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Film Gulls: Bobby Wagner is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Wagner should be one of the leading candidates for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. It’s as simple as that.

If you’ve read my articles in the past, this won’t be any news to you. I’ve been singing Wagner’s praises throughout the entire season.

His consistency throughout ten games has been remarkable and, as crazy as it might seem, he looks like he’s playing better and better as the season progresses.

That tweet was sent after Seattle played against the Jets, a full three weeks before his absurdly dominant performance in Arizona. After going four straight games with 13 or more tackles, Wagner had a quiet showing against the Patriots. It wasn’t a poor game by any means, as he was still Pro Football Focus’ highest graded linebacker for either team by a significant margin.

Sunday, against the Philadelphia Eagles, Wagner once again looked absolutely dominant.

(Note: The two tweets above were posted six weeks apart. Bobby is a beast. Carry on.)

Wagner recorded 15 tackles (which isn’t even his season high) which included this sack:

Seattle lines up in nickel defense while Carson Wentz takes the snap out of the gun. K.J. Wright has man coverage on the running back, who leaks out, leaving Wentz on his own with a five-man protection. Wagner blitzes across the formation around the right end of the offensive line. Frank Clark is double teamed while Bobby, despite getting incidentally chipped by the right tackle, flies in to sack Wentz.

Wagner’s elite burst is on display here. Immediately after Wentz sees the linebacker running free at him, he’s on the ground, bringing up a fourth down.

Bobby also made some impressive plays in the run game. Wagner was involved in countless plays throughout the contest, so choosing one to highlight in this piece was quite tough. I eventually settled on this one:

This isn’t a complicated play. Wentz hands the ball off to the tailback out of the gun. The right side of the offensive line blocks down providing a lane for a first down. Wagner fills the lane and shows off his beautiful form-tackling ability which brings up fourth down yet again. I mean, damn. That’s about as sexy of a tackle as I’ve ever seen.

The consistency with which Bobby makes these simple-yet-important plays is really what stands out to me this year.

Something else to monitor on that play above: Frank Clark beating Jason Peters inside off of the snap. *eyes emoji*

As of November 18th, Bovada ranks the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year like so: Von Miller, Marcus Peters, Dee Ford, Lorenzo Alexander, Landon Collins, Aaron Donald, and Casey Hayward. I get it. They’ve all put fantastic play on tape this year.

The main knock on Wagner is likely his lack of statistical production. Tackles aren’t a sexy statistic, as it’s easy to make a million of them as a linebacker when you have runners hitting the second level of your defense consistently. There is, though, a discrepancy between someone such as Chris Borland compiling a plethora of tackles in 2014 and Bobby Wagner leading the league in the same statistic in 2016. The percentage of Wagner’s tackles that are “cheap” is likely quite low.

Bobby is a bona fide playmaker and has been his entire career. He has just taken it to the next level in 2016. Through ten games, he has totaled 108 tackles (10.8 per game), 2.5 sacks, an interception, two passes defensed and at least 15 souls driven out of opponents bodies through bone-crushing hits.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look back at Luke Kuechly’s statistics from 2013, when he won the award as a middle linebacker. His 156 tackles are less than the 173 that Wagner is on track for. His two sacks are already less than Wagner’s total from this year. His four picks and seven passes defensed are more than the two and four that Wagner is on pace for, but Kuechly is likely the best coverage linebacker of this generation so I can’t hold it against Bobby. While I won’t say that Wagner is having a better season than Kuechly did in 2013, I don’t see any way one could say that it’s noticeably worse. History and the eye test dictate that Bobby deserves contention for the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016.

This isn’t to discount any of the other DPOY candidates listed above. Again, they have all played fantastically and they deserve to be in contention for the award. It’s just that Wagner deserves to be on (and near the top of) that list, as well.

There hasn’t been a better or more well-rounded linebacker in the NFL this year than Bobby Wagner. Whether or not people on a national scale understand this is trivial. Those who watch the Seahawks on a regular basis know and that is all that matters.

The recognition will come. Or maybe it won’t. Who really gives a shit? For now, being the most consistent and dominant member of an elite defense is pretty solid, I guess.