Over the weekend, the NFL came up with a permanent way to honor Deacon Jones, the game-changing, Hall of Fame defensive end who passed away earlier this month. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that beginning in 2013, the league annually will give out the Deacon Jones Award to the NFL leader in sacks, a term first coined by Jones.
The NFL is in somewhat of a golden age of pass rushing, with several young standouts wreaking havoc on quarterbacks. In fact, three of them -- Von Miller, Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt -- cracked the top 10 of the NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2013." Who will win the inaugural Deacon Jones Award?
DeMarcus Ware is a threat for the sack crown every seasonGive me DeMarcus Ware. He is the second-fastest player to 100 sacks in the NFL, behind only Reggie White. (And at one point, White had more sacks than games played, just to show you what Ware's up against.) I look at the past five years of Ware's career, and he has 77.5 sacks. That's half a sack more than I had in nine years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and I consider myself a pretty good pass rusher.
The one unfortunate thing about Ware is he can't do it all by himself in Dallas. The guy's so dominant he could get to the quarterback four times in a game, but his team still could get beat 34-7.
Don't forget about Jared Allen, a one-man wrecking crewI know we have some new kids on the block -- J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Clay Matthews and on down the list -- but let's not overlook some of these veterans who have been doing it for nine-plus years. What about Jared Allen?
Allen has 34 sacks over the past two seasons, and he doesn't have the help some others benefit from. There's nobody on the other side. Everybody knows he's the guy for the Minnesota Vikings. Even when teams slide over a player and double-team him, you still can't stop this man.
Aldon Smith's supporting cast pushes him over the topVon Miller, J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith all should have high sack totals every year, but I particularly like Smith's chances of winning the award in 2013. All three guys play for teams with talented offenses that can get the lead and force opponents to play from behind, thus giving pass rushers more opportunities to get sacks. Smith enjoys the advantage of having a talented rusher opposite him in Ahmad Brooks. Also, when Justin Smith is healthy, Aldon also has an inside rusher the defense must account for.
Meanwhile, Von Miller faces the loss of Elvis Dumervil, which will allow defenses to concentrate on Miller. J.J. Watt is fresh off one of the best years I've ever seen from a defensive lineman. Consequently, opposing teams will do a better job of defending him than they did last year. Look for more creative game planning against No. 99. I think Watt will have another good year, but it is hard for an inside rusher to lead the NFL in sacks, let alone duplicate his 20.5 total from last year.
Chris Long is primed to bust out in 2013Get ready for a remake of "Just The Two Of Us," except with Howie and Chris Long as the stars. Everything is set up for Long to explode from a solid performer into breakout player.
The St. Louis Rams tied for the league lead in sacks last year, and their defense is just going to get better with young playmakers all over the field. Long is the best pass rusher they have -- by far -- and he'll reap the numbers reward. At 28, he's set up for a dominant next 2-3 years. He'll jump from 11.5 sacks last season to 20-22. All year long, we'll compare father and son, and talk about how apropos it would be for a Ram to win the first Deacon Jones Award.
And now the bigger question: When I mentioned the song atop this blurb, were you picturing Will and Jaden Smith or Dr. Evil and Mini-Me?
J.J. Watt is a force of nature ... and he's still just 24My only on-field viewing of Deacon Jones, of course, has come courtesy of NFL Films. But when I watch J.J. Watt, he seems to be cut from a similar mold as a disruptive force on the defensive line. You simply can't game plan against the guy. Not only does he do a great job at getting to the quarterback, but he also seems to bat down every ball thrown in his general direction.
The scary thing to think about is that he's still in the developmental stages at age 24.