Von Miller: Is He the Best Defensive Player in the NFL?

Baily DeeterSenior Writer IIIJune 5, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 23:  Outside linebacker Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos tries to get some noise out of the home crowd during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 23, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 34-12. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Von Miller has done some extraordinary things as a member of the Denver Broncos.

In just his second NFL season, Miller set Denver's franchise record for sacks with 18.5. Miller has dominated in his two NFL seasons, and he set the tone for a dominant Bronco defense in 2012.

The Broncos finished second in total defense and first in sacks last year, as the defense was able to accumulate 52 sacks.

Miller was responsible for 35.6 percent of those sacks, which is extremely impressive for someone who doesn't rush on every play as an outside linebacker. Because of his ability to get to the quarterback and change a game, Miller terrorized opposing offenses.

While Miller isn't known for his pass coverage, he still managed to intercept a pass in 2012. He took that pass back for a touchdown, which helped the Broncos beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch the AFC West in Week 13.

So, it's safe to say that the prodigy had a spectacular season and is poised to do more damage in 2013.

However, even though Miller was a force in 2012, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, who registered 20.5 sacks, won the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award. Aldon Smith, who finished the year with 19.5 sacks, also came close to winning the award.

Watt and Smith, both third-year players, tortured defenses, and both, like Miller, pressured and brought down quarterbacks. Watt, Smith and Miller are leading the way for a new wave of defensive players, and they're going to make their presence felt on the field for a long time.

But who is the best out of the group?

In terms of production, it would appear to be Watt. Watt is a defensive end, which means that he doesn't have to play as much pass coverage, but his sack totals are still extremely impressive.

Watt will likely post better sack totals because of his position, but there isn't much of a difference in sacks between him, Miller and Smith. In fact, Miller has registered 30 sacks in his two years, while Watt only has 26.

However, there are more ways in which Watt makes his presence felt on the field. For example, he defensed a remarkable 16 passes in 2012, which is unheard of for a defensive end.

Watt is tall (6'5"), but it's completely unrealistic to expect a lineman to bat down 16 passes. It's also unrealistic to expect a 295-pound lineman to bring down a quarterback more than 20 times in a season, but Watt still managed to do that in 2012.

Miller, who ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, isn't as strong or as tall as Watt, and his stats aren't as good. Watt is 58 pounds heavier than Miller, and he registered 13 more reps on the 225-pound bench press at the 2011 NFL Combine.

In addition, Watt led all defensive ends with 81 tackles. Miller, who is expected to register more tackles as a linebacker, finished the season with just 68 tackles. Watt dominated in every statistical category, and he outplayed Miller in 2012.

And, with his size and talent, he's likely to outperform Miller in the future as well.

Smith's stats and Miller's stats for 2012 were extremely similar, but there was one big difference. Smith had nine games (including the postseason) in which he failed to record a sack, while Miller only had four.

Smith played in two more games than Miller, but the fact that he failed to record a sack in almost 50 percent of the 49ers' games is alarming. It's also alarming that Smith failed to register a sack in his last six times, which was when defensive tackle Justin Smith was hurt.

The inconsistency displayed by Aldon brings up concerns, even if it means that he did absolutely terrorize opposing offensive lines in other games (he had 19.5 sacks in the 10 games in which he did register a sack). Miller remained consistent all season, and he's going to continue to do so.

With Justin doing the dirty work (by eating up offensive linemen), Aldon had a clear path to the quarterback and was able to put up eye-popping sack numbers. Miller didn't have anyone as dominant as Justin to help him get to the quarterback, as his former partner in crime, Elvis Dumervil, wasn't there to eat up defenders and pave the way for Miller.

If Justin went down with an injury, it would be realistic to expect Aldon to suffer. Miller doesn't need anyone like Justin to help him, which makes him a legitimate star.

His consistency is also a key element to his success. Miller only had two games without a sack in Denver's last 13 games, and he's going to continue to contribute on a regular basis in 2013.

Miller has definitely outperformed Smith in some categories, and I think he's the better player.

There's no doubt that Miller is a spectacular player, one who can be counted on to lead a defense. He is a franchise-changing player who has helped turn Denver's defense around, and even though he's not the best defensive player in the league, the Broncos are extremely grateful to have him.

Watt is more athletic and is better than Miller in most facets of the game, but he's the only defensive player who is better than Miller.

Miller is ready to help lead the Broncos deep into the playoffs, and as he does that, he'll continue to show everyone why he is the second-best defensive player in the NFL.