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Stephon Gilmore won NFL defensive player of the year. Why shouldn't Xavien Howard?

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) celebrates an interception in the first half with teammates Jerome Baker (55) and Raekwon Davis (98) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, December 6, 2020.

Stephon Gilmore, a cornerback for the Patriots, won the NFL's defensive player of the year last season.

Xavien Howard, a cornerback for the Dolphins, has statistics this season that are very similar and merit strong consideration.

It's a coincidence that Howard has said Gilmore may be the second-best cornerback in the league (behind Howard, of course).

It's also a coincidence that Howard's Dolphins face Gilmore's Patriots in a critical game on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

Howard has nine interceptions this season, something no Dolphins player has done since 1967. On Sunday, all he did was intercept Patrick Mahomes, with one hand, while defending Tyreek Hill.

"You would think people would learn," Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said, baffled as to why quarterbacks continue to try Howard.

No NFL player has had 10 interceptions in a season since Antonio Cromartie, in 2007. If Howard posts one or two interceptions against Cam Newton, Derek Carr and/or Josh Allen over the last three games, voters may have no choice but to select him.

Pass-rushers like Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett have been considered favorites for the award for some time. It is rare for a defensive back to win the award, and it would be very rare for a defensive back to win it in consecutive years.

But Howard has been that good.

More:Miami Dolphins playoff hopes very much alive. What are the odds?

Howard possesses supreme confidence, strength, speed, competitiveness and patience. Howard has outstanding ball skills and is also an excellent pattern reader. 

But it's not just instincts that Howard has going for him. He now has remarkable statistics to back up his play. 

In fact, his 2020 statistics are comparable to Gilmore's 2019. Let's take a closer look:

Interceptions: Howard 9, Gilmore 6.

Touchdowns: Howard 0, Gilmore 2.

Passes Defended: Howard 17, Gilmore 20.

Tackles: Howard 40, Gilmore 53.

TDs allowed: Howard 3, Gilmore 0.

Passer rating allowed: Howard: 42.3, Gilmore 44.1.

Completion percentage allowed: Howard 46.8, Gilmore 50.5.

One of the reasons Gilmore won the award in 2019 was because he went all of last season without allowing a touchdown, while scoring two.

In the same way Charles Woodson once did so many special things his merit for the Heisman could not be overlooked, so too did Gilmore.

It remains to be seen if Howard's mind-boggling interception prowess could overcome that edge that Gilmore had last season.

But consider that Howard has allowed a lower percentage of completions and a lower passer rating. And that he's also a complete player — a capable, willing and aggressive tackler.

Simply put, Howard is having one of the best defensive seasons in Dolphins history. And he's easily placed himself on the NFL map as one if its best defensive players.

Turnovers are the biggest reason Miami's defense has been so successful this season. And no player creates turnovers for Miami more than Howard.

More:Guess who's back? Back again? X is back, Xavien Howard that is

Recently, Miami coach Brian Flores was asked if he believes Howard is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Flores is a tough grader, constantly pushing his players for more, as most effective coaches do.

But he could not ignore the type of season Howard is having. In another coincidence, Flores has previously coached elite cornerbacks like Gilmore and Darrelle Revis when he was with New England.

"X is very, very talented," Flores said. "Yeah, he’s one of the best corners I’ve been around and he’s improving."

Howard has an interception in five consecutive games.

Howard has an interception in nine of his past 11 games.

“I feel great about it, man," Howard said after Sunday's game. "I’ll just keep getting the ball for the offense and putting the ball in their hands and making plays."

The defensive player of the year award is not a career achievement award. But no player in NFL history has more interceptions over his first 53 career games than Xavien Howard, with 21.

No player. For too long, that type of excellence have been overlooked nationally.

More:Schad: Time to recognize, celebrate Xavien Howard's Miami Dolphins greatness

Howard has never been particularly loquacious. But that doesn't mean those who are witness to one of the best defensive seasons in recent years should not use a megaphone to call attention to its impressiveness.

It's something those who cover the Dolphins have been doing all season. It's time for those across the country who will vote for the NFL's defensive player of the year award to take a close look at Gilmore and Howard's statistical comparison.

And it's time for them to think long and hard about voting for Howard.