This past Saturday night, the NFL announced their annual season awards. The league revealed the 2020 winners of awards such as Coach of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Offensive Player of the Year. They also handed out the award for Defensive Player of the Year, which was given to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for the third time in four years.
Aaron Donald’s career by year:
2014: Pro Bowl, DROY
2015: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro
2016: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro
2017: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro, DPOY
2018: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro, DPOY
2019: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro
2020: Pro Bowl, 1st team All Pro, DPOY
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 7, 2021
Despite Donald’s dominance this season across the defensive line, some fans and players alike believe that Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt was snubbed out of the award.
Aaron Donald is an absolutely incredible player. I love watching him play & he’s headed to the Hall of Fame without question. This has nothing to do with AD personally.
This is me saying what my brother won’t.
TJ played 1 less game and STILL led the NFL in every major category. pic.twitter.com/m1vzrD88WU
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 7, 2021
In all honesty, there is a real case to be made for why Watt should’ve won the award. The pass rusher was able to put up monster numbers as displayed in the tweet above. He led the league in sacks and tackles for loss while being the spearhead of a defense that ranked third in the league in point points (19.5) and yards (305.8) per game.
Watt had a terrific season and no one would have had an issue if he was given the DPOY award. But at the same time, the voters got it right by giving it to Aaron Donald.
Donald was the leading force of a Rams defense that ranked first –ahead of Pittsburgh- in both points and yards per game. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Donald is the most disruptive player in the game at every given moment.
According to ESPN and NFL Next Gen Stats, Donald was credited for creating the most sacks of any defensive player in the league with 19.
Sacks Created — where we credit the person who first beat their blocker, as opposed to the person who finished the sack.
Aaron Donald 19
Myles Garrett 16.5
T.J. Watt 14.5
Khalil Mack 13
Justin Houston 12
Emmanuel Ogbah 11
Carl Lawson 10.5
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 14, 2021
In addition to that, Donald was also double-teamed at a higher rate than any pass rusher in football, hovering around a whopping 70%.
We learn on Twitter, its because of the double team rate, as pointed out by @Matthew_Blozis pic.twitter.com/hCCp4eLnGv
— Deep Dive Fantasy Football (@deepdiveff) February 7, 2021
And while Donald was getting doubled more than two-thirds of the time, the aforementioned Watt was only being blocked by multiple blockers on around 13% of pass-rushing snaps.
Now, obviously it is much easier for a defensive tackle to be double more frequently than edge rusher. That much is obvious. But the fact that Donald was almost able to match Watt’s production by penetrating the interior of the opponent’s offensive line time and time again shows just how valuable he was in 2020.
— Jamie Han (@jamiehan) February 7, 2021
Furthermore, according to Pro Football Focus, Donald finished the season with a grade of 94.5 (their highest graded defender) compared to that of Watt’s 91.6. So while Watt did have an elite 2020, Donald was rightfully the 2020 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
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– Jarrod Ribaudo (@jarrod_ribaudo on Twitter)