Defensive players aren't usually in the MVP race, so the Defensive Player of the Year award is the most significant individual accolade for players on that side of the ball. The award has seemingly been the property of one player over the past four seasons.
Aaron Donald, the superstar defensive tackle from the Los Angeles Rams, has won it thrice in the last four seasons. He had all-world numbers in 2019, but the New England Patriots' Stephon Gilmore embarked on a historic season to win the award.
Will Donald win for the fourth time in five years at the end of the 2021 season, or will someone beat him to the coveted prize this year? Let's look at the top candidates to win the award this season.
3 Players who could win the Defensive Player of the Year award
#1 - Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
The reigning DPOY is arguably the best player in the NFL. He is double-teamed on seemingly every snap and sometimes even triple-teamed.
Donald isn't as big as a typical defensive tackle, but that's one of his biggest strengths. His incredible strength, explosiveness and low center of gravity helps him beat offensive linemen with ease.
Defensive tackles aren't usually elite pass rushers. Still, Donald has amassed at least 11 sacks every season since 2017. He had an unbelievable 20.5 sacks in 2018. He's the early favorite to win the prize once again.
#2 - Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett has a great shot at being the Defensive Player of the Year because the personnel around him is much better this year.
He's a fantastic individual player and his numbers - 12 sacks and four forced fumbles last year - speak for themselves. Now that the secondary is way better than last year and quarterbacks will hold the ball a little longer, he's on track to improve his sacks tally.
If the Browns are going to make a playoff run, Garrett needs to be at his best.
#3 - T. J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Watt led the NFL in sacks (15), tackles for loss (23) and quarterback hits (41) last year, but he couldn't beat Donald to the Defensive Player of the Year award, finishing second.
Watt is as good as any pass rusher in the league. His combination of athleticism and intelligence make him almost impossible to block. If he maintains the same level of effectiveness in 2021, it'd be a tough choice between Watt and Donald for the award once again.