Is A.J. Hawk a Legitimate Defensive Player of the Year Candidate?

Matt SteinCorrespondent IIDecember 22, 2013

Is A.J. Hawk a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate?
Is A.J. Hawk a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate?Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's taken a handful of seasons, but inside linebacker A.J. Hawk is finally living up to being the No. 5 overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft. In fact, Hawk is having a career year for the Green Bay Packers.

Hawk is playing at such a high level this season that the question of whether or not Hawk is a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate is starting to rise.

What ultimately brought about this talk was the clutch interception that Hawk recorded in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. Bleacher Report's NFC North lead writer Zach Kruse asked this question following the big play:

It's plays like that interception that have ultimately led to Hawk deserving some serious Defensive Player of the Year votes.

After Sunday's game, Hawk now has 116 total tackles on the year. He also has five sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. While those numbers don't necessarily jump off the page, they are certainly impressive numbers.

Hawk already has a career-high in sacks for a single season and only needs five tackles next week to have his most tackles in a year. However, it's not just the statistics that make Hawk so valuable to the Packers this season.

The reason that Hawk is truly a DPOY candidate is because of what he means to his team. If you were to take away Hawk's production and overall play this year, the Packers defense would be so much worse than they currently are.

If you look at the other top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year, only one or two players mean as much to their defense as Hawk. For example, if you took free safety Earl Thomas away from the Seattle Seahawks their defense would still be incredible. 

The same is true for other candidates like defensive end Robert Quinn, outside linebacker Robert Mathis and linebacker Vontaze Burfict. In fact, the only defensive players that mean more to their team currently than Hawk are inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end J.J. Watt.

Outside of those three players, Hawk has been the most valuable to his team. He consistently makes plays on the ball, and when he isn't actually recording the tackle or the sack he's doing the small things that allow his teammates to make plays.

While Hawk has taken some major criticism throughout his career in Green Bay, he's finally living up to expectations this year. He's no longer just a solid player who was drafted way too high, but he's now a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.