This is the third article in this series and in this one I am focusing on the defensive side of the ball. Specifically, I will talk about which defenders will avoid struggling in their second year in the league. I stress again that these players are not ranked in any order and are just guys that I think will do well in their second seasons.
I am working on getting the last of these articles finished and will get it published as soon as I can. As always, I hope to hear what everyone thinks about my picks here.
Last season, Delmas burst out and brought a physical presence to the Detroit Lions' defense. No one expected Delmas to make this kind of impact coming out of Western Michigan, and prospered in Coach Jim Schwartz’s defensive system. Delmas’ example was followed by fellow rookie DeAndre Levy, who could have easily been on this list himself with 85 tackles and an interception in his first season in Detroit.
The Lions vastly improved their defensive line this offseason with the additions of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cory Williams, and of course Ndamukong Suh. Delmas showed flashes of being a playmaker in the secondary.
The Lions greatly improved rush defense will significantly aid in his development. With teams trying to throw it around the field, I see Delmas coming away with a few more interceptions and maybe some more touchdowns.
I’m cheating a bit here by putting two players in here, Clay Matthews and Brad Jones.
However, I believe both will improve greatly this season. Clay Matthews burst on the scene late in the season with four straight games with a sack, including two of those games having two sacks. Jones was not a starter at first, however, got the opportunity when Aaron Kampman went down with injury and showed good speed and good sack ability with a two-sack game on his resume.
With Kampman gone to Jacksonville this offseason, Jones will have the opportunity to take that starting job and run with it. I believe both Matthews and Jones benefit greatly from the 3-4 defense they run in Green Bay now, and also their termed “psycho” defense. I can see both of these guys having 10 or more sacks this season and improving in the run game.
Evander “Ziggy” Hood took the route that most every Steelers rookie goes through in that he did not see the field that much in his first season. He began to gain some more snaps when starter Aaron Smith went down to injury and started to show flashes of his first round talent, however, he never was really given significant playing time.
Hood is expected to push starter Brett Keisel this upcoming season for time, and could actually take over that starting end spot.
Even if Hood does not beat out Keisel, I believe that he will be in constant rotation on the defensive line this season for the Steelers. His numbers may not be what others will be in the league.
Hood and the rest of the defensive line will be one of the most important reasons for the Steelers defense getting back to form this season.
Again I am going to cheat here a bit by putting both Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers together on this slide. Powers was seen as a late round prospect taken in the third round by the Colts, and Lacey was not even drafted.
However, both made huge contributions this past season as rookies. Made more remarkable by the fact that incumbent starter Kelvin Hayden missed seven games and Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders played in only two games the entire season.
Bob Sanders is exactly the reason I believe that these two players will improve in their second year in the league. Without Sanders, they helped the Colts make it to the Super Bowl, and with Sanders there they could help the Colts to having one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL.
Bringing back Sanders helps out the entire Indianapolis defense and will vastly help in both of these players growth.
Let me start off this slide by stating that I believe that Jairus Byrd should have been the Defensive Rookie of the Year for both votes that took place with it.
Byrd shared the league lead with nine interceptions and did not even play the entire season due to a late injury. The only knock you can say about his season is that he did not have as many tackles that many thought he should have had.
I believe that Byrd puts everything together this season, and continues to put fear in opposing offenses. He will become a more prolific tackler and will maintain his ball-hawking ways in the secondary.
I am not saying that he will pick off nine passes again this season, but he does not have to have more interceptions for people to say that he has improved. I believe he will become a more complete safety this season. His actions will start to put his name among the great safeties in the league today.