In one of the more difficult to predict awards that will take place just before the Super Bowl, usually the Defensive Player of the Year is more obvious by now. Realistically, there are at least five players that could arguably win the accolade so here’s a look at the contenders.
Special mentions to two players that would have been close, Charles Woodson has had a fantastic year but hasn’t maintained the success and Josh Norman might have courted too much controversy to be chosen.
Last year’s winner is unsurprisingly a front-runner again, as he was before the season even started. A real once-in-a-generation kind of player, JJ Watt is someone you have to gameplan for and then gameplan again when he ruins it.
This year, he has 66 tackles, 13.5 sacks, five pass defences and a forced fumble, which is a little down from last year. They are still pretty damn good numbers but the knock will be that it’s not Watt numbers, maybe we expect a little too much from the genetic freak.
The face of the franchise, the spiritual leader of the team and the fans, Watt is an example every young player should follow. Dedicated, humble and someone who puts everything into every game, it’s very hard not to admire his ability on the field.
Even a cast can’t stop this monster, who will finally help his side potentially sneak into the playoffs. If he does, it will be difficult not to back him again this season.
After winning the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, everyone would take notice of Aaron Donald in his second year. A defensive tackle that can cut right through offensive linemen, he’s a dangerous man indeed.
The St Louis Ram has 64 tackles this season, 11 sacks and a fumble recovery. His numbers don’t really jump off the page like some others, but when you watch him play, it’s easy to see just how big of an impact he has on the game.
In the first game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, he wrecked their running game. He had nine tackles, two sacks and two stuffs and essentially won the game when he denied Marshawn Lynch stone dead on fourth down in mid-field.
Donald has established himself as a big name and someone we will need to keep an eye on in the future. In a Rams unit that looks likely to be a potential juggernaut, he is the real centrepiece.
What a breakout year for Khalil Mack, who was pretty damn good already, now he’s beginning to look special. The Oakland Raiders needed some new names and they certainly have one in the linebacker.
Mack has 60 combined tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles, really impressive numbers as he has taken to Jack Del Rio’s schemes like a duck to water. A nightmare for any tackle, the youngster has been a real difference maker on a team that could barely create any pressure two years ago.
Against the Denver Broncos, Mack took over and dominated unlike anyone else has this season. Seven tackles, five sacks, a stuff and a forced fumble in a game where he created pressure on every play, it was a game that should be watched over and over again.
The fact that Oakland will miss out on the post-season might just hurt him a little, like it will others, but he is just as deserving as the others. The Black Hole will be a team to watch next season and Mack will be the one for teams to fear next year.
A real beast in the secondary and a nightmare for every quarterback in the league, the versatile Tyrann Mathieu has been spectacular on a great defence
In 14 games, he has made 89 tackles, 16 pass defences, five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble. He has been used in the slot, he has covered tight ends, he has a sack because he can blitz, he’s a real all-rounder.
He’s a key cog in a really impressive secondary with Patrick Paterson, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson. Mathieu helps glue it all together, he is able to play anywhere they need him and he can really wreck offensive gameplans.
A torn MCL knocks Mathieu out of the rest of the season and the post-season, which is a real shame. That may hurt not just his chances of DPOTY but also the Cardinals’ Super Bowl aspirations.
Not many would deny that Luke Kuechly is the finest inside linebacker of this generation and yet again, the 2014 DPOTY should be under consideration again.
On Sunday, the Carolina Panther recorded 15 tackles, with 10 being individual efforts and it was the fourth time he crossed double digits this season. Kuechly has 101 tackles in 11 games, with him missing some of the early part of the season due to injury.
Because of that, his numbers are down with just one sack but surprisingly, his four interceptions is a joint-career high with two games to go, he’s scored his first touchdown on a return and has forced two fumbles, a career high.
He just keeps getting better and better and is a leader on what can be a very good defence. If he was showing this form without missing any games, he might be ahead of the entire pack.