Published: Dec. 12, 2019 at 04:34 p.m.

Next Gen Stats: Key figures shaping the DPOY race

Before we dive into Week 15 of the 2019 NFL season, let's take a look at some numbers that might shed a little light on top contenders for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Keep in mind: this list is not all-encompassing. There are some DPOY candidates who aren't listed here, including the NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett, whom we wrote about last week in our Most Improved Player photo essay. This is just a sampling of standouts based on Next Gen Stats' unique performance metrics.

7 Photos Total

  • Another year, another season of Aaron Donald dominating. Barring voter fatigue, Donald could be well on his way to becoming the first player in NFL history to win DPOY in three consecutive seasons. No other player stands so far ahead of his peers at his position. Donald leads the NFL in pressures (60) for the second-straight season -- remarkable for his position -- as he has 24 more pressures than any other interior DL. Donald has generated a pressure on 14.0% of his pass rushes, which is the sixth-highest rate in the NFL (min. 200 pass rushes) and stands head and shoulders above the next-closest interior DL (Gerald McCoy: 11.4%). To put this in perspective, consider the base rates: Defenders aligned as interior D-linemen generate pressure on 6.6% of their pass rushes compared to 9.7% when aligned on the edge. The key to Donald's success? His patented burst off the ball. He has a pass rush get-off of 0.83 seconds (the average time it takes him to cross the LOS). 7

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Aaron Donald's continued dominance

    Another year, another season of Aaron Donald dominating. Barring voter fatigue, Donald could be well on his way to becoming the first player in NFL history to win DPOY in three consecutive seasons. No other player stands so far ahead of his peers at his position. Donald leads the NFL in pressures (60) for the second-straight season -- remarkable for his position -- as he has 24 more pressures than any other interior DL. Donald has generated a pressure on 14.0% of his pass rushes, which is the sixth-highest rate in the NFL (min. 200 pass rushes) and stands head and shoulders above the next-closest interior DL (Gerald McCoy: 11.4%). To put this in perspective, consider the base rates: Defenders aligned as interior D-linemen generate pressure on 6.6% of their pass rushes compared to 9.7% when aligned on the edge. The key to Donald's success? His patented burst off the ball. He has a pass rush get-off of 0.83 seconds (the average time it takes him to cross the LOS).

  • The Patriots have been riding a suffocating man-based defense to one of the best records in the league, and their ability to operate that defense starts with the talent in the secondary. Lockdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore serves as its foundation. Gilmore is the classic "shadow corner" who allows Bill Belichick to essentially remove a receiver from the offense, as he has followed a receiver for more than 50% of his routes in all but one game this season (the injury-plagued receiving corps of the Eagles in Week 11). While he's been tasked with aligning across from some of the top WRs in the NFL, including Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins, Gilmore leads the league in almost every major coverage category. As the nearest defender, he's allowed a 45.5% completion percentage (-13.1% below expectation), a 38.6 passer rating, and 4.9 yards per attempt, all of which lead 62 outside CBs with 40-plus targets this season. He also has the most targets (77) without allowing a TD. 6

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Stephon Gilmore leading Pats' suffocating D

    The Patriots have been riding a suffocating man-based defense to one of the best records in the league, and their ability to operate that defense starts with the talent in the secondary. Lockdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore serves as its foundation. Gilmore is the classic "shadow corner" who allows Bill Belichick to essentially remove a receiver from the offense, as he has followed a receiver for more than 50% of his routes in all but one game this season (the injury-plagued receiving corps of the Eagles in Week 11). While he's been tasked with aligning across from some of the top WRs in the NFL, including Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins, Gilmore leads the league in almost every major coverage category. As the nearest defender, he's allowed a 45.5% completion percentage (-13.1% below expectation), a 38.6 passer rating, and 4.9 yards per attempt, all of which lead 62 outside CBs with 40-plus targets this season. He also has the most targets (77) without allowing a TD.

