Defensive Rookie of the Year
I think the race for DROY boils down to a two-man battle between Kuechly, who became the leader on an improving Carolina defense, and Packers cornerback Casey Hayward. (Vikings safety Harrison Smith and Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David trail in third and fourth, respectively.) When Kuechly and Hayward were playing at their peak levels, I think Hayward was better. He looked like a franchise cornerback at times for the Packers, and while six interceptions as a rookie will always get attention, Hayward stepped in on a veteran defense that had cornerbacks who were either injured (Sam Shields, semi-corner Charles Woodson) or not living up to expectations (Tramon Williams) and produced like the unit's best defender at times.
So why do I put Kuechly over Hayward? Because Kuechly's volume of work surpasses that of Hayward. As a part-time starter in Green Bay, Hayward only saw 683 defensive snaps this year, 63 percent of Green Bay's total. Kuechly, meanwhile, was on the field for 921 defensive snaps, which is 88 percent of Carolina's total. The Boston College product started the year as an outside linebacker, but when the team gave up on an ailing Jon Beason and sent him to IR, Kuechly moved into the middle and became the force of nature his college tape hinted toward. Carolina's run defense improved from 18th in DVOA in the first half to seventh in the second half, and Kuechly was a big reason why. He was the one who had the green dot on his helmet, aligning the defense and running things on his side of the ball. Carolina depended on him in a way that Green Bay didn't depend upon Hayward. To me, that's enough to make him DROY.
Even though I read stuff like this, I am still nervous about him actually winning it.