Ranking the NFL's Top 5 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates Entering Week 12

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IINovember 28, 2020

Ranking the NFL's Top 5 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates Entering Week 12

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The NFL's regular season is beginning to wind down, and a handful of young players have made strong cases for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

    Some of the front-runners are first-round picks, but a few defensive stars have emerged out of the second day of the 2020 NFL draft. Back during April's event, the current favorite for the award wasn't nearly as well known as the guy right behind him.

    Production is important for these Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates, but so is limiting mistakes. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top five candidates heading into Week 12. 

5. Jeremy Chinn, DB, Carolina Panthers

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Jeremy Chinn turned some heads with an impressive athletic profile in the predraft process. Now he's living up to that hype with some solid performances for the Carolina Panthers. 

    The second-round pick out of Southern Illinois has lined up all over the field and produced regardless of where he's played. He's logged 74 combined tackles with five pass deflections and an interception through 10 games.

    However, opposing quarterbacks are having a field day when throwing at the rookie. Chinn has already been targeted 47 times this season, per Pro Football Reference, giving up four touchdowns and a 109.9 passer rating.

    The future is bright for Chinn given his versatility, but he hasn't generated enough pressure or forced enough turnovers to be ranked higher on this list. 

4. Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Playing inside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens comes with lofty expectations. It's not easy to line up at the same position Ray Lewis once occupied, but Patrick Queen is looking like an important part of the team's defense so far.

    He has been active in 10 games this year, picking up 70 combined tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He even returned one of those fumbles for a 53-yard touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 11.

    That production is impressive, but Queen's overall impact doesn't quite measure up against some of the other rookies on this list. His tackling has been a bit sloppy, and Pro Football Reference has already credited him with 14 missed tackles. 

    He may only be a dark horse to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, but that shouldn't take away from the solid season he's had.

3. Antoine Winfield Jr., DB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. But alongside all the veterans, Antoine Winfield Jr. has grown into one of the team's defensive leaders during his rookie season.

    Winfield was taken in the second round of the 2020 draft after he was named a consensus All-American at Minnesota. In 11 games with the Bucs, he has 61 combined tackles, two sacks, four pass deflections, an interception and a forced fumble.

    The son of three-time Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield Sr., he has made his presence felt all over the field. He's also already received some national recognition, winning NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month in September. 

    All of Winfield's production suggests he should be higher on this list, but his struggles in coverage need to be cleaned up. According to Pro Football Reference, he has already allowed four passing touchdowns and a 139.4 passer rating when targeted. 

    If he can clean up his struggles in coverage and keep making plays all over the field, then he could make a stronger argument for DROY at the end of the year. 

2. Chase Young, Edge, Washington Football Team

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    As the first defensive player taken in the 2020 NFL draft, Chase Young was an early favorite to win DROY. While he may not be the front-runner right now, that could change before the season is over.

    Young has already picked up 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles through 10 games. He leads all rookies in sacks despite missing a game with a groin injury, and opposing defenses are starting to pay attention to the former Ohio State star.

    Head coach Ron Rivera has praised Young for handling his role while consistently facing double-teams. And according to Pro Football Reference, the 21-year-old edge-rusher has already picked up nine pressures and four quarterback hits, which tells a more complete story than his raw sack numbers. 

    Again, he's not the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year yet. But if he can rack up a few more sacks before the season is over, he'll have a pretty strong case to win the award. 

1. Julian Blackmon, DB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Julian Blackmon may have been slept on as a third-round pick, but the Indianapolis Colts safety is the clear front-runner to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Blackmon was a star player for the Utah Utes, snagging nine interceptions with 20 pass deflections and two defensive touchdowns in his final three collegiate seasons. It hasn't taken long for him to find his footing in the NFL, either.

    Since his debut against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, Blackmon has become a star on one of the best defenses in the league. Through nine games, he's picked up 26 combined tackles, two interceptions, six pass deflections and a crucial forced fumble in overtime against the Green Bay Packers to set his team up for the game-winning field goal.

    Even Blackmon's advanced statistics are impressive. According to Pro Football Reference, he has only missed one tackle all year, and opposing quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of just 48.9 when throwing at him.

    While he rehabbed a torn ACL, Blackmon made it his goal to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Given the way his season is going, he's well on his way to making that a reality.