  • T.J. Watt is following in his brother J.J.'s footsteps as a versatile edge defender. Watt joins Donald as the only player with at least 10 run stuffs (Watt has 10), 40 pressures (47), and 10 sacks (12.5) this season. Watt has a 12.1% pressure rate (11th-highest in the NFL, min. 200 pass rushes). Part of Watt's success, like Donald's, can be attributed to his burst off the ball. Watt has a 0.76-second edge pass rush get-off, which is the fastest among defenders with 200-plus edge pass-rushing snaps. That translates to a sub-4-second average time to sack (3.94 seconds) for the second straight season, joining Dee Ford as the only other player to do so (min. 5 sacks in each season). Watt has also dropped into coverage on 42 snaps and has been very effective, with two INTs and six passes defensed on 12 targets as the nearest defender. 5

    David Richard/Associated Press

    T.J. Watt following in brother's footsteps

    T.J. Watt is following in his brother J.J.'s footsteps as a versatile edge defender. Watt joins Donald as the only player with at least 10 run stuffs (Watt has 10), 40 pressures (47), and 10 sacks (12.5) this season. Watt has a 12.1% pressure rate (11th-highest in the NFL, min. 200 pass rushes). Part of Watt's success, like Donald's, can be attributed to his burst off the ball. Watt has a 0.76-second edge pass rush get-off, which is the fastest among defenders with 200-plus edge pass-rushing snaps. That translates to a sub-4-second average time to sack (3.94 seconds) for the second straight season, joining Dee Ford as the only other player to do so (min. 5 sacks in each season). Watt has also dropped into coverage on 42 snaps and has been very effective, with two INTs and six passes defensed on 12 targets as the nearest defender.

  • Nick Bosa has made <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001086886/article/2019-nfl-allrookie-team-defense-nick-bosas-the-clear-droy">a clear case</a> for being the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but his outstanding play calls for Defensive Player of the Year recognition, as well. Bosa has the volume with 45 pressures (T-9th most in NFL) and 36 hurries (T-5th most), but he's also been efficient. Bosa has the fifth-highest pressure rate (14.0%) among pass rushers with 200-plus pass rushes, and his pressures have also been effective, leading to two turnovers and eight sacks. Bosa's production has slowed down since Week 9 (9.6% pressure rate), but he's faced a string of elusive QBs (Kyler Murray twice, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers) and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in the Saints. If he can finish strong over the next few weeks, he'll have a good shot of joining Lawrence Taylor as the only other rookie to win the award. 4

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Can Nick Bosa match Lawrence Taylor's impressive feat?

    Nick Bosa has made a clear case for being the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but his outstanding play calls for Defensive Player of the Year recognition, as well. Bosa has the volume with 45 pressures (T-9th most in NFL) and 36 hurries (T-5th most), but he's also been efficient. Bosa has the fifth-highest pressure rate (14.0%) among pass rushers with 200-plus pass rushes, and his pressures have also been effective, leading to two turnovers and eight sacks. Bosa's production has slowed down since Week 9 (9.6% pressure rate), but he's faced a string of elusive QBs (Kyler Murray twice, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers) and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in the Saints. If he can finish strong over the next few weeks, he'll have a good shot of joining Lawrence Taylor as the only other rookie to win the award.

  • With Ben Roethlisberger sidelined since Week 2, the defense is carrying the Steelers to playoff contention, putting together a season that would make the Steel Curtain proud. Much of the unit's success coincides with the arrival of trade acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick prior to Week 3. The Steelers were torched on deep passes, allowing three TDs and a 141.4 passer rating through Week 2. But since trading for Fitzpatrick and putting him at deep safety (89% of snaps), they've allowed only one TD and a 33.2 passer rating on deep targets (lowest in NFL) with five INTs (tied for the most in the NFL). Fitzpatrick himself has five picks and nine passes defended since donning the black and yellow (45.0% passes defensed rate, second-highest in the NFL with a min. 20 targets as nearest defender). He has also been targeted on just 5.7% of his coverage snaps, the eighth-lowest rate among deep safeties with 300-plus coverage snaps. 3

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Steelers sparked by newcomer Minkah Fitzpatrick

