The Defensive Rookie of the Year race features a cast of high draft picks, a few surprises, and a front-runner few saw coming.
Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard +333, who was a second-round pick, not only leads all rookies in tackles, but he leads the entire NFL in this category after four weeks. His combined 54 tackles are eight ahead of Kiko Alonso, whose 46 put him in second place. Additionally, Leonard is tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks with 4.0. Again, this is not sixth among rookies, but sixth among all NFL players. These are the kind of numbers that lead to DROY honors.
Next on the list is Los Angeles Chargers first-rounder Derwin James +250. The safety has been the playmaker at the pro level that he was in college. The former Florida State Seminole is second among rookies with 3.0 sacks and leads first-year players with seven passes defended thus far. He also has picked off one pass. While his 26 tackles rank 13th among all defensive backs, James often fills the stat sheet in games, and could play his way to DROY glory.
Then there’s rookie cornerbacks Donte Jackson +2500 of the Carolina Panthers and Denzel Ward +600 of the Cleveland Browns. Jackson, a second-round pick, is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with three. Ward, a first-rounder, is right behind him in a tie for fifth with two picks. While Jackson’s path to the award is leading the NFL in interceptions for the duration of the season, Ward has the added benefit of tape to make his case. Ward has been able to match up with some of the game’s best receivers so far this season and has shined more often than not. A substantial number of interceptions will help make his case, but if he can develop into a shutdown corner in short order, then he certainly will get some bonus points on the DROY ballots.
Pass rush specialists Bradley Chubb +1200 of the Denver Broncos and Marcus Davenport +4000 of the New Orleans Saints can sack their way into the running for DROY. However, the pair have not yet got going this season as Chubb has registered just 1.5 sacks while Davenport has 1.0. Another pass-rusher – Harold Landry +5000 of the Tennessee Titans – has missed a game because of an injury and has yet to record a start. While he does have 1.0 sack, Landry has the skill set to bull rush his way into the running the same as Chubb and Davenport.
Other first-rounders still getting their bearings at the NFL level are Roquan Smith +1500 of the Chicago Bears and Leighton Vander Esch +2000 of the Dallas Cowboys. Smith has made 18 tackles and 1.0 sack in the early going after a holdout has forced him to be eased into action. Vander Esch has seen his snap count increase and has the added pressure of playing in place of the injured Sean Lee. The Boise State product has totaled 26 combined tackles and could see his profile grow with his stats playing for the Cowboys.
Once again, plenty of options with high $$ odds… For once, I am going to have to play it safe. BORING AF but MONEY AF.
DROY Pick: Darius Leonard +333
Luck and the Colts offense are still knocking off the rust. Leonard will be on the field A LOT.