MIAMI — Stephon Gilmore locked down his final target of the season Saturday afternoon during the NFL Honors ceremony.
The All-Pro cornerback won the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award, becoming the first Patriot in franchise history to snag the honor.
Gilmore is the first corner to win the award since Charles Woodson in 2009, though the former Packers standout also played some strong safety that season. Deion Sanders (1994) is the only full-time corner to win.
Gilmore, charged with defending opponents top target week after week, had a dominant season. He was tied for the league with 6 interceptions, and also had 20 passes defended and 53 tackles.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is that Gilmore scored more touchdowns (2, on a pair of pick-6s) than he allowed. Buffalo’s John Brown scored the only receiving touchdown against Gilmore, and that came in Week 6.
Three times, he pitched shutouts, including an impressive back-to-back performance when he blanked Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz of the Eagles, followed by a whitewashing of Amari Cooper, Tavon Austin, and Jason Witten of the Cowboys.
The only blemish on Gilmore’s slate came in the regular-season finale loss to the Dolphins, when he allowed 7 catches on 9 targets for 119 yards to Miami’s DeVante Parker.
“It’s been outstanding, man,’’ said 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said last week, asked about Gilmore’s campaign. “I’m just happy that he’s getting the credit that he deserves. He’s had great years before, and he was stuck in Buffalo, and it didn’t matter how great he played. And it’s cool that [fellow cornerback and DPOY candidate] Tre’Davious [White] is in Buffalo now and he’s having great years.’’
Sherman believed everybody that plays the position was pulling for Gilmore and White.
“Because it’s a brotherhood of cornerbacks,’’ he said. “I think everybody who plays the position at least watches film of the other guys’ play and sees their technique and sees what tricks and what techniques that they’re using to be successful, and [Gilmore’s] been playing in a really tough defense, because [the Patriots] have been running a ton of [Cover] Zero. It’s kind of a feast-or-famine defense, and he’s stood up incredibly well.’’
Sherman, also one of the top corners in the league, said Gilmore’s play the last two seasons — he was also an All-Pro in ’18 — has helped bring a lot of recognition to the position.
“I don’t think corners get enough credit,’’ Sherman said. “The Defensive Player of the Year conversation is something that I’ve always thought should go to one of the guys on the best defense — just like the Offensive Player of the Year. Just like MVP. Could you imagine MVP going to a dude on an average offense? Like, ‘Oh my God, he has crazy stats, but his offense is ranked 26th.’ You know? It wouldn’t go. But every year, you see a guy get Defensive Player of the Year, but then his defense is ranked middle of the pack or low. I think it’s something about great defense, and it’s selfless.’’
New England’s defense ranked first in total defense and points allowed.
“You almost aren’t going to get a ton of stats on a great defense, and Stephon has,’’ Sherman said. “And Tre’Davious has. But it’s so difficult to get great stats and get a lot of stats on a great defense because you have to be so sound, so disciplined, so unselfish. Like, on these plays, you might not get targeted at all. You might have to be involved in a run fit. You might just have to take on a double-team or take on this block or hold leverage. And that’s why I think that the Defensive Player of the Year should go to a guy on a top-five, top-10 defense every year, because that’s what it takes.
“To be on a great defense like Tre’Davious is and like Stephon is and still play at a high level, they deserve a lot more credit than they’re getting.’’