Deacon Awards 1943-2017

Named in honor of the feared pass rusher who coined the term “quarterback sack,” Deacon Jones, the Deacon Award goes to the finest defensive end in the league each season. I don’t see any reason to overcomplicate this award. I want a defensive end who can make life hard on quarterbacks, and if he can play the run well, that’s an added bonus. Obviously, I’d prefer someone who can do both, but if I only get one, the choice is a simple one. Sacks are important, but the stat only officially goes back to 1982. Pressures, hits, and hurries are important, but those are often nebulously defined and different across different sources. Tackles for a loss or no gain (or stuffs) are important, but those also seem to vary depending on the source. Regardless of the drawbacks to using such stats, I use them anyway and do what I can to synthesize the information with film study, which is useful for determining how those numbers came to be. Remember, awards are binary, so I can only name one winner. If your favorite person didn’t get the award, just tell yourself he was the runner up.

Deacon Award Winners

The table below contains every Deacon Award winner since 1943. Read it thus: In 1943, playing in the NFL, Al Blozis of the Giants won his first Deacon Award.

YearLeagueDETeam#
1943NFLAl BlozisNew York Giants1
1944NFLAl BlozisNew York Giants2
1945NFLAl WistertPhiladelphia Eagles1
1946NFLAl WistertPhiladelphia Eagles2
1947NFLAl WistertPhiladelphia Eagles3
1948NFLEd SprinkleChicago Bears1
1948AAFCLen FordCleveland Browns1
1949NFLEd SprinkleChicago Bears2
1949AAFCLen FordCleveland Browns2
1950NFLEd SprinkleChicago Bears3
1951NFLLen FordCleveland Browns3
1952NFLLen FordCleveland Browns4
1953NFLLen FordCleveland Browns5
1954NFLLen FordCleveland Browns6
1955NFLGene BritoWashington1
1956NFLAndy RobustelliNew York Giants1
1957NFLGino MarchettiBaltimore Colts1
1958NFLGino MarchettiBaltimore Colts2
1959NFLDoug AtkinsChicago Bears1
1960NFLDoug AtkinsChicago Bears2
1960AFLLaVerne TorczonBuffalo Bills1
1961NFLGino MarchettiBaltimore Colts3
1961AFLEarl FaisonSan Diego Chargers1
1962NFLAndy RobustelliNew York Giants2
1962AFLDon FloydHouston Oilers1
1963NFLJim KatcavageNew York Giants1
1963AFLLarry EisenhauerBoston Patriots1
1964NFLWillie DavisGreen Bay Packers1
1964AFLEarl FaisonSan Diego Chargers2
1965NFLWillie DavisGreen Bay Packers2
1965AFLEarl FaisonSan Diego Chargers3
1966NFLWillie DavisGreen Bay Packers3
1966AFLJerry MaysKansas City Chiefs1
1967NFLDeacon JonesLos Angeles Rams1
1967AFLBen DavidsonOakland Raiders1
1968NFLDeacon JonesLos Angeles Rams2
1968AFLRich JacksonDenver Broncos1
1969NFLCarl EllerMinnesota Vikings1
1969AFLRich JacksonDenver Broncos2
1970NFLRich JacksonDenver Broncos3
1971NFLCarl EllerMinnesota Vikings2
1972NFLClaude HumphreyAtlanta Falcons1
1973NFLBill StanfillMiami Dolphins1
1974NFLL.C. GreenwoodPittsburgh Steelers1
1975NFLJack YoungbloodLos Angeles Rams1
1976NFLJack YoungbloodLos Angeles Rams2
1977NFLHarvey MartinDallas Cowboys1
1978NFLAl BakerDetroit Lions1
1979NFLLee Roy SelmonTampa Bay Buccaneers1
1980NFLArt StillKansas City Chiefs1
1981NFLJoe KleckoNew York Jets1
1982NFLDoug MartinMinnesota Vikings1
1983NFLHowie LongLos Angeles Raiders1
1984NFLHowie LongLos Angeles Raiders2
1985NFLRichard DentChicago Bears1
1986NFLDexter ManleyWashington1
1987NFLReggie WhitePhiladelphia Eagles1
1988NFLReggie WhitePhiladelphia Eagles2
1989NFLReggie WhitePhiladelphia Eagles3
1990NFLBruce SmithBuffalo Bills1
1991NFLReggie WhitePhiladelphia Eagles4
1992NFLClyde SimmonsPhiladelphia Eagles1
1993NFLBruce SmithBuffalo Bills2
1994NFLBruce SmithBuffalo Bills3
1995NFLNeil SmithKansas City Chiefs1
1996NFLBruce SmithBuffalo Bills4
1997NFLMichael StrahanNew York Giants1
1998NFLMichael StrahanNew York Giants2
1999NFLJevon KearseTennessee Titans1
2000NFLJason TaylorMiami Dolphins1
2001NFLMichael StrahanNew York Giants3
2002NFLJason TaylorMiami Dolphins2
2003NFLMichael StrahanNew York Giants4
2004NFLJulius PeppersCarolina Panthers1
2005NFLOsi UmenyioraNew York Giants1
2006NFLJason TaylorMiami Dolphins3
2007NFLJared AllenKansas City Chiefs1
2008NFLJustin TuckNew York Giants1
2009NFLJared AllenMinnesota Vikings2
2010NFLJustin SmithSan Francisco 49ers1
2011NFLTerrell SuggsBaltimore Ravens1
2012NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans1
2013NFLRobert QuinnSt. Louis Rams1
2014NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans2
2015NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans3
2016NFLKhalil MackOakland Raiders1
2017NFLCalais CampbellJacksonville Jaguars1

