2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Odds, Picks: Bet Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons, T.J. Watt
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Myles Garrett.
As we continue to dig into season-long award bets for the 2023 NFL season, it's time to get defensive.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) isn't the sexiest award, but before you tune out, you should know this might be the most predictable award on the slate. That means we can find great value as bettors.
San Francisco's Nick Bosa won last year, leading the league with 18.5 sacks for a nasty 49ers defense that ranked first in fewest points per game allowed. Bosa got 46 of 50 first-place votes.
Will Bosa repeat in 2023? Before we narrow the field and place our bets, let's start by building a historical profile of recent DPOY winners.
Be sure to check out all the other awards previews and picks:
- Most Valuable Player (MVP)
- Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
- Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)
- Coach of the Year
- Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
- Comeback Player of the Year
- NFL Season Leaders
- Season Awards podcast ft. Gilles Gallant & Brendan Glasheen
Who Wins Defensive Player of the Year?
Look at the patterns from the last 10 DPOY winners:
- 2022 Nick Bosa, 49ers
- 2021 T.J. Watt, Steelers
- 2020 Aaron Donald, Rams
- 2019 Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
- 2018 Aaron Donald, Rams
- 2017 Aaron Donald, Rams
- 2016 Khalil Mack, Raiders
- 2015 J.J. Watt, Texans
- 2014 J.J. Watt, Texans
- 2013 Luke Kuechly, Panthers
1. The same DPOY candidates get votes year after year.
Defense is about respect. Once the league's elite earn voters' respect, they tend to get votes year after year. There are only 50 voters, but even still, Aaron Donald received at least one first-place vote in seven straight seasons before last year's injury-plagued campaign.
Donald and J.J. Watt have won five of the last 10 — six of the last 11, actually. Both Donald and Watt won DPOY three times in a four-year stretch. Only eight players have multiple DPOY awards in NFL history, and it's a Hall of Fame list — Donald, Watt, Ray Lewis, Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor (x3), Mike Singletary and Joe Greene.
While the same guys keep getting votes, you better be really good to win that second DPOY.
The bigger takeaway: six of the last 10 winners finished top six in DPOY voting the year before. There are approximately 800 defenders rostered in the NFL, and 60% of the time only six of them are really in the mix.
Last year's top six: Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, Chris Jones, Haason Reddick, Myles Garrett, Maxx Crosby.
Notice anything in common with those guys?
2. Modern winners get after the quarterback and rack up sacks.
Eight of the last 10 winners were ferocious pass rushers. Eight of nine, really.
Last year's top-six vote getters recorded 18.5, 13.5, 15.5, 16, 16 and 12.5 sacks. They ranked 1st, 7th, 4th, T-2nd, T-2nd and T-8th in sacks. Turns out it really is that simple.
Stephon Gilmore and Luke Kuechly were exceptions to the norm. Gilmore led the league in interceptions and passes defensed for a No. 1 Patriots defense. Kuechly played linebacker at the heart of a top-three Panthers defense.
The other eight winners got after the quarterback to the tune of 16.9 sacks on average in their winning season. All eight had at least 11 sacks, and five had at least 17.5. The bar is high.
3. We're looking for a defender in his prime, ideally age 25-27.
Seven of the last 10 winners were between the ages of 25 and 27, with an average age of 26.1 over the past decade.
The last DPOY in his 30s was Charles Woodson (2009). Gilmore and Donald won at 29. The only outlier over the last decade was Kuechly, who won in his sophomore season at age 22.
So we need a great defender in his prime, preferably a pass rusher. But there's one more pattern.
4. This isn't a team award — DPOY is about individual brilliance.
You might think voters just choose the best defender from the best defense, but that's not always the case.
Only five of the last 10 DPOY winners played on a defense that finished top 10 in PPG allowed, and only four were top six. Six of our 10 winners played for teams that finished top seven in Defensive DVOA.
