2013 PFF Defensive Player of the Year

In a league that is clearly being shifted to favor the offense, Sam Monson presents the PFF Defensive Player of the Year and his elite competition for the year.

| 3 years ago

2013 PFF Defensive Player of the Year

2013-DPOYThe 2013 season was a year of fine defensive performances and even though the league continues to become even more pass-happy and offensive records continue to fall, defenders have risen to the challenge. The MVP this season seems like a formality with Peyton Manning the odds-on favorite, but there is a good case to be made that all of the most dominant seasons this year came from defenders.

There are plenty of great seasons to choose from, but in truth the award itself is a two-horse race, with two defenders standing head and shoulders above not only everybody at their respective positions, but above the other award candidates as well.

Several players are going to fall into the category of ‘in any other season…’ when we discuss their credentials. It’s worth remembering everybody mentioned on this list had a great season, and critiquing their candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year is less an indictment of them as it is an endorsement of the standard set by some.

So let’s dive into how the PFF ballot looks for DPOY:

2nd and 3rd Runners Up

Gerald McCoy, DT, and Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We here at PFF think the DPOY this year is clearly a two-horse race. Still, there are another two candidates whose seasons are worthy of discussion above the rest of the field. While they aren’t quite in the running for the award itself and they both play in the same team. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David have both had All-Pro caliber seasons and been the best players at their respective positions in the NFL, but neither has quite hit the heady heights of the players above them.

2013-DPOY-mccoy-davidBoth ironically had impact plays all around this year despite very little help around them. That seems silly to say given that they have each other, not to mention Darrelle Revis, on the team. Tampa Bay seems to have secured itself one stud at every level of the defense, but each guy has very little help from elsewhere in their unit. Revis has been trapped in a zone scheme that hangs him out to dry while other players fail to hold up their end of the bargain. David has been a stud while the other full-time starter, Mason Foster, has struggled. Tampa Bay plays in sub-packages most of the time and no other LB has more than 275 snaps and McCoy has been dominant with nobody else inside taking pressure off him.

McCoy’s grade this season grade is a massive +56.3 but the rest of the Tampa Bay defensive linemen have combined for a -84.4 grade with every single member grading negatively. Even J.J. Watt in Houston has Antonio Smith to keep a defense honest, but opposing blockers have had literally nobody in Tampa Bay to distract them from focusing on McCoy, and he has still been unstoppable. He finished with 80 total pressures and that is a figure bettered by only four other players who are composed of  three edge rushers and Watt – almost twenty better than the NFL’s sack champion Robert Mathis, as an interior rusher.

David has been similarly dominant behind him but is held back as much by his position as anything. Though interior rushers can at least in theory affect most plays, there are plenty of plays that a 4-3 OLB has no hope of ever influencing. Teams can avoid a stud at that spot more easily than any of the guys at the line of scrimmage and David has done close to as well as he could have been expected to. His 53 defensive stops are 18 clear of the rest of the pack at his position and the rate at which he notched those stops was comfortably better than the rest.

Both David and McCoy had fantastic seasons, worthy of consideration, but neither can quite live up to the standard set this season for DPOY.

1st Runner Up

Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

Everybody always knew that Robert Quinn had supreme talent, but this year was the first time we’ve seen him unleash all of it all year long. He became the most devastating edge rusher in the game, speeding around tackles to the quarterback at a rate we haven’t seen since Dwight Freeney was at his peak. Quinn’s burst off the line and ability to turn the corner at full speed propelled him to 91 total pressures on the year, a league-leading figure.

2013-DPOY-quinnHis grade was a ridiculous 280% better than that of the next best player at his position, Miami’s Cameron Wake, himself a pretty fearsome pass rusher. Quinn was in a league of his own when it comes to edge pressure. He routinely turned the corner on tackles in two seconds, the kind of time that destroys passing games.

While all the numbers stack up for Quinn there is another side to his play. His grade is built primarily on absolutely destroying bad offensive tackles. He eviscerated players not at his level like nobody we have seen in recent years. He had five games this season that rank in the top 1% of grades PFF has ever given and a trio of three games. The problem is that against better opposition he is relatively quiet. He wasn’t blanked in any games this season as a rusher, but individual players did successfully keep him quiet. Joe Staley contained him in the first San Francisco game with his sack coming from chasing the QB down from behind and Michael Roos limited him to just a single hurry against him in the Tennessee game.