Before discussing the guys with the most wins, I want to take a quick look at Blozis, the would-be Hall of Famer who wasn’t. He took the league by storm, establishing himself as the NFL’s best defensive end as a rookie and cementing that status the following year. After many attempts and much persuading, Blozis finally got the Army to let him enlist (they had to waive their size limits for the 6’6″ 250 pound mountain of a man). He died in France while searching for missing members of his platoon. I’m not prone to wild speculation, but I firmly believe he’d be on the shortlist of greats at the position, and his name would come up when we talked of Defensive End Rushmore. Instead, few remember his name because he chose to do something greater than football.

Now some stuff about other humans.

Len Ford has the most Deacon wins of any player, with six. No one else has more than four. The reason for this is twofold: first, he was a freak athlete (think Julius Peppers, but in the 1950s) and dynamic playmaker; and second, he didn’t have a great deal of competition in the late AAFC post-absorption NFL. Don’t let that read as a knock against him. He is a top ten player at the position.

Reggie White, Bruce Smith, and Michael Strahan have four awards apiece. White and Smith, of course, played concurrently and took awards from each other. In my estimation, they are two of the top three defensive ends in history, along with the Deacon, and would have tied or surpassed Ford’s total awards were it not for each other’s presence.1 Strahan is most famous for a sad sack of Brett Favre, but he was a feared pass rusher and never sacrificed run leverage to gain an advantage to the quarterback.

The three-timers.

Al Wistert could count as an end or a tackle, but I went with end so I could accommodate deserving tackles for the Mean Award. Wistert was an integral part of Greasy Neale’s strong defensive fronts. Earl Faison had an abbreviated career due to injury, but at his peak he may have been the most feared defender in the AFL. He was huge and incredibly powerful, but he was also quicker than you’d expect for a man his stature playing in that era. Known as the meanest man in football, Ed Sprinkle was among the first players recognized solely for his pass rushing ability.

Gino Marchetti, part of my personal Rushmore of defensive ends, was a finalist for the awards that went to Doug Atkins, Andy Robustelli, and Jim Katcavage – another reminder that the binary nature of awards can shape the way a player is viewed in retrospect. J.J. Watt has three awards to his name only because I decided to count him as a defensive tackle for one season (he plays enough of it in nickel to qualify, in my opinion). He was the best player in football at his peak, and I think we’re all hoping to see more of him.

Willie Davis may have been the best defensive player on the Lombardi Packers, a team full of Hall of Famers and legends. He dominated the line of scrimmage and seemed to unlock an extra level of aggression in the postseason. Jason Taylor was long and agile, with underrated power and legendary quickness. He was a fine pass rusher and fared better against the run than revisionists give him credit for. Rich Jackson, better known as Tombstone, was another frightening edge rusher from the AFL whose career was cut short by injuries. Dr. Z opined on many occasions that prime Jackson was the best defensive end every to play.

Deacon Jones only won two of his namesake awards, but he could have taken one any year from 1964 through 1969, a span in which he produced 117.5 sacks in just 84 games. Prorated to today’s 16-game schedules, that’s 22.4 sacks per season over a six year span.

 

  1. Don’t feel too bad though. If you want to feel for a guy, feel for Chris Doleman, who had to play at the same time as both and probably would have had a much different legacy without being compared to two of the very best ever to play.