The average DPOY played for a team ranked 10th in PPG allowed and 9th in Defensive DVOA.
That's not bad! But it's not exactly great, not even in the top quarter of the league. Only two winners in the last decade finished top three in both categories — our two positional outliers, Kuechly and Gilmore. In fact, three of our winners finished 20th or worse in PPG.
You do need to win. All 10 won at least nine games, with an average of 11.1 wins.
When there's one super elite defense, voters go for best-player-best-team. Otherwise, they tend to just pick the best defender — which is usually just the guy with the most sacks.
So what are we looking for in a Defensive Player of the Year?
We really want the league's best defender, likely a pass rusher. It's probably someone age 25-27 with 15+ sacks on a top-10 defense, on a team with 9+ wins. And we should start with last year's top-six vote getters.
In last year's DPOY preview, we narrowed the field to six names. Three of them got hurt, and the other three finished first, second and fifth in voting. This year, we'll narrow it to five.
Let's rule some key names out, and then focus on the five players most likely to win.
3 Names to Avoid Despite Short Odds
Sauce Gardner, Jets +2000
Aidan Hutchinson, Lions +3000
Chris Jones, Chiefs +3500
Voters still tend to fall back on the numbers, and sacks are easy, flashy numbers.
Sauce Gardner leads a fun Jets defense, but he had only two interceptions and no sacks in his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign. His odds are far too short for a non-pass rusher who won't have a good statistical argument. He's also young, heading into his age-23 season.
I'd rather bet on his teammate, Quinnen Williams (+3300), who had 12 sacks last year — but I'll pass on both.
It's also too soon for Aidan Hutchinson at age 23. He had a nice rookie season with 9.5 sacks, but he doesn't have much help in Detroit and still needs to earn his reputation.
Chris Jones has the rep, but he's threatening to use it to hold out and potentially miss up to eight games. He matched his 2018 total with 15.5 sacks last year — that was probably as close as he'll get to DPOY.
6 Long-Shot Pass Rushers to Keep in Mind
Rashan Gary, Packers +6000
Trey Hendrickson, Bengals +8000
Danielle Hunter, Vikings +10000
Bradley Chubb, Dolphins +10000
Harold Landry, Titans +15000
Alex Highsmith, Steelers (no odds)
We know we want a pass rusher who's capable of 15 or more sacks. These guys fit the bill, with long enough odds to nibble if you fancy a sleeper.
Rashan Gary had six sacks in nine games last fall before getting injured, an 11.3-sack pace. At age 26, he's in his prime and plays for a talented Packers defense that's disappointed the last few years. If the talent adds up and Gary stays healthy, he could have a big year.
We've probably already seen Trey Hendrickson's best, with 14- and 13.5-sack seasons in the past three years. At age 29, he's likely more of a down-ballot candidate even in a great year. You could say something similar about Danielle Hunter, who's the same age with a similar sack history.
Miami traded for Bradley Chubb midseason and got him on track late. He hasn't had double-digit sacks since his rookie season in 2018, but he fits the mold — age 27 and playing for possibly a top-five Dolphins defense led by new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Miami looks like more of an egalitarian effort though, with the sacks spread around.
Harold Landry missed all of last season for the Titans, but had 12 sacks the previous year. He's 27 and plays on a talented defensive line for a unit that was pretty good last year before injuries took hold.
I can't find odds anywhere for Alex Highsmith despite his 14.5 sacks last fall, including 11 in the 10 games with T.J. Watt healthy and attracting double teams. Highsmith is 26 and led the NFL in forced fumbles last season, and he'll see a lot of single-teams opposite Watt and Markus Golden.
This is a favorites' award, but if you want a long shot, choose one of those six.
5 Pass Rushers to Avoid
Matthew Judon, Patriots +5000
Matthew Judon had 15.5 sacks a year ago and 12.5 the season before that, but he had only 8.3 expected sacks and is already 31 years old. The Patriots could have one of the league's top defenses in 2023, but they already were that last season — Judon only got two votes and finished ninth in DPOY voting.
