The AFC South is full of defensive talent, including the winner of three of the past five AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. But Houston's J.J. Watt — as much as I love him — isn't my preseason pick for the AFC South Defensive Player of the Year.
For my money in 2017, I'll take Jadeveon Clowney as the winner of this unofficial award. Clowney heads into the 2017 season coming off of his best performance to date after it took him a couple of years to get into the swing of things with the Texans.
The former No. 1 overall pick put up his best career numbers in most statistical categories last season:
Not only did Clowney put up his biggest numbers in his third season, he did it when his team needed it the most.
J.J. Watt was injured the vast majority of the 2016 season, leaving behind AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year-sized-shoes to fill. Clowney may not have lived up to that title, but he put up big numbers and helped the Texans produce the top defense in the NFL in terms of yards per game.
Clowney and the Houston defense also shut down the Raiders in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, although Oakland was playing without Derek Carr (and backup Matt McGloin).
This year, Clowney will hope to pick up right where he left off on what is going to be a loaded Houston front seven. Playing opposite J.J. Watt and with linebackers Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney backing him, Clowney will have even more opportunities this fall.
Teams will need to make a choice — there's only so many players to double team. J.J. Watt will always command a crowd, and unless he's not healthy, will likely see more double teams than anyone.
Clowney will likely be less of a threat to opposing offenses when they put together their gameplans, and should benefit from the talented defensive front seven around him.
Other Defensive POY Candidates:
J.J. Watt, DE — Houston; Jurrell Casey, DE — Tennessee; Whitney Mercilus, LB — Houston; A.J. Bouye, CB — Jacksonville