The Buffalo Bills are on their bye week, and throughout the week we'll take a look at some of the biggest questions the team will face in the final five games of the season.
Next on the docket: Will linebacker Kiko Alonso win Defensive Rookie of the Year?
With six weeks left in the NFL season, it's hard not to imagine Alonso as the favorite. Alonso is the league's second-leading tackler and is tied for third in interceptions. Those are both the highest marks among rookies, giving him a natural edge for the award.
Also helping Alonso's cause will be his position. Of the 13 players named defensive rookie of the year since 2000, 11 have been linebackers. That includes several middle linebackers: Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo, and Jonathan Vilma, among others.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper released his latest rookie rankings on Wednesday, and Alonso tops the list. He's trailed closely by a pair of defensive tackles, each of whom are on potential playoff teams, which could give them greater national exposure down the stretch.
Here's more of Kiper's take on Alonso:
If you graded it only on per-play impact, you'd probably put Alonso lower on this list -- not far, but perhaps behind the next two players. But when you factor in the total impact of a player who is second in the NFL in tackles, has been as good as almost any linebacker in the NFL in coverage and literally never comes off the field, you give the slight edge to Alonso.
Given his performance in first 11 games, what must Alonso do to lock up the award in his final five?
Adding to his playmaking statistics would help. Alonso has two sacks, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Except for one sack in Week 9, all of those plays came in the first quarter of the season.
In addition, Alonso must continue to stay healthy and stay on the field. He's played every defensive snap to this point, and keeping that streak going through the remainder of the season will be a major part of his candidacy.
Alonso would be the first Bills rookie since Shane Conlan in 1987 to take home the award.