Commentary

Cornerbacks stating their case

Revis and Woodson in the running for defensive player of the year honors

Originally Published: December 22, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Revis/Sharper/Woodson Getty ImagesDarrelle Revis, left, has had a breakthrough season with the Jets. Darren Sharper has revived his career in New Orleans. Charles Woodson has been a game-changer for Green Bay.

Not since Deion Sanders in 1994 (his only season with the San Francisco 49ers) has a cornerback been selected as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

That 15-year drought could end in a few weeks, with the ballots due Jan. 4 and the announcement on Jan. 12.

In the 38-season history of the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award, only four cornerbacks -- Mel Blount (Pittsburgh, 1975), Lester Hayes (Oakland, 1980), Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh, 1993) and Sanders -- have been honored. Some perspective: Just as many safeties, a position frequently underappreciated even by those in the league, have won the award. Nearly four times as many linebackers (14) have been chosen.

But the terrific 2009 performances of cornerbacks Charles Woodson of Green Bay and Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, along with a few others, have certainly elevated what was already a pretty high-profile spot.

"He's the best guy I've faced this year," Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White said of Revis following the Falcons' 10-7 victory on Sunday. "He's always around you. He's like a gnat. He never gets away from you."

In just his third NFL season, Revis has lined up (predominantly man-to-man) against standout wide receivers like White, Andre Johnson (Houston), Steve Smith (Carolina), Randy Moss (New England), Marques Colston (New Orleans) and Terrell Owens (Buffalo), and has surrendered only 36 catches for 212 yards. But the 2007 first-round pick, who may have supplanted Denver's Champ Bailey as the NFL's premier cornerback, faces stiff competition for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Had the honor been awarded at midseason, it probably would have gone to free safety Darren Sharper of New Orleans. In the first eight games of the season, Sharper registered seven interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. Sharper, whose play has keyed a defensive resurrection in the Big Easy, will still be considered by many voters. But there are other defenders who seem to have caught up to him over the course of the year.

"It's always a tough call picking one guy, because there are so many good [defenders] in the league," said Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison, the 2008 winner. "And it's not always the most [obvious] player, the one the fans expect."

With 71 tackles, 10 sacks, two passes defensed and four forced fumbles, Harrison might be under consideration. But the defending Super Bowl XLIII champions are just 7-7, and little more than playoff long shots, and that could hurt the eight-year veteran. Another factor: There has been only one repeat winner, Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants (1981 and 1982), in the history of the award. Taylor is also the only rookie to win the award, which probably eliminates 2009 standouts like Buffalo free safety Jairus Byrd, linebackers Brian Cushing of Houston and Clay Matthews of Green Bay, and Washington defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Just six players have won Defensive Player of the Year honors more than once.

And Harrison is correct that the award doesn't always go to the most obvious player. Only once in the past 20 years (2004, when Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed was selected) has the league's leading interceptor been chosen as Defensive Player of the Year. The NFL's leading sacker claimed the honors just three times in that span.

Here's a look at the five players expected to be under consideration:

  • Woodson (Green Bay): The 12-year veteran has 70 tackles, two sacks, eight interceptions, two touchdowns, 15 passes defensed and four forced fumbles. Woodson, 33, has been especially good despite losing longtime partner Al Harris to injury four games ago. In that stretch, he has 18 tackles, three interceptions, eight passes defensed and one forced fumble. A superb two-way defender, Woodson ranks second among all cornerbacks with his 70 tackles. His seven interceptions in 2008 made him the only cornerback among the NFL's top five in thefts. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against the Packers on Sunday, but the Steelers schemed their passing attack away from Woodson. Odds: 5-2

  • Revis (New York Jets): The 24-year-old former Pitt standout is drawing rave reviews. He has 49 tackles and six interceptions, and his 36 passes defensed are eight more than anyone else in the league. Revis' blanket coverage of some of the league's top receivers in 2009 has catapulted him to a new level. Odds: 4-1

  • Sharper (New Orleans): In his 13th year, the 34-year-old Sharper is enjoying one of his finest seasons. He has anchored a revamped Saints secondary and has 64 tackles, eight interceptions and 13 passes defensed. Sharper, essentially put out to pasture by the Minnesota Vikings last spring, notched seven of his interceptions and all three of his touchdowns in the first eight games. Over his past five appearances, however, Sharper has posted just one interception and one pass defensed. Odds: 5-1

  • DE/LB Elvis Dumervil (Denver): He's the NFL's leading sacker, with 15, and also has forced three fumbles. A four-year vet, Dumervil has flourished in the Broncos' new 3-4 scheme, but the undersized (5-foot-11, 248 pounds) defender was always a strong pass-rusher, as evidenced by his 12½ sacks in 2007. The former Louisville star has five games with two or more sacks, including four versus Cleveland in September. But 10 of his sacks came in the first six games, and he's got only three in the past five. Odds: 10-1

  • DE Jared Allen (Minnesota): Always a high-motor guy, Allen has 13½ sacks, after netting 30 sacks the past two seasons. But 7½ of those sacks have come against the protection-challenged Green Bay Packers, including 4½ in an October game (Week 4). Allen also has 46 tackles, four forced fumbles and four passes defensed. Odds: 15-1.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.