The odds feel a bit long for a guy coming off 15.5 sacks, but as likely as the favorites are to win DPOY, the reality is that the others in this section should probably be closer to Judon's +5000 or longer, implied 2% or less.
Joey Bosa, Chargers +4500
Nick's older brother played only five games last season. He tallied between 10.5 and 12.5 sacks in four of the six seasons before that.
Joey Bosa won Rookie of the Year in 2016 and has frequently been one of the names to consider here, but he's missed serious time due to injury in four of seven NFL seasons. At age 28, and with his injury history and an unreliable Chargers defense, it's hard to earn our bet.
Haason Reddick, Eagles +3000
The Eagles were two sacks away from the all-time NFL record last season, and Haason Reddick led the way.
He's registered three consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks, all for different teams. Reddick finished with 16 sacks last season and was the only player — other than Nick Bosa — to get multiple first-place DPOY votes, though he finished fourth in the final tally.
It's hard to believe that wasn't the peak. Outlier performances are outliers for a reason, and both Reddick and the entire Eagles pass rush are due for regression.
Four Eagles had double-digit sacks last year. That number is bound to come down, and Reddick is probably moving past his prime at age 29 and way outperformed his 7.3 expected sacks.
Maxx Crosby, Raiders +2500
Maxx Crosby led the league in expected sacks, thanks in part to his run-stopping ability and lack of team depth that left him on the field for an insane 1,186 snaps (almost 70 per game).
He's had between seven and 12.5 sacks in each of his four seasons. He is in his prime at age 26, and he finished top six in last year's voting, so he's in the mix.
The Raiders defense is bad though, and the entire team might be. That likely lends itself to less pass-rushing opportunities, and it's hard to see Las Vegas getting anywhere near top 10 in defense or winning nine games. In truth, Crosby and Chandler Jones are the team's only real strength.
Aaron Donald, Rams +2000
You can never rule out Aaron Donald, who's probably the best defender in at least modern NFL history.
Donald is coming off a disappointing season with only 11 games played. That left him without a single DPOY vote for the first time in seven seasons. Before last year, he finished 3rd, 1st, 5th, 1st, 1st, 4th and 2nd — pretty good.
Still, Donald is 32 now and showed signs of slipping half a step last fall, even when he did play. And outside of Donald, the other 10 Rams starters might be the worst defense in football. Donald has quite a legacy, and a fourth DPOY would be a record, but this number is too short to give him a shot.
We just touched on about 15 great defenders, but we've got five guys left. And I'd make it 75% or better that our 2023 Defensive Player of the Year is on the list of five names below.
The 5 Most Likely Winners
Brian Burns, Panthers +4000 (BetRivers)
Brian Burns probably belongs in that last group, but he's my favorite mid-odds sleeper by a good margin.
He had 12.5 sacks in 2022 after tallying 9.0, 9.0 and 7.5 over his first three seasons. He's 25 and in line to break out as the star of what could be the NFL's next great defense.
The Panthers hired an All-Star coaching staff and that includes new DC Ejiro Evero, who helped shape a terrific Broncos defense last year. Evero's aggressive style fits this roster. He could unleash Burns for his best year yet, especially with Justin Houston opposite him.
Nick Bosa, 49ers +1200 (FanDuel)
Remember, voters tend to reward repeat winners, with six of the last 11 going to the same two players. Nick Bosa is heading into his age-26 season and had 18.5 and 15.5 sacks over the last two years, so it's possible he just keeps winning this thing.
I can't make that bet. Bosa is still holding out, so we don't know when we'll see him on the field. He also has surprisingly little pass-rushing help around him, and will be playing in a new scheme with DC Steve Wilks taking over for DeMeco Ryans. It's not out of the question that the 49ers defense takes a step back.
