With the second pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Lions selected Ndamukong Suh. First isn't always best, though. In fact, the higher a player is drafted, the more likely they are to land on a bad team (unless a good team trades up).
Sometimes, it doesn't matter. One player is enough to make a huge impact on a defense. Take the past three Defensive Rookies of the Year, for example:
2009—Brian Cushing, OLB: 133 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 safety, 2 forced fumbles
2008—Jerod Mayo, ILB: 126 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
2007—Patrick Willis, ILB: 174 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
All three were linebackers. In fact, a linebacker has won the award every year since 2003 and all but once since 2000. Will the trend change this year? Let's take a look at my five most likely candidates for the end-of-season award.
Graham has great instincts and a nose for the big play, as evidenced by his 10 sacks and nation-leading 26 tackles for loss last season.
He will benefit from a great defensive line that features Trent Cole, Brodrick Bunkley, and Mike Patterson. Cole often attracts double-teams due to his strength and quickness off the edge, and the two defensive tackles aren't slouches either.
Philadelphia runs a blitz-first scheme that will be great to utilize his strengths. Andy Reid must be anxious to use him, since they traded up so far to take him at pick no. 13.
The Falcons' front seven is very good, though not elite. Weatherspoon is an incredibly gifted and talented athlete who should excel when given an opportunity to play with other talented players.
Brian VanGorder, Atlanta's defensive coordinator, was a linebacker coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2005 before he came to Atlanta. He coached Mike Peterson (who is now also with Atlanta), and both will look to coach and teach Weatherspoon to reach his fullest potential.
Although Earl Thomas is slightly undersized for a safety, he doesn't seem to know that he's small. He loves to get physical in run defense, and can cover slot receivers just as well as most corners.
Safeties need to have great instincts, and Thomas certainly does.
The front seven in Seattle isn't elite, but pass rushers like Patrick Kerney and Aaron Curry will hurry quarterbacks into errant throws, and Thomas' ball-hawking nature will certainly give him opportunities to make big plays.
Rarely does a defensive tackle win this award, but Ndamukong Suh is a rare athlete at his position.
With 300-plus pounds of lean muscle, Suh is a match-up nightmare across the NFL. He's long since proven as a run-stuffer, and has begun flashing pass-rush potential, including a 4.5-sack performance against Texas in the Big 12 Championship game.
He's assisted by a revamped defensive line in Detroit that features Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch on the ends and Corey Williams at defensive tackle, who is ready to be back in a 4-3 scheme where he was far more successful.
Suh will be the most consistently double-teamed of those players, but has the ability to beat those double-teams with his variety of rush moves.
McClain has all the physical and mental tools to succeed at the next level. His speed and size are ideal for the middle of a defense, and he has the instincts to sniff out plays quickly, giving him that extra half-step to make the tackle.
He's not surrounded by talent, but should rack up stats in the middle of the defense. The Raiders also drafted LaMarr Houston to help hold down the middle of the defense in the running game. Football fans will love his toughness and bruising mentality.
Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB, Indianapolis Colts
The diminutive pass-rush prospect may not have ideal size, but he has the moves and athleticism to make an impact on the Colts' front seven. With Freeney and Mathis winded at times last year, Hughes could become part of a three-man rotation now that Raheem Brock is out the door.
Why he won't win: The award often goes to the player who makes the biggest impact on his defense, and Hughes won't be a starter with Mathis and Freeney still on board.
Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Berry has dynamic abilities at the safety position, with his versatility in both pass and run defense. He has been compared to Ed Reed over and over, and will have a similar impact on his defense in that he'll take away the deep plays.
Why he won't win: Berry can't carry the defense on his own. There are still a few more missing pieces to the puzzle, that will have to be found before Berry can reach his fullest potential