NFL Defensive Player of the Year 2013: Dark-Horse Candidates for Award

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIFebruary 2, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 2:  Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after scoring a touchdown on an intercepting during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 2, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award for 2013 will be handed out this Saturday during the NFL Honors ceremony.

The obvious front-runner—and probable winner, since he gained unanimous support from the NFL's top writers—is Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Watt had a phenomenal second year in the league, racking up 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections.

But it's not over until it's over, and there are still plenty of other deserving players out there who could make a case for themselves.

Here's a breakdown of dark-horse candidates for this year's NFL DPOY.

Dark-horses with a chance to upset

Charles Tillman

The Chicago Bears defense allowed just 213 passing yards and less than 20 points a game in 2012, making it one of the best squads around.

Anchoring that group was cornerback Charles Tillman, who at 31 years old proved he's still one of the best in the game.

Tillman finished his season with 73 tackles, 16 passes defended, three interceptions—all of which he returned for touchdowns—and a league-leading 10 forced fumbles.

The 10-year veteran was often called on to cover top wideouts such as Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson, and he rose to the occasion every time.

Tillman has the stats to back up his DPOY bid, and it's impossible to deny the overall effect he had for this Bears squad.

He may not win the award, but he certainly deserves a second look. 

Von Miller

Another second-year player, Von Miller could make a very strong case for his candidacy as defensive player of the year.

Denver's star linebacker was one of the best edge rushers this season, registering a Broncos franchise-record 18.5 sacks.

But Miller was a force in other ways as well.

The 23-year-old had 68 combined tackles, an interception—which happened to be a pick-six—two pass deflections and six forced fumbles by season's end.

And despite his two fewer sacks, Miller was only nine yards behind Watt in yards lost per sack.

Miller might not have had as big of an impact on the quarterback as Watt, but he did a great overall job on the field. His name should garner plenty of consideration.

Dark-horses without a chance, but still deserving

Geno Atkins

Arguably the league's best defensive tackle, Geno Atkins deserves plenty of respect in NFL Defense Player of the Year talks.

Atkins finished his season with 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 53 total tackles.

The 24-year-old anchored a Bengals front line that ranked third in the NFL with 51.0 total team sacks, and allowed just 107.2 rushing yards per game.

His stats aren't nearly as gaudy as those of the other guys, but his effect as an anchor means he deserves more respect than he's getting.

Richard Sherman

At 24 years old, Richard Sherman exploded onto the scene this season and quickly made a name for himself as one of the toughest guys to throw against in the NFL.

The physical cornerback posted eight interceptions (second in the NFL), three forced fumbles and a league-leading 24 passes defended in 2012.

Sherman's Seahawks allowed just 203.1 passing yards per game this season.

But the second-year player is often mentioned along with fellow corner Brandon Browner, and they're seen more as a dynamic tandem than individual studs.

While certainly deserving, Sherman doesn't have enough of a reputation as an individual difference-maker to steal the defensive honors.


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