To some extent this is the nature of the beast. Good offensive tackles tend to get the better of good edge rushers, but it is probably worth noting that while Watt had just one relatively quiet game Quinn had five, with three negative grades as a pass-rusher.

Like Watt, Quinn was toiling on a team that wasn’t winning many games, but he also dominated to a degree we have not seen in recent years at his position. Quinn has a legitimate case for DPOY and in most other years would be the easy choice. This season he just misses out on PFF’s award.

Defensive Player of the Year

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

The Defensive Player of the Year award last season was a close run race between J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Geno Atkins. The numbers suggested it was Watt in a landslide, but all three put together absolutely ridiculous seasons and Watt was just a hair in front of the competition. He had the gaudy statistics – the sacks, the batted passes – but it was a closer race than most people thought. When you look beyond the blunt tool of raw numbers, his performance play-by-play wasn’t in a league of its own when compared to the other two.

This year the same principle is true but in reverse. Watt this season doesn’t have the gaudy numbers. He only sacked the quarterback 11 times, he only has 6 batted passes, but in play-by-play grading terms his season has actually been better than a year ago. As good as the seasons have been by everybody else in the NFL, J.J. Watt has been just a little bit better, even if this time the statistics don’t back it up.

He has been a one-man wrecking crew inside on that Houston D-line and moves around throughout games to make it extremely difficult for offenses to focus in on shutting him down. The Texans have used him outside in a four-man line more this season and he has dominated there as well, proving too quick and powerful for tackles as well as guards.

Last year Watt broke the PFF grading system with a season total of +101.6, but this year that total finished up at +111.6, a full 10 grading points better.


As bad as the Texans have been at times, they would be a whole lot worse without Watt. Their defense is stacked with players who have had a season’s worth of clean up tackles on plays that Watt has destroyed in the backfield.

Sadly for Houston one man cannot make a defense, and as dominant he has been it simply hasn’t mattered at times. If an offense wants to badly enough they can just run away from a player all day long. The Rams handed Watt his poorest grade of the season (a still better than average +0.2) by doing exactly that.

They ran away from where he lined up, they double teamed him at times, and when they didn’t they made sure that they were passing too quickly for him to get to the quarterback. The point, though, is that in order to contain J.J. Watt you need to completely change your offense. He affects games like no other defender.

Right now Watt is the best defender in football, and the best player period in the NFL. He deserves his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award and it’s a testament to the seasons of others that it’s not a slam-dunk selection.

Honorable Mentions

We’ve been through the realistic candidates for PFF’s DPOY award, but that is far from the list that will be discussed by everybody else at large, and might not even include somebody who wins the AP award, as frightening as that is.

Several fantastic seasons don’t appear on our shortlist because they fall some way short of the unbelievable level set by those that did, but that isn’t to dismiss their achievements.

Luke Kuechly put up a monster game against the Saints but couldn’t match that level consistently throughout the season. NaVorro Bowman was the class of the inside linebacker group this year but he didn’t separate himself from the pack enough to earn the nod.

– The Seattle pairing of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both put together fantastic years, with Thomas in particular finally justifying the hype that has surrounded him for a while. Neither player has dominated as consistently as those on this list, however, and occasionally got beaten on plays where they seemed to switch off.

– Robert Mathis led the NFL’s sack list, but only generated 61 total pressures, a figure matched or exceeded by twenty-five players, some of whom with many fewer snaps rushing the passer. His candidacy is built on the back of a few key statistics and big plays, but the consistency wasn’t there throughout.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam 



| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Hendrik

    Where the hell is Cam Jordan? Not even a honorable mention? Ok I see the Saints hate is still all over the internet.

    • PFFSamMonson

      Well either that or his 4th ranked 3-4 DE season wasn’t enough to get in the discussion without mentioning half of the league as well. His ankle injury gave him a 3-week slump without which he’d be a far stronger candidate, but with it he misses out as just another guy with a v good season who doesn’t belong in the DPOY conversation.


  • Jcool

    Sorry you cant win DPOTY when your team is 2-14 and the defense gives up 26 ppg.

    • PFFSamMonson

      That’s in the rules is it? Cortez Kennedy won it on a 2-win team in 1992. Reggie White won it with a losing record when the Eagles had the league’s 23rd ranked D (in a 28-team league).

