the league this season.

I say “simply” because this season has seen a number of defenders hit a purple patch the like of which we have never before seen in our five seasons of analyzing games. In any other year any one of five or six players would have a fair shout to be considered the league’s DPOY, but in reality three players have separated themselves this season, and one player has simply made this award his own from very early on.

In a league where veteran players are revered, and within the last 24 hours one of the greatest defensive players of all-time has called an end to his career, this year’s Defensive Player of the Year candidates all prove that in spite of the league supposedly becoming all about offense there are still some freakish defensive talents emerging. Our three top players were all drafted this decade, and even extending into our honorable mentions only one of those entered the league before 2010.

So, without further ado, here is our pick for Defensive Player of the Year, and worthy mentions to the extraordinary chasing group.

Defensive Player of the Year

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

It should surprise absolutely nobody to find out that our pick as the league’s outstanding defender for the 2012 NFL season is J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. In the past two seasons Justin Smith demonstrated just how utterly destructive a defensive end can be in a 3-4 scheme, but from the very first week of this season Watt has taken that dominance to a whole new level that before the season you might not have thought possible.

As we reach the climax to the season, Watt has become the first player to earn a single-season grade of +100.0 or more, a grade that no 3-4 defensive end had previously gotten even half way toward in a regular season. Previously a position that was perceived to be all about run defense and setting up other players by occupying blockers, Watt has followed Smith’s example and taken the theory that a 3-4 end can be the most disruptive player on the defense to new heights.

The base stats are there for all to see but they are worth repeating: as a 3-4 end he led the NFL in sacks (both by the NFL’s count and by our own count), he added 24 QB hits to those 21 sacks, batted 15 passes, recorded 72 defensive stops and missed only two tackles all season. The unbelievable level of his play and, more to the point, the consistency of his utter dominance, was nothing short of breathtaking.

The only time this season that Watt was ‘slowed’ — in relative terms — was in Chicago during Week 10 when conditions under foot, and a concerted effort by the Bears to slow him down, led to his lowest single game grade of the season of +1.9. Even then he still managed to record three pressures (a hit and two hurries, respectable numbers for most 3-4 defensive ends) and a pair of stops in the run game. For the rest of the season he graded below +5.0 only twice more, and you start to see the context there when you consider that in Smith’s ground-breaking 2010 and 2011 campaigns he graded above +5.0 only four times in each regular season.

This season was, simply put, dominance on a level that we have never seen before — outside of a couple of players that we are about to talk about. Watt was equally destructive as a run defender and as a pass rusher. His 76 total quarterback pressures are bettered only by Cameron Wake (87), Von Miller (86) and Geno Atkins (78), while his Run Stop Percentage of 17.1 is the best in the league, even beating that of rookie tackling machines Lavonte David (14.6%) and Bobby Wagner (14.4%) among defenders playing at least 200 snaps of run defense.

By any measure that you want to take to the season that Watt has just put forth, there is no weakness. If what you want is highlight-reel plays, then as a disruptor against the pass (both in terms of getting his hands to the quarterback and to passes) he is unmatched. If you are looking for consistency, the only time his performance has dropped by his own exalted standards was in a rainstorm in the Midwest when he still played well by anyone else’s standards. If you want big performances against quality opposition, then look no further than his games against the likes of Baltimore (+4.5), Denver (+5.0), and New England (+6.1) as proof that he is anything but a player who simply takes advantage of favorable matchups. Whether you are a fan who likes to look at the numbers or look at the tape, the only conclusion we or you could possibly come to is that J.J. Watt is more than deserving of this year’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.


First Runner Up

Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

Second Runner Up

Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos

Honorable Mentions

Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers


Fred 01-05-2013 02:23 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year
Well, DUH!

Playoffs 01-10-2013 12:10 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year
Add "Best Player in Football" to the list...

