In his first season with the Patriots, defensive end Chandler Jones has certainly distinguished himself as one of the finest defensive rookies in the league. But just past the midway point of the 2012 season, has he done enough to warrant consideration as Defensive Rookie of the Year? His numbers certainly suggest that he has a spot on the short list — here’s a look at the best of the field:
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder leads the Patriots in quarterback hits with nine, and is tied with defensive end Rob Ninkovich  for the team lead in sacks with six (for 33 yards). The Syracuse product, who was taken in the first round (21st overall), has been able to get good pressure on opposing quarterbacks over the course of the first nine games of the season, including a two-sack effort in an October loss to the Seahawks . However, Jones, who has started all nine games this year, has appeared to hit the rookie wall over the last couple of weeks — for whatever reason, it appeared the Patriots tried to give Jones a bit of an early blow last week, as Justin Francis  saw some early snaps against the Bills in his place.
One more thing: If Jones wins the award, he’d be the second Patriot in five years to win — linebacker Jerod Mayo  won it in 2008. Defensive back Mike Haynes won the award in 1976.
Bruce Irvin: Like Jones, the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder out of West Virginia has also impressed as a pass rusher over the first half of his rookie season, coming away with seven sacks. Taken in the first round (15th overall) by Seattle, Irvin’s sacks have come in bunches — he has three games where he had two sacks each in wins over the Jets, Packers and Panthers. (He became just the 14th player in NFL history to have at least 4.5 sacks in his first five games as a pro.) While the fact that he doesn’t play in a big market could hurt him with voters, he will be hard to ignore if/when he hits double-digits in sacks and the Seahawks hang around the NFC West race.
One more thing: Irvin has a great backstory, which was detailed here when he chatted with our pal D.J. Bean at the NFL combine last February .
Luke Kuechly: The former Boston College  star has started all nine games, and has found a nice niche with the Panthers, blossoming into one of the lone bright spots in a difficult year for 2-7 Carolina. The 21-year-old has 87 tackles (50 solo) over the first nine games of the 2012 season playing both middle and weak-side linebacker, and has shown a knack for always being around the ball. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder, who was taken ninth overall in the 2012 draft, is the youngest player on the Carolina roster, but has shown an ability beyond his years.
One more thing: If Kuechly wins, he would certainly fit a group of previous award winners who were athletic, aggressive young linebackers, including Mayo, Patrick Willis and Brian Cushing . He would also be the first Boston College player to win the honor.
Lavonte David: Like Kuechly, the 22-year-old linebacker out of Nebraska is a tackling machine. He’s started all nine games this season for Tampa Bay, and has 81 tackles (67 solo), including 30 in the last two weeks — 14 in a win over the Chargers and 16 in a win over the Raiders. Included in his tackle numbers are 12 tackles for a loss over the course of the season.
One more thing: Growing up in Florida, David was a high school teammate of defensive lineman Marcus Forston, who has been on and off the Patriots’ roster this season.
Bobby Wagner: Another member of the Seattle defense cracks our top 5, the 6-foot, 241-pound linebacker has 81 tackles (47 solo) and a pair of sacks over the first half of the 2012 season. Taken in the second round by the Seahawks (47th overall) out of Utah, the 22-year-old has started nine of the 10 games this season for Seattle, and has already evolved into a three-down linebacker for the Seahawks.
One more thing: No member of the Seattle defense has ever won DROY honors.