NFL Predictions: The Top 5 Candidates for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year

Ben LorimerSenior Analyst IIFebruary 9, 2011

NFL Predictions: The Top 5 Candidates for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions speaks during a press conference where he accepted Pepsi's 2010 NFL Rookie of the Year Award at the Super Bowl XLV media center on February 3, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. The Green Bay Packers w
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    After the truly spectacular season that Ndamukong Suh had, the next batch of defensive rookies will be closely watched for any signs of the same greatness.

    Following in the footsteps of the first ever defensive player to be the rookie of the year will be a challenge, especially to the defensive linemen, who will suffer from the dreaded comparison at every turn.

    However, the new guys on the block are a talented bunch, and there are more than five names who could leap into history, either from lucky circumstances or sublime play.

    In this slide show, I will run through the five players most likely to win the award in 2012.

5. Marvin Austin (DT): UNC

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 07:  Marvin Austin #9 of the North Carolina Tar Heels watches on against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    This may come as a surprise to many, but Austin is overflowing with talent.

    His lack of playing time will cause him to drop to the bottom of the second round, or maybe even the third. If he goes to a team like the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams or New York Giants—who already have talented players in their defensive lines—he will become an overnight sensation, and a huge steal.

    Austin has all the physical tools already, and given good coaching he could start playing like Suh very early in the season

    There is a disclaimer though.

    Austin will only be a first year star if he drops well out of the first round. This will give him a chip on his shoulder, which will be necessary for him to work hard and improve on his outstanding god given talents. Otherwise, he will just be another lazy defensive tackle who turns out to be a bust.

    2012 stats: 9.0 sacks, 40 tackles, 3 forced fumbles

4. Nick Fairley (DT): Auburn

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers reacts during their Tostitos BCS National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Fairley will be picked first overall, and be cursed to play with an awful defensive line for his rookie season, unless the Panthers make some great moves in the off-season, reminiscent of the Lions last year.

    This is what keeps Fairley low on this list.

    On pure talent, Fairley would be the top prospect for this title. Arguably, he is a better prospect that Suh was last year.

    As Suh did, he dominated all comers in his final year at college, having been blessed with great strength and a quick first step.

    Unlike Suh, he stands tall at 6'5" and has a real hatred for offensive players, and a killer streak.

    Finally, if possible, he creates penetration and splits double teams better than Suh did while at college.

    Fairley will be a dominant player in the NFL, but he could take his time if he is weighed down by the lackluster Carolina Panthers.

    2011 stats: 5.5 sacks, 35 tackles, 5 forced fumbles,

3. Aldon Smith (DE): Missouri

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    COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 23: Aldon Smith #85 of the Missouri Tigers in action against the Oklahoma Sooners at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Columbia, Missouri.  The Tigers beat the Sooners 36-27.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Image
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Smith is a player who will shoot up draft boards after the scouting combine and is almost a carbon copy of Jevon Kearse, who has the record for the most sacks as a rookie. He is a prototypical "tweener", who will beat offensive tackles with his speed. He gets off blocks well, and could become the most dangerous pure pass rusher in this draft.

    He is also likely to be drafted mid to late first round by elite 3-4 teams, such as the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers or the Oakland Raiders. This means he will have plenty of help around him to keep him clean and free of double teams. This will be vital for Smith, who will not possess the strength to keep himself clean of double teams in his first season.

    2011 stats: 11 sacks, 1 interception, 9 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 65 tackles

2. Von Miller (OLB): Texas A&M

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Jefferson #9 of the Louisiana State University Tigers throws under pressure from Von Miller #40 of the Texas A&M Aggies during the AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on January 7, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by C
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Miller is the most rounded 3-4 outside linebacker in the draft, and will be a top 10 pick. His likely landing spots will be the Cleveland Browns or the Arizona Cardinals. Although these are not elite teams, Miller has all the tools to be a truly dominant player in his first season.

    Miller is very quick, and he combines this with great instincts and counter rush moves. He played in a 3-4 scheme at Texas A&M, so the transfer of skills will be completely seamless. He can also play coverage and contain the edge in the running game.

    Miller could be the best 3-4 outside linebacker ever in his first year since Lawrence Taylor. Normally, pass rushers struggle with the nuances of playing line backer and rushing from a 2-point stance.

    2011 stats: 11.5 sacks, 70 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 10 passes defended

1. Cameron Jordan (DE): Cal

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    MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29:Defensive lineman Cameron Jordan #97 of the North Team during  the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Jordan is not a big name at the moment, but he is building momentum after a great showing at the Senior Bowl, and looks to be drafted in the middle of the first round by a 3-4 team searching for an explosive defensive end.

    Jordan could play both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive end, so teams like the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be vying for his services. Jordan is also one of the best all-round defensive ends in the draft. At 6'4" and 280 lbs, he is a force against the run, and also uses his strength, speed and array of moves to get to the passer often.

    2011 stats: 10 sacks, 60 tackles, 5 forced fumbles