As I did on the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to pick the most valuable player on the defensive side of the ball.
The choice is just as clear as it was at the middle of the season, cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Like Jones, Trufant has emerged as the best player on the defensive side of the ball for the Falcons for the past two seasons. The third-year cornerback continued his grip atop that honor with another excellent 2015 season despite the fact that hit box-score numbers don’t immediately leap off the page.
Trufant finished 2015 with a career-low one interception and 11 pass breakups. But that can be partly explained with having limited opportunities to make plays on the ball since he was the least targeted corner in the NFL this past season. According to premium website Pro Football Focus’ metric, Trufant was targeted once every 9.8 plays he was lined up in coverage, which paced the entire league. In fact that specific mark is the best that any cornerback has produced since 2011.
It shows that opposing quarterbacks have clearly opted to avoid Trufant and it has gone to their benefit. Per Pro Football Focus, teams completed just 57 percent of their passes when targeting receivers covered by Trufant last year.
Head coach Dan Quinn realized the value of Trufant by year’s end, opting against his traditional stance of not shadowing receivers with his corners by allowing Trufant to cover Allen Robinson, Ted Ginn and Brandin Cooks in the final three weeks of the season. That was a stark shift from the beginning of the year when Quinn was unapologetic about not allowing Trufant to cover Odell Beckham, Jr. in Week Two when fellow cornerback Robert Alford struggled.
Trufant’s presence highlighted a Falcons stingy pass defense that gave up 19 touchdowns (tied for the third lowest in the NFL) and 50 pass plays of 20 or more yards (10th lowest). Nearly two-thirds (12) of the touchdowns over a third (36) of those big plays were made by opposing tight ends and running backs, making them less in the purview of the corners like Trufant. Had the Falcons’ safeties and linebackers been able to carry their weight, then the Falcons pass defense would have been even better.
And it’s a testament to Trufant and the team’s other corners that they were able to accomplish this with the league’s worst pass rush. Thus it’s an easy and obvious choice to find the most valuable player on defense.
To hear other people’s picks for the defensive MVP this past year, you can check out the awards episode of the FalcFans Podcast.