      One player can’t prevent a team losing games or a defense surrendering points if they’re getting very little help. Watt was dominant. He wreaked havoc every game for the Texans. The fact that it didn’t matter doesn’t make him any less the Defensive Player of the Year, rather just endorses the round of firings that just happened in Houston

      • Richard

        Maybe it doesn’t completely rule him out, it makes him winning very unlikely.

        DPOY is an individual award, but it football is still a team game. You have to really question the methodology of a system where a single player performs so exceptionally and yet the defense as a whole performs so poorly. Are those other 10 players some of the worst players to ever play the game?

        • PFF_Pete

          Football absolutely is a team game, which means it takes a team to win. No player, no matter how great, has ever won a game (or a play, for that matter) on his own. Giving an individual credit, or criticism, for his team’s performance actually goes against the “team game” logic.

      • Jeff

        Thanks for pointing that out Sam. The award is an individual award. It is not an award you share with teammates. Watt is an absolute monster on the field, you can’t blame him for the rest of team playing like crap.

        If Kuechly wins the award, it will be as big a sham as Pouncey being selected All-Pro 2x already, when clearly the level of play doesn’t back it up. Substance before hype, don’t listen to ESPN

      • jack_sprat2

        Amen. As well blame Ndamukong Suh for the consequences of the refusal of Scott Linehan either to run the damn ball when ahead in the 4th quarter or to use the no-huddle much more often.

  • David

    I’m more than a little skeptical of Watt’s grade. 268% better than the next best?! Shit, why don’t we just crown him the GOAT right now? I don’t believe you can have a defensive end THAT much better than everyone else and not have a good defense, the rest of the unit would have to be absolutely piss poor.

    Yes, I’ll believe he’s much better than the numbers show. Yes, I’ll believe he’s DPOTY despite his team’s shortcomings. But, unless your scale is absurdly exponential, I just can’t buy his grade is that fricken high.

    • Carlos

      It’s against the next best 3-4 end. The number does seem unusually high but in that context it makes much more sense. Wish I knew how they graded in general though.

  • annoyed

    I honestly thought this was a statical analysis site. You are worst then pro-bowl voters this is a popularity contest to say the least no way JJ watt is the DPOY

    • PFF_Pete

      Whenever you want to give a logical argument why he isn’t, we’re all ears.

      • Sleepy

        Well, I think Robert Quinn should be DPOY over Watt. You say Quinn was “kept quiet” in more games than Watt. Then, in Watt’s section you give examples as to why Watt was shutdown such as double teaming, running away from him, etc. Well, the teams that played the Rams did that too.

        So one of the most important jobs of a DE is to disrupt the QB or the whole play, mostly by sacks/deflections and such. So Quinn had 19 sacks to Watt’s 10.5, but wait you are also saying this is an individual award, so we can take that .5 off right? so 19-10 sacks. Now sacks aren’t just a loss of downs, but loss of yards too so this should be weighted more heavily.

        Another way to disrupt an offense is to cause fumbles, which Quinn had 7 forced fumbles compared to Watt’s 4.

        So if we look at tackles, Watt has Quinn beat easily by 15 tackles (65 Watt – 50 Quinn). These numbers aren’t assisted tackles either because we are dealing with individual awards here. The Texans also only won 2 games and were behind most of the time which means offenses ran the ball more times against the Texans, so more opportunity to collect tackles.

        It’s like if you are playing Madden on Rookie mode and never punt, but you constantly stop the defense and they are forced to punt all the time. They will have 0 punt return yards while your yards will be high, but does that mean you have the better punt returner?

        So passes defended Watt wins 7-1. So what I’m seeing is Quinn wins the categories of opposing offenses losing yards, and losing possessions, compared to watt batting down a few more balls and tackling runners who are running out the clock. I know which stats I’d be looking at if I were crowning a defensive player of the year.

        • PFF_Pete

          The Texans faced 14 more rushing attempts on the season than the Rams (less than 1 more per game). I find it hard to believe that those 14 plays alone accounted for Watt’s 54-25 edge in run stops over Quinn.

          And it’s important to remember that sacks & batted passes aren’t the only way to disrupt a play. Watt set a PFF record with 36 QB hits, some of which resulted in an inaccurate & incomplete pass.

          • jack_sprat2

            Some of which resulted in a gun-shy QB, too. Those are priceless.

