- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the aftermath of another game plan destruction by St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn on Sunday, I laid out the case for why he should be the leader in the clubhouse to be this year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
That story had all the reasons why Quinn should take home the award but we didn't get a chance to go over how realistic his chances actually are. Fortunately, as the week has rolled along, this is a discussion that has picked up steam elsewhere.
NFL Insider Mike Sando offered an excellent look at the race today with comments from NFL personnel people on which way they'd lean if the vote was held today. Sando received plenty of mentions of Quinn in those discussions and ultimately cast his lot with the Ram after breaking down all the possibilities.
There's plenty to chew on in Sando's piece, but I found this quote from an anonymous general manager to be notable when wondering if Quinn is garnering the attention around the league that his performance would seem to allow:
"The guy who is an absolute [monster] this year is Robert Quinn, and he hasn't stopped," a general manager said, using a less pleasant word for monster. "He has gotten very good against the run and is consistently applying pressure. He has begun to develop how he uses his hands."
In addition to Sando's piece, Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, put together this post on Quinn as one of the top five candidates and broke down what he's done to merit consideration.
Beyond Quinn, Clawson cites Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly as other top candidates. For my money, I'd put Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David right near the top of the list as well, but it's clear there is no heavy favorite with two weeks to go.
So while Quinn is getting the recognition he deserves from personnel types, coaches and players, is that resonating with voters? At this point, it's hard to say.
On pure numbers -- 46 tackles, seven forced fumbles, 15 sacks, 24 tackles for loss -- Quinn's case is quite strong. He leads the league in forced fumbles (and it should be eight, but the league is still determining whether his first one against the Saints was ruled a fumble) and tackles for loss and is second in sacks. According to Rams coaches' review, he also has 33 quarterback pressures and 31 quarterback hits. He's probably the most unblockable pass-rusher in the league and has improved mightily as a run defender.
Quinn has also been something of a grim reaper for opposing tackles. Arizona traded left tackle Levi Brown soon after Quinn terrorized him in the season opener for three sacks. New Orleans benched left tackle Charles Brown in the third quarter after Quinn beat him like a drum, and the team announced Wednesday that rookie Terron Armstead is replacing Brown in the starting lineup this week.
Given all of that, Quinn is still far from any sort of definitive favorite to win the award. He plays in a smaller market and for a team that isn't going to the playoffs. One could argue that the latter should make him even more of a candidate because he's done much of his damage without the benefit of a lead and the numerous pass-rush opportunities that go with it.
In many situations where a race for an award is close, the tie goes to the player on the best team. If that's the case, you could argue that Sherman or Thomas should win the award. Both have been terrific as usual, but they also could suffer from split votes from those who can't come to a consensus on which is the true leader of that defense.
Kuechly has been Mr. Reliable for another playoff-bound team with 122 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. All are respectable numbers and he's a key cog in a strong defense, but none of his stats are particularly eye popping nor does he lead the league in any major defensive categories.
Mathis also has a strong case, leading the league in sacks with 16.5 and adding six forced fumbles to his line. He's done all of that without much of a complement opposite him or any other particularly viable pass-rusher taking attention away. And the Colts are headed to the playoffs, so perhaps Mathis could be the happy medium where voters settle given his combination of production and team success.
Although he wasn't mentioned in Clawson's piece, Sando's post did make mention of David's season. David has 126 tackles, five interceptions and six sacks. He's one of only five players in league history with that many sacks and interceptions in a season and, according to Tampa Bay's weekly release, the first linebacker to ever do that. Of course, like Quinn, David's candidacy will be tested by a team performance that isn't registering on a national scale.
All told, it's clearly a wide-open race for this award. Every player on the list has two more weeks to offer a strong closing statement.