PREDICTING THE DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

BY ADAM GREENE

Our Defensive Player of the Year for 2020, if you went only by your Twitter feed, came down to the wire last season as Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald eked by Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt to claim the award.

Of course, that was just Twitter. In actuality, it was never close. Watt ended the season with 15 sacks to lead the league to go with 53 tackles. Donald had 13.5 sacks to go with 45 tackles. Watt did that while getting double teamed around 16 percent of the time with a 23.6 percent pass rush win rate. Donald was double teamed more than 70 percent of the time with a 25.1 percent pass rush win rate.

Watt is playing at an elite level other players at his position have reached before. Donald is doing things only one man has ever done before. And that man is Aaron Donald.

So where does Donald, the guy that’s won the award three out of the last four seasons, land on the odds? It might surprise you.

Here’s your contenders according to the odds:

Myles Garrett +300

Aaron Donald +550

Chase Young +900

T.J. Watt +1000

Nick Bosa +1200

Joey Bosa +1600

Khalil Mack +2000

Devin White +2200

Derwin James +2800

Darius Leonard +3300

J.J. Watt +3300

Bobby Wagner +3300

Jalen Ramsey +3300

Minkah Fitzpatrick +3300

Shaquil Barrett +3300

Von Miller +3300

Xavien Howard +4000

Chandler Jones +4000

Jamal Adams +4000

Marcus Peters +4000

Demarcus Lawrence +4000

Tre’Davious White +4000

Tyrann Mathieu +4000

Danielle Hunter +4000

Stephon Gilmore +4000

Jason Pierre-Paul +4000

Za’Darius Smith +5000

Patrick Peterson +5000

Leonard Williams +5000

Chris Jones +5000

Jadeveon Clowney +6600

Devin Bush +6600

Deforest Buckner +6600

Cameron Jordan +6600

Richard Sherman +6600

Bud Dupree +6600

Trey Hendrickson +6600

Fletcher Cox +6600

Montez Sweat +6600

Brian Burns +6600

Frank Clark +6600

Darius Slay +10000

Kyle Van Noy +10000

Myles Garrett (+300) as the favorite is an interesting choice, as he did not match either Donald or Watt last year statistically or even in his career. Last year, Garrett had 12 sacks, 48 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. A great one, a Pro Bowl and All Pro season. Still, it’s not in the DPotY league.

Does that make Aaron Donald (+550) the best bet again? Yes, barring injury and even with a new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris taking over for Brandon Staley, Donald is definitely the smart money pick and considering they’re giving you +550, be thankful and jump on it as soon as you can. Frankly, it’s the closest to a sure thing as you’re going to get in any of these postseason awards races and, if Donald somehow doesn’t win it, like he didn’t in 2019, when he had just as good a season as he did last year but the Rams didn’t make the playoffs, you’ll at least know you made the wisest choice with your cash.

Is there anyone else on the list worth looking at? Sure. Regardless of what Donald does on the inside, if a guy like T.J. Watt (+1000) hits 20 or more sacks, he’ll probably take the hardware. Chase Young of the Washington Football Team is third in the odds, but the guy never hit double digits last season. He could have a breakthrough year and still not reach 15 sacks.

It’s interesting that the guys not named Aaron Donald that recently won it, Stephon Gilmore (+4000), J.J. Watt (+3300) and Khalil Mack (+2000) aren’t top contenders, though Mack is seventh in the odds. Mack, with the Chicago Bears, would need a serious bounce back season. He’s not hit double digit sacks since 2018. Gilmore is in a contract impasse with the New England Patriots and is currently on their “injured” list. Watt hasn’t been fully healthy since 2018 and that was after two nearly lost seasons. He’s played just two full 16-game slates twice since 2015, including last year when he amassed just five sacks, but did have 52 tackles with 14 for a loss.

Richard Sherman (+6600) is still a free agent and not likely to sign anywhere after getting arrested recently with what appears to be some kind of mental health issue. Frank Clark (+6600) of the Kansas City Chiefs will probably open the season on the NFL’s Commissioner’s Exempt List as a defacto suspension after getting busted with an illegal firearm in the back of his car. You can go ahead and mark through both of those guys.

WFT’s Montez Sweat (+6600) had nine sacks and 45 tackles last season, not enough to get into the mix if he matches it this year. And he probably won’t, as he’s made his disdain for the COVID-19 vaccine known and Washington is one of the least vaccinated teams in the league. It’ll be a miracle if he plays a full season without catching the plague.

Is there any dark horses worth looking at? I can’t see Jalen Ramsey (+3300) getting the stats required, as teams will just not throw at him in LA’s defense. The best option I have for you is Von Miller (+3300), coming back from injury with the Denver Broncos. A healthy Miller is almost guaranteed to put up a double-digit sack total in 16 games. In his second season he picked up 18.5 sacks, which last year might have won it, regardless of what Donald was able to do. If Miller can hit 20, and he has the capability, there’s no way that can be ignored.

But all this is to just come back to my original thought here and that’s Donald. If he plays a full season, in the Rams’ defense which was ranked No. 1 in the league last year largely because of what he does, it will take a superhuman effort from some other guy to overtake him for Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t see it happening.

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