Instant Debate

Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly headlines candidates

The night before Super Bowl XLVIII, the NFL will salute its best players and plays from the 2013 season with "NFL Honors," a star-studded football and entertainment event hosted by Alec Baldwin at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Here's all the coverage information:

» Friday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network:NFL Honors Preview Special
» Saturday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network:NFL Honors Red Carpet Special
» Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX:3rd Annual NFL Honors

One of the awards that will be presented on Saturday night is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. Who gets your vote?

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  • Elliot Harrison
  • Luke Kuechly's emergence fueled Panthers' rise

Given the way he came on at the end of the season, and the incredible streak Carolina went on during the back half of the campaign, Luke Kuechly is the man. The Panthers lost once in their final 12 regular-season contests, with much credit going to Kuechly. And when the team really needed him against the Saints in Week 16, he came through with 24 tackles and one interception to put Carolina in position to win the NFC South.

The fact that this was just his second NFL season is unreal. And if J.J. Watt could win this award in Year 2, why not Kuechly?

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  • Gregg Rosenthal
  • Forget about Luke Kuechly -- NaVorro Bowman's the real man in the middle

There are a ton of great options and none of them are obnoxious -- except for Luke Kuechly. (Choosing Kuechly is obnoxious. He seems like a fine fellow.) NaVorro Bowman had the season people think Kuechly had. You can't play the inside linebacker position any better than the San Francisco 49ers star did this season. No one pursues ball carriers and plays in pass coverage as well as Bowman, who narrowly gets my vote over Robert Quinn and Richard Sherman.

Obviously, Bowman's season ended on a devastating note, with the gruesome injury in the NFC Championship Game. His recovery will be a major offseason storyline for the Niners.

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  • Ian Rapoport NFL Network
  • Rising star Robert Quinn edges out Earl Thomas

It's not fair to diminish the performance of anyone with 19.5 sacks, and Robert Mathis had a heck of a year, but he was aided by the Colts engaging in endless shootouts. Robert Quinn, my choice for Defensive Player of the Year, didn't have that luxury. Quinn collected 19 sacks in a season that cemented him as one of the game's rising stars. He gets the nod over Earl Thomas, the best player on the Seahawks' defense. As for Quinn, think the Rams are excited about his potential? He's just 23 years old.

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Richard Sherman's Revis-like impact keys NFL's top defense

I'm going with Richard Sherman. The Seattle Seahawks' secondary as a whole is part of this -- rarely is a great defense built from its back end forward. The impact Sherman provides is Darrelle Revis-like in the sense that he turns the game into 10-on-10. Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions, but the fact that he influences so much of that awesome defense is why he's the game's top defender.

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  • Judy Battista
  • J.J. Watt has an argument to repeat, but Luke Kuechly's all-around play deserves merit

A very, very strong argument could be made for J.J. Watt to win this again, but Luke Kuechly would get my vote, because he truly did it all this season.

Middle linebackers don't get as much love as pass rushers and cornerbacks do these days. Watch a Panthers game, though, and it often feels like Kuechly is in on every play. Last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year was simply spectacular in 2013, piling up 156 tackles, two sacks, seven passes defensed, 10 tackles for loss and four interceptions. Oh, and the Panthers finished second overall in total and scoring defense.

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  • Adam Schein
  • Kuechly sits atop a crowded field of viable candidates

I stand by the initial choice I made in a "Schein Nine" column on this topic back in mid-November: Luke Kuechly gets the nod over Earl Thomas in a hotly contested race.

Kuechly has the requisite numbers for the hardware, but remember that this is also a defensive MVP award. He was Carolina's heart and soul, the most valuable Panther in a season of overachievement. Their front seven was dominant -- and Kuechly headed the charge.

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  • Charley Casserly NFL Network
  • Sherman certainly yaps a lot, but he backs it up with excellent play

Richard Sherman was the best player on the best defense. I think he talks too much, but he is not the first player to do so. And as the saying goes, It's not bragging if you can do it.

Sherman is an excellent man-coverage guy who sets the tone for the Seahawks' defense. If he really wins this award, better put on the ear muffs!

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  • Jason Smith
  • At age 22, Kuechly's entered a class of his own

In just two NFL seasons, Luke Kuechly's become the top middle linebacker in the game. He does everything, as a tackling machine who also excels in coverage and gets pressure on the quarterback when he has to.

This is a special guy. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he's going to be an All-Pro player for years to come and end up in Canton when his career is over.

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  • Adam Rank
  • Quinn enjoyed a fine season, but Kuechly led his team to the playoffs

I've been leaning toward Robert Quinn, because he had a very dominant season for the St. Louis football club, a season for the ages, really, with 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles. But ultimately, I like to vote for a guy who helped lead his team to the playoffs. So I have to give it to Luke Kuechly.

The Panthers' defense had long been a sore spot for the team, but Carolina's unit was downright dominant this season. Kuechly was pretty impressive to watch as a tackling machine in the middle.

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