The Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary is arguably the best in the NFL, and it's helped the team soar to a league-best record of 12-2 by yielding just 174.2 yards per game through the air.
Cornerback Richard Sherman is a big part of what makes Seattle so good, but he believes his teammate, free safety Earl Thomas, should be the one to win the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013.
Sherman explained himself during a Friday, Dec. 20 press conference ahead of the Seahawks' Week 16 matchup with the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals, per Seahawks.com's Clare Farnsworth:
I would have to give it to Earl. I think Earl is having a fantastic year. He’s flying around, tackling everywhere, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions. I don’t think there’s anybody out there playing better defense, and I think our defense is No. 1 in the league. So, usually the best quarterback with the best receivers isn’t punished for that, so don’t punish one of the best players on the best defense.
This is a good point, because there is plenty of talent on Seattle's roster. A deep defensive line and a linebacker corps anchored by underrated middle linebacker Bobby Wagner make the secondary's job even easier.
However, Sherman is playing like the game's best corner at the moment, and Thomas' fellow safety, Kam Chancellor, is a Pro Bowler and a freakish athlete at 6'3", 232 pounds.
There is little question that Thomas is a unique player and well deserving of the accolade, though. Since being selected as the 14th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the University of Texas product has lived up to and even exceeded expectations.
In addition to being a rangy safety with outstanding ball skills and instincts in coverage, no one can doubt the fearless 24-year-old's ability to step up and deliver a hit in run support.
Thomas has already matched his career-high with five interceptions this season, has forced two fumbles and has racked up 93 combined tackles.
Safeties to win the Defensive Player of the Year in the past decade include Ed Reed, Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu, so it's feasible that Thomas could take home the hardware this year.
Others gunning for the award are Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis, who's having a resurgent campaign in leading the league with 16.5 sacks.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly also has a great chance. The second-year star has keyed his team's massive turnaround in the heart of the front seven.
Kuechly has racked up 122 combined tackles, two sacks and three interceptions of his own for a defense that ranks No. 2 in points and total yards allowed per game—behind only Seattle in those categories.