Ranking the Top 15 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IApril 30, 2013

Ranking the Top 15 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

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    Pass-rushers and tackling machines are the annual front-runners for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award. 

    Charles Woodson is the last cornerback to win the award, and he received that honor after the 1998 season. 

    Let's rank the 15 most likely candidates to win this year's award. 

15. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    There's no doubting Tyrann Mathieu's natural ability as a playmaker. With the ball in his hands, though not especially explosive or fast, his open-field elusiveness is special. 

    However, Patrick Peterson is an elite return man, so it's highly unlikely that Mathieu unseats him from that role in Arizona.

    He's undersized for the cornerback position, but he should be on the field in the nickel package, which is becoming a more prevalent necessity in today's NFL.

    If he intercepts a handful of passes, takes a few to the house and makes the most of any punts he fields, Mathieu has a chance, albeit a slim one, to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013.  

14. Bjoern Werner, DE/OLB, Indianapolis

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    Bjoern Werner is a fine pass-rushing prospect, and he's slated to play one of the Colts' outside linebacker positions in their 3-4 alignment. 

    The former Florida State standout is deceptively athletic; however, he'd be much better suited as a traditional, hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end whose main objective is to get after the quarterback. 

    That's not to say Werner won't be in a position to accumulate a high sack total, there's just a good chance he'll find himself in awkward situations in space too often as a rookie. 

13. D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland Raiders

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    Remember, only one cornerback has won the Defensive Rookie of the Year over the last 20 years. 

    That fact certainly isn't helping D.J. Hayden or any other rookie cornerbacks. 

    Hayden is an exceptionally fluid defender who'll instantly be the most physically gifted defensive back on the roster in Oakland. 

    The Raiders don't appear to be a legitimate AFC West contender in 2013, so there's a realistic chance a good portion of their opponents implement more of a run-heavy offensive attack in the second half after taking halftime leads, thereby limiting Hayden's interception opportunities. 

12. Dee Milliner, CB, New York Jets

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    With Antonio Cromartie still in the mix for Gang Green, Milliner will likely line up against the opposition's No. 2 receiver, so there's a possibility he finishes his debut campaign with gaudy, shutdown corner numbers. 

    Simply put: He'll just have to intercept a handful of passes and basically make Jets fans forget about the departure of Darrelle Revis to win the DROY. 

11. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    See: Milliner, Dee. 

    Both will start as their respective team's No. 2 cornerback and will have to make an assortment of huge, game-changing plays to garner Defensive Rookie of the Year attention. 

    Desmond Trufant's secondary in Atlanta is much more well-rounded than Milliner's in New York, and playing in the pass-happy NFC South means he'll get plenty of opportunities for interceptions. 

10. Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

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    Ziggy Ansah was the rawest player taken in the Top 10, if not the entire first round of the 2013 NFL draft. 

    However, at 6'5'' and 271 pounds, he moves like a tight end and exhibited immense power both in college at BYU and in the Senior Bowl against top competition. 

    With the release of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ansah should be the starting right defensive end opposite Jason Jones in Week 1. 

    The Lions' interior presence of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh will benefit the rookie on the edge, but it's hard to project a double-digit sack season for the No. 5 overall pick. 

9. Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams

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    While Alec Ogletree may be a little underdeveloped in terms of his awareness in coverage and positioning against the run, he's a super athletic linebacker with an abundance of sideline-to-sideline range. 

    He's already penciled-in as the weakside linebacker in a three-man grouping with middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and the ultra-aggressive Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and the St. Louis Rams boast one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the NFL.   

    Because of all that, Ogletree could be in line for an abundance of tackles and interceptions which would definitely help his Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy.

8. Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia

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    Jarvis Jones was the first linebacker taken in the 2013 NFL draft, something many were not expecting.

    While his workout results were disappointing, Jones was an absolutely disruptive menace over the last two years in the SEC. 

    We know how the Steelers and defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau love versatile linebackers with an edge-rushing specialty, and that's precisely the type of player Jones is. 

    He'll get plenty of exposure in Pittsburgh, and if he reaches 10 or more sacks, he should be in legitimate contention to be the first Steelers player to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year since Kendrell Bell in 2001.

