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Dallas Cowboys corner back DaRon Bland (26) during an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers on November 19, 2023 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
November 29th, 2023
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons moved into the co-lead with Myles Garrett for best odds (+160) to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year after the Thanksgiving weekend, but Parsons also gained some new competition in teammate DaRon Bland, a second-year cornerback for Dallas.
The 2022 fifth-round pick jumped to fourth (+1100) in the odds for DPOY after recording his fifth pick-six of the year, which set a new NFL record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown by a player in one season.
Bland, who tallied five interceptions last season, started eight games as a rookie and filled in at nickel cornerback for an injured Jourdan Lewis in 2022. When Trevon Diggs went down with a season-ending ACL injury in late September, Bland moved to the outside and has more than sufficed as the All-Pro cornerback’s replacement.
Through 11 games, Bland leads the league in interceptions (seven), interception return yards (209), and he’s tied for fifth in passes defensed (13). His five defensive touchdowns also match the number of total scores thus far by offensive stars Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and DeVonta Smith.
Moreover, Bland’s 19.3 passer rating allowed is the lowest among players with 25 or more pass attempts thrown their direction this season, and he’s currently first in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback rankings.
In Bland’s most recent outing, a 45-10 rout of the Washington Commanders on Thanksgiving Day, he recorded seven solo tackles plus three assisted tackles, one pass deflection, and his lone interception was returned 63 yards for a touchdown.
That interception return was just a yard shy of his 64 total return yards against New England in Week 4, in which he picked off Patriots quarterback Mac Jones twice, with one of those interceptions taken 54 yards to the end zone by Bland.
What Bland has accomplished through 12 weeks of the season makes him a standout among any defensive position but when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year voting, cornerbacks have often been passed over. Just six have won the award since its inception in 1971.
The first CB to collect the title was four-time Super Bowl winner and Hall of Famer Mel Blount in 1975. Blount ranked first in the league in interceptions that year, with 11, and was also used as a kick returner.
In 1980, Lester Hayes became the second cornerback to win DPOY after he led the league with 13 interceptions, tied for the second most in history.
Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders handed the cornerback position back-to-back wins of Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Woodson recorded eight interceptions with 138 return yards and one defensive touchdown, and also made an impact as a kick returner. Sanders snagged six interceptions for a league-leading 303 return yards, the most in a season since 1961, and had three defensive touchdowns.
Charles Woodson secured DPOY in 2009 with a league-leading nine interceptions, three defensive touchdowns, and a historic Thanksgiving outing against Detroit in which he notched two interceptions, an interception-return touchdown, a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery.
Following Woodson’s win, there was a 10-year drought before then-New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, now a member of Dallas, won the award in 2019 — the last player of his position to do so.
H I S T O R Y 👑Still not over @DaRon_Bland’s record-breaking season 📈 pic.twitter.com/s7vAPPCu90— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) November 28, 2023
H I S T O R Y 👑Still not over @DaRon_Bland’s record-breaking season 📈 pic.twitter.com/s7vAPPCu90
A comparison of Gilmore’s 2019 season to Bland’s 2023 season makes an even stronger case for a seventh cornerback to claim the award after an overwhelming dominance by defensive linemen and edge rushers over the last decade.
In 2019, Gilmore topped the league in interceptions with six, one fewer than Bland’s total through 11 games, and Gilmore turned two of those picks into touchdowns. Bland is already three interception-return touchdowns ahead of him.
On top of that, Gilmore added 53 tackles (Bland has 48 at the moment), 126 interception return yards (Bland has 209 and counting), and 20 passes defensed (Bland has 13).
If Bland can continue his tear on quarterbacks and add another pick-six or two to his 2023 resume, it’ll be hard to deny him a piece of hardware at the end of the season. His +1100 price is alluring at the moment, and it could lower significantly in a week or two if we see him turn in another stellar performance like the one on Thanksgiving.
Myles Garrett (+160) exited last week’s loss to Denver with a sling on his left shoulder, which could affect his chances of winning DPOY. Parsons and T.J. Watt (+250) are the only other players ahead of Bland on the odds board, with Watt tied for the lead in sacks (13.5) and Parsons trailing behind with 11.5. While both have been essential to the success of their team, no one has been arguably more important than Bland.
He has not only emerged as one of the top defenders in the NFL in his second season, but he’s done so at a time when his team needed him to do so more than ever, all while transitioning to a new position. Stunningly, he's managed to make Trevon Diggs' absence nearly an afterthought for a top-five defense.
That kind of performance doesn’t just merit Defensive Player of the Year. One could argue, it makes him an MVP. But if nothing else, Bland's season is one that will long be remembered, and unlikely replicated, in the history of the NFL.
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