Under the Radar Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
Jaylon Smith LB Cowboys
The Cowboys are on of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL, and it doesn't take a genius to see that. Last year was an off year for them, but if they can get Dak's contract situation under wraps I like their odds for 2020. I'm confident in their offense's potential with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup, but it's their defense that doesn't get talked about enough. Last year outside of Byron Jones, this defense didn't have a great season. Demarcus Lawerence wasn't as good, Leighton Vander-Esch was all types of banged up, and they were missing that spark as a whole. This defense is going to be completely different under Mike Nolan. I see Jaylon Smith being the beneficiary. If we look at the biggest playmakers in the NFC East alone it's their running backs: Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, and the Redskins' committee. Smith is going to be that firework for Dallas' front seven and he's a name to watch in the defensive player of the year conversation.
Maxx Crosby DE Raiders
Maxx Crosby is a baller, simple as that. He doesn't get nearly enough love and he's very well respected throughout the players in the league. There is a difference between fan, media, and player respect; but the most meaningful type of respect is from your peers which in this case is the players. As soon as Crosby started getting some playing time, offensive tackles took notice. He has so much raw potential and now that he's heading into his second season, he is going to become more consistent and understand different techniques better. He understands the flow of the game and what to do vs what not to do. We know what he's capable of, he had 4 sacks in a single game against Cincinnati. If Crosby can put his hand technique, speed, strength, and bend all together, I see him having a 15+ sack season. Crosby is definitely a sleeper for the defensive player of the year award.
Justin Simmons FS Broncos
Justin Simmons is another one of those dudes who just doesn't get any fan love, but all of the players respect and know they have to look out for him on game day. He understands offensive schemes and what the opposing team is trying to do and last season it looked like the game really slowed down for him. Last year he had four interceptions and he was all over the field making plays. When it comes to free safeties, I think he was Mahomes' biggest chess match last season and they challenge each other really, really well. Simmons and Mahomes play brain games and I know Mahomes has a ton of respect for him. With the addition of Jurell Casey and the comeback of Bradley Chubb, the front seven is going to generate a lot more pressure which helps out the secondary. I like the addition of AJ Bouye, and now Denver can run a lot more man coverage so Simmons has a lot more opportunities to roam the field. Simmons is an absolute baller and is a player to watch for defensive player of the year.
Eddie Jackson FS Bears
Eddie Jackson was my favorite sleeper player coming out college in 2017. He has grown a lot as a player and is a star in this league. He just doesn't get enough recognition because of the team he is on. Nobody has faith in the Bears this year because of their quarterback controversy. Eddie Jackson is a baller and a defensive playmaker. Overall you don't hear the word playmaker used on defense a lot, but that's exactly what Eddie Jackson is. He has a sixth sense and that is finding the ball when it's in the air. When he is healthy he's an absolute ball hawk, that can also make a play on the quarterback. If we're looking at the names on this defense, the Bears are actually really good: Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, and Kyle Fuller. I see the Bears being a lot like the Pittsburgh Steelers of 2019. I think their defense is going to be fun to watch and really exciting, but their offense is going to be super inconsistent. While we don't have any clue on what the Bears offense is going to look like, it's Eddie Jackson who will be making plays on defense and be a candidate for defensive player of the year.
Malcolm Jenkins DB Saints
Malcolm Jenkins signing with the New Orleans Saints was the most underrated acquisition of the offseason. He is going to take this defense to another level and I see him being the big alpha in the Saints' secondary. Last year, I don't think the Saints had a true leader in their secondary. Don't get me wrong, Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Vonne Bell are all great players, but they're not Malcolm Jenkins when it comes to leadership. Malcolm Jenkins is one of those guys who calls out plays before they happen and one who studies his ass off each week. I think he will help slow the game down for Marcus Williams and turn him into an animal. This secondary actually has so many studs and with Malcolm Jenkins in the building they are going to get so much better. The Saints have so much young talent in the secondary, that Jenkins is really going to serve as a coach on the field. The impact that Malcolm Jenkins has on this defense should put him in the running for defensive player of the year.