NFL Nation: Defensive Player of the Year

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn managed to wrangle every postseason honor possible going into Saturday night’s NFL awards show.

There was the Pro Bowl bid, the All-Pro honors; even the Pro Football Writers of America tabbed him as the Defensive Player of the Year. But the biggest award of all, the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, managed to do what most quarterbacks couldn’t in 2013: avoid Quinn.

Quinn
Quinn came up short in his bid for the most widely recognized award for a defensive player Saturday night as the honor went to Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

That Quinn didn’t win the award shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given his team’s relative lack of success and the fact that Quinn plays in one of the league’s smaller markets.

Past that, Quinn not taking home the prize also shouldn’t serve as impetus for outrage. While I believe Quinn was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2013, it wasn’t so clear cut that his not winning should be considered some sort of conspiracy.

For those of us fortunate enough to watch Quinn rack up 19 sacks, force seven fumbles, stuff the run consistently and generally wreak havoc on some of the game’s elite offenses, it’s easy to look at Quinn and believe he should have been the winner. I’m included in that group.

But there were plenty of other defenders, Kuechly included, who had outstanding seasons.

Had Quinn closed the deal and managed to get to 20 sacks and won the first Deacon Jones award as the league’s sack leader, I believe it would have been enough for him to get the nod.

As it is, Quinn will have to wait to reach the highest level of the defensive player podium. Considering that Quinn is only 23 and entering his fourth season in the league, it’s probably safe to assume his name will become a fixture in this race every year.

Quinn couldn’t quite take home the award this year, but make no mistake, his time will come.

Observation deck: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
11:17
PM ET

 
During the pregame show before Thursday night’s game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Kuechly wins the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point.

That point might be coming a lot sooner than even Gruden expects. If Kuechly plays all season the way he played in the Carolina Panthers' 34-27 preseason victory against the host Baltimore Ravens, he could be a shoo-in for the award.

Preseason or not, Kuechly turned in one of the most dominating defensive performances I’ve ever seen. He was all over the field from the start, which isn’t unexpected for a guy who was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. But Kuechly turned in a second quarter that was beyond spectacular.

Kuechly forced a fumble by running back Bernard Pierce. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis jumped on the loose ball and slid into the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 10:22 left in the first half.

A few minutes later, Kuechly popped the ball loose from Ravens receiver Aaron Mellette and safety Charles Godfrey seemed to intercept the pass. But Kuechly was called for a penalty and the interception was nullified.

It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Kuechly came up with an interception of his own to set up a field goal that gave the Panthers a 24-7 halftime lead.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • Kuechly wasn’t the only defensive star for the Panthers. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
  • Defensive back D.J. Moore also had an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who were quiet in the first two preseason games, had a big impact. Short produced a sack and Lotulelei, who also recorded one, looked good as a run-stuffer.
  • The defense wasn’t the only unit that was explosive. The special teams also came through. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
  • It’s a good thing the defense and special teams were so productive because the first-team offense didn’t look very good. The Panthers had to punt the first three times they touched the ball and the first offense never got into much of a rhythm. But I don’t think fans should panic about the offense. I think the Panthers are keeping things very basic in the preseason.
  • Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn suffered an apparent hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
  • Running back Armond Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter for kicking a Baltimore player. That's not going to help Smith's chances of making the roster.
Earlier this month we put an end to the "Troy Reed" debate between Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. But another set of Power Rankings this week brought the topic back to the surface -- albeit with similar results.

On Tuesday Polamalu also was voted the NFL's top defensive player by ESPN.com's expert panel. As with the safeties rankings, Polamalu was the unanimous No. 1 choice, which is impressive for a safety because it's not often considered a glamour position. Reed finished No. 10 in the voting.

Polamalu, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has a unique set of abilities that I've never seen from the safety position. He has the aggressiveness and instincts of a middle linebacker but the coverage skills, hands and acceleration of a cornerback. This also was Pittsburgh's fourth consecutive week at the top of the Power Rankings. The Steelers were No. 1 for safeties, owners, helmets and now top defensive player.

The AFC North, as expected, was well-represented in this voting. Four players in the division made the top 10, including Steelers linebacker James Harrison (No. 6), Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata (No. 9) and teammate Reed (No. 10).

In particular, it was good to see Ngata get some recognition. Covering him the past three seasons, I've seen Ngata mature before my eyes and develop into arguably the league's most dominant interior defensive lineman. It's at the point now where Ngata is nearly unblockable in one-on-one situations.

Harrison remains one of the top pass -ushers and impact defenders in the NFL. He's recorded double-digit sacks for three consecutive seasons for the Steelers. Reed, who led the NFL in interceptions, is still the best ball-hawking safety in the league.

Here was the final tally:

ESPN.com's defensive Power Rankings

1. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers

2. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys

3. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets

4. Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers

5. Clay Matthews Jr., LB, Packers

6. James Harrison, LB, Steelers

7. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders

8. Julius Peppers, DE, Bears

9. Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens

10. Ed Reed, S, Ravens

Walker's defensive Power Rankings

1. Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers

2. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys

3. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets

4. Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers

5. James Harrison, LB, Steelers

6. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders

7. Clay Matthews Jr., LB, Packers

8. Ed Reed, S, Ravens

9. Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens

10. Charles Woodson, CB, Packers

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