End-of-season award prediction for 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

Three of the league's elite pass rushers came from the 2011 rookie class.

In fact, the top three finishers in sacks were second-year players: Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5), San Francisco's Aldon Smith (19.5) and Denver's Von Miller (18.5).

Miller was last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Smith has the second-most sacks (33.5) over the past two seasons behind only Minnesota's Jared Allen (34.0).

Not just a pass-rushing specialist, however, "J.J. Swat" is tied for 10th in the league in passes defended (16). The only other non-DBs to have double-digit passes defended were Washington linebacker London Fletcher and Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs (11).

Speaking of the Bears, they led the league in both takeaways (44) and defensive touchdowns (nine). Their nine touchdowns are tied for second all-time with the 1961 Chargers behind the 1998 Seahawks (10).

Tillman was tied for the league lead in interceptions returned for touchdowns (three) with St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, my choice as runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Here are my choices for winner and runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year (see past winners):

Winner: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

As noted above, Watt led the NFL in sacks this season with 20.5, which is tied with Giants Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor for the sixth highest single-season output of all time.

Only nine players have ever reached 20 sacks and the only three active players to do so are Watt, Minnesota’s Jared Allen and Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware.

Unlike Ware or Allen, however, Watt plays a position (3-4 defensive end) that typically does not put up huge sack totals.

Not only does he do a great job of getting to the quarterback, he has a knack for deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage. In fact, Patriots coach Bill Belichick used a broom stick in practice to prepare for their matchup with the Texans.

Finally, Watt led the NFL in stuffs (24) as the Texans finished fourth in the league in that category with 54 as a team. Tampa Bay rookie Lavonte David finished second behind Watt with 15.

Runner-up: Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Miller, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, had another great season.

Finishing third in the league in sacks (18.5), Miller now has 30 sacks in his first two pro seasons combined.

In addition to finishing in the top three in sacks, Miller was tied for third in the NFL in forced fumbles (six) and tied for fourth in the league in stuffs (13).

Throughout the rest of the week, I will make my predictions for the remainder of the postseason awards. For an easy way to keep track of my picks, they will all be recorded on this page.

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