NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2021 Top 12 Predictions and Betting Odds

NFL Defensive Player of the Year

  • Last season’s DPOY winner LA Rams DT Aaron Donald is again the favorite to win
  • Keep your eye on Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, now fully healthy
  • Vikings DE Danielle Hunter is our longshot to win despite posting 14.5 sacks last year

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Ever since the end of the 1971 NFL season, the Associated Press (AP) has given out its prestigious Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Award to the player who has had the most outstanding season on defense.

This year we look at the top dozen favorite candidates to receive these honors, a list that includes last year’s recipient, Aaron Donald, and runner-up, T.J. Watt, as well as a player whose 2020 season was greatly affected by the COVID virus, Browns DE Myles Garrett.

To help you make a more educated wager, here we take a closer look at the top dozen potential DPOY winners and analyze their chances of taking home this coveted honor at the end of the 2021/22 NFL season.

NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2021 Odds

Odds taken 20 September 2021 from DraftKings Sportsbook. Click on the odds below to head to Draftkings Sportsbook and place a bet.

NFL Defensive Player of the Year Odds
Aaron Donald +500
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Myles Garrett +500
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TJ Watt +800
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Chase Young +850
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Joey Bosa +1000
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Nick Bosa +1600
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Khalil Mack +1600
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Derwin James +2000
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Shaquil Barrett +3300
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Minkah Fitzpatrick +3300
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Stephon Gilmore +3300
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Danielle Hunter +3300
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NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2021 Predictions and Picks

If he has a healthy season, Cleveland Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett could become the frontrunner for this DPOY Award, so place your bets early.

1) Aaron Donald

Team: Los Angeles Rams

Position: Defensive Tackle

Size: 6’1”, 280 pounds

# Years Pro: 7

2020 Stats Line: 45 total tackles, 13.5 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 1 pass defended.

Analysis: Last season’s DPOY Award Aaron Donald is the favorite to win these honors again in 2021, his status as favorite the result of his seven seasons of consistently powerful defensive play in the NFL.

Considered by many the league’s top players, Donald and his Rams should have an excellent season as the team adjusts to their new offensive hurler, Matthew Stafford, who should get plenty of time on the field thanks to Donald’s consistent habit of ending their opponents’ offensive momentum.

2) Myles Garrett

Team: Cleveland Browns

Position: Defensive End

Size: 6’4” 272 pounds

# Years Pro: 4

2020 Stats Line: (14 games played) 48 total tackles, 12.0 sacks, 18 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 2 passes defended.

Analysis: Last season, Garrett missed playing time due to the COVID virus, and when he returned the asthma sufferer looked like he was constantly out of breath, something that kept him from being considered for the DPOY award that he wants badly.

Garrett has told the media and the football world that he wants to earn a DPOY Award and given his skill set, his typically untiring engine, and his ability to make big plays when they matter, he becomes one of the favorites on this impressive list of defensive superstars.

3) TJ Watt

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Position: OLB

Size: 6’4”, 252 pounds

# Years Pro: 4

2020 Stats Line: 53 total tackles, a league-leading 15 sacks, 41 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, and 7 passes defended.

Analysis: After leading the league last season with 15 sacks, T.J. Watt was considered a frontrunner for the 2020 DPOY Award, though he ended up coming in second to the eventual winner, Aaron Donald.

The Steelers had an odd season last year which started out strong and ended up a huge disappointment, so Watt’s defensive contributions will be a necessary part of what could be a final hurrah for soon-to-be-retired QB Big Ben Roethlisberger’s football franchise.

4) Nick Bosa

Team: San Francisco 49ers

Position: EDGE

Size: 6’4”, 266 pounds

# Years Pro: 2

2020 Stats Line: (played 2 games) 6 total tackles, 0 sacks, 1 quarterback hit

Analysis: After tearing his ACL in Week 2 last season, Nick Bosa had to sit out the final 14 games which was a major disappointment for this young defensive superstar who saw some Super Bowl action in his first year in the league.

Expect this powerful and speedy edge rusher to come back firing on all cylinders in 2021 as his Niners do their best to get back to their winning ways, something that a player like a healthy Bosa (who had 9 sacks his first year in the NFL) could be a huge part of making happen.

5) Joey Bosa

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Position: DE

Size: 6’5”, 280 pounds

# Years Pro: 5

2020 Stats Line: 39 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 0 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 1 pass defended.

Analysis: This former OSU Buckeye will be entering his sixth NFL season, once that started off with him winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, a perennial favorite to win this DPOY award every season since.

This 3x Pro Bowler and 2x First-Team All-Pro outside linebacker slash defensive end is typically all over the field, a player that opposing offenses literally have to game plan around, something that seems to keep the 25-year old Bosa eternally hungry for more.

6) Chase Young

Team: Washington Football Team

Position: DL

Size: 6’5”, 264 pounds

# Years Pro: 1

2020 Stats Line: 44 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 4 passes defended.

Analysis: One of the major reasons the Washington Football Team has developed a reputation as a scary defensive force is 22-year old Chase Young, who spent his rookies season last year chasing, hitting, and tackling opposing quarterbacks.

This nameless team is showing improvement every season, and Young is one of the causes of that, the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler now one of the favorites to take home this DPOY Award in 2021.

7) Khalil Mack

Team: Chicago Bears

Position: OLB

Size: 6’3”, 269 pounds

# Years Pro: 7

2020 Stats Line: 50 total tackles, 9 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 passes defended.

Analysis: Now that Chicago Bears star defensive back Khalil Mack has turned thirty, his veteran on-field genius and physical superiority seem equally matched, making him a top favorite for this DPOY Award at the end of this upcoming season.

