The 2017 NFL season begins next week and all 32 teams are finalising their preparations for the new campaign.
The race for Defensive Player of the Year should be one of the most intriguing battles over the course of the term, with several players vying for the crown.
Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack won the award for the first time of his career last season. The 26-year-old notched 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception for Jack Del Rio’s men.
Mack will aim to secure back-to-back titles, but will face fierce competition as JJ Watt returns to fitness.
Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Joey Bosa could also come into contention, highlighting the quality of defensive players in the NFL.
We’ll now break down three contenders for the award with the latest betting odds.
Watt has been the most dominant defensive player in the NFL since his arrival in 2011. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season in the league before adding back-to-back crowns in the 2014 and 2015 season.
The 28-year-old has accumulated 76 sacks in his five seasons, including breaking the 20 mark twice in his career. Watt is the best defensive player in the league when healthy, although that has been a concern over the last year after undergoing back surgery.
The defensive end was ruled out for the majority of the 2016 season, playing just three games. As a result he was prevented from making an attempt to win the award for the third season on the bounce. Watt has looked like his old self during pre-season and he should be back to his best in no time at the start of the new campaign.
He plays in a 3-4 line for Houston and has the rare abilities to beat able to beat opposing lineman both on the outside and inside. That versatility gives the Texans such a potent weapon and allows them to create havoc for offenses due to the presence of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney.
Therefore it also gives Watt opportunities to beat single blocks, which he relishes to mount up his sack totals. There are no guarantees with back surgery, but should he remain healthy throughout the campaign then he will have every opportunity to regain his defensive crown.
At odds of +350 with Bovada sportsbook, Watt has good value to win the award and enjoy another dominant campaign in the NFL.
Mack put in an outstanding year on the Raiders’ defense, notching 11 sacks. He had a slow start to the season as he collected just one quarterback takedown in the opening five weeks.
However, once he got going there was no stopping the defensive end as he ran riot, especially in important matches. The 26-year-old brought down Trevor Siemian twice in his side’s 30-20 win over the Denver Broncos at the Coliseum.
His defensive performance was one of the driving factors in the club’s win over the Carolina Panthers, scoring a pick-six before ending hopes of a Panthers’ comeback with a late sack of Cam Newton.
That clutch play has become a hallmark of Mack’s play in the NFL and highlights his value to the Raiders. The defensive end is primarily in the thoughts of all offensive coordinators in the league when they face the Raiders, adapting their gameplans around his potential disruption.
He was not as productive last season as his 2015 campaign when he notched 15 sacks. Although now he has become the focal points teams will slide protection to his side of the line, reducing his impact.
Mack was good enough to overcome those obstacles to have a successful term and will be once again for the coming campaign. The quality of Derek Carr and the offense could play into Mack’s hand on the defensive side of the ball this season.
With leads established opposing teams will be forced to pass, giving Mack and company ample opportunities to boost their statistics. He could be in line for a 20-sack season – therefore backing him at odds of +500 with Bovada.
The Chargers selected Bosa third overall in the 2016 Draft due to his outstanding college career for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The 22-year-old and the club were involved in a contract dispute for the majority of his rookie off-season.
However, he signed his contract just before the start of the season, ending a bitter feud with the front office. Bosa did not endear himself to the coaching staff and fanbase immediately as he suffered a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the first four matches of the term.
When he did enter the field against the Raiders he quickly made a name for himself in the NFL. He notched two sacks on his debut, although the Chargers were defeated on the road.
He followed that display up with another two-sack outing against the Atlanta Falcons, playing a crucial role in the win at the Georgia Dome.
For the rest of the term the defensive end was consistent, ending his rookie season with 10.5 sacks. Bosa was named Defensive Rookie of the Year for his excellence, but he now faces the challenge of building off his success.
Teams will have 12 games of tape on his style and moves to rush the quarterback – therefore he in turn must improve. The biggest jump in an NFL player’s career comes between year one and two, and he has the potential to make a surge to become elite emulating the success of Watt and Mack.
He’s not on a roster filled with talent like his two contemporaries, meaning it will have to work harder to win the award. His work ethic is one of his outstanding qualities – therefore backing the 22-year-old at +1000 with SkyBet is the option to take for the best value.
JJ Watt To Be Defensive Players Of The Year
Khali Mack To Be Defensive Player Of The Year
Joey Bosa To Be Defensive Player Of The Year