NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

Although history dictates that it is not impossible for a defensive player to win MVP, defensive players typically look forward to the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. And this year during the 10th Annual NFL Honors awards ceremony, Aaron Donald was named the 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Who won the Defensive Player of the Year award?

Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

Over the last few seasons, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has become one of the most dominant players in the NFL. Unsurprisingly, the 6’1″, 280-pound monster has been voted the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice in the past three years. He is arguably as valuable to the Rams as Patrick Mahomes is to the Kansas City Chiefs.

This year has been no exception. Donald has been at the heart of a Rams’ defense that ranked number one in pass defense and points allowed. Furthermore, the Rams ranked third in run defense and 10th in turnovers forced in 2020.

Donald ranked in the top 10 in most defensive metrics in 2020. His 13.5 sacks were the second-most in the NFL. Additionally, Donald tallied 28 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for loss, ranking fourth and sixth, respectively.

Other NFL Defensive Player of the Year Candidates

T.J. Watt, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers

The 2020 season was the one that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt emerged from the shadow of big brother J.J. Watt. Based on statistics alone, it would be difficult to argue against T.J. as the favorite for the 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers led the NFL in sacks (15) and quarterback hits (41). Additionally, his 23 tackles for loss also led the NFL.

Watt had a dominant and explosive season for the Steelers. As a result, the Steelers had one of the most consistent defenses in the 2020 season. They ranked third in points allowed, third in pass defense, and 11th in run defense. More impressively, they forced the second-highest amount of turnovers in the NFL.

If Watt won, he would’ve become the eighth Pittsburgh player to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins

As the Miami Dolphins made an unlikely push for the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs, it was the defense rather than the offense that propelled them to success. Although they ranked middle to bottom half of the NFL in rush and pass defensive yards given up per game, they gave up the sixth-fewest points.

Brian Flores’ team had a true bend but don’t break defense. Furthermore, they excelled in forcing turnovers, ranking first in the league.

An integral part of that success was the play of cornerback Xavien Howard. The fifth-year cornerback led the NFL in interceptions for the second time in his career. However, he achieved double-digit interceptions for the first time. Additionally, Howard’s 20 pass breakups led the league.

Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although all focus will be on Tom Brady at Super Bowl LV, ultimately, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ strength rests with their defense. Their front seven has been one of the most ferocious units in the NFL this season. At the heart of it is linebacker Devin White. The LSU product has begun to pay back the Buccaneers’ investment of the fifth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft this year.

White has emerged as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL. He led all players at the position in quarterback hits in 2020. His ability to be an explosive and disruptive force is demonstrated by his 9 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Most impressively, he ranks third in the NFL for solo tackles with 97.

White’s tough tackling is one reason why Tampa Bay has the best run defense in the league. Additionally, they’ve only allowed the eighth-fewest points this season and forced the fifth-most turnovers.

Trey Hendrickson, DE, New Orleans Saints

While NFL offensive lines have been busy trying to contain Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson put together an NFL Defensive Player of the Year-worthy campaign. The fourth-year player out of FAU tripled his career production in just one season.

Hendrickson’s 25 quarterback hits and 13.5 sacks ranked in the top 10 of all defensive players in the NFL this last season. He also added 12 tackles for loss and forced a fumble from the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Saints had one of the best defenses in the league in 2020. Hendrickson’s role in that unit earned him consideration for the 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Who has won the most Defensive Player of the Year awards in NFL history?

Although there are many variations of the award, the most commonly recognized is the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Aaron Donald won his third at the 10th Annual Honors — he joins New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt with the most Defensive Player of the Year awards in NFL history.

Taylor won in back-to-back years in 1981-1982 before securing his third in 1986. Watt won three in the space of four years between 2012 and 2015, losing out to St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn in 2013.

In addition to the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Kansas City Committee of 101 gives out NFC and AFC Player of the Year awards. Last year the “101 Awards” AFC Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, went on to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at the NFL Honors ceremony.

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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and NFL analytics contributor for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.


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