8. Manti Te'o, LB, San Diego Chargers

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    Manti Te'o was a tackling machine at Notre Dame, and he should be around the ball frequently in the NFL. 

    He'll start next to the underappreciated Donald Butler on the inside of San Diego's 3-4 defense, a spot that should accentuate his prowess as a downhill thumper and intermediate coverage abilities. 

    Te'o will receive plenty of attention as a rookie, and if he amasses over 100 tackles and finishes with a few sacks and interceptions, he'll be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. 

7. Quanterus Smith, DE/OLB, Denver Broncos

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    Quanterus Smith was picked in the fifth-round by the Denver Broncos, but if it wasn't for a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season, he would have been selected much higher. 

    He's the most refined pass-rusher in the class, with an assortment of initial moves and counter moves that complement his speed and strength on the edge. 

    This Western Kentucky product will have veterans ahead of him on the depth chart like Shaun Phillips, Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers, but he could parlay impressive situational appearances to a starting gig by mid-season. 

    From a talent perspective, Smith has double-digit sack potential. 

6. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills

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    With the Bills trading inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts for pass-rusher Jerry Hughes, Kiko Alonso now is a favorite to man one of the starting linebacker spots in Mike Pettine's hybrid defense in 2013. 

    A multi-faceted defender, Alonso is known for his hard-hitting on-field style, but he is also a capable coverage defender who comfortably plays the pass in zone or man. 

    The former Oregon Duck will play behind one of the more physically intimidating defensive fronts in the AFC in a system that should highlight to his strengths as an aggressor—there's definitely a chance Alonso racks up a high number of tackles and a few interceptions.

5. Tank Carradine, DE/OLB, San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers have an almost unfair amount of defensive talent, especially on the defensive line. 

    Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks are entrenched at the two outside linebacker spots in Jim Harbaugh's 3-4, but Tank Carradine will definitely see the field early and often in 2013. 

    To some, Carradine was the most complete 4-3 defense end in his class, and there's no doubting his mastery as a pass-rusher. 

    On a high-profile team with an assortment of skill around him, Carradine could make a huge impact and many will notice. 

4. Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, Cleveland Browns

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    Barkevious Mingo has an exceptional blend of size, explosiveness and power coming off the edge. At 6'4'' and 241 pounds, he has the perfect frame to win with pure speed off the edge as an outside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4. 

    With Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard ahead of him, it may take Mingo a few games to earn starting responsibilities, but actually, he projects much more ideally to the position he'll be playing than Kruger and Sheard do. 

    A double-digit sack campaign as a rookie is possible. 

3. Kevin Minter, LB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Kevin Minter is a darkhorse to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. 

    He'll play as one of the inside linebackers in Arizona's 3-4 alignment, and Daryl Washington is suspended for the first four games of the regular season—Minter will likely start right away. 

    This LSU product isn't the fastest or strongest at the point of attack, but he deciphers plays quickly and is extremely quick to the football. 

    With three run-heavy teams in his division, Minter may end the season as one of the league's top tacklers. 

    Don't forget Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett in front of him on the defensive line. 

2. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Miami Dolphins

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    Dion Jordan may have been slightly overrated during the pre-draft process, but he has elite potential as a pass-rusher and has the athleticism and hip fluidity to match up man-to-man with slot receivers. 

    In short, he epitomizes what it means to be a versatile defender. 

    With the opposition designing most of the offensive line game plan to in hopes of stopping Cameron Wake, Jordan could find himself in many one-on-one opportunities, something that could yield many sacks. 

    Also, a few interceptions would look good on his Defensive Rookie of the Year resume. 

1. Arthur Brown, LB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Arthur Brown is a three-down, do-everything linebacker who'll excel in Baltimore with the Ravens. 

    He'll take over for the legendary Ray Lewis in the middle of John Harbaugh's defense and make an instant impact in all phases of the game. 

    He possesses the most sideline-to-sideline range of any defensive rookie, and he's as powerfully stout against the run as he is keenly aware against the pass. 

    Brown should end the season with over 100 tackles along with a few interceptions and other game-altering plays. 

    He's the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite.