Last year, NFL fans learned the name Luke Kuechly. He had been college football's best tackler during his time at Boston College and didn't skip a beat during his first season with the Carolina Panthers.
This year, another young linebacker is turning heads -- Buffalo Bills rookie Kiko Alonso. Through the first six weeks, Alonso leads the NFL in tackles (66) and is tied for the lead in interceptions (4). People are certainly taking notice. The man from Oregon was recently the top prospect in the always-excellent "Making the Leap" series.
The overall numbers for the Bills defense say Alonso shouldn't be so much of a playmaker. They're 28th in rushing defense and 27th in pass defense. Only seven teams have allowed more points this season than Buffalo. But it's not all bad: The Bills have the third-most sacks in the NFL. That QB pressure, more than anything, has helped Alonso make plays in the middle of the field.
It's fair to say some of Alonso's interceptions have come as a result of QB pressures. But that would discount his pursuit along the line of scrimmage. You don't post 22 tackles without being able to chase down a running back or two. That's possibly the biggest reason to think he can continue to play at this pace all season long. Eventually, the interceptions will slow down, but improving in Buffalo's shaky run defense will make him a commodity.
To this point, he's been better than most would have expected. And how does he stack up to Kuechly? So far, Alonso has eight pass deflections and a sack -- matching Kuechly's totals from all of last season. And Alonso's four picks double Kuechly's 2012 total. Unless the rookie picks it up, he'll fall just short of Kuechly's total tackles from last season. But as long as he contributes in other categories, few IDP owners will complain.
It all started with a man and a dream. A dream to have his nickname trademarked. That dream came true when Darrelle Revis was awarded ownership of the phrase "Revis Island". Put those bootleg T-shirts away. Revis is now the only Buccaneer who will profit from that booty now.
The popularity of that phrase has once again shone a spotlight on shutdown corners. Revis remains the gold standard, but players like Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman and Joe Haden also have earned plaudits. But there have been a slew of other playmakers on the outside who have created plenty of bad days for opposing quarterbacks.
Patrick Peterson in Arizona, Alterraun Verner in Tennessee and the duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman in Chicago are among those who have been IDP gold this season. It stands to figure that in a league that features quarterbacks and receivers, the shutdown corner would emerge as the natural predator.
» At this rate, the Cowboys might have to hold a sweepstakes to see who will play defensive line. It's a unit beset with injuries this season and things aren't getting better anytime soon. DeMarcus Ware vows that he'll be back sooner than expected, but he's still likely to be out a week or two. However, his absence is compounded by Jay Ratliff's release off the PUP list. George Selvie has had a nice year for Dallas, but it's asking a lot to think he can keep it up without help.
» We've seen a lot of players come back to the field recently from suspension -- Josh Gordon, Justin Blackmon and Daryl Washington, to name a few. And many of those guys have played big in their seasond debuts. The Broncos (and IDP owners) are hoping that trend continues with Von Miller. The pass-rushing star is back this week after a six-game ban to begin the season. It couldn't come at a better time with Denver facing Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Getting to Luck will be one thing. Taking down such a mobile QB will be another.
» The Patriots defense suffered a big blow losing linebacker Jerod Mayo for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral. Mayo had posted 1.5 sacks to go along with a team-leading 55 tackles. Add that to the loss of Vince Wilfork to injured reserve and there's a big hole right up the middle of the New England defense.
» Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell was limited in practice Wednesday, but is hoping to play Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks. He has formed a wrecking crew along the defensive line with Darnell Dockett and would be a big loss if he isn't available to put pressure on Russell Wilson this week.