In recent years, Defensive Player of the Year honors has morphed into the “Best Disrupter of the Quarterback” award. Could this be the year voters finally buck that trend?
Not since 2010 when safety Troy Polamalu took home the award has a defensive back won the DPOY honors. The year prior marked the last time a corner was given the hardware, Charles Woodson. Outside of a Luke Kuechly anomaly in 2013, the rest of the decade the award has been about getting to the passer.
One of this year’s current favorites, however, is New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has dominated opposing receivers. Asked on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak and Bertrand Show on Wednesday if he’s the DPOY, Gilmore didn’t hesitate.
“I mean, my play speaks for itself,” Gilmore said, via the Boston Globe. “If you really watch the tape each and every game, it’s no question.”
Gilmore’s play has been studly this season, smothering opponents and wiping out opposing stars seemingly with ease. The rest of the secondary in New England earned fantastic seasons as well, but Gilmore’s ability to live on an island and dominate allows Bill Belichick’s defense the freedom to operate.
The raw stats back up the 29-year-old’s claim to the DPOY trophy.
His six INTs are tied for most in the NFL (with Bills corner Tre’Davious White), and he’s one of just three players with multiple pick-sixes. Gilmore’s 82 targets allowing zero touchdowns are tops in the NFL. His 32.8 passer rating when targeted this season is the second-lowest in the NFL, among CBs with a minimum 100 coverage snaps — only his teammate J.C. Jackson is lower at 28.6.
Gilmore told NFL Network’s Deion Sanders on Sunday following his 2-INT performance against Cincinnati that he actually hopes quarterbacks target him more, instead of ignoring his side of the field.
“I’m in a rhythm and I’m just daring the quarterback to throw at me and I’m just trying to make them pay…” he said. “Playing against the best guy, you have to really focus, every play is important — if you don’t play well on one play, it can cost your team. I try to focus each and every play, be in tight-coverage, try to be in great shape.”
More and more, the appreciation for the defensive backfield’s work is being appreciated, even though much of it takes place outside the TV-audience’s viewing range. While for generations, we’ve believed the rush was key to killing the passing game, newer analytics detail that tight smothering coverage like they play in New England can affect an offense more than a pass rush.
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Perhaps, in the end, an edge rusher like T.J. Watt — deserving himself — will take home the DPOY honors, but there is no question that Gilmore’s play makes the corner worthy of being the first DB in nearly a decade to win the trophy.