Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) reacts with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) Sep 11, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) reacts with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) after sacking Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s the 2023 NFL MVP?  Betting favorites Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes are having worse seasons statistically than they did last year. The league’s best rookie is a no-doubter: C.J. Stroud. If you’re looking for drama, the most fascinating race might be for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

You can make a solid argument for any of the top four candidates: Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons T.J. Watt, and DaRon Bland.

Garrett has the best odds at the moment, but with a little over a month left in the season, a lot can change quickly. And there’s the possibility that someone else like Danielle Hunter, Maxx Crosby, Josh Allen, or Geno Stone could make a run. But for now, let’s focus on the top four contenders.

Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 13 sacks, four forced fumbles

Why he should win: By the time his career ends, Garrett might be on the Cleveland Browns’ Mount Rushmore. Those spots are currently occupied by Jim Brown, Joe Thomas, Otto Graham, and Ozzie Newsome. Garrett has been the league’s most consistent defensive force. Every week he’s wreaking havoc in the backfield and occasionally on special teams. His performance in a 39-38 victory over the Indianapolis Colts (nine tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, a broken-up pass, and a blocked field goal) was one for the ages. He’s tied for third in the NFL sacks and tied for second in forced fumbles. He’s the best player on the NFL’s best defense in terms of total yards allowed (247.9 per game).

Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

Stats: 11.5 sacks

Why he should win: Sacks can be slightly overrated. While they’re important, what defensive coordinators value more are pressures. No player has been more disruptive getting after the quarterback than Parsons. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he has 46 pressures, which is by far the most in the league by a wide margin. His pass-rush abilities helped seal the Cowboys’ 41-35 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. What makes Parsons so dangerous is that he’s the most versatile player on this list. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can line him up at multiple positions, and because of Parsons’ athleticism, he excels wherever he is.

T. J. Watt, Pittsburgh

Stats: 13.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries 

Why he should win: The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year Award might have the most pressure to succeed weekly. The Steelers offense, dreadful for years, is the fifth-lowest scoring (16.5 points per game) in the NFL. The defense can’t afford to make mistakes. Watt is tied for the league lead in sacks and fumble recoveries. If he keeps up his current pace, he could set the NFL record for sacks. He tied the mark at 22.5 in 2021. Mike Tomlin has said, “Let’s be honest. T.J. is the best defensive player on the planet right now. And he proves that week in and week out with the plays that he delivers us.”

DaRon Bland, Dallas Cowboys

Stats: 8 interceptions, 5 returned for touchdowns.

Why he should win: DaRon Bland has come out of nowhere to become an NFL history-maker. He leads the league in interceptions and has already set the single-season record for most pick 6s. Consider this: Deion Sanders returned nine interceptions for scores in his 188-game career. Bland’s playmaking has helped make up for the injury loss of Trevon Diggs. And like 2021 Diggs, Bland can be a high-reward/high-risk player. On Thursday Night Football, Bland was touched by the Seattle Seahawks wide receivers, including surrendering a 73-yard touchdown to DK Metcalf. However, Bland did redeem himself by snagging an interception in the third quarter.

Garrett, Parsons Watt, and Bland are all worthy candidates. The last competitive Defensive Player of the Year race was in 2016 when Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (18 votes) edged out Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (17). It will be interesting to see who the voters choose this season.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.