On Wednesday the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) named Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald as its Defensive Player of the Year for 2020. While the ranked voting results were not announced, Donald beat out Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt for the honor, as well as other potential candidates like Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who recorded an NFL-high 10 interceptions.
It’s the second time in three seasons that Donald has won the award, getting the nod in 2018 as well. He is one of only four defensive tackles to ever take home the honor, and the only defensive tackle to win it twice.
PFWA Defensive Player of the Year Versus AP DPOY
It’s worth noting that the winner of the PFWA Defensive Player of the Year award doesn’t always predict the winner of the more prestigious AP Defensive Player of the Year, as the results have diverged in three of the past ten years, including 2017, when Donald took home the AP honor and defensive end Calais Campbell of the Jacksonville Jaguars won the PFWA award.
Yet its another indication that T.J. Watt may be the runner-up for the AP honor, which will be announced the night before the Super Bowl in a made-for-television event.
After all, a recent poll of 32 NFL executives preferred Donald over Watt and Howard, the only other candidates who garnered votes. That helps explain why Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and T.J.’s brother J.J. (himself a three-time winner of AP Defensive Player of the Year) have taken to the media to promote T.J.’s candidacy.
“T.J. is visiting from another planet,” said Tomlin late last month. “He has freakishly unique talent coupled with freakishly unique work habits and mindset, and it produces what you guys witness every week, which in my opinion is Defensive Player of the Year quality.”
Aaron Donald Versus T.J. Watt: Statistically Speaking
From a statistical point of view, it would seem that Watt has the edge over Donald, especially when one considers that Watt played in one fewer game, as Tomlin chose to rest him for the season finale against the Cleveland Browns. But the anonymous NFL executives in the above-named poll gave Donald extra credit for having far less talent around him.
Nevertheless, Watt finished the 2020 season as the NFL leader in sacks (15). He was also credited with 53 tackles (43 solo), 23 tackles for loss, 41 quarterback hits, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and an interception.
As for other awards Watt has already earned this season, those include being named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year—first-team All-Pro, in fact. He was also AFC Defensive Player of the month twice this season, in both September and November.
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