The Dwight Stephenson Award: PFF’s Best Player in Football
Sam Monson | 2013/01/10


Come the end of the season the whole ‘value’ part of MVP seems to screw everybody up. In most sports it tends not to be a problem, as the best players are also inherently the most valuable — but that isn’t necessarily the case in the NFL. This league is so quarterback driven that it takes a lot to view somebody other than a passer as the most valuable player.

So I say, to hell with it. Let’s create a fairer award. We’re looking to recognize not the most valuable player out there, but the best player in football in the 2012 season. So I present to you the inaugural PFF Dwight Stephenson Award, given to the NFL’s best player of the regular season.

The award is named after a player who may pre-date PFF, but doesn’t pre-date the site’s ethos. Dwight Stephenson played only eight NFL seasons for the Miami Dolphins, but was a five-time All-Pro and was selected to the All-Decade team for the 1980s. More importantly, you only have to watch a few minutes of tape to see that he was something a little bit special.

Naturally this award will come with the benefit of PFF’s unique analysis, grinding through every player on every snap of the NFL season — and have no positional prejudice whatsoever. A guard or center is every bit as likely to win this award as a quarterback, depending purely on their level of dominance and performance in the regular season.

So, let’s look at the candidates for 2012. There were some great seasons this year. Players like Richard Sherman, Evan Mathis, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and even Cameron Wake were fantastic, and in any normal season would stand a great chance of walking away with the award. Manning and Rodgers are likely two of the top three candidates for the NFL’s MVP award, but neither was quite good enough to make the final shortlist for the Dwight Stephenson Award.
Von Miller
Geno Atkins
Adrian Peterson


2012 Dwight Stephenson Award winner – J.J. Watt

So here it is, the winner of the inaugural PFF Dwight Stephenson Award — J.J. Watt.

In case you weren’t watching this season, Watt set about redefining what is possible at the 3-4 end position. People talk about how Lawrence Taylor burst into the league and changed the way people thought about 3-4 outside linebackers. You are witnessing the same thing happening now with Watt. He gave the all-time single-season sack record a close run, finishing with 20.5 sacks and actually getting to the quarterback 25 times this season. That ties him for sixth on the all-time list with L.T. himself. Watt recorded the same number of sacks in a season as one of the better performances from one of the greatest rush threats to ever play the game, and he did it from an interior line position. Make no mistake, that’s exactly where Watt played. Though the Texans moved him around, they kept him inside most of the time, with just 6.9% of his snaps coming on the edge in a four-man line.

However, Watt wasn’t just about the sacks. He batted down 15 passes on the season. The next best mark over the past five years of play is the 10 Johnny Jolly recorded in 2009. What about his play against the run? His tackles in the run game this season totaled 11 yards of gain for the offense. When Watt made a tackle in the run game the back averaged 0.16 yards, and it’s not like he was missing many tackles either, allowing just two to get away from him. He made a ridiculous 72 defensive stops, 18 better than the next best player at his position, who in turn was 13 clear of the chasing pack.

Watt became the first player to ever top 100 grading points in a single season at any position, ending the year with a farcical looking +101.7 grade on 958 snaps. This time last season we anointed Justin Smith the second-best player in football, and one of the most dominant defenders in the league, with a grade of +46.5 on the season. Watt more than doubled that, and this time last year we would have told you that there wasn’t much room for a player to be better than Smith. J.J. Watt is completely re-writing what we thought was possible from his position. We are witnessing something very special, and, if nothing else, we have witnessed the first winner of this award in action.

Value be damned. J.J. Watt was the best player in football this season. That earns him the Dwight Stephenson Award.

76Texan 01-10-2013 12:49 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year

drs23 01-10-2013 03:08 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year

guichows6 01-10-2013 09:18 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year
This makes me proud

Texan_Bill 01-10-2013 09:43 PM

Re: ProFootballFocus, 2012 Defensive Player Of the Year
MEH........ The overall national *ahem* perception will be Aldon Smith...

Well duh, the Niners are way more sexier than the Texans. :kitten:

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