NFL

Top 5 Midseason Candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

There is very little suspense surrounding the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. There is one player who is head and shoulders above his peers, leaving the rest of the defenders around the league battling it out for the runner-up spot. While that may be a slight exaggeration, it’s not far from the truth. A lot can happen in the second half of the 2014 season that may change things, but as of right now, a certain Houston Texans defensive end would be the clear-cut 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. With that, here is a look at the top five midseason candidates for the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

1.  J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans

  • 32 tackles
  • 7 sacks
  • 10 tackles for loss
  • 1 interception
  • 1 forced fumble
  • 3 fumble recoveries
  • 2 defensive touchdowns
  • 7 passes deflected

Barring an injury or a severe drop off in his level of play, Watt will be the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In fact, it would be shocking if he didn’t win the award by unanimous vote. Just when you think Watt has reached his peak, he goes out and does something else that makes him look like a man amongst boys in the NFL. The fourth-year pro is in the midst of what is looking like a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

2.  Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

  • 29 tackles
  • 9 sacks
  • 10 tackles for loss
  • 1 pass deflect

Miller is likely the only defensive player in the NFL who has a chance – albeit a very small chance – at competing with J.J. Watt for the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. In 2014, Miller, who is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in 2013, is looking even better than he did during his 2012 All-Pro campaign. His first step off the edge cannot be matched by anyone in the NFL, and the fourth-year pro out of Texas A&M has played the run as good, or better, than any other outside linebacker in the league. He is on pace to total more than 20 sacks for the season and has helped revive a Denver Broncos defense that ranks third in the league in yards allowed per game (315.3) and sixth in points allowed per game (20.3).

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

3.  Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

  • 89 tackles
  • 1 sack
  • 4 tackles for loss
  • 1 pass deflect
  • 1 forced fumble

Kuechly is a tackling machine who fills the role of defensive captain as well as any player in the league. Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, currently leads the league in total tackles and has helped the Panthers to the top record in the NFC South division.

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

4.  Justin Houston, outside linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs

  • 28 tackles
  • 10 sacks
  • 10 tackles for loss
  • 1 fumble recovery
  • 1 pass deflect

Houston is one of the best edge rushers in the game. He currently leads the league in sacks and is on pace for 20 sacks in 2014. While he is not quite as good as Von Miller against the run, it is hard to ignore the impact he has on the game as a pass rusher. If Houston finishes the season with 20-plus sacks, he will undoubtedly be named an All-Pro for the first time in his career.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Leon Halip/Getty Images

5.  DeAndre Levy, outside linebacker, Detroit Lions

  • 75 tackles
  • 0.5 sack
  • 1 interception
  • 9 tackles for loss
  • 3 passes deflected

Levy is emerging as one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL and is one of the main reasons the Detroit Lions rank first in the league in total yards allowed per game (290.4) and first in points allowed per game (15.8). Levy has been great and has averaged nearly 10 tackles per game in 2014, but at this time he is somewhat of long-shot to be considered a serious contender for the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.