The Pro Football Writers Association of America announced their post-season NFL awards yesterday, among them of course being the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Despite being a very strong candidate, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt was passed over in favor of Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle of the Los Angeles Rams, who has already been the Defensive Player of the Year twice.
The Associated Press is regarded as the ‘official’ awards, so to speak, and those results will not be revealed in a couple of weeks, but Pro Football Focus—who of course have no pull at all and just like to put out awards like so many other outlets—also joined the PFWA in naming Donald over Watt as the Defensive Player of the Year.
“Donald is the best player in the NFL; ergo he is also Defensive Player of the Year”, Sam Monson wrote. “You can certainly build an argument for other players, but Donald not receiving this award on an annual basis only occurs only through voter fatigue — being bored or jaded with one guy winning it over and over again”.
During the 2020 season, Donald recorded 45 tackles, including 14 for loss. He finished with 13.5 sacks and 27 quarterback hits, with four forced fumbles and one recovery. In comparison, Watt (in 15 games) recorded 53 tackles with 23 for loss, 15 sacks, 41 hits, an interception, and two forced fumbles. His sack and tackles for loss totals ranked first in the NFL.
You can argue that Watt had just as good a season or better in 2019 than he did in 2020, and he didn’t win the award then, either—though neither did Donald, as it went to the New England Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore, who led the league in interceptions.
Watt was, of course, named an honorable mention by PFF for the award. He was also named an honorable mention for the best pass-rusher award—again, coming in second to Donald. Ben Roethlisberger finished as an honorable mention to Alex Smith for the comeback player of the year award.
Truthfully, there is a really good chance that this is how it ends up playing out when the AP puts out their awards. Anybody who watched Donald play knows how dominant he is, and he would certainly be deserving if he is given the award. But so too would Watt. And voters should never vote based on whether or not one player was given the award too many times already if they were earned.