NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: How Will the Race Play Out?
In the modern-day NFL, we watch a game that has been all but overtaken by high-flying theatrics and octane-fueled offenses. When teams like the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers are putting up 30-plus PPG, defenses tend to become forgotten.
Given all the hoopla over the performances of offensive rookies Cam Newton, A.J Green and Andy Dalton, and the race for Rookie of the Year on their side of the ball, the battle for Defensive Rookie of the Year has been a much quieter affair.
Maybe it is because defenders can't throw for 400 yards per game, or make a game-winning 75-yard touchdown catch, but the lack of attention paid to defensive rookies in light of offensive statistics is a shame.
Many of the races for other 2011 accolades like the MVP and Offensive Rookie have much more clear-cut endings, even with five weeks to go. The race for Defensive Rookie could go down to the last snap, and that makes it all the more interesting.
Here are five defensive rookies whose contributions to their respective teams have them on the watch list for Rookie of the Year.
5. Brooks Reed, OLB, Houston Texans
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When the Houston Texans drafted both Brooks Reed and J.J Watt in the 2011 draft, heads definitely turned throughout the league. Why would a team already in possession of solid linebackers and pass rushers spend more money and their first two picks on a strength?
Whatever their reasoning was, it has worked out. To this point. In the absence of top pass-rusher Mario Williams, second-round pick Brooks Reed has been nothing short of magnificent. His 6.0 sacks are good for two full takedowns above his first-round teammate J.J Watt, and put him at fourth among all rookies by half a sack.
It is no coincidence that Reed is having a stellar rookie campaign filling in for Mario Williams and that the Texans just happen to have the league's best defense.
He'll be a staple for the Texans as a stud pass rusher for years to come.
2011 Stats: 6.0 Sacks, 31 tackles
4. Aldon Smith, LB, San Fransisco 49ers
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Aldon Smith came to a San Fransisco 49ers squad that not many people outside of San Fransisco were expecting big things from this year.
Instead, Smith has joined Patrick Willis in a cultural revival of the 49er defense under coach Jim Harbaugh that has rocked the NFL to its core.
Contributing 7.5 sacks to their fearsome pass rush, Aldon Smith has been a key cog in a 4-3 defense that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown in 2011.
2011 Stats: 7.5 Sacks, 20 Tackles, 1 Safety, 1 Forced Fumble
3. Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Washington Redskins
If somebody had told you that the Washington Redskins were planning to draft a DE/OLB hybrid pass rusher to bolster their dismal 3-4 defense from 2010, you'd probably have wondered why. If they told you that at the same time, the Skins would be releasing their 350-lb natural 3-4 nose tackle and replacing him with a bona-fide 4-3 DT weighing a mere 305 lbs, that is when it would start to get ridiculous.
If you expected Ryan Kerrigan to find notable success in this scenario, raise your hand. You can put that hand down now, we all know you're lying.
Despite coming into a bad situation with a lunatic for a head coach, Ryan Kerrigan has been a force this season opposite Brian Orakpo in that 3-4 defense.
Starting with his game-clinching deflection and pick-six of an Eli Manning pass in Week 1, Kerrigan has put in a campaign for the ages, tied for third among rookies in tackles and sacks.
He'll be garnering a few votes, although the sorry overall state of the Redskins could ultimately weigh him down.
2011 Stats: 6.5 Sacks, 49 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 4 Forced Fumbles, 4 Passes Deflected
2. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
The former LSU standout Patrick Peterson has not missed a beat since coming into the NFL. He has not made a massive splash as a corner in the traditional sense (although he has played quite well), but rather as a special teams contributor.
Peterson's four kick/punt returns for touchdowns this season are good enough to tie the rookie record, which is a feat in and of itself, and one that Devin Hester can likely appreciate.
Since a cornerback on special teams is never going to get offensive accolades for touchdowns, it is only right that Peterson's work give him Defensive Rookie consideration.
A little fun fact: return yards and TDs give points to fantasy football defenses.
Peterson's two interceptions are good to tie with Richard Sherman for first among all rookies, and they are the only rookies to record more than one INT this year.
Peterson has shown us he's got a future in the NFL, and he deserves that kind of recognition.
2011 Stats: 49 Tackles, 10 Passes Deflected, 2 Interceptions, 4 return touchdowns
1. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Von Miller was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the same as Ndamukong Suh in 2010.
Like Suh, Miller has double-digit sacks in his rookie year, and just like his counterpart, Miller has completely changed the nature of the defense he joined.
Von Miller and the Denver Bronco defense have been quietly winning the games that Tim Tebow has gotten much of the credit for.
He combines with Elvis Dumervil to form one of the most ferocious pass-rushing duos active in the NFL.
This is a guy who is all over the field, making plays no matter where the ball is. He hits hard, he moves fast, he covers well and quarterbacks cannot seem to escape him.
With five games left to play, Miller's 10.5 sacks are good for half a sack more than Ndamukong Suh had in his 16-game DRoY campaign, and he leads all rookies in total tackles.
This young linebacker is a true force to be reckoned with, and though his competition is fierce, you should expect him to be the second straight No. 2 pick to walk away with the defensive rookie honors.
2011 Stats: 10.5 Sacks, 57 Tackles, 2 Forced Fumbles