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Schrager’s Ballot - NFL Defensive Player of the Year

1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

Other players get more press, but no player has been single-handedly more dominant this season than Watt. In just his second year in the league, he’s been the game’s most menacing defensive end. His ability to jump and swat passes at the line is going to change the way teams train tall defensive lineman to play the position. Though Aldon Smith gets all the attention, Watt is also at 19.5 sacks for the season — just 3 short of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22. Consider that the Houston defense hasn’t skipped much of a beat, even with the losses of DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams to free agency and both Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing to injury — and Watt’s value becomes only more evident. He’s the real deal.

2. Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

A fourth-round pick in the same draft that highly-touted DTs Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Brian Price were selected — Atkins has breezed right by all three as the best young defensive tackle in the NFL. His 10.5 sacks lead all interior defensive linemen and his presence has helped lift the Bengals to an 8-6 record. He gets double-teamed and still makes plays. Aldon Smith may have more sacks, Patrick Willis may get more press clippings, Demarcus Ware may have more natural ability — but Atkins has been the second-best defensive player in the NFL this season.- Peter Schrager (AP Photos: Eric Gay/Al Behrman)

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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