For this 2015 season, the Defensive Player of the Year award looks like it could be a tighter race than any other, and two Panthers have made their case to be in consideration for taking home the trophy.
Both defenders have made their mark on the season for Carolina and have each been a driving force for this defense and this team as a whole in their undefeated year. They’ve done their part in making the Panthers defense one of the best in the league and have contributed to making this unit the number two ranked defense in the NFL, allowing just 312.5-yards per game and just over 18-points per contest.
We’ll start with Kuechly's case.
The Panthers star inside linebacker has made an impact on this team in each of his first four seasons with the franchise and already has taken home one DPOY award in 2013. This year, he missed three and a half games, the first of his career, due to a concussion but regardless of the injury his play has garnered definite candidacy for the award yet again.
Kuechly has just 75 total tackles thus far (tied for 31st in the league) meaning he is on pace for around 121 on the year which would be his lowest career total. Despite this excusable decline in tackle numbers, the tape tells the better story.
Week in and week out, the linebacker can be seen chasing down running backs and covering receivers and tight ends all over the field as evidenced by his two interception (one for a score) against Dallas on Thanksgiving. Pro Football Focus has its own grading scale to better measure performance outside of ordinary statistics and that’s where Kuechly shines. His largest weakness has always been in coverage but this season he is allowing a passer rating of just 44.1 when targeted. The average for an inside linebacker is 103.
While this is impressive on its own, it doesn’t hold a candle to this stat: On a grading scale, Pro Football Focus grades players from 1-100 and so far this season, Kuechly has a grade of 104.9. You read that right. He literally broke the scale.
If that doesn’t make a case for DPOY, what does?
Then there’s Norman.
After a slow career start, the cornerback has burst onto the scene and it can be argued that he is already one of the top players at the position.
Norman won the Defensive Player of the Month in September and after just four weeks of play he logged four interceptions, two of which he returned for scores. Since then he has rarely been targeted and has battled with a number of top tier receivers and won each matchup.
According to NFL.com expert Gil Brandt, there are a number of statistics to prove how impressive he has been as he’s tied for the third lowest burn rate among defensive backs at 43% and is tied for fourth most passes defensed with 15. Pro Football Focus has the most impressive stat of all though as opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating against Norman is just 38.1. Meaning throwing the ball into the turf every play would yield a higher quarterback rating than throwing towards number 24.
While fellow defenders JJ Watt, Tyrann Mathieu and others certainly have made their case, Kuechly and Norman are right in the thick of it and each have a legitimate chance to bring the hardware back to Carolina.
Statistics gathered from Pro Football Focus, ESPN, and NFL.com