It’s not impossible for a cornerback to win NFL defensive player of the year, but it’s hard.
Since Deion Sanders won in 1994, only one cornerback has won the award. That was Charles Woodson in 2009, though the Green Bay Packers lined him up just about everywhere. Voters prefer the players who get sacks, then linebackers, then safeties. Cornerbacks are often ignored, even in a league that puts a premium on elite cornerbacks due to the explosion of passing stats.
In a fair world, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore would be in the running for defensive player of the year. He is having a great season on a potentially historic defense. Perhaps a big performance against Houston Texans All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday night, in a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app, will do the trick.
Stephon Gilmore having a great season
Gilmore got some attention last week when Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper was held without a catch in a 13-9 Patriots win. Gilmore had one catch while covering Cooper, when he snagged an impressive diving interception. It’s rare for a cornerback to catch more passes in a game than the stellar receiver he’s covering.
Coverage stats are always tough to report with absolute precision, and Gilmore doesn’t always exclusively cover the other team’s best receiver. But according to Pro Football Focus, here are the lines for each No. 1 receiver the Patriots have faced when Gilmore is covering them:
Juju Smith-Schuster 4-43-0
DeVante Parker 0-0-0
Robby Anderson 2-11-0
John Brown 4-68-0
Terry McLaurin 3-51-0
Golden Tate 0-0-0
Robby Anderson (second meeting) 0-0-0
Odell Beckham 4-49-0
Marquise Brown 2-22-0
Nelson Agholor 1-5-0
Amari Cooper 0-0-0
Again, Gilmore didn’t guard those receivers all game, and he has given up a few catches to other players. But he’s clearly having a big season. Pro Football Focus’ grades have Gilmore as just the No. 21 ranked cornerback with at least 200 snaps, which works against his defensive player of the year argument, but the Patriots play mostly man coverage and he has just a 37.4 passer rating allowed according to PFF. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown all season.
The Patriots have allowed an otherworldly 50.5 passer rating as a team and ridiculous 4-20 touchdown-to-interception ratio against them. They’re the best defense in the NFL, and someone from that defense should get DPOY consideration.
DeAndre Hopkins among NFL’s best
Sunday night is a big game for Houston and New England. The Texans are trying to win the AFC South. The Patriots are going to win the AFC East, but they’re trying to hold off the Baltimore Ravens for the No. 1 seed.
The best individual matchup Sunday night will be when Gilmore and Hopkins square off. Hopkins is perhaps the best receiver in the NFL, though his numbers are down a bit this season. Hopkins has 81 catches, 839 yards and six touchdowns, which would be a career year for most receivers. For Hopkins it’s far off his 115-1,572-11 line last season that earned a second All-Pro nod.
Gilmore might not win defensive player of the year because his position often gets overlooked in the voting. There’s even an argument if he’s the best cornerback on the Patriots this season — that’s how good New England’s pass defense has been. J.C. Jackson has a better PFF grade and Jason McCourty is having a big year too. But Gilmore is the headliner, and helping to shut out Cooper got him on the DPOY radar.
Often awards are swung on one huge performance in a big, nationally televised game. There’s no better test for Gilmore than covering Hopkins.
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