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J.J. Watt leads list of top 10 defensive players

Every week, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position or attribute.

So far, we have covered running backs, safeties, red-zone threats, throwing arms, quarter-pole surprises, quarter-pole disappointments, franchise cornerstones, players deserving of Pro Bowl consideration, best free-agent pickups, biggest free-agent flops, rookie classes, Comeback Player of the Year candidates, 2015 free agents and position groups.

This week, we turn to the top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year:

1. J.J. Watt, Texans defensive end: This is the easiest slot to rank all season. Watt is threatening to become the first defensive player to win the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor in 1986. He consistently stuffs the boxscore like no defensive lineman we have ever seen, including transcendent Hall of Famers Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Keep in mind: boxscores are as unfriendly to 3-4 defensive ends as any position on defense, failing to register stops in the run game, batted passes and quarterback hurries -- three areas in which Watt impacts the game like no other player.

"What J.J. is doing is remarkable and he should be considered for MVP. Not defensive MVP, but MVP. He's had that kind of year," Smith testified this week. "If (the Texans) were performing well offensively, it would be hands down for me that he should win both MVP and defensive MVP."

2. Justin Houston, Chiefs linebacker: Tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks, Houston is averaging more than one per game going back to the start of the 2013 season. Watt is the only player with more total sacks, hits and hurries than Houston's 77 this season. He carries Kansas City's defense in the same way that Jamaal Charles shoulders the offense.

3. Von Miller, Broncos linebacker: Miller is viewed by casual NFL fans as a pure pass rusher. That's a mistake. Although he harasses quarterbacks as often as any linebacker in the league, he's also one of the rare edge rushers to consistently shut down the run game. Miller is one of the main reasons the Broncos' run defense is sporting one of the 10 best run defense metrics of the past 25 years, per Football Outsiders.

4. Richard Sherman, Seahawks cornerback: NFL Media's research department tells us that Sherman has the lowest opposing passer rating among cornerbacks (minimum 200 targets) over the past 20 years, narrowly edging the latter half of Hall of Famer Deion Sanders' career. According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman's rating has peaked at a Blutarsky-esque 0.0 over the past five weeks, coinciding with the Legion of Boom'srise to the top of the NFL's defensive rankings.

5 and 6. DeAndre Levy / Ndamukong Suh, Lions linebacker / defensive tackle: It's impossible to choose between Levy and Suh as the most valuable on Detroit's defense that leads the NFL in points allowed. For that matter, breakout star Ziggy Ansah and the safety tandem of Glover Quin and James Ihedigbodeserve recognition of their own. Levy has been perhaps the most complete linebacker in the league, going sideline-to-sideline tracking down the run, covering tight ends and scatbacks and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Often the best player on the field, Suh is about to surpass Watt as the highest-paid defensive player.

7. Darrelle Revis, Patriots cornerback: The Patriots rank second only to the Rams in Football Outsiders' metrics over the past six weeks, due in large part to Revis' excellence. Even if he's not quite the comprehensive shutdown force he was with the Jets, Revis has been the best player on a surprisingly strong New England defense.

8. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers defensive tackle: McCoy would be higher on the list if not for the fact that he's going to end up missing three games and parts of two others due to injury. When he's on the field, McCoy ranks with Watt as the most disruptive interior pass rushers in the league.

9. Calais Campbell, Cardinals defensive end: Campbell was left off last year's Pro Bowl roster as well as the offseason's Top 100 Players of 2014 list despite being of the league's best players a year ago. He has been just as impressive this season, leading a front seven that has remained ferocious despite the considerable losses of Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett.

10. Fletcher Cox, Eagles defensive end: We noted on a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast that Cox has been one of the three or four most dominant defensive players in the league over the past month. He and Watt have been the NFL's most complete defensive lineman in the second half of the season.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews every Week 16 game and recaps the Jaguars' win over the Titans. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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