Beware Future NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award Winners


News of Terrell Suggs suffering a torn Achilles injury will most likely shelf his 2012 NFL season.  Recovery time for such an injury doesn’t take place over a couple of months time.  Suggs claims he will make a return to the field at some point this season.  Consider him super-human if he can, or cursed if he can’t.

The odd part about the injury suffered by Suggs is there have been many players before him who have also received the same NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and then experienced an injury within the next season or two.

Ed Reed won the award in 2004 and was limited to only 10 regular season games in 2005.  In the games Reed did dress, he wasn’t very effective, grabbing only one interception.  Ray Lewis has won the award twice, in 2000 and ’03 and was able to escape without serious injury the following year.  Lewis was not as lucky though in the second year after winning each award.  A shoulder injury in ’02 caused Lewis to miss 11 games and 10 games in ’05 after tearing his hamstring.

Baltimore Ravens award winners aren’t the only ones susceptible to a later injury.  Their bitter division rival Steelers have also seen former DPOY winners miss time the following year.  Joe Greene won the award in 1974 and a shoulder injury sidelined him for almost half the season in 1975, without fully recovering until 1976.  Jack Lambert only missed six games in the first 10 years of career.  He missed four total in 1977, a year after winning his only DPOY award.

Rod Woodson received the honor in 1993 and was able to stay healthy the following season.  In the first game of the 2005 season Woodson suffered a knee injury requiring reconstructive surgery.

Other defensive backs have also seen spectacular seasons followed by injury-nagging campaigns.  Kenny Easley played for the Seattle Seahawks and won the award in 1984 at the age of 25.  His highlights in 1984 included 10 interceptions with two returned for touchdowns.  He wasn’t able to play a full season the following two seasons because of ankle and knee ailments.  The strike-shortened season of 1987 was Easley’s last due to a severe kidney disease diagnosis.

Bob Sanders won the award in 2007 and has become a recent poster child for season ending injuries each year since.  The reckless abandon Sanders played with on the field may have contributed to each of his injury shortened seasons.  Football fans may never witness another near-full season played by Sanders again.

One of the NFL’s highest-profiled defensive back’s to ever play was not immune to the injury bug.  Deion Sanders was voted the 1994 winner and needed ankle surgery before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.  He missed seven regular season games before helping lead Dallas to a Super Bowl win.

The only other 49er to win the award was Dana Stubblefield in 1997.  His transition to a new team after being recognized as the most dominant defensive player wasn’t as successful compared to Deion Sanders.  He joined the Washington Redskins with a big money six-year contract, eventually returning to San Francisco after a few seasons.  A knee injury in 1998 required him inactive for nine games.  The success Stubblefield experienced in 1997 wasn’t ever matched for the rest of his playing career.  His last six seasons seen a total of 14.0 sacks compared to the 15.0 he accumulated in ’97.

Keith Millard also enjoyed a dominant season from his defensive line position in 1989 with the Minnesota Vikings.  Millard registered 18.0 sacks in what turned-out as basically the end of a promising football career.  The next season Millard tore his ACL attempting to sack Vinny Testaverde during the fourth game of the season.  Millard worked hard towards his comeback before seeing his playing days end after the 1993 season.

Another quarterback devouring defensive lineman was placed on injured-reserve a year after he was given the award.  Bruce Smith tallied 19.0 sacks during the Buffalo’s 1990 season en route to their first Super Bowl appearance.  The 1990 award was the first of two for Smith who eventually returned to his dominant self after a 1991 knee injury.  When Smith won again in 1996 he did not fall victim to a major injury again until a dislocated shoulder in 2001.  Smith in-fact was fortunate enough to play another 12 seasons after enduring the season-ending knee surgery in 1991.  Between Smith’s two awarded seasons, his teammate, Bryce Paup, also earned his own recognition in 1995.  Paup injured his groin in the third game of the following season without fully recovering to his effective play from the year before.

The most feared of them all also experienced an injury setback.  Lawrence Taylor won the DPOY three times in his career.  The most phenomenal season of his 13 years in the NFL was 1986 when he had quarterbacks running for their life to the tune of 20.5 sacks.  In 1987 Taylor was forced to miss his first football game(s) at any level including high school and college with a hamstring injury.

Suggs has all the confidence in the world he can return from his injury, albeit over-confidence by vowing he will return to action this year.  Compared to the great defensive players before him, he could return as a dominant player.

Future NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winners are now warned.  When collecting hardware as most-outstanding defender, please proceed with caution.

Not Everyone’s Cursed

Here is the complete list of NFL defensive players who have won the award as recognized by the Associated Press.

Year Player Team
1971 Alan Page Minnesota
1972 Joe Greene Pittsburgh
1973 Dick Anderson Miami
1974 Joe Greene Pittsburgh
1975 Mel Blount Pittsburgh
1976 Jack Lambert Pittsburgh
1977 Harvey Martin Dallas
1978 Randy Gradishar Denver
1979 Lee Roy Selmon Tampa Bay
1980 Lester Hayes Oakland
1981 Lawrence Taylor NY Giants
1982 Lawrence Taylor NY Giants
1983 Doug Betters Miami
1984 Kenny Easley Seattle
1985 Mike Singletary Chicago
1986 Lawrence Taylor NY Giants
1987 Reggie White Philadelphia
1988 Mike Singletary Chicago
1989 Keith Millard Minnesota
1990 Bruce Smith Buffalo
1991 Pat Swilling New Orleans
1992 Cortez Kennedy Seattle
1993 Rod Woodson Pittsburgh
1994 Deion Sanders San Francisco
1995 Bryce Paup Buffalo
1996 Bruce Smith Buffalo
1997 Dana Stubblefield San Francisco
1998 Reggie White Green Bay
1999 Warren Sapp Tampa Bay
2000 Ray Lewis Baltimore
2001 Michael Strahan NY Giants
2002 Derrick Brooks Tampa Bay
2003 Ray Lewis Baltimore
2004 Ed Reed Baltimore
2005 Brian Urlacher Chicago
2006 Jason Taylor Miami
2007 Bob Sanders Indianapolis
2008 James Harrison Pittsburgh
2009 Charles Woodson Green Bay
2010 Troy Polamalu Pittsburgh
2011 Terrell Suggs Baltimore

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