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Another sophomore could follow J.J. Watt

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt capped an outstanding second season in 2012 by becoming the NFL's defensive player of the year.

Another player in his second season might follow Watt for the award at a position less recognized. Carolina Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly is the favorite to be this year's defensive player of the year.

Watt's second season was a bit of a surprise, following a rookie year in which he spent trying to figure out the game. Late in his rookie season and in the playoffs something clicked for Watt, culminating in the interception he caught and returned for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 playoffs.

That was just a start for Watt, who has since established himself as a problem for any opposing offense. In 2012, he notched 20.5 sacks, 16 batted passes, 81 tackles, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

In 2013, Watt had 80 tackles, 10.5 sacks, seven batted passes and another four forced fumbles an two fumble recoveries. Watt ranked second in tackles for loss with 22 and first in quarterback hits with 46, but seventh in sacks. That, plus the Texans' 2-14 season, combined to leave Watt off some lists for the top defensive player in the league, something you can bet Watt will use as motivation.

Kuechly's sophomore season was less of a surprise.

He won defensive rookie of the year in 2012, leading the league in tackles with 103. He was dominant in 2013, playing a major role in the Panthers' 11-1 finish to the regular season. Kuechly's most impressive game was that against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 22 when he notched 24 tackles and an interception.

The award will be announced Saturday night.