Everyone loves J.J. Watt, but can he beat the football odds and win his fourth AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in five seasons? Only if his back holds up.
The best candidate doesn't always win the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. It's just like any other vote: a popularity contest. In this case, it's 50 AP sportswriters deciding who wins the award. And the writers love them some J.J. Watt. The star Houston Texans defensive end has won this vote three times (2012, 2014, 2015) in the last four years. At press time, Watt is the 11-4 favorite on this year's NFL odds board at Bet365.
Okay, it's not just the sportswriters. Fellow NFL players named Watt the best player in the entire league before the 2015 campaign, and No. 3 overall going into the new season. But writers and players alike have this thing for defensive ends – almost as much as they do for linebackers. It's just wrong. The most important defensive position, as Robert Weintraub laid out brilliantly for Slate back in 2007, is safety. Then it's tackle, followed by linebackers, ends, and way down the list (after kickers and punters overall), the cornerbacks.
Yes, but who's this Weintraub guy, anyway? He doesn't write for the NFL. Here's how Bucky Brooks listed the defensive positions in order of importance last year:
Right end/outside linebacker
Left end/outside linebacker
There you go. The NFL is definitely more pass-happy that it was nine years ago, but this particular list goes way too far in emphasizing the importance of the two defenders at the start (the pass rushers) and at the end (the corner) of a long throw to the right side of the field – given a right-handed quarterback. Not surprising, really. It also helps a player's profile when he can rack up big numbers; Watt had 20.5 sacks in 2002 and 2014, and 17.5 last year.
The Final Cut
Anyway, this bias toward the pass rush has been around since they started handing out Defensive POY honors back in 1971. Here's the breakdown of winners:
Hoo boy. The last safety to win was Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, back in 2010. The others: Bob Sanders (2007), Ed Reed (2004), Kenny Easley (1984) and Dick Anderson (1973). Good thing Polamalu got famous by doing all those shampoo commercials.
Which brings us back to Watt. He's on everyone's TV all the time endorsing something or other, so voters will be thinking about him non-stop throughout the year. That's assuming he plays, mind you. Watt just underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. He could return for the start of the season, but the latest chatter says it'll be 8-10 weeks. So we'll be putting Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly in our NFL picks instead. He's another media darling, and he should be ready to play after having surgery on a partially torn labrum back in February. Stay healthy, my friends, and may the prolate spheroid be with you.
Free NFL Pick: Luke Kuechly (10-1)
Best Line Offered: at Bet365