Casey Hayward and the 6 Best Rookie Defensive Playmakers in the NFL
Offensive skill players usually garner most of the attention leading up to and during the NFL draft each year. 2012 was no different, with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, running back Trent Richardson, left tackle Matt Kalil and wide receiver Justin Blackmon rounding out the top five.
However, a handful of rookie defenders tend to outshine their more celebrated offensive counterparts each year.
In 2011, the league saw the Denver Broncos' Von Miller and the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith combine for 25.5 sacks to finish first and second as the NFL's Defensive Rookies of the Year.
Though maybe not with the same hype, there are a few rookies this year making a huge impact in the league.
Here are the six best rookie defensive playmakers so far in 2012.
Casey Hayward, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers' rookie cornerback Casey Hayward is already drawing comparisons to teammate and future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.
The second-rounder is showing great instincts in his first few games as a professional. Heyward's four interceptions (tied for tops in the league with Tim Jennings and Thomas DeCoud) and 11 passes defended leads all rookies through seven weeks.
Though Woodson—who is out for at least the next six weeks with a broken collarbone—will be sorely missed in the Packers' secondary, Heyward's emergence should help soften the blow quite a bit.
Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams
Janoris Jenkins is making St. Louis Rams' brass look like geniuses for selecting the malcontent in the second round of this year's draft.
Though he has lost concentration on a few plays this season, Jenkins is showing solid skills as an all-around cornerback. His 36 tackles from the position are remarkable and he was able to tally 34 yards on his lone interception.
Jenkins has also defended eight passes. Couple that with his ability to keep the ball-handler in front of him to mitigate big plays, and the Rams could have a perennial Pro-Bowler manning their defensive backfield for the next decade.
Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots were able to make another trip to the Super Bowl in 2011, but it had nothing to do with their defense. In fact, it was their defense that cost them from winning the title.
Instead of expecting Tom Brady and Co. to carry this team again in 2012, New England utilized the draft to add a couple of defensive playmakers: Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Though the Patriots are only ranked 23rd in terms of yards allowed (376 YPG) and 19th in points (23.3 PPG), it isn't difficult to see that Jones and Hightower are making a huge impact on this defense.
The tandem has combined for 55 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. Jones' five sacks leads all rookies.
Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Rookie safety Mark Barron is off to a great start to his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His 42 tackles lead all first-year defensive backs and his eight passes defended are tied for fourth. He has also tallied an interception and a forced fumble.
Barron brings tremendous instincts to a defense that struggled in preventing its opponents from making big plays through the air last season.
Whether coming up to stop the run or in pass coverage, Barron's versatility will help turn the Bucs defense around eventually.
Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks
Rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin is making a huge impact for the Seattle Seahawks. His 4.5 sacks (second among rookies) have helped the team to a 4-3 start and a fifth-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed (297.3 YPG) and third in points (15.1 PPG).
Considered a reach when the Seahawks selected with the 15th pick in this year's draft, Irvin is clearly proving his detractors wrong.
Though he may only be useful in getting to the quarterback, a team can never have too many pass-rushers—and Irvin is quickly showing he is capable of doing just that.