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NEW YORK -- Brian Urlacher is excited about the NFL's group of up-and-coming linebackers.

Near the top of his list is Buffalo Bills rookie Kiko Alonso.

Urlacher, the former Chicago Bears middle linebacker, received the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award 13 years ago. He said Alonso deserves the honor this time.

"Kiko should win it," Urlacher said Tuesday at the Super Bowl media center in Manhattan. "He had a great season. He's the one rookie that actually stood out to me from the beginning. It should be his award to win."

The award will be given Saturday night at a ceremony in Radio City Music Hall. Alonso would be the first Bill to win the award since Shane Conlan in 1987. Jim Haslett won it in 1979.

Alonso's main competition will come from New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. Other candidates are Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotuelelei, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyronn Mathieu and San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid.

Alonso led the Bills with 159 tackles, 11 for losses. He had two sacks, four interceptions a forced fumble and two recoveries.

"He's got the skill set you want," Urlacher said. "He's athletic. He can rush the passer. He's got great coverage skills with those picks. He can hit. He can run. He's everything you want out of a middle linebacker."

Alonso was voted the NFL's top defensive rookie for September, when he collected all of his interceptions and seemed to make a big tackle each Sunday.

But he had zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles after September. He had one sack and one recovery.

"He started off strong," Urlacher said. "He had a ton of picks and some sacks. I don't know if he hit the rookie wall, but he started out strong."

Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowler now working for Fox Sports as an analyst, was impressed with how quickly Alonso picked up Mike Pettine's defense.

Although Alonso will have to learn another scheme now that Jim Schwartz is defensive coordinator, Urlacher predicted no trouble with the transition. Urlacher also endorsed the hire.

"The hardest thing as a rookie is learning the defense correctly, knowing where everyone has to fit, knowing what checks you have to make," Urlacher said. "That was the hardest thing for me my first couple years, but it seemed like he did a really good job with it."