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Seahawks: Will rare Triple Crown bring defensive player of the year award?

Cornerback Richard Sherman celebrates with free safety Earl Thomas after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 22 in Seattle
Cornerback Richard Sherman celebrates with free safety Earl Thomas after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 22 in Seattle
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Pete Carroll has put together the best secondary in the NFL, as evidenced by the fact that Seattle's three main starters all were named All-Pros.

Few questioned the Legion of Boom's No. 1 status even before the All-Pro teams were announced. But the big question is: Does the Legion have the best all-around defender in the league this season?

Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor spearheaded the league's best defense, which netted a rare trifecta by allowing the fewest points (14.4 per game) and yards (273.6) and the most takeaways (39).

Thomas and Sherman were named the best at their positions for the second straight year and Chancellor followed his second Pro Bowl selection with a spot on the All-Pro second team.

Sherman, who led the league with eight interceptions, and Thomas, who had five picks and 105 tackles, are seemingly on the short list of candidates for defensive player of the year. But does one of them really have a chance?

The Seahawks have had the DPOY twice: safety Kenny Easley in 1984 and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy in 1992.

Easley won the award with a league-high 10 interceptions , two for touchdowns, on a Seattle defense that set a team record with 38 picks. That 1984 defense still stands second in NFL history with 63 forced turnovers.

Kennedy won the DPOY despite playing on a 2-14 team that had the worst offense in NFL history. He was the most dominant defensive player in the league, notching 14 sacks, 92 tackles and four forced fumbles.

Neither of those Seattle defenses was the best in the league: The 1984 squad was fifth in scoring, sixth in yards and first in takeaways. The 1992 club was 17/10/18.

Carroll's defense is only the third since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to get the trifecta, ranking first in points, yards and takeaways (the 1970 Vikings and 1985 Bears also did it, per Pro Football Reference).

Sherman thinks that merits another DPOY award for the Seahawks.

“I definitely think it should come to Seattle," he told reporters last week. "Just like a quarterback that gets MVP, it’s usually the best player on the best team. I think the best player on the best defense should probably get the defensive player of the year. You can’t punish them for how great the other players are, how great a front seven you have or how great the other players around you are. So I think it should come to Seattle, whether it’s Earl Thomas or myself or Michael Bennett or any other player who had a great season for our defense.”

The No. 1 defense has never been guaranteed the honor. In fact, it has generally leaned the opposite direction.

Since the award was first handed out in 1971, 12 teams have finished with the consensus No. 1 defense (points and yards), and just four of them have produced the defensive player of the year: the 2008 Steelers (linebacker James Harrison), the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (linebacker Derrick Brooks), the 1985 Bears (linebacker Mike Singletary) and the 1979 Bucs (defensive end Lee Roy Selmon).

That would seem to make it only 25 percent likely that the Hawks would have the DPOY.

But they have a possible trump card up their sleeve with the No. 1 troika. They are just the second team in the DPOY era to record the Triple Crown (first in points, yards and takeaways), joining the 1985 Bears. And Singletary was DPOY that year, so perhaps Sherman has a case.

Of course, it also comes down to the competition, and Thomas and Sherman certainly face some superstar contenders.

Two division foes lead the way. St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn was second in the NFL with 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles and also scored a touchdown.

San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman was fifth in the league with 145 tackles and also had five sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a touchdown.

Other star defenders include Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict (league-best 171 tackles, plus three sacks), Indianapolis end Robert Mathis (league-high 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles), Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman (126 tackles, 5.5 sacks, six forced fumbles), Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David (144 tackles, six sacks, five INTs) and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly (156 tackles, four INTs).

The odds appear stacked against Sherman as just five cornerbacks have won the award in 42 years. Corners generally need three touchdowns (Sherman had one) or double-digit picks. Rod Woodson (1993 Steelers) was the lone exception; like Sherman, he had eight picks, but he had twice as many tackles as Sherman (95-49) and also had two sacks and two forced fumbles (Sherman has none).

If the defensive trifecta weighs heavily in voters' minds, Thomas would seem to have a better shot at the award. Just five safeties have won, but three -- Troy Polamalu, Bob Sanders and Ed Reed -- have received it in the past decade.

In 2010, the Steelers' Polamalu had seven interceptions, 49 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one recovery on a defense that ranked first in points, second in yards and third in takeaways. He edged Green Bay's Clay Matthews (13.5 sacks, three takeaways) by two votes.

In 2007, the Colts' Sanders had just two picks, with 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Still, Sanders was the overwhelming winner, getting 31 of the 50 votes as the leader of the league's No. 1 scoring defense (third in yards). Seattle's Patrick Kerney tied for second with just four votes.

In 2004, the Ravens' Reed led the league with nine picks and added two sacks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and 64 tackles for a unit that ranked sixth in points and yards.

With 105 tackles, five picks and two forced fumbles, Thomas has put up better numbers than Polamalu and Sanders while playing for a better defense -- and he has been every bit the team leader those two were.

The question is: Will voters favor a dominant player such as Quinn or Bowman or will they reward Thomas for leading a rare defensive Triple Crown winner?

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