Power Ranking the NFL’s Top Defensive Player of the Year Candidates

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Ranking the NFL’s Top Defensive Player of the Year Candidates

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Defensive Player of the Year award was one of the easiest votes of all-time. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was not only the most dominant player on the defensive side of the ball, but he may have been the most dominant in all of football. His ability to not only rush a passer and stop the run but knock down passes at the line allowed the Texans to be an above average defensive team.

Usually the most important defensive player on the field is the middle linebacker. He makes all of the calls at the line and audibles along with the quarterback. It is also the player that usually leads his team in tackles which is the one of the stats most looked at for Defensive Player of the Year. 

The other position that gets a lot of attention is defensive end. With sacks being one of the most overrated statistics in the NFL, voters will lean towards a guy putting up big sack numbers over a defensive end that grades out better overall. This year, Robert Mathis leads the NFL in sacks with 15.5, but he plays on one of the worst defenses in the league. Indianapolis ranks 23rd in total defense and has given up 42 points to Cincinnati, 40 to Arizona and 38 to St. Louis in their last five games.

The best team defense in the NFL belongs to the Seattle Seahawks, yet they do not have a player with more than 7.5 sacks or more than four Interceptions. The second best defense in the league belongs to the Carolina Panthers, who don't have a player with more than 8.5 sacks or more than four Interceptions.

Even though no player is having a J.J. Watt type of season from last year, there are a few that have stood out above the rest. These guys are all in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

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5. Vontaze Burfict

Burfict
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Vontaze Burfict was an undrafted rookie free-agent hoping to catch on with a team. He finished last season 15th in the NFL in tackles with 127. This year, he leads the NFL in tackles with 139 and has double digit tackle games in eight out of the 13 this season. The reason he is not No. 1 on this list is because he has only one forced fumble, one interception and one sack.

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4. Kiko Alonso

Alonso
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Kiko Alonso locked up the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award by Week 4. As the middle linebacker, he led Buffalo in tackles with 32 and had four interceptions with one sack. In the sixth game of the season, he registered a career high 22 tackles against Cincinnati. For the year, Alonso has 131 tackles, which is second in the NFL behind Vontaze Burfict, four interceptions and two sacks. He has not registered a pick since Week 4 and plays on a losing team, which both hurt his chances of winning the award.

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3. Robert Quinn

Quinn
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Quinn is second in the NFL with 13 sacks this season. He also has six forced fumbles and recovered one which he returned for a TD. The reason why Quinn is on this list is because he has had his best games against the good teams in the NFL. He had three sack games against both the 8-5 Arizona Cardinals and the 12-1 Seattle Seahawks. He may be the most complete defensive end in football outside of J.J. Watt and is having a better statistical season.

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2. Lavonte David

David
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If Tampa Bay were 9-4 instead of 4-9, Lavonte David would be running away with the award. He is the biggest defensive playmaker in the NFL and can be compared to former Buc Derrick Brooks. The second-year linebacker impressed as a rookie with 139 tackles, two sacks and one INT. He has been much better than that this season. So far he has recorded 117 tackles and has six sacks with five interceptions. He has also defended nine passes and forced the first fumble of his career. David has been getting stronger as the year has progressed with four interceptions in his last three games while averaging 10 tackles in those games.

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1. Luke Kuechly

Kuechly
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

This is one of those situations where the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams gets the award. Luke Kuechly was drafted as a tackling machine out of Boston College and has been as good in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers have given up the least amount of points in the NFL this season and have the No. 1 rush defense in large part because of Kuechly. He has 113 tackles, one sack and three interceptions. While his individual numbers aren't as good as Lavonte David's, he should win the award because of the role he plays on the dominant Panthers defense.


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