Panthers CB Josh Norman, LB Luke Kuechly worthy of NFL Defensive POY

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is the favorite to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award for the third time in four years, but you can make a solid case for two members of the Carolina Panthers.

That would be cornerback Josh Norman and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Watt has the sack numbers -- an NFL-best 17.5 -- that garner a lot of attention. He had a league-best 20.5 sacks when he won the award in 2014 and 2012.

But Norman and Kuechly, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, have strong statistics and an NFL-best 15-1 record on their résumé.

Kuechly may have an edge over Norman, the front-runner for the award at midseason, based on the strength of his numbers despite missing three games with a concussion.

Here’s a case for the two Panthers versus Watt with the help of ESPN Stats and Information and Pro Football Focus:


Via ESPN Stats and Information:

* Was one of eight players with multiple defensive touchdowns

* Had 19 interceptions/passes defended, tied for fourth-most in the NFL -- no other Panthers player had more than nine combined interceptions/passes defended

* Had three forced fumbles, tied for the most among defensive backs this season

Via Pro Football Focus:

* Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 54.0 when attacking Norman, the lowest among all cornerbacks

* Produced the lowest passer rating among all cornerbacks when targeted in coverage

* Allowed 49 receptions on 96 targets for 457 yards and two touchdowns, with four interceptions


Via ESPN Stats and Information:

* Had 13 more tackles (118 total) than any other Panthers player despite missing three games

* Had a tackle on 17.0 percent of his snaps -- only Denver’s Danny Trevathan (18.9 percent) and Indianapolis’ Jerrell Freeman (17.2 percent) had a higher tackle percentage among players with a minimum of 500 snaps

* Tied teammate Thomas Davis for most interceptions (4) by a linebacker

* Had eight interceptions/passes defended, the fourth-most by a linebacker

Via Pro Football Focus:

* Was by far the highest-graded inside linebacker in the NFL with a grade of plus-33.0 -- Freeman was second at plus-21.8

* Graded much higher this year than his MVP season in 2013 (plus-11.3)

* Was the top middle linebacker against both run and pass

* Quarterbacks had a 57.8 passer rating when targeting Kuechly in coverage -- that is the lowest against middle linebackers

* Was the best tackler among all middle linebackers with an efficiency number of 24.0

* Had only one negatively graded game: Week 16 against Atlanta, Carolina’s only loss


Via ESPN Stats and Information:

* Led the NFL in sacks with 17.5, 5.5 more than any other Texans player

* Led the NFL in batted passes (9), three more than any other player

* Led the NFL in tackles for loss (37), eight more than any other player

Via Pro Football Focus:

* His grade (plus-78.8) was by far the highest among 3-4 defensive ends -- Fletcher Cox was second at plus-50.1 -- but among all interior defensive linemen Watt was a distant second to Aaron Donald (plus-104.0)

* Watt was graded much higher last year (plus-100.3) than this year

* Had three negatively graded games (versus Carolina, Indianapolis and New England), and Houston lost all three

* Generated 89 total pressures (18 sacks, 34 hits and 37 pressures), the most in the NFL regardless of position