Could Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Tamba Hali emerge as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012? He’s not on the short list of candidates or even the dark horses, but Hali fits the profile of a player who could win it.
Last year’s winner was linebacker Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens, and he’ll miss most, if not all of the ’12 campaign, so we open with the certitude of their being a new winner. His teammate, safety Ed Reed, is a multiple-time winner, but is well past his prime. The same goes for Green Bay Packers’ cornerback Charles Woodson, the ’09 winner.
Other winners since 2005 include Brian Urlacher (LB, Chicago Bears), Jason Taylor (DE, Miami Dolphins), and Bob Sanders (S, Indianapolis Colts). All either hurt, past prime or retired. Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison won the award in 2008, but given the controversy surrounding his hitting style and his run-ins with the league office, Harrison seems like a longshot. The only player who’s both won the award and still seems a viable contender is Pittsburgh strong safety Troy Polamulu, the 2010 recipient.
So the race is clearly wide open, and as the prime blitzing linebacker in a 3-4 defense, Hali has the opportunity to ring up the sack numbers that will get him both stats and a place on the highlight shows and help build his campaign. He’s also a respected player against the run, something that will bode well for him in a close vote.
There are certainly other contenders with even higher profiles—Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and defensive ends like Jared Allen (Minnesota Vikings) and Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants). You could certainly make a case that if Buffalo Bills’ DE/LB Mario Williams stays healthy he could make a run at the award. But Hali has at least a chance to become the first Kansas City Chief to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
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