Cardinals' Chandler Jones: Legit candidate for Defensive Player of the Year?

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones was stumping for his first NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, his campaign slogan could be something like: Numbers Don't Lie.

But with a little more than a month left in the season, Jones' name hardly registers with voters. Jones didn't even show up on some midseason award lists.

Yet, Jones has been making a strong case. Entering Week 13, he's tied for the NFL lead with 12.5 sacks and leads the league with five forced fumbles and 41 pressures. He’s third in disrupted dropbacks and fumble recoveries, all while playing the 11th most defensive snaps in the NFL this season.

On Sunday, the Cardinals will share the field with the Los Angeles Rams (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox) and reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who last season led the league with 20.5 sacks. The feats of Jones have not gone unnoticed by Donald.

"He's consistent," said Donald. "He's going to get you 12, 13, 14, 15, sacks every single year. I think he's one of them guys that's productive every single year, just don't get the recognition that he deserves."

From one Defensive Player of the Year to another: Jones' fellow outside linebacker in Arizona, Terrell Suggs, who won the award in 2011, said Jones' NFL sack lead says it all.

"Is there a bigger case than that?" Suggs asked. "You just think about what we've been dealing with as a team. We're a whole bunch of new guys playing together, trying to feel each other out and he's still able to have success with a new coordinator coming in.

"That's a case in itself. To the players in the league, everybody knows."

But do they?

Jones wasn't named to this year's NFL Top 100, a list compiled by players around the league. Despite leading the NFL in sacks since 2013, Jones' peers didn't consider him one of the 100 best players in the league.

Entering Week 12, DraftKings Sportsbook had Jones tied with San Francisco 49ers rookie Nick Bosa for the fourth-best odds to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 (11-1) behind New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.

"I don't get why he doesn't get the attention," Cardinals left guard Justin Pugh said.

Not playing at night, when all of the NFL's eyes are focused in one place, is part of it. Since coming to Arizona in a trade from the Patriots before the 2016 season, the Cardinals have not had a winning record, which doesn't give them a lot of prime-time appeal. Jones has played in eight prime-time games in nearly four years with the team. The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, have played in a league-best 21 prime-time games during that span. The Cardinals have had one prime-time game in each of the past two seasons.

"If you're not playing on Sunday, Monday night, in the big games, that hurts eyes that get to watch just how dominant and how good of a player he is," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Said Suggs: "You never know the real reason but you know he's been the ultimate pro about it. He's been humble and that says a lot about him, too."

Jones has had some truly dominant performances, like his four-sack effort in Week 7 at the New York Giants, but critics say that came against a team with only one win at the time. Teammates are quick to defend Jones, who has had double-digit sacks in five consecutive seasons.

"It just seems like the media picks who they want to be the superstar and they look for clues in their play to prove that this player is a superstar," nose tackle Corey Peters said.

"They watch games, they don't watch film," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "So, [if] you're not able to be on a national televised game, you get lost in the shuffle a little bit. That's out of his control."

Jones has seen the other side. When he was in New England for his first four seasons, the spotlight was on him to the point where he started to shy away from the attention. Don't be confused, though. Jones still wants to be Defensive Player of the Year.

"I had, what, two double-digit sacks seasons [in New England]?" Jones said. "I had those, I had two six-sack seasons, but over in New England, they're like, 'Oh, Chandler Jones, he's a monster.' I come over here, I'm playing way better than I was in New England and it's just like, 'Oh, OK, mediocre player, good job.'

"My biggest thing is I try to manage expectations. The numbers don't lie at the end of the day."

Jones and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller are the only current players to have double-digit sacks in five straight seasons. Jones is the 12th player with 10 sacks in at least five straight seasons since sacks became an official stat in 1982, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

San Francisco 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey said Jones is a "unique rusher" because of how unpredictable he is and how well he moves.

"His length is so different from everybody that you play," McGlinchey said. "It's not too often that offensive tackles play guys who are longer than them, and Chandler is that on top of the fact that he's blessed with elite athletic ability and bend and all of that stuff that presents a lot of problems. And he's a really smart football player, too."

Pugh, who faced Jones regularly during their college days at Syracuse, says Jones is flat-out "unblockable."

"You can't teach what he has," Pugh added. "It's just a nightmare matchup, but no tackle wants to go against him."

Jones isn't frustrated by the lack of attention -- as long as the man who signs his checks, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, and Kingsbury are happy with his play.

"Those people are paying my bills," Jones said. "The talk shows aren't paying me. At the end of the day, they might give you some hype but when you look at the numbers, they're there.

"The numbers are there."