Rams' Donald favored to win second straight NFL Defensive Player of the Year award

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

June 8th, 2021

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the frontrunner to win the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for the second straight year and record-setting fourth time in his career.

According to TwinSpires Sports, Donald is a +400 favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year honors, ahead of Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (+600), Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (+700), and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (+1100).

Defensive Player of the Year 2021/2022

Sun, February 6 2022, 11:00 PM

Donald, Aaron


Garrett, Myles


Watt, TJ


Bosa, Nick


Bosa, Joey


Young, Chase


Mack, Khalil


James, Derwin


Gilmore, Stephon


Wagner, Bobby


Donald is in a class of his own

Donald, New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor, and newly signed Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt are the only three-time recipients of Defensive Player of the Year.

Taylor won the award consecutively in 1981 and 1982, then collected his third trophy in 1986. Watt first claimed the honor in 2012, then won it back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.

As for Donald, the Rams superstar has taken home the award in three of the last four seasons.

The year of his first win, 2017, he recorded 11 sacks and 15 tackles for loss — neither statistic led the league — along with five forced fumbles and one pass defensed through 14 games.

The reason his numbers shoot off the page, even when they don't top the NFL, is because Donald, at defensive tackle, isn't expected to rack up those kind of statistics. As an interior lineman, his position is far more vulnerable to double-teams. Yet, no team can seem to stop Donald from wreaking havoc on their quarterback.

Donald made that most apparent in 2018, when he recorded an NFL-leading 20.5 sacks, the seventh most for a single season in NFL history.

The following season, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore interrupted Donald’s reign by securing Defensive Player of the Year with his 20 passes defensed and six interceptions.

In 2020, Donald stole the award back by narrowly defeating second-place vote-getter T.J. Watt by seven votes. Donald’s 76 quarterback pressures, which included the playoffs, and 13.5 sacks were enough to topple Watt, who led the league with 15 sacks and 26 tackles for loss.

Who is the Best bet to win Defensive Player of the Year?

With 20 votes to Donald's 27 last season, Watt is getting closer to earning his first career DPOY award. In 2019, he placed third in votes, with 10, behind Gilmore's (21) and Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones (14).

Since his rookie season in 2017, Watt has piled up 49.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, four interceptions, and 111 quarterback hits. Per Pro Football Focus, he ranks first among edge defenders in sacks (29.5) and quarterback hits (46) since 2019.

Another year of superior pass-rushing production should seal the award for Watt. Notably, eight of the past 10 DPOY winners tallied at least 11 sacks, something Watt has done every season, except for his rookie year. 

The other intriguing candidate to back is Garrett, who likely would have won DPOY in 2019 had he not been suspended for his infamous on-field clash with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Through 10 games, Garrett had accumulated 10 sacks, before serving an indefinite suspension that lasted the remainder of the season.

In 2020, Garrett bounced back with 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two passes defensed.

His production is expected to increase with the addition of free-agency signing Jadeveon Clowney, who will pair up with Garrett on the D-line.

DPOY longshots to watch

Another famous brother duo, Nick and Joey Bosa, are both returning from injury this season and should terrorize offenses now that they are back to full strength.

Nick won Rookie of the Year in 2019 while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, while Joey (another former Defensive Rookie of the Year) received his third Pro Bowl nomination in 2020.

Between the two, Joey (+1200) is the better longshot to back for DPOY. He's the third-best edge defender in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and is the only active edge rusher with a pass-rush win rate better than 20% since 2016. He'll play under a new head coach, Brandon Staley, the former defensive coordinator of the Rams who had the top-ranked defense in the league last season.

As for T.J.'s brother, J.J. Watt will play with a new defense in his first season in Arizona and could experience a statistical resurgence. However, injuries have been an issue throughout his career and make him a boom-or-bust play in his 11th season in the league.

Your best bet is to back his younger brother, who has showed continued improvement as a member of arguably the best defensive line in the NFL. Another season as the most valuable player on the Steelers defense should finally result in T.J. Watt winning Defensive Player of the Year honors.