Unlike the AP Offensive Player of the Year voting, the Defensive Player of the Year is always a wide-open contest. Last season Panthers’ stud linebacker, Luke Kuechly won the award, and even though it doesn’t happen often, his chances to repeat are good.
Kuechly pretty much ran away with the voting from last season, beating out the second highest vote getter, Robert Mathis for the award. While Mathis had a huge year sacking the quarterback, Kuechly was instrumental for the Panthers’ defensive success last season. He was fourth in the NFL in tackles, he added four interceptions from the middle linebacker position, and chipped in a couple of sacks as well. The Panthers might be due for some regression this season, but I doubt it comes from the defensive side of the football. If Carolina’s defense is still as good as last season, Kuechly could become the first player since Ray Lewis to become a two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year.
If someone from the defensive line is going to win this award, it might be Robert Quinn from St. Louis. Quinn was fourth in the voting last season, but if he gets another 20 sacks for the very good St. Louis defense, he should be voted much higher than 4th. He was beaten out by Kuechly, Mathis, and Earl Thomas last season, and the only thing that may be stopping him from climbing the list is the Rams’ record. 19 sacks for a non-playoff team is still a lot, but if the Rams somehow get above .500 this season and fight for the playoffs, Quinn will be in the mix.
The self-proclaimed baddest man on the planet, Richard Sherman is another guy that could have a stake in this award as we head down the stretch of this season. Now that the Seahawks lost Brandon Browner, Sherman is going to have to shine even more for the Seahawks. Last season Sherman finished right behind Quinn in the voting, but only had four votes for the award. His teammate Thomas finished ahead of him, and even though that’s completely warranted, now that he has the big contract, Sherman could play up to it and get this award this season. It’s not the most conventional pick, but it does hold some weight.
Rounding out my favorite DPY plays this offseason is non-other than JJ Watt. Watt only had two votes for the award last season, but like I mentioned with Quinn, it seems the AP voters value winning more than stats for bad teams. The Texans however project to be a lot better than their forgettable 2013, and if that's the case, Watt could be a big reason why. Last season on a very bad Texans team, Watt had over 10 sacks, and although that won’t be enough for him to win the award, you have to think on an improved defense that his numbers are going to go up. He may not be the best play, but as good as he is, the Texans’ defensive end is always in contention for this award. Other than Kuechly, he is the only other player on this list ot have won the award before.