Recent history says that defensive secondary players are at a big disadvantage when it comes to winning the Rookie of the Year honours. Marcus Peters of the Ravens and Marshon Lattimore of the Saints are the only 2 players to be given the award since the turn of the century. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how unpredictable the main stats that Defensive Backs are assessed on are; Interceptions are difficult to influence as an individual, and once a player shows a trait of being a ball hawk opposing quarterbacks can avoid those players in the passing game and look to target other areas of the field.
Conversely, a player responsible for rushing the pass is much harder to freeze out of a game. Sure, you can double team him to reduce his effectiveness, but not many rookies command that kind of attention, and if they are able to overcome double team blocking assignments they are lauded even more for their ability to overcome the odds. That's why at this stage of proceedings I'm going to play the numbers game and look at Defensive Linemen and Linebackers only.
Will this year's winner have played for a playoff team?
The last 5 winners have all played on playoff teams; I'm also going to factor this into my picks. You only have to look at the draft to see the positive impact of playing in a good unit. Georgia Bulldogs had 5 players picked in the first round of the draft, some of whom surely benefitted from a strong supporting cast in their excellent run to the College Football Playoff Championship.
I'm bullish on the Lions after their Aidan Hutchinson pick and think they have a legit shot at a wildcard spot this year. I also rate Kayvon Thibodeaux really highly and in my opinion those two are worthy favourites for the award, I just can't take them at the current prices offered. In season I could definitely get involved if either of them makes a hot start and looks like they have moved the needle for their team. But sticking with the criteria laid out above we are looking for playoff-contending teams with established good situations to help a young pass rusher or playmaking linebacker.
Nakobe Dean is the first player to begin to meet our criteria. He stepped up a lot in his final college season, getting involved in all defensive counting categories. He had 6 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. The Eagles look to be positioned for another playoff run, so although he isn't my pick I think Dean offers the first opportunity in this market.
I'd also give a thought to George Karlaftis, drafted by the Chiefs out of Purdue. Karlaftis is a late arrival to the game, moving to the US from Greece and picking football up late in high school. His numbers at the college level were excellent and I expect him to have success in the Chiefs lineup alongside Chris Jones. My main concern here is how much playing time he will get in his rookie year.
My choice right now for the award is Drake Jackson (+3300 Fanduel). Jackson, a day two pick for the 49ers out of USC will join a defensive line that has produced a ton of talent over the past few years. Playing alongside Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead will open up plenty of opportunities to get after the passer, and he is slippery enough to evade blocks and rack up a ton of pressure in the 49ers defensive scheme. The 49ers should be a pretty safe bet for a postseason run, and they also will benefit from the 'stars and scrubs' nature of the NFC. They will get to face weak offensive lines such as the Falcons, Panthers and even the dolphins in their cross-conference schedule. I think Jackson could end the year with a ton of pressures and sacks, and be in the reckoning for the end of year honours alongside Hutchinson and Thibodeaux at much bigger odds.