NFL: Power Ranking the Best Candidates for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year

Ryan Phillips@@RumorsandRantsContributor IIIJuly 9, 2012

NFL: Power Ranking the Best Candidates for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    The 2012 NFL Draft was absolutely loaded with talent.

    It was one of the deepest drafts the league has seen in years, and a lot of the top players came on the defensive side of the ball.

    While guys like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have been getting most of the headlines, this year's crop of defensive rookies is outstanding.

    Here are my current power rankings for Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

1. Melvin Ingram

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    Melvin Ingram was thought by many to be the best all-around defensive player available in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Somehow, he dropped to the San Diego Chargers at No. 18 in the first round. And that was an absolute coup for the Bolts.

    San Diego desperately needed to improve its pass rush, and Ingram perfectly fits the mold of an edge rusher in a 3-4 defense. He is a big, fast, ball-hawking defender who was one of the SEC's top playmakers last year for South Carolina.

    The guy is a physical freak and an absolute terror on the football field. The Chargers will turn him loose and hope he wreaks the kind of havoc he did in college. There is no reason to believe he won't. 

    Right now, Ingram has to be the odds-on favorite to be the NFL's top rookie defender this year.

2. Morris Claiborne

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    The Dallas Cowboys needed to improve their secondary after a disastrous 2011. So they went about moving up from No. 14 to No. 6 in order to snag the draft's best cover cornerback, LSU's Morris Claiborne. 

    Claiborne is a pure cover guy with incredible instincts and athleticism and has the stuff to be a shutdown-type guy in a very short amount of time. 

    The Cowboys also added Brandon Carr this offseason, giving them two solid cornerbacks to go along with an outstanding front seven. Carr's presence should help take some of the pressure off Claiborne and help him develop even more quickly. 

    Dallas' defense will be a whole lot better in 2012 and Claiborne will be one of the main reasons. He's sure to get a lot of the credit as the season progresses.

3. Luke Kuechly

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    Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine who the Carolina Panthers selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. In three years at Boston College, Kuechly racked up an impressive 516 tackles. 

    He will step in and play in the middle of head coach Ron Rivera's defense, though he could also play on the weak side.

    Either way, Kuechly's stellar instincts and surprising athleticism will combine with his size (6'3", 242 pounds) to help him make a serious impact during his rookie season.

    Kuechly is the kind of linebacker a team can build a defense around and I expect him to be NFL-ready from his first week as a rookie.

    He will certainly be in the conversation as the league's top rookie in 2012.

4. Mark Barron

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    After Melvin Ingram, I ranked safety Mark Barron the top all-around defensive player in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers obviously felt similarly about the Alabama product as they made him the No. 7 pick in the draft.

    Barron will play strong safety for the Bucs and should start in Week 1. He is a vocal leader who has every tool in his belt at the position.

    He is the special kind of safety who can help in run support, but also has the range and ball skills to be a fantastic cover guy when backtracking.

    Barron will almost certainly be an impact player for Tampa Bay and I wouldn't be surprised if he made a bunch of big plays for the Bucs. 

    Expect to see Barron on a lot of Pro Bowl teams in the future.

5. Nick Perry

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    The Green Bay Packers desperately needed to find an edge rusher to complement sack master Clay Matthews. So they went back to the USC well and grabbed Nick Perry, who was the best pure pass rusher in the entire draft.

    Perry will step in right away and play opposite Matthews. He will instantly create one of the top pass rushing combinations in the NFL.

    While playing defensive end at USC, Perry commanded double teams and a ton of attention. Teams fashioned their offensive game plans around stopping him and protecting their quarterbacks.

    Having watched hours of his film, it's ridiculous. I have never seen someone get held by offensive tackles that much ever. 

    Perry may have lasted until the 28th pick in the 2012 draft, but he will almost certainly have a big impact on the NFL as a rookie.