NFL Defensive Player of the Year: 7 Strong Candidates

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NFL Defensive Player of the Year: 7 Strong Candidates
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Every year, the Associated Press recognizes outstanding individual defensive performance with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.  Past winners include Hall of Famers like Lawrence Taylor (3x), Reggie White (2x) and "Mean" Joe Greene (2x). Each of these players was a game changer, and their selfless, smashmouth play at the toughest positions helped their teams win big. 

As usual, there are a number of strong candidates this season. However, an elite few have set themselves apart.

Certain defensive positions are enjoying their renaissance this year. 3-4 defensive ends and defensive tackles are the strongest they've ever been, with stars like J.J. Watt, Justin Smith, Vince Wilfork and Haloti Ngata shredding opposing blockers. However, no trench dweller of this breed has taken home the D.P.O.Y.A. since Warren Sapp in 1999

Is this the year?

Maybe, or maybe not. Out of the past 10 award winners, five have been linebackers and four have been defensive backs (three safeties and one cornerback). True to the NFL's pass-happy evolution, playmakers in the secondary and sack artists have been far more apt to take home the gold lately. 

This season will probably be more of the same. With that in mind, here are 2012's top candidates for AP Defensive Player of the Year:

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