MIAMI -- It's safe to say the Patriots' decision to hand cornerback Stephon Gilmore a mega contract before the 2017 season has more than paid off. After leading the Patriots defense to the top of the rankings this season, Gilmore was rewarded with the most prestigious award a defensive player has a realistic shot of winning.
It wasn't a particularly close race. Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones finished in second with seven fewer votes than Gilmore. What's interesting is that Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick did not get a single vote, even though his arrival via trade helped turn the Steelers defense into a dominant enough unit that they nearly made the playoffs with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph at quarterback.
AP Defensive Player of the Year voting:— Anthony Galaviz (@agalaviz_TheBee) February 1, 2020
Stephon Gilmore, CB, #Patriots 21
Chandler Jones, Edge, #Cardinals 14
T.J. Watt, Edge, #Steelers 10
Shaq Barrett, LB, #Buccaneers 2
Danielle Hunter, Edge, #Vikings 1
Tre’Davious White, CB, #Bills 1
Aaron Donald, DT, #Rams 1
The award was given to Gilmore for his six-interception, two-touchdown, and 53-tackle season. With Gilmore leading the way, the Patriots' defense ranked first in most statistical categories: yards allowed, points allowed, interceptions, and DVOA. As the Patriots offense floundered, which ended up costing them dearly in the postseason, the defense led the team to a 12-4 record and yet another AFC East crown.
To put into perspective just how great Gilmore was in 2019, consider that his approximate value -- a metric Pro-Football-Reference uses to estimate a player's overall value -- was 21. Gilmore has long been a good cornerback in the league, but his highest AV before this season was 14. It's worth noting that Gilmore had never posted an AV in double digits until he joined Bill Belichick in New England. The two have been a perfect fit.
Gilmore's win snapped Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald's two-year winning streak. It also marked the first time since 2010 that a defensive back won Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore became the first defensive back to win since Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. He also became the first cornerback to win since Charles Woodson won back in 2009. The previous eight winners include one inside linebacker in Luke Kuechly and four players who attack quarterbacks -- Donald (twice), J.J. Watt (three times), Khalil Mack (once) and Terrell Suggs (once).
Gilmore's victory represents the first time a Patriots player has captured Defensive Player of the Year honors since the Associated Press started handing out the award in 1971.