While the ballots have already been cast for the Associated Press’ annual league-wide awards, it doesn’t mean the rest of us are any more knowledgeable about their final decisions. Aside from the Most Valuable Player, which has essentially had Peyton Manning etched on it since the opening week of the season, the rest of the awards are still a complete mystery. No honor may be more of a “toss up” than Defensive Player of the Year, with no obvious breakaway candidate, like J.J. Watt last season. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of worthy candidates, though.
Robert Mathis ended the season as the league leader in both sacks and forced fumbles. J.J. Watt was, once again, the most dominant force in the game, and finished the season with a position-high 67 defensive stops and the highest overall grade in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Richard Sherman led all defensive backs in interceptions and allowed a league-low 47.3 passer rating when thrown at in coverage this season. Even Luke Kuechly and Navorro Bowman managed put up impressive numbers, all while leading their top defensive units into the playoffs.
However, there is still only one player that can be crowned the Defensive Player of the Year, an award given to the most outstanding individual performer of the season. Without question, that player was Robert Quinn.
By this point, most have heard his numbers regurgitated enough to have them lodged in your memory: 19.0 sacks, seven forced fumbles, two recoveries, and one defensive touchdown. However, sometimes those bland, raw numbers do not paint the whole picture. For those, we have to turn to some more “complex” analyses. So, just how dominant was Robert Quinn as a pass rusher?
The chart above shows the top sack leaders from each of typically dominant pass rushing positions: Robert Quinn (leader among 4-3 DE), Robert Mathis (leader among 3-4 OLB), Greg Hardy (second among 4-3 DE), and Cameron Jordan (leader among 3-4 DE). This elite group of individual pass rushers were all invited to the Pro Bowl, albeit some as alternates, and all but Jordan were named to an AP All-Pro team . So, who do they stack up?
Well, when we include the number of pass rushing attempts for each player, the comparison isn’t really that close. Robert Quinn managed, by far, the fewest attempts among the four players, and still dominated in nearly every statistical category. That discrepancy is even greater when you look at the number of pass rush attempts it look, on average, to accumulate those numbers. For Quinn, on every 30 attempts, he essentially tallied one sack, one hit, and three hurries on the quarterback.
However, sometimes looking within a single year can shield us from truly “great” performances that have occurred in previous seasons. So, how would Robert Quinn stack up to some of the top season-long performances over the last half-decade?
In that grouping, you would have to include J.J. Watt in 2012, leading the league with 20.5 sacks on way to earning Defensive Player of the Year last season. In 2011, Jared Allen nearly eclipsed the all-time, single-season sack record, tallying 22.0 sacks and earning 1st-Team All-Pro honors. Lastly, dating back to 2008, DeMarcus Ware managed arguable the most dominant season in his Hall of Famer career, managing 20.0 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Even stacked side-by-side against three of the most dominant performances since 2008, Robert Quinn still puts them to shame in terms of his shear pass rushing figures. Impressive!
However, Defensive Player of the Year is not just about dominating one aspect of the game. Last year, J.J. Watt not only managed to lead the league in sacks, but also lead all defensive linemen in tackles and batted passes, and led the league in total defensive stops. While Robert Quinn cannot stack up to those exact standards, he did finish the season looking pretty stout. On the season he:
- Ranked 5th among defensive linemen in defensive stops
- Ranked 9th among 4-3 defensive ends in tackles
- Finished 2nd-lowest in missed tackles among defensive linemen that played 750+ defensive snaps
- Finished with the 3rd-highest”run defense” grade among 4-3 defensive ends; 12th among all defensive linemen
Needless to say, none of the other “top pass rushing” candidates for 2013 finished with similar accolades. In fact, Robert Mathis ranked outside of the Top 10 as his position as a run defender; 13th among 3-4 outside linebackers, to be exact.
To conclude, not only did Robert Quinn put on an individual pass rushing performance that trumps even the “greats” of the last half-decade, he complimented those numbers with a dominating performance against the run. His season has already broken the St. Louis Rams franchise single-season record for sacks, earned him an AP 1st-Team All-Pro designation, sent him to his first Pro Bowl (including getting voted as one of the four “captains” of the game), and honored him as the Professional Football Writers of America’s Defensive Player of the Year. It is only fitting that he cap it off this weekend by being named the AP Defensive Player of the Year; an honor that he truly, truly deserves.