The AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award is an honor given to the league’s most outstanding defensive player. If you watched the San Francisco 49ers play in 2013, it would be easy to come to the conclusion the player most deserving of that award was Niners’ inside linebacker Navorro Bowman. To the surprise of many, however, not only did Bowman not win the award, he did not receive a single vote.
Carolina Panthers’ inside linebacker Luke Kuechly won the honor with 13 votes and was followed by Indianapolis Colts’ outside linebacker Robert Mathis with 11.5. Other players receiving votes were Seattle Seahawks’ safety Earl Thomas (7.5), St. Louis Rams’ defensive end Robert Quinn (6), Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman (4), and Houston Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt (2). While it’s hard to argue against any of these players warranting consideration, it’s mind-boggling that Bowman wasn’t at least in the conversation.
Bowman was dominant in 2013, racking up 145 tackles to go along with 5.0 sacks. He forced six turnovers (four fumbles and two interceptions) and his 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 16 may have been the biggest play for the 49ers all season. He was also named Defensive Player of the Month for his performance in December. During that time he was the only player in the last 20 years to record at least 45 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, an interception return for a touchdown, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in one calendar month.
What possibly stood out the most (or should have) was the fact that Bowman helped anchor the third-ranked defense in the NFL while it was without two of it’s star players. Fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis missed two games and was less than 100 percent for much of the season because of a groin injury. The team was also without standout pass rusher Aldon Smith for five games as he dealt with substance abuse issues.
Nothing was more evident of Bowman’s impact in the face of this adversity than in Weeks 4 and 5 when the team was without both Willis and Smith, and coming off a two game losing streak. Bowman helped his team right the ship by recording 20 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble as the 49ers outscored the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans by a combined score of 69-14. It helped jump start a five-game winning streak and turned around the season.
Kuechly (156 tackles, four interceptions), Mathis (19.5 sacks), Thomas (five interceptions), Quinn (19 sacks), Sherman (8 interceptions), and Watt (10.5 sacks) all had very good seasons. But did any of these players have the impact Bowman did? Apparently, the the 44 AP writers that voted thought so. If you polled the majority of players and fans though, I’m not so sure they would agree.
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