        • PFFSamMonson

          Sorry, we take .5 of a sack AWAY from him because it’s an individual award? All a half-sack means is somebody else got there at the same time. You both got a sack, it just happened to be on the same play. PFF doesn’t deal in half-sacks, we give both guys the full credit.

          It doesn’t diminish your play just because someone else made it at the same time.

          As for the treatment Quinn got – when he was limited or kept quiet there honestly wasn’t much funny stuff going on – better tackles simply kept him quieter. That’s a league-wide trend. Joe Thomas shuts down almost all pass-rushers. Better OTs tend to win the battle vs better rushers, it’s just the way it is. It’s actually to Quinn’s credit that he became able to still do better than average against the tougher assignments. The point though was that Watt wasn’t contained by pretty much ANY single assignment.

          I appreciate your argument, and I think Quinn vs Watt is pretty close, but I think the numbers you’re looking at aren’t tremendously sound in terms of evaluating overall impact and that edge goes to Watt for us.

          • jack_sprat2

            Very few people seem to grasp just how difficult, not to mention thankless, it is to play offensive lineman. When a D-lineman makes as few as 2 (obvious) plays a game, premature calls of “Hall of Fame” resound. When an O-lineman fails to make 1/2 (an obvious) play a game, he’s a bum, cut him. Honest to God, eight (seeming) mistakes a season, never mind that most don’t even bother to ask how much help he received, much less how much he was required to give elsewhere.

            As a Detroit Lions fan, I spent more than a decade biting my tongue, as morons ragged on Backus. Yeah, so Jared Allen destroyed him in the brief span of a few plays, in one game. As if Jared never made any other tackles look stupid.

  • mosheman100

    I see a lot of these articles have Quinn as number 2 while the rest of the players vary who’s number one (but the articles I have seen have Quinn number two more than anyone else as number one). I’m wondering how the voting system works. Is it each voter gets one name to choose or do they get like three choices and each one based on how the voter ranks them is worth a certain amount of points. Im just wondering if being second or third on everyone’s list will help or hurt Quinn.

    • PFF_Pete

      If it’s anything like MVP, each writer gets one vote, and that’s it (although I believe they can split their vote to give a half to each player).

  • PffRDumbz

    This site has zero credibility. You seem to understand football framed through playing madden

    • FunkyTime

      It actually seems to the the exact opposite … people that have this severe problem with PFF looking at things other than traditional stats seem to be the ones that only understand football on the madden level.

      People that understand real football (and sports in general) understand that there’s a lot of very important things that don’t show up on a stat sheet.

  • pbskids4000

    I love it when the PFF guys go on the comments and show just how truly stupid some casual fans are.

  • Christopher Mooney

    I don’t get this award

    PFF is supposed to be based on analytics and stats. And then they give the award to the guy with inferior analytics and stats!

  • Christopher Mooney

    The entire point of PFF is it gets beyond biases, and gives guys the credit for what they actually do.

    By PFF own analytics, Watt was nowhere near Quinn this season for production or play

  • Christopher Mooney

    Let’s cut the crap here – Watt won it on this site. Kuechly won the other award

    When a white guy, does what black players do every day of the week, he just gets an award for it

  • Christopher Mooney

    You should rename this award

    “The defensive player of the year, who was white, but still managed to almost compete with black players in the same position, but not quite”

  • Christopher Mooney

    Average stats. On a terrible defence. Playing for a team who won 2 games.

    What did Watt actually do!?

  • Christopher Mooney

    again, rename this:

    “Defensive player of the year, who was white, but still managed to almost compete with the league’s black guys in the same position, but not quite” award

    Watt was nowhere near Quinn, on any statistic this year.

    • j1h15233

      Troll much?

  • Eddie

    People that criticize PFF dont understand that they watch EVERY play. The question is, do you want a guy that puts up 16 sacks a season (1 per game) or a guy the consistently beats his man, almost every play, but gets that devastating sack slightly less often. Sure, guys like Mathis have huge sack numbers, but JJ Watt was THE ENTIRE Houston defense.

    My only critique of PFF is that occassionally it fails to encompass exactly how much a teammate affects anothers play, like in the case that AJ Green is rated so low. Realistically, him not having a legit No 2 across from him and having the noodle armed Dalton make it harder for him to stand out in PFF rankings.

    That said, every system has some pitfalls. PFF is both intelligent and mostly reliable.