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NFL Carolina Panthers

5 Players Who Deserved 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year More Than Luke Kuechly

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Five Players Deserved the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Award Over Luke Kuechly

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night, the 2013 NFL Honors were handed out to the best of the best around the league. The Carolina Panthers had themselves a pretty great time. Head coach Ron Rivera was named the 2013 Coach of the Year after leading his team to one unbelievable run to round out the year and win the NFC South. Linebacker Luke Kuechly also did his team proud by winning the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.

Kuechly was undoubtedly one of the best linebackers in the game last season, and sure deserved to be in the running for the award. He finished fourth in the league in tackles with 156. Kuechly also finished with seven passes defensed, four interceptions and two sacks.

While Kuechly had a phenomenal year, he was only one piece of the puzzle for the Carolina front seven. The Panthers had Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson up front rushing the passer, while Thomas Davis joined Kuechly on the linebacking core. Between Hardy and Johnson, the two racked up 26 sacks. Davis also chipped in an impressive 123 tackles of his own.

There is no doubt that Kuechly is a top-10 linebacker in the game. He joins names like NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Tamba Hali, Vontaze Burfict and Terrell Suggs atop the league. Is he by far and away the best? I'm not so sure. Because of that, I am also not sure he deserved to bring home the award for being the NFL's top defensive player overall.

Here are five players that deserved the honors over Kuechly.

Ryan Heckman is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter @ryanmheckman or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Vontaze Burfict

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict tore through the 2013 season, leading the NFL in tackles with an astounding 171. He also finished with two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, an interception and eight passes defensed. The absolute most important guy on the Bengals defense should have been ahead of Kuechly in the voting, period.

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4. Earl Thomas

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

There is a reason the Seattle Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, and a big one is due to the fact that they boast the league's top safety in Earl Thomas. He finished the season with a total of 105 tackles, eight passes defensed, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. Thomas is by far the best in the game at his position and does everything he can to be in on virtually every play downfield.

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3. Robert Quinn

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Any time a defensive end finishes a season with numbers such as 19.0 sacks and a whopping seven forced fumbles, he deserves a lot of thought for the league's top defensive player. That's exactly what Robert Quinn did this season. He also recovered two fumbles and his sack total was second in the entire NFL.

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2. Richard Sherman

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the game. It's not close. Out of all the cornerbacks in the league, his opposing quarterbacks finished with a league-low rating in 2013. Sherman also ended the year with eight interceptions. That's a pretty impressive number when you consider most quarterbacks are avoiding him like the plague. There isn't much argument against why Sherman couldn't have taken home this award.

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1. Robert Mathis

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kuechly even said it himself -- Robert Mathis is the "sack master." The guy led the NFL in sacks with 19.5 this past season and even forced one more fumble than Quinn, giving him eight on the year. Without much help up front, Mathis was constantly double-teamed and still wound up having a career season. He was my frontrunner to land the award, and it's a shame he didn't.

Ryan Heckman is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter @ryanmheckman or add him to your network on Google.