Bosa had 8.3 expected sacks last season, so he outperformed expectations by 10 sacks, which is the most of any player. His Pass Rush Win Rate ranks 13th and 8th the last two years — great, but not elite.
If Bosa ends his holdout and plays the full season for this talented 49ers defense, he's certainly a candidate to repeat. I'll pass at +1200.
T.J. Watt, Steelers +850 (FanDuel)
T.J. Watt was one of my two picks last year. It looked great after an upset win over the Bengals in Week 1, in which Watt had a sack and an interception. But he also got hurt and ended up playing 10 games in a down season.
Watt was the defending DPOY last fall, coming off a season with 22.5 sacks. He had 15, 14.5 and 13 the years before that and finished top three in DPOY voting three straight seasons before 2022. If he stays healthy for a great Steelers defense, he'll surely be in the mix again.
It should be noted, though, that Watt would be a slight outlier. He's a touch old (29 in October), and he didn't get any votes last season. He would be only the ninth player to win multiple DPOY awards, and only the third this century to win a non-consecutive, second DPOY.
Myles Garrett, Browns +800 (DraftKings)
Last year, I noted that Myles Garrett was a top candidate but missed one key criterion — he didn't have voter history on his side. That may not be a problem now since Garrett finished fifth in voting after a second straight 16-sack season.
That's now five consecutive double-digit sack seasons for Garrett, and he plays for a loaded Browns defense that I ranked 7th for the new season. He plays on what should be a greatly improved defensive line, with new DTs Shelby Harris and Dalvin Tomlinson on the inside and Za'Darius Smith coming off the opposite edge to take some attention off Garrett.
New DC Jim Schwartz loves to play wide nine, moving his pass rushers far out onto the edge to give them the angle. Garrett could be in line for a huge season, maybe even pushing 20 sacks, and he has Seth Walder's highest projected sack total in three years.
But he's still not the favorite.
Micah Parsons, Cowboys +550 (Caesars Sportsbook)
Micah Parsons is the betting favorite, and he feels like the right favorite. It looked like he would run away with the award last fall, racking up eight sacks in seven games to start the season before slowing down to just 5.5 over the final 10.
That gives Parsons 13.5 and 13 sacks in his two seasons, both for an elite Dallas defense that's led the league in takeaways each year. The Cowboys are a near consensus No. 1 defense for the new season. Parsons finished second in DPOY voting last year even without a first-place vote.
Parsons only rushed the passer on 48% of his snaps because of his versatile role, but the Cowboys look set to win a heap of games — that should give Parsons plenty of opportunities to pin his ears back and get after the passer.
He's going to win DPOY at some point. Why not now?
So, we have three excellent candidates, all with the three best odds. Which one should we bet?
Would you believe the answer might just be all three?
The implied odds suggest Parsons is 15.4% likely to win, with Garrett at 11.1% and Watt at 10.5%. I think all three of those percentages are too low, considering how strong favorites do here and how narrow the field is.
I'd take Parsons, Garrett and Watt versus the field. In fact, my numbers make them almost 2-to-1 favorites against the field. I've got Parsons at 27% to win, Garrett at 20% and Watt at 17%.
That means there's value on all three — so I'm betting each of them.
If we bet all three players evenly, we get an implied +170, or 37.0%, versus my 64%. I'll take that edge.
If you don't want to bet all three, pick your two favorites. Parsons is technically a year young for our age range, while Garrett (28 in December) and Watt (29 in October) are a touch high.
If you don't like the favorite, you can bet just Garrett and Watt together at an implied +363 (21.6%). Other combinations work too, and I don't mind adding in a touch of Burns at +4000 to round out the portfolio.
It's quite likely the DPOY comes down to just five to seven guys. If we can lock in three of them — the three most likely winners — at +170, I'll take my chances. Build your Defensive Player of the Year position around Micah Parsons +550, Myles Garrett +800 and T.J. Watt +850.