Shaquil Barrett's three-sack rush to the finish line on the final weekend of the NFL's 2019 season made him the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer ever to lead the league in that category. Barrett finished with a Buccaneer single-season 19.5 sacks, a mark that has been topped only 12 times in the 38 years since the sack became an official NFL statistic.
Because he is in such rarified air on that list, Barrett has a chance to do something else that three other Buccaneers have done in the past: Be named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Associated Press introduced that award in 1971 and the Buccaneers joined the league as its 27th franchise five years later. Just four seasons into their on-field history, the Bucs had a Defensive Player of the Year in future Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks joined Selmon on that list in 1999 and 2002, respectively, and both also went on to get busts in Canton.
In the 44 seasons that the Bucs have been in the league, only one team has had more individuals named AP Defensive Player of the Year. Tampa Bay's three is matched by three Baltimore Ravens (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs), with only Pittsburgh's four (Jack Lambert, Rod Woodson, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu). Barrett could help the Bucs match the Steelers total, and if he does so it will undoubtedly be due to his prowess in football's defensive glamour stat.
In fact, if Barrett had collected just one more half-sack and joined the 12 other 20-plus-sack seasons in league history he would almost certainly have ended up at or near the top of the DPOTY award balloting. Those 12 seasons were recorded by 11 different players – Houston's J.J. Watt has done it twice – and six of those campaigns resulted in Defensive Player of the Year awards. Four of the other six players on the list finished second in the balloting for that award and one finished third. The only time a player finished with 20-plus sacks and didn't finish in the top three for NFL DPOTY was when Kansas City's Justin Houston had 22 in 2014, the year Watt became the first-ever unanimous choice for that award.
Barrett is one of five players who have recorded 19.5-sack seasons. The most recent one before him was the Indianapolis Colts' Robert Mathis in 2013, who was second in that year's DPOTY balloting. That season, Mathis also had 21 quarterback hits, eight forced fumbles, no interceptions, one pass defensed and 59 total tackles. In 2019, Barrett combined his 19.5 sacks with 37 QB hits (tied for the NFL lead), six forced fumbles, one interception, two passes defensed and 58 total tackles.
Leading the league in sacks is a good way to get on the short list for Defensive Player of the Year, though it is not quite a golden ticket. Three of the last seven sack leaders have won the award – Aaron Donald last year and Watt in 2015 and 2012. Overall, since the sack became official in '82, eight players have paired the league's lead in that category with a DPOTY award. Perhaps more significantly, seven of the last eight winners have all been very productive pass-rushers.
Of course, Barrett's incredible statistics can't be judged in a vacuum. There are unquestionably some very strong additional candidates for 2019 DPOTY acclaim. Barrett only topped Arizona's Chandler Jones by a half-sack, and Jones will surely garner some votes. However, both Barrett and Jones could see their chances dimmed a bit because they played for teams that finished below .500. Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, who produced 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 36 quarterback hits, also toiled for a Steelers team that went 8-8.
View pictures of LB Shaq Barrett, the cheerleaders and Captain Fear at the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl
In 1971, the very first AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award went Minnesota defensive tackle Alan Page, who was also named the league MVP as he led the Vikings to an 11-3 record and a division title. Including that year, the DPOTY award has gone to a member of a playoff time 41 out of 48 seasons. It has only gone to a player on a team with a sub-.500 record five times, most remarkably when Cortez Kennedy won it in 1992 on a 2-14 Seattle Seahawks club. Perhaps the most relevant example for Barrett and the Buccaneers is Michael Strahan, who led the NFL in sacks in 2001 and won the award for a 7-9 New York Giants squad.
Among this year's candidates who get the boost of playing for a playoff-bound team (the votes are cast before the playoffs but not revealed until the day before the Super Bowl) are New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore, San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa, Buffalo cornerback Tre'Davious White and Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith. Gilmore led the NFL with 20 passes defensed and tied for the lead with six interceptions while playing for the NFL's top-ranked defense. White also had six picks and 17 passes defensed and starred on the third-ranked defensive unit. Bosa, a rookie, had 25 quarterback hits for the Super Bowl-bound 49ers. Smith, like Barrett, was an immediate hit as a free agent signee for the Packers, racking up 13.5 sacks and tying Barrett for the league lead with 37 QB hits.
The winner of the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award will be announced this coming Saturday at the annual NFL Honors show, which will be aired by Fox beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET. Shaq Barrett should probably be on hand in case his name is called. There is stiff competition for the award, to be sure, but the NFL's sack leader is undoubtedly one of the top candidates. If he wins, he will join a very elite group in the 44-year history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.