The Case For Tyrann Mathieu as NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: Strong safety Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts to a defensive stop against the Chicago Bears in the third quarter of the game at Soldier Field on December 22, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 22: Strong safety Tyrann Mathieu #32 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts to a defensive stop against the Chicago Bears in the third quarter of the game at Soldier Field on December 22, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Tyrann Mathieu was snubbed from the Pro Bowl. Tyrann Mathieu has flown under the radar all season long. Tyrann Mathieu can not be overlooked any more.

If you would have told a fan before the season that the Kansas City Chiefs would have a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, they would have laughed in your face.

Seventeen weeks later, the Chiefs not only have a defense that ranks among the best in the league, but a player that may have a legitimate claim at the defensive throne He’s the Honey Badger, the Landlord, the man so smart that offenses struggle to game plan around him: Tyrann Mathieu.

Mathieu should join a ballot alongside players like Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, Shaq Barrett and Nick Bosa in being legitimate contenders for the throne and title of Defensive Player of the Year. Not only is this a prestigious honor, but stands as a great talking point come contract negotiations.

What exactly is it that puts Mathieu above the elite company also contending for the title? What has Mathieu done to stand out in a year with so many great defensive players?

The Honey Badger stands out as the best safety in the league this season, even if the Pro Bowl decided that was not the case. This is a huge claim considering Jamal Adams, Anthony Harris, and Earl Thomas all play the same position.

When looking at it statistically, Mathieu is the whole package for a safety. Leading the team with 4 interceptions and 12 pass knockdowns (and five dropped interceptions) in the defensive backfield, as well as a team-best 63 solo tackles all over the field, Mathieu has almost single-handedly lifted the Chiefs’ defense into elite status at times. When lined up in double safety, opponents failed to have any success to the deep right side of the field as seen by the chart below.

The Landlord was not content with exclusively making his presence felt in the defensive backfield however, as he was used effectively by Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnoulo all over the field. Mathieu even made his way into the offensive backfield, where he picked up 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. His delayed blitzes affected many quarterbacks this year. He forced Tom Brady to throw passes too early. He sent Mitchell Trubisky sprinting out of the pocket. He confused Drew Lock, who spent extra time under center trying to locate him.

Off the field, Mathieu’s presense has been felt as well, changing the culture and atmosphere around the defense. Everyone on the unit has elevated their play with the same energy and swagger. When Tyrann Mathieu is plugged in, so is the rest of the team.

Does all of this lift him above the rest of the DPOY candidates?  Stephen Gilmore led the league in interceptions, Chandler Jones fell a half sack short of the sack title below Barrett. Nick Bosa is Nick Bosa. What make Matheiu the better player of the group?

It could be strength of schedule, where Tyrann Matheiu and the Kansas City Chiefs had the third hardest schedule in the league. Stephon Gilmore and the New England Patriots fall towards the bottom with the 25th hardest schedule, up against far easier opponents then the Chiefs. Nick Bosa and the San Francisco 49ers came close to the Chiefs with the seventh hardest schedule, and Chandler Jones and the Arizona Cardinals just behind them with the ninth hardest schedule. Surely Mathieu could have pulled down at least 2 more interceptions if the schedule had included quarterbacks like Trevor Sieman, Luke Falk, Sam Darnold, Andy Dalton, Colt McCoy, and Daniel Jones.

Overall, the most impressive impact that Mathieu has made in 2019 is making the overall defense, and specifically the secondary, good. In 2018, the Kansas City Chiefs were the 31st-ranked defense in the league, making it to the AFC Championship game on the back of their offense and their offense alone. The Chiefs allowed 26.3 points per game and 405.5 yards per game opening the door for teams to walk all over the Chiefs.

In 2019, the Chiefs stand as the best defenses in the AFC and one of the best in league. Allowing only 19.25 points per game and 349.6 yards per game, the Chiefs defense has become much better over the course of just 12 months. Over the last 7 weeks, the Chiefs have managed to nail down that success only allowing 11.7 points per game and 316.5 yards per game.

At the very least, Mathieu deserves to be in the conversation for the best defensive player in the league this season. The Chiefs are a much more balanced team for having signed him. His attitude is infectious and his leadership is obvious. The on-field production speaks for itself.

So, for your consideration, this is my bid for Tyrann Mathieu as DPOY.

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