Top 5 Candidates to Win Defensive Rookie of the Year


Now that the NFL draft and free agency have basically come to an end, we now have a pretty good idea of what each team will look like for the most part from a roster standpoint. It is extremely difficult to project how a rookie will perform because they don’t have any professional experience to go off of. However, we can look at a player’s situation, how he will likely be used and how he fits into his team’s scheme, so that we have a good baseline to project how well each rookie should do.

Because the transition from college to the NFL is so steep in the secondary, they do not typically win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Therefore, any Minnesota Viking, Dallas Cowboy or Kansas City Chief fans shouldn’t hold their collective breaths about their No. 1 pick winning this coveted award. Historically, the winners come from the front seven and this year should be no different as there was a plethora of talent there in this year’s NFL draft.

Erik Kendricks – Minnesota Vikings

Linebackers who are always around the ball and accumulate a lot of tackles are always in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Eric Kendricks is exactly that. Kendricks has fantastic instincts and he rarely ever takes false steps. He knows how to play underneath blocks and he meets ball carriers inside and outside the box.

Another thing that bodes well for Kendricks is that he is fantastic in coverage. Not only will this let him fill a couple more columns on the stat sheet, but it also means that he will stay on the field in the package and in passing situations. This will lead to Kendricks getting more opportunities to make plays, which in turn will give him a great chance to win the defensive player of the year.

Vic Beasley – Atlanta Falcons

It is usually difficult for pass-rushers to step in and make a huge impact as a rookie. However, elite pass-rushing talents like Von Miller and Shawne Merriman were able to step right in and get after the quarterback in the NFL, which allowed them to take hope this honor. Vic Beasley is in that same class as a pure pass-rusher.

Beasley has the skills to beat NFL offensive tackles from day one. He can win with speed and he does a decent enough job of converting it to power. He wins in a variety of ways and he really knows how to get around the edge. Beasley will be a great tool for the Falcons defense and he could really make a huge impact. If Beasley can step in and provide double-digit sacks, it will be almost impossible to not hand him the trophy.

Leonard Williams – New York Jets

We would be remiss to talk about players capable of winning the DROY award and not mention the most talented defender in this year’s draft class, Leonard Williams. While Beasley wins with speed, Williams wins with pure power and length. He isn’t the best pass-rusher, but he is dynamic against the run and his effort will allow him to get some sacks, especially with the Jets secondary stifling opposing receivers.

One negative with Williams is that he will likely be one cog in a rotation as the Jets have the most talented defensive line in the NFL. However, Aaron Donald proved last year that if a player is productive enough, he could win the honor despite being in a rotation. Also, Williams can learn from his teammate, Sheldon Richardson, who took home this honor two years ago. If Williams can stay healthy and utilize his skill set to his best ability, there is no doubt that he will be in the conversation for this award at the end of the year.

Stephone Anthony – New Orleans Saints

For a player to win DROY, they obviously need to be very talented, but they also need a lot of opportunities so that they can produce at a high level. Stephone Anthony will have both, so he has to be in the conversation of players who can win the defensive rookie of the year.

While Kendricks wins because of his instincts and mental processing, Anthony wins because of his size and athleticism. Anthony can flow sideline to sideline with the best of them, which lends itself well to the NFL. If the Saints keep him protected and simplify his reads, which will allow him to play fast, Anthony could be extremely productive in the NFL.

Benardrick McKinney – Houston Texans

Out of the three linebackers on this list, Benardrick McKinney is the throwback, downhill thumper of the group. He plays like he’s from the 80’s, as he loves contact. There isn’t a linebacker in this draft who is better at shedding blocks and bringing down a ball carrier immediately at the point of contact. The negatives with McKinney are that he struggles in coverage, which may limit the amount of snaps he plays early on in his career.

Furthermore, the fact that the Texans have J.J. Watt will make McKinney’s life even easier because teams deploy so many resources to try and stop Watt that he will see an abnormal amount of free runs at the ball carrier. As long as McKinney stays disciplined and reads his keys well, he should be able to rack up some nice stats and put himself in the conversation.

About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and