Mid-Season Honors: Defensive Rookie of Year Race
Leader: LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
I don’t think there is any question as to who the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL is. Leonard has not only met expectations but has exceeded them this season. He has been a starter from day one and has produced like one as well. On the season, he played (475) snaps, for an average of sixty-seven per game which is (86.4%) of the team’s snaps. He took this high volume of snaps and produced eighty-eight tackles, fifty-nine solos, seven for a loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles and two pass breakups. These numbers would be even better had he not missed week five with an injury. The honor is his to lose, and it would take an injury for that to happen. There are some other deserving candidates, but it would take a historic performance the rest of the way for them to have a shot.
Runner-up: S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers
My runner-up in this race behind Leonard right now is safety Derwin James. He’s having a fantastic season and would be the front-runner for this award in most seasons. However, he has his work cut out for him this year. He has been everything and more the Chargers wanted and needed. Like Leonard, he has been a starter from day one and gets a high volume of snaps. On the season so far, he has played (456) snaps for an average of sixty-five per game, which is (98.7) of the team’s snaps. He has an extensive skill-set, and the Chargers are capitalizing on that. James is doing it by making tackles, making plays in coverage and blitzing. He’s a Swiss Army knife for this team, and that gives the Chargers two of these type players along with Desmond King. For the season he has recorded forty-five tackles, thirty-four solos, four for a loss, three and a half sacks, six pass breakups and one interception. Derwin is one of just a very few that can possibly challenge Leonard for defensive rookie of the year.
Third Place: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills
Many considered Edmunds the favorite to win this award, and he still just might. Like Leonard and James, he’s having a stellar season as well. He’s been everything that Bills fans had hoped that former first-round pick Reggie Ragland would be. Edmunds and his twin brother, Terrell, are the sons of former star tight end Ferrell Edmunds, who played for the division rival Dolphins. Tremaine has been a one-man wrecking crew this season. With teammates, Matt Milano and Lorenzo Alexander, they have formed one of the best linebacking trios in the league. Edmunds has played a whopping (540) snaps for an average of sixty-seven per game, which is (85.8%) of the team’s snaps. With this high volume of reps, Edmunds has produced big results. The tackling machine has recorded sixty-two tackles, forty-five solos, three for a loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, and a surprising seven pass breakups. He’s not a liability in coverage like some linebackers can be. Therefore, he can stay on the field on passing downs. He may be third on my list now, but he can move up and is a possible challenger to Leonard’s stranglehold on this award.
Dark Horse: S Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals
Coming out of nowhere is dark-horse Jessie Bates from Wake Forest, who has quickly become a favorite of mine. He was a solid prospect going to the draft and was considered to be a decent NFL prospect, but he has surprised everyone with his fast and consistent start. Bates has played an amazing (607) snaps, for an average of seventy-five per game. That is (85%) of the team’s snaps. He’s been a force right out the gate and has been a difference maker for the Bengals’ defense all season. His totals for the season so far are fifty-nine tackles, forty-one solos, three pass breakups, and one interception which he returned for a touchdown. With such a deep and talented rookie class, it will be hard for Bates to win. However, this kid is as talented a player as any on this list, so don’t count him out just yet.
Just Off the Pace: LB Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
One of the more intriguing rookies who doesn’t get enough praise, is San Francisco linebacker, Fred Warner. The rookie from BYU is having one heck of a season. He has played as well as any of the rookies mentioned in this piece. He’ll get some votes and deservedly so. It seems the farther down this list we go, the more snaps these players have played. He’s been on the field for (637) snaps for an average of seventy per game. That’s an amazing 100% of the team’s snaps. Again the more snaps you can get, the more opportunities you have to make plays. Warner is a tackling beast For the season he has totaled seventy-three tackles, fifty-six solos, three for a loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. While teammate Rueben Foster gets more of the fame, it’s Warner who’s had the better game. If Foster can get his head right and play his game, he and Warner can be one of the best linebacking duos in the league.
Honorable Mention : LB, Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys
It’s a shame, but sometimes rookies have their door to major playing time blocked by a veteran. Sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes it’s not. His door to being a starter is blocked by veteran linebacker Sean Lee. Don’t get me wrong, Lee is an exceptional and elite caliber player when healthy and on the field. But that’s just it; he never stays healthy. When Lee missed a few games earlier this season, LVE stepped in and shined in his role. In a four-game stretch (weeks 3-6) where Lee left the game or was out, Vander Esch had double-digit tackle totals in three of those games. Leighton has played (370) snaps, for an average of fifty-two per game, which is (58.6%) of the team’s snaps. He’s proven he’s ready to be a starter but just needs to be handed the keys. On the year, his totals are fifty-six tackles, forty-four solos, one for a loss and one pass break up. While He may not win defensive rookie of the year, the best is yet to come for him. I truly feel his high level of play and youth will/should force the Cowboys to make a decision on Sean Lee’s future with the team.
Best of the Rest :
LB, Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos
One of the most highly touted rookies coming out of the draft is Bradley Chubb from North Carolina St. He got off to a slow start, which I contribute to his switch from a defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the pros. There’s an adjustment level for every rookie, but a position change makes it a bit harder. However, Chubb did land in a great spot in Denver and has a terrific mentor in Von Miller to learn from. Chubb has played (415) snaps, for an average of fifty-one per game, which is (77.6%) of the team’s snaps. It seems he’s finally comfortable at his new position, and now he’s beginning to produce at a high level. After the mentioned slow start, he has exploded onto the scene with five and a half sacks in the last three games. This includes a career-best three against the Rams. On the season he has accumulated twenty-four tackles, eighteen solos, six for a loss, seven sacks and a forced fumble. He’s only going to get better and give Denver one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.
CB, Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Generally, rookie corners aren’t contenders for rookie of the year, but occasionally one comes along that just plays lights out. That one this season is Denzel Ward from Ohio St. Rookie corners tend to get picked on a lot as teams want to see if they can handle the big stage. More often than not, they aren’t. Ward is the exception and is quickly making a name for himself. He’s played an outstanding (652) snaps, for an average of eighty-one per game, which is (98.9%) of the team’s snaps. That high volume will continue as Ward is playing for a Cleveland team that still has a lot of improving to do. Ward’s totals so far this season is thirty-eight tackles, twenty-eight solos, three for a loss, nine pass breakups, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and two recoveries. I watched a lot him so far this season, and the numbers confirm what I am seeing. Ward has a knack for making the big play. He’s always around when a turnover is involved. He will get some votes, and he absolutely should.
As always, I love to hear your feedback and discuss anytime. Thanks for reading my article. If you enjoyed it, you can read more of my articles below on my author page. You can also follow me on social media, on Twitter at Hollywood @DFF_DWin, on Facebook on my IDPNation page, on Reddit in the fantasy football IDP sub I’m user KingTitan1 and you can tune in each week and listen to the IDP EdgeCrushers podcast that I co-host. Feel free to hit me up with any questions that you have, as I’m always glad to help fellow IDPers. Good Luck!