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Aaron Donald

TDN’s 2021 NFL Defensive Player Of The Year Is…

  • The Draft Network
  • January 12, 2022
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While we are still a few weeks away from the NFL unveiling its official award winners for the 2021 season, we here at The Draft Network feel like there’s no need to wait. The regular season has concluded and the final resumes for players and coaches have been submitted. Let’s pick some winners! The TDN staff put together their ballots for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year. The Offensive Player of the Year award was intentionally omitted to make the MVP race a little more interesting. More than a dozen TDN scouts and writers submitted their ballots listing the top five players/coaches for each category. First-place votes received five points, second-place votes received four points, and so on and so forth. Tie-breakers were decided in the following order: Number of first-place votes, number of ballot appearances, number of second-place votes. Let’s get to it! Below, you will see the list of every player who received at least one vote from a TDN staff member. Here is how the voting shook out for Defensive Player of the Year, starting with our winner.    


1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Points
T.J. Watt 9 1 3 - - 58
Micah Parsons 2 3 4 1 1 45
Aaron Donald 3 1 5 3 - 37
Myles Garrett - 2 2 5 1 25
Trevon Diggs - - - 2 4 8
Robert Quinn - - 1 2 1 8
J.C. Jackson - - - 1 2 4
Maxx Crosby - 1 - - - 4
Darius Leonard - - - - 2 2
Nick Bosa - - - 1 - 2
A.J. Terrell - - - - 1 1
Trey Hendrickson - - - - 1 1

2021 NFL DPOY: T.J. Watt

Key Stats: 22.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 21 TFLs, 39 QB hits Why T.J. Watt Deserved To Be DPOY Justin Melo: The most productive pass rusher in the NFL this year, Watt recorded an astounding 22.5 sacks throughout the regular season. Watt’s takedown of Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley in Week 18 allowed him to equalize the all-time single-season sack record set by New York Giants great and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Michael Strahan in 2001. Watt appeared unlikely to flirt with the record just a couple of weeks ago, but a staggering four-sack performance against the lowly Cleveland Browns in Week 17 gave Watt an opportunity to rewrite the record books and the former Wisconsin defender did just that. The addition of a 17th regular-season game undoubtedly helped Watt get there, but it doesn't take away from the truly historic and elite season he's managed to string together. The Steelers surprisingly qualified for the playoffs, a fact that should help boost Watt’s candidacy here. Ryan Fowler: Tying the single-season all-time sack record, Watt is in his own class this fall. One of the true freak athletes in our game, there isn’t a single offense that has been able to figure out how to block the Pittsburgh Steelers’ edge threat since he entered the league. He continues to get better, and better. Jack McKessy: T.J. Watt was a couple of inches away from becoming the NFL’s all-time, single-season sack record holder. That isn’t because he missed the tackle in question by a few inches, but it’s because the snapped ball touched Baltimore center Bradley Bozeman’s rear end. When Watt tackled Huntley in the backfield, it was just a tackle for a loss on a runner, not a sack of the quarterback. Nevertheless, Watt gets the vote here. Tying a 20-year-old record after missing two games in a season is an incredible accomplishment, and Watt did just that with his 22.5 sacks. He was the definition of a game-wrecker this season, recording a sack in all but four of his 15 games. Watt was also tied for fourth in the NFL with his five forced fumbles, as well—all while missing two games! It was one of the best edge-rushing performances in NFL history, so I had to give Watt my vote here. Dissenting Opinion(s) Jaime Eisner (Aaron Donald): Aaron Donald is the most dominant defender in the NFL. Period. He's won this award in three of the last four seasons so there may be some fatigue from voters. Still, the dude was double-teamed as much if not more than any other defensive lineman in the NFL and still had the highest pass-rush win rate. He was worth more than a full win above replacement... as a DT! On top of all that, he still had 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 19 TFLs. Crissy Froyd (Micah Parsons): It’s hard to hand this award to anyone else. Parsons has been an elite player for the Cowboys—a team that has had a defensive unit that has bailed the offense out at certain points this season—early on in his career and he’s done it regardless of where they have put him. There is something to be said about the transition from college football to the NFL, but you wouldn’t know that looking at Parsons’ play as he’s recorded 84 total tackles (64 solo), 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defended.

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