By TPR Staff

With just  three or four games left for every team in the league, the race for some of the NFL’s biggest achievement awards get voted on the day after the regular season ends. One of those is the right for a player to be recognized as the NFL’s defensive player of the year.

There are many player’s who have been as consistent as always and some have even improved, but with the season winding down this category has seemed to close to three nominees for the title; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller.

All three of these young players are in just their second season in the league and already are playing at an all-pro level for their teams which are all considered super bowl contenders now and for the future. But which of these three is the favorite for the defensive player of the year? Let’s take a closer look now.

Since he was drafter before the other two, I’ll go with Von Miller first. Coming out of Texas A&M, Miller was considered a top 15 talent until his combine showing shot him into consideration for a top 3 pick, in which Denver decided to take him 2nd overall in the 2011 draft. Since then, he’s won defensive rookie of the year, been to a pro bowl and named an all pro, all as a rookie. But there has been no sophomore slump for Miller, as he’s improved in almost every facet of the game.

Through 13 games this season, Miller is third in the NFL with 16 sacks and has even picked off a pass and batted down a couple. He’s all over the field and can go sideline to sideline with the best in the league. With an offense that gets better every week led by Peyton Manning, they seem to get all of the attention, but what this defense has done this season is nothing short of remarkable and Von Miller deserves the most credit.

With Aldon Smith, you do get a little bit more of a one-dimensional player. The thing is, he does that one thing better than maybe any other player in the league. What is that one thing, you ask? That one thing is rush the passer, and rush the passer he has all season. Leading the league with 19.5 sacks through 13 games is nothing short of amazing.

When the Niners took him 7th overall in the 2011 NFL draft, some thought it was a bit of a reach by coach Harbaugh, but he’s getting the last laugh as Smith seems to set a new record every week. He set the franchise rookie record for sacks last season and set the single season record for the team this year. But more stunning is that he became the fastest player in league history to get to 30 career sacks. Yeah, that’s even better than some dude named Reggie White.

Finally, with J.J. Watt, you get a guy who is having an amazing season at a position that he shouldn’t be posting these kinds of numbers at. For a 3-4 defensive end to post 16.5 sacks through just twelve games in hard to believe. But an even more staggering number is when you see that he’s batted down or diverted passes fifteen times this season. But wait, there’s more. Of those fifteen passes, six of them have caused turnovers.

Five years ago, Watt was delivering pizza’s on his bike and wondering what he wanted to do with his life. Today, he is most analyst’s favorite to win the defensive player of the year award. When Houston took him 11th overall with the likes of guys like Robert Quinn and Nick Fairley still on the board, most wondered if Houston had any clue on the defensive side of the ball. Almost two years later, most realize they should trust Wade Phillips on matters of defensive issues.

So who will win it? If I was a betting man, I’d probably say Aldon Smith will get it because, let’s face it, sack numbers are sexy and he’ll be way over twenty by the time the season ends. I think Miller will come in second because of the media darlings the Broncos have become. Unfortunately, I think Watt will finish third and that seems incredibly unfair. But half of this vote seems to come down to who gets the most media attention and the spectacle the press made about Smith and Miller winning defensive player of the month for their respective conference’s last week led me to this conclusion.

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