The Buffalo Bills had one of the best drafts in 2013, including picking middle linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round. Since Week 1 he has been the signal-caller for this defense. He's near the top of the list in numerous statistical categories, and he's continually making big plays at key moments.
For these reasons, he has to be considered a lock to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award this season.
It will be a hotly contested race for the award. There are a number of defensive rookies playing at high levels this year. This group includes players like defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets and Star Lotulelei of the Carolina Panthers and safeties Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers and Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals.
Every one of these players has a case. However, Kiko Alonso has the better resume at this point in the season.
This chart breaks down the players' stats through the first 11 weeks of the season:
|Snaps||Tackles||Sacks||Pass Defended||Interceptions||Fumbles Forced|
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus and ESPN.com
Kiko Alonso leads or has comparable stats in each category. In fact, the Bills' middle linebacker has performed so well that he is currently second in tackles and tied for second in interceptions in the NFL.
One stat that stands out is that Kiko Alonso has not missed one defensive snap all season. He has been out there every time the Buffalo Bills defense has been on the field. There are only two players in the NFL (DeMeco Ryans and Nate Allen of the Philadelphia Eagles) who have played more this year.
He has been able to stay on the field this much because of his ability to defend the pass.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Alonso has dropped into coverage on 373 snaps and only allowed 178 yards when he was the primary defender. This averages out to .48 yards per snap, which is second-best among inside linebackers in the NFL.
Aside from just the stats, he should be a lock over the other rookies because of how much trust the Bills' coaching staff has put in Alonso in terms of play-calling and making adjustments. He is the only player on their defense who has the helmet with a radio communicator to the coaching staff on the field. He has to relay the play call effectively to the rest of his teammates. That is one of the reasons he has become a leader so quickly.
Alonso still has room to grow in that area, but he has shown steady improvement over the course of the season.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine mentioned this recently to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News when asked about Kiko Alonso:
Sometimes he needs to understand the structure of the defense. The way it’s set up, any running play that goes in a certain direction more than likely is going to have to come back to him. So he’s had some overruns this year. And it’s all stuff that’s going to come in time. He’s obviously on-the-job training, thrown in there from Day One. He’s a guy that rarely makes an identical mistake twice.
The instincts he has shown through the first part of the season are unbelievable and rarely seen from rookies in the NFL.
One of his most memorable plays came in Week 5 when he faced the Cleveland Browns. The Browns were on the goal line looking to score a touchdown with an inside run by Willis McGahee. Alonso read the play and jumped completely over the offensive line to make the stop in the backfield. These are plays that are not seen from players not named Troy Polamalu.
If Kiko Alonso were to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, he would be only the third Buffalo Bill to achieve such a feat. He would join a group that includes Jim Haslett and Shane Conlan, who was the last to win it in 1987.
Kiko Alonso is on pace to record 163 tackles this season, which is one fewer than last year's award winner, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. If Alonso continues to play over the final five games of the season the way he has over the first 11, he should be a lock for the Defensive Rookie of the Year.