    With Ben Roethlisberger sidelined since Week 2, the defense is carrying the Steelers to playoff contention, putting together a season that would make the Steel Curtain proud. Much of the unit's success coincides with the arrival of trade acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick prior to Week 3. The Steelers were torched on deep passes, allowing three TDs and a 141.4 passer rating through Week 2. But since trading for Fitzpatrick and putting him at deep safety (89% of snaps), they've allowed only one TD and a 33.2 passer rating on deep targets (lowest in NFL) with five INTs (tied for the most in the NFL). Fitzpatrick himself has five picks and nine passes defended since donning the black and yellow (45.0% passes defensed rate, second-highest in the NFL with a min. 20 targets as nearest defender). He has also been targeted on just 5.7% of his coverage snaps, the eighth-lowest rate among deep safeties with 300-plus coverage snaps.

  • The Bills drafted Tre'Davious White to replace the aforementioned Gilmore in 2017, and White has done his best Gilmore impersonation since then. White ranks right behind Gilmore with the second-most targets (72) without allowing a TD, and also has four INTs to boot. While the Bills have more of a balanced zone and man coverage scheme, White has still been asked to travel with the likes of Courtland Sutton (78.6% of routes in Week 12) and Odell Beckham (87.5% of routes in Week 10). White shut down both receivers, holding Sutton to one reception for 27 yards on seven targets as the nearest defender, and Beckham to four receptions and 41 yards on 10 targets. White plays tight coverage, allowing just 2.0 yards of separation per target (fifth-lowest in the NFL among 62 outside CBs with 40-plus targets). He also ranks right behind Gilmore in passer rating allowed (43.1) and completion percentage allowed below expectation (-10.4%). 2

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Tre'Davious White reading offenses like a book

    The Bills drafted Tre'Davious White to replace the aforementioned Gilmore in 2017, and White has done his best Gilmore impersonation since then. White ranks right behind Gilmore with the second-most targets (72) without allowing a TD, and also has four INTs to boot. While the Bills have more of a balanced zone and man coverage scheme, White has still been asked to travel with the likes of Courtland Sutton (78.6% of routes in Week 12) and Odell Beckham (87.5% of routes in Week 10). White shut down both receivers, holding Sutton to one reception for 27 yards on seven targets as the nearest defender, and Beckham to four receptions and 41 yards on 10 targets. White plays tight coverage, allowing just 2.0 yards of separation per target (fifth-lowest in the NFL among 62 outside CBs with 40-plus targets). He also ranks right behind Gilmore in passer rating allowed (43.1) and completion percentage allowed below expectation (-10.4%).

  • Za'Darius Smith has thrived in his first year as a Packer. Thrust into a full-time role and playing over 70% of snaps (83%) for the first time in his career, Smith has been a force as a pass rusher. Smith is tied for second in pressures (56) and trails only Aaron Donald in hurries (46). As a result, Smith has the second-highest disruption rate (17.8%) in the NFL among defenders with 200-plus pass rushes. He has also forced three turnovers from pressure this season (tied for the fifth most in the NFL). His average time to hurry the QB is 2.98 seconds, the 11th-quickest rate among 49 defenders with 20-plus hurries this season, showing impressive efficiency on such volume. Smith and his fellow newcomer to the Packers defense, Preston Smith, have helped the Packers improve from the 21st-highest pressure rate in 2018 (26.2%) to second-highest this season (31.3%). 1

    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Za'Darius Smith's immense impact on Pack

    Za'Darius Smith has thrived in his first year as a Packer. Thrust into a full-time role and playing over 70% of snaps (83%) for the first time in his career, Smith has been a force as a pass rusher. Smith is tied for second in pressures (56) and trails only Aaron Donald in hurries (46). As a result, Smith has the second-highest disruption rate (17.8%) in the NFL among defenders with 200-plus pass rushes. He has also forced three turnovers from pressure this season (tied for the fifth most in the NFL). His average time to hurry the QB is 2.98 seconds, the 11th-quickest rate among 49 defenders with 20-plus hurries this season, showing impressive efficiency on such volume. Smith and his fellow newcomer to the Packers defense, Preston Smith, have helped the Packers improve from the 21st-highest pressure rate in 2018 (26.2%) to second-highest this season (31.3%).