2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 14, 2011

2010 NFL Awards: Countdown of Top 10 Candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Sometimes it takes rookies a few seasons to get used to the speed and style of the NFL game. Some of them never make the necessary adjustments and retire early. But some of them are also immediately successful.

    The rookies on this list wasted no time making their impact felt. But which one will take home the award for Defensive Rookie of the Year?

    Here are the top 10 candidates.

    For other NFL Awards columns, please follow the links below.

    MVP

    Defensive Player of the Year

    Offensive Rookie of the Year

    Comeback Player of the Year 

    Coach of the Year

10. Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans

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    Verner was one of this year's most pleasant surprises. After being drafted in the fourth round by the Titans, nobody expected much from the former UCLA Bruin.

    But the 5'10", 187-pound corner was not content just riding the bench and turned in a remarkable rookie season. Verner had 101 tackles, second among all rookies, as well as 16 passes defend, three interceptions and a forced fumble.

    He's not a shut-down corner just yet, but the tackling machine did have 42 hits in his last four games. If he plays like that for an entire season, then he might find himself in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.

9. Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Most scouts expected more out of McCoy, who was taken third overall out of Oklahoma. But the 6'4", 295-pound defensive tackle still turned in a pretty impressive season.

    McCoy finished with 28 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. His season ended early because of a biceps injury, but he still showed the Buccaneers what he could do. He should be one of the top defensive tackles in the league for the next decade or so. 

8. Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks

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    Thomas, taken 14th overall by the Seahawks, started all 16 games for Seattle and played like a seasoned veteran in each one.

    The 5'10", 202-pound former Texas star finished with 76 tackles, a forced fumble and five interceptions. He also played a huge part in Seattle's upset over the Saints in the first round of the playoffs, tallying eight solo tackles and roaming all over the field.

    He should be a force in the Seahawks defense for many years to come.

7. Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders

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    The Raiders grabbed McClain, the former Alabama star, with the eighth pick in the first round. McClain's season wasn't quite as impressive as some of the defensive players taken with him, but he still had a monster year for an Oakland team that suddenly seems respectable.

    The 6'3", 255-pound linebacker was third on the team with 85 tackles. He also did a good job in pass coverage, knocking down six balls and intercepting one while playing in the middle of the Raiders defense at inside linebacker. 

    McClain really finished the year strong, with 43 tackles in his final six games, and should only get better.

6. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Berry was the first safety selected in the draft, taken fifth overall by the Chiefs. He was widely regarded as a can't-miss defensive prospect, and he certainly played like one.

    The 6', 211-pound product of Tennessee finished with 92 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble. He also added a defensive touchdown and was the leader for a secondary that supported the 17th ranked pass defense in the NFL.

    Berry was a big part of the Chiefs short-lived playoff run and should soon join the ranks of Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Bob Sanders among the best safeties in football.

5. Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders

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    Houston was taken with the 44th overall pick out of Texas and added to a shaky Raiders defensive line that featured only Richard Seymour. But with Houston rushing the passer, Oakland's pass defense improved to second in the NFL (and this is in a division with three quarterbacks who threw for over a combined 11,000 yards).

    The 6'3", 305-pound end finished with 39 tackles, a forced fumble and 5.0 sacks. With his speed, he could've finished with twice that.

4. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The former Gator fell to the Bengals in the second round because of character concerns (who in Cincinnati doesn't have a character concern?), but he silenced his critics with his on-field performance.

    Dunlap was second among all rookies with 9.5 sacks, all in the last eight weeks. He finished with 24 tackles despite missing the first four games of the season. Just imagine what he could do in a full season of work!

    The Bengals had the 14th ranked passing defense in the NFL—a noticeable improvement for a team that has never been known for its defensive play.

3. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns

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    Haden was the top corner taken in the 2010 NFL Draft, and he quickly made the Cleveland Browns very happy with his play.

    The former Gator tied for fifth in the league with six interceptions and finished the season with 64 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and 18 passes defended.

    The Browns had one of the worst secondaries in 2009, but with Haden, their pass defense improved to 18th in the NFL. It's only going to go up from here.

2. Devin McCourty, CB, New England Patriots

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    Everybody thought the Patriots reached for McCourty when they took him with the 27th pick in the first round. But we should know better by now than to ever doubt Bill Belichick.

    McCourty hasn't just been the best rookie corner in the league; he's been one of the best corners period. He finished second in the NFL with seven interceptions and added 82 tackles, 17 passed defended, a sack and two forced fumbles. He started all 16 games and matched up against some of the best wide receivers in the league, including Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards, Anquan Boldin, Reggie Wayne and Greg Jennings.

    The Patriots pass defense was ranked 30th in the NFL, but that's mostly because no team could compete with New England by just running the ball. McCourty is a true shut-down corner.

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

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    The second overall pick of the draft was everything Detroit Lions fans hoped for—and more.

    Suh led all NFL defensive tackles with 10.0 sacks, and he added 66 tackles, three passes defended, a forced fumble, an interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown. 

    The 6'4", 307-pound former Nebraska star was dominant from day one and wreaked havoc on the field despite consistently drawing double teams. Suh made the Detroit Lions defense respectable for the first time in years, and he was rewarded by being named a starter in the Pro Bowl.

    Suh should be a lock to take home this award, but his goal is to get his team to the playoffs. It could happen soon.