The Seahawks’ defense was the best in the NFL this season and isn’t short of playmakers. It was difficult to narrow it down to five, but here are the nominees for the team’s defensive player of the year.
Defensive end Cliff Avril: eight sacks (9.5 including playoffs), five forced fumbles (seven including playoffs): General manager John Schneider knew his team needed help in the team’s pass rush after the 2012 season. The signing of Avril to a two-year contract was a big help. He had a combined 29 sacks his final three seasons with the Detroit Lions, and added eight more this year. Avril also forced five fumbles this regular season. In the playoffs, Avril play has stepped up, as well. He has 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles against the Saints and 49ers.
Defensive end Michael Bennett: 8.5 sacks (10 including playoffs), one forced fumble (three including playoffs): The one-year contract that Bennett signed, worth just $3 million, is one of the steals of this past offseason. The fourth year defensive end had a breakout season in 2012 with the Buccaneers with nine sacks and three forced fumbles. After another impressive regular season, Bennett has also stepped up in the playoffs, duplicating Avril’s statistics 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in two games.
Safety Kam Chancellor: 99 tackles, three interceptions, six passes defended: Of the three consistent members of the “Legion of Boom” this season – Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas – Chancellor delivers the biggest bang. The Seahawks’ strong safety had another bruising season in the secondary, nearly duplicating last year’s tackles total and adding three interceptions after none in 2012. At 6-foot-3, 232 lbs. Chancellor once again brought a physical and intimidating presence to the back end of the Seahawks’ defense.
Cornerback Richard Sherman: 48 tackles, eight interceptions, 16 passes defended: Sherman’s coverage this season forced the lowest QB rating in the league according to Pro Football Focus. In just his third season, Sherman has been about as close to a “shutdown corner” as there is in the NFL. Here’s an incredible statistic: Since the Seahawks’ week 5 game against the Titans, opposing number one receivers have averaged 3.5 receptions and 38 yards per game – that includes an 11 catch, 144 yard performance from the Saints’ Marques Colston in the playoffs. Most of that success against the opposition’s top receiver is because of Sherman.
Safety Earl Thomas: 105 tackles, five interceptions, nine passes defended: After another impressive season, even Sherman said Thomas deserves to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The free safety’s presence in the center of the Seahawks’ defense is an intimidating one. Head coach Pete Carroll noted earlier this year that teams don’t throw across the middle of the Seahawks’ defense because of him, while former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said Thomas’ presence and talent doesn’t just cover up any weakness in the secondary, but in the whole defense, too.