There’s a clear pecking order for the top NFL defender among the first-year players.
Here’s our breakdown of some of the potential contenders:
1. Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns: Never before has a No. 1 overall pick won defensive rookie of the year, but Garrett is in prime position to be the first. As the draft’s pre-eminent player, he has physical tools and array of moves to make an instant impact. Cleveland’s defense tied for 30th last season with just 26 sacks, and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be looking to unleash his best weapon at every turn.
The next tier
2. Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers: Foster’s placement here should reflect what a considerable favorite Garrett is. The do-it-all linebacker has a promising future but still faces questions about his surgically repaired shoulder, though new general manager John Lynch said the team expects him to be ready by training camp. If healthy, Foster is likely too talented for the league’s worst defense to keep sidelined, though he could have a hard time compiling the numbers to earn top consideration for this award.
3. Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts: The last safety to win defensive rookie of the year was Mark Carrier in 1990. In order to stand out among the defensive ends and linebackers, Hooker will have to tally a substantial number of interceptions. He hauled in seven last year at Ohio State and faces a friendly slate of subpar quarterbacks, but it will be hard for him to overcome history here.
4. Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets: Adams is in the same boat as Hooker, except he might have fewer opportunities to haul in passes from opposing quarterbacks. The LSU product is at his best closer to the line of scrimmage, and it’s unlikely the Jets want him out of his comfort zone too often given the rest of the defense’s vulnerability. Adams should, however, make an imprint on the unit with his leadership and versatility.
5. Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles: Barnett isn’t the dynamic athlete off the edge that Garrett is, but there’s no arguing with his production after he broke Reggie White’s Tennessee record for career sacks with 33. Jim Schwartz’s defense is built on establishing a rush with the front four, and the pass-happy NFC East should provide Barnett with ample opportunities to get after the quarterback.