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Defensive Player of the Year rankings: J.J. Watt on top

Around The League previewed all the big NFL Honors awards this week: MVP, Rookies of the Year and Coach of the Year. Up next ...

The Defensive Player of the Year has yet to emerge. Someone could put together a dominant December and become the consensus favorite for the award, but that hasn't happened yet.

I remember writing last year that Von Miller's 2012 season was more than worthy for the award most years. He came in second in the voting, but that campaign is easily better than anyone in 2013. (You could make the same argument with Aldon Smith's 2012 season.)

This award will require some tough decisions and a lot of homework from voters. It reminds me of 2010, when Troy Polamalu won the award with only 17 of 50 votes. (Clay Matthews was second.) That was another year without an obvious choice. Here's how my list would look now:

1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Voters typically don't reward players on awful teams, with Seattle's Cortez Kennedy being an exception in 1992. (Kennedy won despite his Seahawks team going 2-14.)

Watt's sack numbers aren't as flashy as last year, but he actually has more quarterback hits than he did one year ago at this time. He has three forced fumbles and leads the league in tackles for loss. Watt also passes the eye test. He's the most dominant defensive player in football. Isn't that what this award is about?

2. Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams: Quinn is another player that I won't punish for being on a losing team. He's the best pure pass rusher in the league and strong against the run. The award should be about the best defensive player, not the most passable defensive player with a cool narrative.

3. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers: He's probably the favorite to win the award because he's a top-tier player, and the leader of one of the best defenses in football. He's great in run support and pass defense. It would be hard to argue with Kuechly as the pick.

4. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts: He has a career-high 15.5 sacks, with many of them game-winning plays. His Week 7 strip-sack of Peyton Manning comes to mind. So does his sack fumble on Ryan Fitzpatrick that just might have saved the AFC South for the Colts last week.

5. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks: He's not having an all-time "shutdown cornerback" season, but he usually erases his competition each week. That changes the way Pete Carroll can construct the rest of his defense.

6. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks: I'm not smart enough to understand Thomas' greatness. That's probably true of anyone who doesn't break down Thomas on All-22 footage each week. He's a player who doesn't show up in the stat sheet a ton, although his solo tackle numbers will soar past his career highs.

This week's matchup against San Francisco could be a time for Thomas to shine with a lot of threats for the 49ers in the middle of the field. (Most of the ATL crew picked the 49ers to win.)

Thomas' closing speed and awareness are exceptional. Like Bob Sanders in 2008, Thomas has a chance to become a voter favorite.

Honorable mention: Patrick Peterson, Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Muhammad Wilkerson and Vontaze Burfict.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" previewed every Week 14 game and forked another team.

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