Aaron Donald DPOY

Defensive Player of the Year Race: Interior Defensive Linemen

  • aaron donald
  • Awards
  • Chris Jones
  • Defensive Player of the Year
  • Defensive Tackle
  • DeForest Buckner
  • DPOY
  • IDL
  • Interior Defensive Lineman
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • NFL Awards
  • NFL Honors
By Mitchell Wolfe January 9, 2021 0 Comment
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As the 2020 NFL regular season draws to a close and moves into the playoffs, it is time to start discussing awards. Obviously, the Defensive Player of the Year award is one of the most coveted individual awards. The NFL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award has changed to a quarterback-exclusive honor. Therefore, the Defensive Player of the Year award is the highest achievement a defender can reach in a given season.

Over the next week, this series of articles will detail several players with the strongest cases for the Defensive Player of the Year. Each article will tackle (pun intended) a different position group. During the week of the NFL Honors awards presentation, a final list will be made with the most deserving candidates.

In the last piece, TJ Watt advanced from the Edge Rushers position group. This piece will discuss the most-deserving Interior Defensive Linemen (IDL). Or, honestly, Lineman.

Note: All statistics from Pro Football Reference

DPOY Honorable Mentions: Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs; DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts

I’ll get the honorable mentions for Defensive Player of the Year out of the way first. Both Chris Jones and DeForest Buckner turned in excellent seasons in 2020. Jones, in his first year under a new contract, was the centerpiece of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. In 15 games, Jones terrorized quarterbacks, racking up 7.5 sacks, 28 QB hits (4th most), and 43 pressures (2nd most). He also recorded a 90.3 Overall PFF Grade, and a 93.3 Pass Rush grade, both good for second-highest among all IDL.

DeForest Buckner also played the first year of his new contract in 2020. Unlike Jones, Buckner played his first year with his new team, the Indianapolis Colts. He also balled out, especially in rushing the passer. Buckner recorded 9.5 sacks (t-9th most), 26 QB hits (t-6th most), 13 QB knockdowns (t-6th most), and 27 pressures. He also made 10 TFLs, deflected three passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered one. Additionally, Buckner graded out very well according to PFF. 89.7 Overall (4th among IDL), 71.7 Run Defense (26th), and 90.2 Pass Rush (4th).

While both Jones and Buckner produced very good years for their teams, there’s no realistic universe where they can win Defensive Player of the Year. It is not a poor reflection on them; rather, it’s simply because they are playing in the same era as one of the most dominant football players in history.

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Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams

16 games, 16 games, 825 snaps at 95%. 45 tackles (t-21st among IDL), 27 solo (t-17th among IDL), 14 TFLs (t-4th), 13.5 sacks (2nd), 26 QB hits (t-6th), 4 forced fumbles (t-3rd, 1 recovered), 1 pass defended. 15 hurries (t-7th), 12 QB knockdowns (t-7th), 42 pressures (3rd). PFF Grades: 94.5 Overall (1st among IDL, DL, Defense, t-1st among all players with Aaron Rodgers). 90.4 Run Defense (1st among IDL, 2nd among all DL), 93.6 Pass Rush (1st among IDL, 1st among all DL). 24% Pass Rush Win Rate (1st among IDL and 5th among all DL).

As previously mentioned, there’s really no point in discussing anyone other Interior Defensive Linemen when it comes to DPOY. Since his rookie year in 2014, Aaron Donald has been the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. He has made the Pro Bowl every single year and has been named First-Team All-Pro five times (will most likely make it six this year). Donald has already won DPOY twice (2017, 2018), and was elected to the All-Decade Team for the 2010s.

Donald’s statistics in 2020 make him a very likely candidate to win DPOY for the third time. He recorded his second-highest sack total (13.5), which was also the second-highest number of sacks this season. He was also top-five in TFLs, forced fumbles, and pressures. Donald also reached elite levels in his PFF Grades. He recorded a 94.5 Overall grade, which was the highest among all defensive players. His grade tied Aaron Rodgers’ for the highest in the entire league. Donald was also first among IDL in Run Defense (90.4) and Pass Rush (93.6). He was the only player with both Run Defense and Pass Rush grades above 83. Donald’s Pass Rush Win Rate of 24% was first among IDL and 5th among IDL and Edge rushers.

Because of his statistical dominance, Aaron Donald is the obvious first choice among IDL for Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, his elite play versus the run and the pass makes him the only worthy candidate from this position group. Therefore, Donald advances to the final list of candidates, joining TJ Watt, for Defensive Player of the Year.


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I cover and write about the NFL, the NFL Draft, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am originally from Hershey, PA and was raised a Pittsburgh sports fan. I went to Boston College for undergrad and am currently finishing a Master's degree in Sports Business at Temple University, concentrating in Sport Analytics.


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