I wasn't online much this past weekend, due to work, Super Bowl party preparations and the like, so pardon me if much of this has already been said. I wanted to get my (scattered) thoughts out on this before it was too far in our rearview mirror for anyone to care.
Robert Mathis didn't win the AP Defensive Player of the Year award this season. Instead, he was awarded the inaugural Deacon Jones award, which shall be awarded to the league's sack leader.
Is it a snub that Mathis didn't win the DPOY? Not really. There were a decent number of candidates, and Mathis had a big flag on his application: the 2013 Colts defense wasn't very good. There was no one dominant defender that was head and shoulders above the rest this season. You could argue that J.J. Watt is still that player, but his team went 2-14. It's hard to say he had the best year of any defender when you're on the worst team in football.
So, I wasn't shocked to hear that Mathis didn't win.
That being said, the fact that he lost the DPOY to Luke Keuchly of the Carolina Panthers by a vote and a half irks me. Again, not because Mathis was the clear choice, although I personally believed he should have won the award, but because of all the players I thought had a good argument over Mathis, Keuchly was not one of them.
Now, I don't mean any disrespect to Keuchly, who had a good season and should be one of the top five inside linebackers in the league for a long time. But there were multiple other players who deserved the award over him.
If voters wanted to give the award to a great linebacker, the award should have gone to Navarro Bowman, who was the NFL's top inside linebacker by a clear margin. Bowman finished tops in Pro Football Focus' inside linebacker grades, tops among linebackers in WPA and third in EPA (Keuchly was eighth, sixth and 28th) and played on a defense that wasn't too bad either.
If the voters wanted to give the award to the best player on a dominant defense, Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas should have been the pick. In the end, the two combined for 11.5 votes, but even combined Keuchly beat them out, despite the fact that Seattle's defense was superior in just about every way possible, and one of the historically great defenses.
If the voters wanted to give the award to the best defensive player, it should have been J.J. Watt, who remains the class of the NFL defensively. And if we're just talking best defensive players, Keuchly probably doesn't even crack my top 10 right now.
The bottom line is that Keuchly didn't have the best defensive year in the NFL. That distinction doesn't necessarily belong to Mathis, although I'd argue for it, and there are three or four candidates who have legitimate arguments for it. Keuchly has an argument, but it doesn't stand up to those of players like Bowman, Thomas or Watt.
I have to wonder, if Keuchly's lone dominant performance (his game at home against New Orleans) had come early in the season, and Mathis' stellar performances against Seattle and Denver came in the second half of the year, would the vote have even been close?