- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Compared to last year, when all four defenses ranked in the top 10, it's been a down year for defenses in the AFC North. But some of the best defenders in the NFL still reside in this division.
So, who's been the defensive player of the year in the AFC North this year? It was an easy decision last season, when Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs dominated and received the defensive player of the year award for the entire league. It's not as clear cut in the AFC North this year.
Here are the top candidates:
DT Geno Atkins, Bengals: He's tied with Buffalo's Mario Williams for sixth in the NFL with 10.5 sacks. Atkins has 4.5 more sacks than any other interior lineman in the league. He also leads the Bengals in coaches’ compilation of QB pressures (33) and tackles-for-loss (13).
LB D'Qwell Jackson, Browns: He ranks third in the division with 97 tackles and has recorded 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Jackson is currently one of only eight NFL players with at least two sacks and two interceptions.
DT Haloti Ngata, Ravens: The three-time Pro Bowl lineman had 30 tackles in his first six games before injuring his shoulder. Ngata still has 46 tackles, which leads all Ravens linemen. He also has four sacks on the year.
LB Lawrence Timmons, Steelers: He leads the team with 84 tackles and has recorded 14 quarterback pressures, a career-high three interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. His interception in overtime against Kansas City was the game-changing play, and his 53-yard interception return for a touchdown in Cleveland was the first defensive score of his career.