Mack has already won a DPOY trophy in 2016, so now the 6x Pro Bowler and 3x First-Team All-Pro will set his sights on another, and depending on how his QB-shaky Bears play on the other side of the ball, he might get plenty of on-field time to do it.

8) Derwin James

Team: Los Angeles Chargers

Position: Strong Safety

Size: 6’2”, 215 pounds

# Years Pro: 3

2020 Stats Line: (5 games played) 34 total tackles and 1 pass defended.

Analysis: One of the major factors that make the Chargers’ secondary scary is the play of strong safety Derwin James, whose 2020 season was cut short by a torn meniscus, but the LA front office must still believe in him given they exercised the fifth-year option of his contract.

Now it’s up to the 24-year old defensive playmaker to get back to the outstanding play of his rookie campaign when he posted 105 tackles and 3.5 sacks, but the main goal will be to stay healthy after missing 27 of the last thirty-two football games due to his injuries.

9) Shaquil Barrett

Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Position: OLB

Size: 6’2”, 250 pounds

# Years Pro: 6

2020 Stats Line: 57 total tackles, 8 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 passes defended.

Analysis: Anyone who watched the Tampa Bay Bucs destroy the KC Chiefs in last year’s Super Bowl recognizes the name Shaquil Barrett, one of the big reasons they shut down Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and the most powerful offense in the league for the win.

Now Barrett’s a 2x Super Bowl winner (he was with the Broncos team that won SB 50) so he immediately becomes a favorite to win this award, something the 2019 sacks leader most likely feels totally comfortable and confident about making happen.

10) Minkah Fitzpatrick

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Position: Free Safety

Size: 6’1”, 207 pounds

# Years Pro: 3

2020 Stats Line: 79 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 11 passes defended.

Analysis: Ever since free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick moved to Pittsburgh after the second game of the 2019 season, the former Dolphin now Steeler has dominated on the field and has become a household name to be remembered.

With 12 total picks and 155 total tackles in just three seasons, it becomes clear why Fitzpatrick could sneak up and win this highly coveted DPOY award, especially given how talented the rest of his defensive squad looks for this upcoming season.

11) Stephon Gilmore

Team: New England Patriots

Position: CB

Size: 6’1”, 202 pounds

# Years Pro: 9

2020 Stats Line: (played 11 games) 37 total tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 3 passes defended.

Analysis: This Super Bowl Champion and 2x First Team All-Pro has already won a DPOY award in 2019 (the same season he led the league in interceptions) so it will surprise nobody if he takes it home again in 2021.

The Patriots could use a spark after coming up short last season, so expect Gilmore’s game to adjust accordingly, the 4x Pro Bowler with 25 career interceptions and 411 total tackles, numbers to which this 30-year old defensive superstar hopes to keep adding.

12) Danielle Hunter

Team: Minnesota Vikings

Position: DE

Size: 6’5”, 252 pounds

# Years Pro: 5

2020 Stats Line: Didn’t Play Due to Injury

2019 Stats Line: 70 total tackles, 14.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery

Analysis: It was a tough 2020 for Danielle Hunter who was placed on injured reserve for the entire season to clean up a herniated disc in his neck that now looks to be fully healthy at this point in the offseason.

That’s great news for the Vikings’ defense, a squad ranked just 27th overall last season without Hunter, and if they improve due to his play in 2021 it could go a long way towards him winning these DPOY honors.

What Is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award?

When the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award is mentioned in conversation, typically it is the one presented by the Associated Press that is being referred to.

The AP has been presenting its NFL DPOY award since the 1971 season, and it is handed out at the annual NFL Honors ceremony held the day before the Super Bowl.

There are, however, other versions of this award.

What Other Organizations Give Out This Award?

In addition to the Associated Press, a DPOY award is also given out by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and some of the various sports magazines, like Football Digest, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Focus.

There is also a committee of 101 of the top NFL sportswriters who have, as a group, be voting for a DPOY for each conference since the 1969 season.

A few other DPOY awards have come and gone, like the ones presented by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (from 1966-1997) and the United Press International (from 1975 to 1006).

Which Position Tends to Win the Award the Most?

Linebackers have won the DPOY award 16 total times, which is the most of any defensive position on the field.

Next in line are the defensive ends, who have won the award 13 times, and then nine defensive tackles, six cornerbacks, and five safeties.

Two players have won the DPOY award and the league MVP award in the same season – Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

Who Was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2020?

At the end of last season, LA Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the DPOY Award for his third time, becoming only the third player in the history of this award to achieve that many.

On top of 45 total tackles and 4 forced fumbles, Donald also posted 14 tackles for loss, 28 quarterback hits, a pass defended, and 13.5 sacks, bringing his career sack total up to 85.5 in just seven seasons.

Donald is the favorite to win this award again in 2021, no doubt the result of being considered the best overall player in the league today, something that few fans or NFL players will dispute.

Has a Rookie Ever Been Given the DPOY Award?

In the history of the award, only one DPOY has been presented to a first-year player.

That happened in 1981 when future Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor was a rookie playing for the New York Giants and had what is considered one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.

Taylor had an interception and a fumble recovery plus 9.5 sacks during that regular season (plus 2 sacks in the playoffs), but there is no way to know how many tackles he had since the league didn’t keep official track of them until 2001.

Which Players Have Received the Most DPOY Awards?

So far, the greatest number of times any one player has been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the history of the award is three, and a total of three players have accomplished that feat to date.

The first one is New York Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was the only player to ever receive the award in his rookie season (see above), plus he also earned the honor in both his 1982 and 1986 seasons.

The two other incredible players to receive the DPOY award three times are Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who received it in 2012, 2014, and 2015, and Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald, who won the award in 2017, 2018, and 2020.

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Mike Lukas

Expert on NFL

Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]