If things play out this season as I expect them too NFL fans should be treated to an epic duel for Defensive Rookie of the Year Honors between defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and safety Eric Berry.
Suh and Berry, both top five picks, come into the NFL with incredible hype, and I expect them both to live up to it.
Suh, drafted by the Detroit Lions with the second overall pick, is perhaps the best defensive tackle prospect the NFL has seen in 20 years. Suh, standing at 6’4", 310 plus pounds, combines elite size, strength, quickness, and motor.
Anyone who watched Detroit play the Cleveland Browns last week knows that Suh is a mean dude and an intimidating presence the Lions have not had in years. Don’t believe me? Ask Brown’s quarterback Jake Delhomme, whom Suh facemasked and then slammed to the ground by the head.
That kind of nasty play has been missing in Detroit, and Suh has already begun to instill some Motor-City grit into the Lions’ defense.
Suh is relentless against the run and the pass. Not only is he impossible to move backward, he is impossible to prevent from moving forward. Suh already has the elite skill of being able to quickly disengage from offensive lineman. It’s like he hits the offensive lineman, bounces to the side and then rockets into the quarterback or ball carrier.
What allows Suh to do that is his incredible combination of lateral agility, quick feet and strength. Suh’s strength is rare even for an NFL defensive lineman. He is capable of moving offensive lineman with one arm.
But that is only part of the physical equation of Suh. His feet are ballerina light; watching Suh play is like watching someone glide on air. His hips are incredibly fluid, allowing for seamless transition of his weight when cutting, and therefore wasting little speed. And to top it off, his burst and speed are exceptional for a man his size.
Without even playing a regular season down in the NFL, NFL offensive coordinators are already game planning for Suh, making sure he is double teamed on every single play. To counter this, Detroit Lions Head Coach and defensive guru Jim Schwartz have announced plans to move Suh all over the line of scrimmage in an attempt to make it much more difficult for offenses to double-team him.
Yet even when double-teamed Suh still has startling success, simply put, Suh is unblockable.
My Statistical Projection for Suh’s Rookie Year
six tackles for a loss
seven pass deflections
four forced fumbles
So who on earth could even compete with a mountain of man like "House of Spears" Suh? Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie safety Eric Berry, that’s who. He's an athletic freak of nature in his own right.
Berry, whom the Chiefs’ took with the fifth overall pick, is the most talented safety to enter the NFL since the late great super-freak that was Sean Taylor.
Standing at six feet, and 210 plus pounds, Berry is an athletic marvel. Blessed with elite speed, smooth hips, alligator long arms, and basketball player legs, Berry is a whirling dervish. Berry rockets out of his cuts with burst so incredible and a top speed so fast he gobbles up yardage like Pac-Man. The yellow-headed video-game character, not the stripper-loving-fool.
While he only played three years at Tennessee, he played a multitude of roles for the Vols. During his first two years he played the role of an Ed Reed centerfielder and he racked up interceptions like they were easy. Berry’s third year saw him playing for cover-2 guru Monte Kiffin, who instilled the John Lynch rule for Berry his junior year.
The John Lynch rule simply states that the safety that is talented enough must be brought down to the line of scrimmage to ensure he cannot be erased from any one play. Translation: a lot of run stuffing.
So Berry has no athletic limitations, schematically or positional. He can line up at either safety spot or play cornerback, lined up wide or in the slot.
But Berry’s incredible athleticism would be pointless if not for his football instincts. Berry sees the field the way a safety should, he understands how to play in a zone and read a quarterback’s eyes. He also understands when a quarterback is trying to manipulate him out of position.
Perhaps what is most uncanny about Berry for such a young player is that he understands when he can break off his protection responsibility to follow what his eyes and instincts are telling him. He knows when to jump a route or protection without leaving his teammates hanging out to dry.
So not only does Berry have the athletic skills to play any position in the secondary, but he has the brains to actually pull it off.
And on top of that Berry has the rare ability to get inside a quarterback’s head. While not as physically intimidating as a defensive lineman, Berry can be mentally intimidating from his safety position. He forces quarterbacks to hesitate for an instant, trying to locate him, making sure he isn’t a threat.
This not only makes his teammates in the secondary better, but also it gives his defensive lineman more shots to sack the quarterback. Berry is the rare safety whose presence on the field has a domino effect on the rest of the defense. Not bad for a rookie.
And like Ndamukong Suh in Detroit Berry is in a fantastic situation with the Chiefs, whose defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel knows how to use a safety. While many prognosticators have projected Berry to play like a new-age Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed I expect Berry to be given a role similar to what Rodney Harrison did with the Patriots during their glory years.
However Berry wont be a poor-man’s Rodney Harrison for the Chiefs, he will be a rich-man’s Rodney Harrison, playing to levels not even Harrison in his prime with the Chargers was capable of.
My Statistical Projection for Berry’s Rookie Year
14 pass deflections
three tackle for a loss
two defensive touchdowns
two forced fumbles
three fumble recoveries
four tackles for a loss
So with perhaps the best defensive tackle prospect and safety prospect of the last decade going head to head this season for Defensive Rookie of the Year award who will win?
While was very hard for me to come to a final answer I have to say I believe the winner will be Ndamukong Suh.
I have two primary reasons as to why I believe this. First reason is that Suh plays closer to the line of scrimmage, and defensive lineman are philosophically valued more than the safety position. Reason two is that I believe the Lions will be a better team this season than the Chiefs, which is something that DROY voters take into account.
So while I fully expect Berry to be a potential pro-bowler his rookie season, Suh’s perceived greater positional importance and what I expect to be the success of his team will cause voters to lean in his favor over Berry.
My Predicted Top-3 for Defensive Rookie of the Year
First Place: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Second Place: Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Third Place: Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders