The 2021 NFL season is nearing kickoff, and bettors are firing in future bets ahead of the regular season. That includes the Defensive Player of the Year award.
While it seems easy to pencil Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald in as the favorite at +500, the three-time winner has some solid challengers, according to the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. But before you consider a bet on other favorites like Myles Garrett (+600), J.J. Watt (+750), Nick Bosa (+1100) or Chase Young (+1100), look down the board for potential long shots who could offer value.
Here are three dark-horse Defensive Player of the Year candidates to consider ahead of the 2021 season.
Defensive Player of the Year 2021 Odds
1. Chris Jones (+7000), DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Jones has been the second-best interior pass rusher in the league behind Aaron Donald over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. His 92.8 pass-rushing grade last season placed him second among all defenders, and Jones has produced a 90.0-plus pass-rushing grade in every year since 2018. The Chiefs defensive lineman made the Pro Bowl last year, and he ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks (32.0) since 2018. The Chiefs are the Super Bowl favorites and these are long odds for such a productive player on a top team.
2. Chandler Jones (+7000), OLB, Arizona Cardinals
Chandler Jones missed the majority of the 2020 season with a biceps injury. But the Cardinals OLB could be in for a big year in the desert with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's pressure schemes. Jones had a career year in 2019 with 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles working under Joseph, who was in his first year as DC with Arizona. Jones is in the final year of his contract, and a Comeback Player-of-the-Year season is clearly in the Cards now that he's healthy and working opposite of J.J. Watt. He's a player to watch for this award, though the trade request he made earlier this offseason could throw a wrench into things.
3. Vita Vea (+10000), DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vita Vea eats blocks and offensive lineman while stuffing the run. He's also the rare nose tackle who can get after the quarterback. Pro Football Focus notes that Vea is one of just three players with a pass-rush win rate above 15.0% when lined up over or shading the center since 2019. PFF also gave Vea the third-best pass-rushing grade (90.3) among all DTs last year. It's a small sample size, as Vea missed most of last season with a broken leg/ankle suffered in Week 5, but he returned later in the playoffs. The 2018 first-round pick is already a defensive dominator, which makes him a potential award winner with a full season to thrive in the dominant Bucs' defense.
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