A Detroit Lions player has never been named Defensive Player of the Year. While teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have notched at least four honors each since the award came into existence back in 1969, Detroit has never such been lucky enough to have that honor.
Detroit does have a player on the roster that may be able to finally break that seal for them, though. In 2019, they landed the league’s top free agent in former New England Patriot Trey Flowers. While he took some time to get going last year as he dealt with a shoulder injury early in the year, he was a standout in the second half of the season. Despite the defense’s overall struggles, Flowers began to look like he was worth every bit of his large contract as the year went on.
This makes Flowers the team’s best chance to finally nab a DPOY award, but what would it take for Flowers to get there?
Path to DPOY
Flowers plays the perfect position to win DPOY. Nine of the last 10 Pro Football Writers’ DPOYs have been defensive tackles or edge defenders—with Stephon Gilmore’s 2019 honor breaking a nine-year streak. Seven of the last nine Associated Press DPOYs fall into either of those two position. The Lions defensive end happens to be a player that plays both of those positions regularly.
Defensive Player of the Year is an interesting award. By virtue of how different each individual position on defense is, it can be hard to compare winners sometimes. On top of that, it is truly hard to pick a winner based on stats alone. But there are a few benchmarks players need to fall around if they want to win the award.
The defender will likely have to lead the league in sacks, or at least approach the league lead. But that is not always enough. Shaq Barrett and Chandler Jones both hit the 19 sack mark in 2019, but neither received any real consideration for the award. You can rack up a ton of forced fumbles, like Terrell Suggs did with seven in 2011. There are a few different thresholds a player can reach that can earn them a chance at DPOY, but, unlike MVP, there is not really a clear pathway.
Narrative plays the most important role in who wins DPOY, as a player without big numbers may still receive consideration for the award due to unexpected team success, or just because they were the leader of what as a remarkable defense as a whole.
For example, the 2017 DPOY award ended up getting split. PFWA selected Calais Campbell, the Jacksonville Jaguars star pass rusher that became the face of “Sacksonville”. Campbell was incredible that year—he even received some MVP attention—but his impact did not entirely show up in the box score. He had 14.5 sacks, 67 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. While those numbers are not anything to scoff at, they don’t exactly match up with Campbell’s on field performance either.
The AP winner that year, Aaron Donald, did not put up particularly world-breaking numbers either. The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle had 11 sacks, 41 total tackles, five forced fumbles and 15 tackles for loss. Just like Campbell, though, he was much better than the numbers would suggest, and he benefited from another narrative of a bad team finally turning things around. Both the Jags and the Rams were teams that went from worst to Super Bowl contenders, largely because of what those two players did.
This sets up perfectly for Flowers. The Detroit Lions are a team that won three games last year, mainly because of how bad their defense was. If the defense finally clicks under Matt Patricia and they become an elite unit, then there is a chance that whoever is deemed the “leader” of the defense will receive consideration for the award. The team will still have to make the playoffs—maybe even win the division—but the pieces are in place at least.
There are some statistical thresholds he will have to meet, though. He will probably need at least 13 sacks—his career high is 7.5. Flowers will likely also need to set another career high by reaching the 15 tackles for loss mark, at least. He will need a few highlight plays as well, as those can usually make up the difference when a player is not statistically on top.
Winning DPOY this year would be require Flowers to take off this year and put together numbers almost double his career highs across the board. It is a long shot, but not impossible. If the pieces all come together for him and Detroit’s defense this season, then he might have both the narrative and the numbers on his side.