Week 12 has come to a close and the playoff picture is becoming clearer. As we near playoff time, the debates for MVP and offensive and defensive player of the year are in full swing.
It was a two-man race between Terrell Suggs and Jared Allen for defensive player of the year in 2011 and Suggs came out on top.
This season it will be much more difficult to decide who wins the award. There are many players making a case for the title and a couple of guys on pace for record setting numbers.
Where does he rank among the defensive player of the year candidates? Take a look at the next few slides to find out.
A first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, outside linebacker Aldon Smith has been a huge part of their defense over the past two seasons.
The 23-year-old burst into the defensive player of the year conversation with a 5.5 sack performance against the Chicago Bears a couple of weeks ago.
He has already surpassed most of the numbers he put up in his rookie year and leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks.
Smith is a great pass-rusher and will continue to climb the ladder with performances like the one we saw against Chicago.
If you were to ask the average NFL fan who Tim Jennings was prior to this season, most probably would not be able to tell you.
At 28 years old, most players' best years are behind them. That is not the case for Jennings as he is enjoying, by far, the best season of his career.
He spent the first four years of his career in Indianapolis and is now in his third with Chicago. He has finally settled in and opposing offenses are paying the price for it.
Through 11 games, Jennings leads the league with eight interceptions and 18 passes defended. In his previous 86 games, over six seasons, he had just seven picks.
The scary thing about Jennings is that he is not even the No. 1 corner on his team. I am sure there are plenty of teams that would love to have him as their No. 2.
There are many prominent names in the National Football League that will not be included on this list. While you would expect DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen to be in the top five, they have been replaced by several surprise players.
One of those players is inside linebacker Daryl Washington. He is enjoying a monster season with the Arizona Cardinals and has become one of the top defenders in all of football.
The 26-year-old had a great year in 2011, leading all middle linebackers with 5.5 sacks and over 100 tackles. Despite this, he did not get much recognition around the league.
Washington had improved in every game and was set for a big year in 2012. The Cardinals rewarded his fine play with a six-year contract worth $32.5 million.
Heading into the year with a new contract and very high expectations for the defense, he has certainly lived up to the hype.
Arizona’s defense has been taken over by Washington and he is one of the few Cardinals that should be in the Pro Bowl.
His 79 solo tackles are tops in the league and nine sacks is unheard of for an inside linebacker.
Playing in Arizona, Washington will not win this award. His name must at least be considered, however, with the type of season that he is having.
Another player that was not expected to be in the running for defensive player of the year is sophomore defensive end JJ Watt.
The 23-year-old was an absolute beast in the playoffs last season and that has continued into 2012.
A former first-round pick of the Houston Texans, Watt trails Aldon Smith by two sacks for the league lead with 14.5.
What sets these two apart are the plays made in the run game and when they cannot get to the quarterback.
Watt has six more tackles than Smith and 13 more passes defended. Both men are great players, but at this point JJ Watt has the edge over Aldon Smith and the rest of the league’s top pass-rushers.
After missing the playoffs in 2011, the Chicago Bears have bounced back with a great season. While Jay Cutler is no slouch, the majority of the credit must go to their defense.
The Bears are great up front and even better in the secondary. You were able to read a bit about one of the Bears corners earlier in the article, and now we will take a look at his counterpart.
With Darrelle Revis out of the picture, it is safe to say that Charles “Peanut” Tillman is the best cornerback is football.
Through 11 games, the 10-year vet has 58 tackles, two interceptions, 10 passes defended and seven forced fumbles.
Peanut was injured this past week, but may still be able to play in Week 13. As of right now, Charles Tillman is your defensive player of the year. That may change if he misses an extended period of time, however.