It's about that time of the season when the discussions about who will win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award begin to heat up.
While it is understood that there is plenty of football left to be played, the race for the top defender in the league is coming down to a select few.
Here are the top 5 candidates.
1. J.J. Watt, DE - Houston Texans
|Photo by: Juan DeLeon|
2. Charles Tillman, CB - Chicago Bears
Now playing in his 10th season, Tillman has always been one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league. No. 33 has been a cornerstone for a consistently solid Chicago defense year in and year out, and at age 31, he's finally getting much deserved attention. Tillman has only 2 interceptions on the season, but both were returned for touchdowns, which is tops in the league. He also leads with 7 forced fumbles, 4 of which he produced in a single game against Tennessee in Week 9. "Peanut" consistently shuts down the opposing team's top receiver every week. Some of his most impressive performances this season have come against elite wideouts such as Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. He is a major reason why the Chicago Bears are again one of the best defenses in the NFL, making Tillman a no-brainer candidate for the DPOY Award.
3. Von Miller, LB - Denver Broncos
Through the first half of the season, it was mostly a 2-man race, but since then, Miller has made a big push for the defensive player crown. The second-year linebacker out of Texas A&M got off to a fairly slow start after coming off a solid rookie campaign. However, he has 7 sacks in his last 3 games to put him at 13 total on the season. Miller now has 24.5 sacks in his first 25 career games, second only to the great Derrick Thomas, who had 25 over the same time span. Von has been an extremely disruptive force for the Broncos as of late, and has played a vital role in the team's current 5-game winning streak. If he continues his tear, don't be surprised if the man with the lensless glasses comes away with the hardware.
4. Aldon Smith, LB - San Francisco 49ers
No defensive player has had a more impressive individual performance this season than the one Smith turned in this past Monday night against the Chicago Bears. The 23-year-old finished with 7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an astonishing 5.5 sacks. Smith's ridiculous stat line catapulted him to the top of the sacks lead, and he is now a top candidate for DPOY. His 15 total sacks on the year has already surpassed the mark of 14 he set his rookie season in 2011. No. 99 also reached triple digits in total yards lost by sack, and leads the NFL by a fairly wide margin. Smith missed the preseason due to injury and got off to a slow start once the regular season began, but with one outing of putting up video game-type numbers, the Mizzou product has certainly added his name on the DPOY ballot.
5. Tim Jennings, CB - Chicago Bears
At first glance, it might be hard to make a case for Jennings, but when you look at his stats thus far, Tim is very much in contention. The veteran cornerback doesn't get as much respect as his teammate lined up on the other side, but his numbers speak for themselves. Jennings leads the NFL with 18 passes defended and 8 picks. No other player has more than 5 INTs this season. Tack on 48 tackles and 1 touchdown just for good measure, and you have yourself a DPOY-worthy stat line. Granted, it will be difficult for Jennings to beat out all the other nominees, let alone his teammate, but you can consider the feisty CB a dark horse candidate to steal the award at the end of the year.
With all the bye weeks in the books, every team has just 6 games remaining in the regular season. With the Bears, 49ers, Broncos, and Texans all competing for division crowns and the best record in their respective conferences, expect all these DPOY nominees to continue making a push for the award.
Nobody has run away with it yet. Instead, the race is really starting to heat up.