Why Gregory Rousseau can win Defensive Rookie of The Year

The last two DROY awards have gone to defensive ends, can Rousseau make it 3?

By: Caleb Holfolth

With the 30th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected Gregory Rousseau out of Miami. Rousseau was formerly known as a potential top ten pick before he opted out of the 2020 college football season and tested poorly at Miami’s pro day. Rousseau has a lone season of college football under his belt. As there is concern that comes with his limited experience, that lone season was one of the best seasons a defensive lineman has had for the University of Miami. With 15.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 54 tackles Rousseau in similar company to names such as Warren Sapp, Calais Campbell, and Danny Stubbs. Standing 6-7 and 265-pounds Rousseau has the physical tools that defensive coordinators drool over and offensive coordinators dread. If you need some perspective just look at this picture that the Buffalo Bills posted on Twitter. 

While there were thirteen defensive players drafted before Rousseau, he plays one of the better positions if you are concerned about him winning rookie of the year. Rousseau is a defensive end by label however due to his size, ability, and experience moving across the line he could play both defensive end and defensive tackle. This opens up opportunities for Rousseau to get on the field for Buffalo. While he may not be a definitive three-down player yet considering he is widely known as a raw prospect with elite physical traits. Rousseau can still make a really solid impact. Just looking back on his lone college year where he produced 15.5 sacks Rousseau certainly has a knack for rushing the passer. To see what type of production is necessary for Rousseau to have a solid chance at rookie of the year here are the previous two winners who happen to be pass rushers. 

2020: Chase Young (WFT) 🡪 44 Tackles, 10 TFL,7.5 Sacks, 4 FF, 3 FR, 4 Passes Defended

2019: Nick Bosa (SF) 🡪 47 Tackles, 16 TFL, 9 Sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 Interception, 2 Passes Defended

If Rousseau were to win defensive rookie of the year, he would have to pull similar stat lines to both what Young and Bosa were able to do in their first seasons. While it is unlikely Rousseau may have a better chance than half the defensive players drafted ahead of him. While college and the National Football League are essentially two different sports if Rousseau’s pass-rushing ability translates, he can do it. Rousseau had his 15.5 sacks in only 13 games for Miami. For the Bills, Rousseau will have 17 games to accumulate sacks and other statistics. 

If you look at what Young did last season Rousseau will only have to have a sack in less than half the games, he plays in to be in contention. What helps Rousseau compared to the other pass rushers drafted is that he has the versatility to be a very good pass rusher both inside at defensive tackle and defensive end. With his size, Rousseau could end up as a mismatch for many opposing offensive lines allowing Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott and Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier to move Rousseau all around the defensive line. 

Another asset to a potential defensive rookie of the year campaign will be his length. Rousseau is extremely tall with long limbs. This will help him not only keep distance from offensive lineman but also make some tackles behind and around the line of scrimmage that smaller defensive ends may not be able to make. Rousseau has not shown much ability to be an elite run defender, but you can guarantee that defending the run will be one of the first things Rousseau works on when he arrives at training camp. 

If Rousseau can put together a 7-9 sack season with the solid run defense he may be in contention for the award. While it is unlikely to fully translate to the NFL, we saw a ridiculous sack artist in college if a majority of that skill translates Rousseau can easily end up with at least 6 sacks this season. Where Bosa and Young won the awards was their impact on the game outside of the sacks they had that season. That is almost the most important aspect for Rousseau in the DROY race. If Rousseau can be a positive asset against the run, it may be a pleasant surprise to many but considering his physical traits it certainly can happen. 

While Rousseau winning defensive rookie of the year would not be on many people’s radars, there is one thing that may help Rousseau which probably will not be talked about. The Buffalo Bills could face three rookie quarterbacks (Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson) in addition to Tua Tagovailoa who played limited snaps as a rookie last season. In addition to those young players, there are multiple teams on the Bills schedule with uncertain situations at quarterbacks such as the Houston Texans, Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers. All this essentially means that Buffalo will be facing a high number of teams with either young or not very good quarterbacks. This often opens the door to sacks for defensive players because the lack of experience or talent can cause quarterbacks to hold onto the ball too long or take bad sacks. While this is all speculation and possibility instead of certain it could contribute to Rousseau having a couple of sacks on his resume that were not a direct result of a great pass rush. 

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the role Rousseau will play on the Bills defense in 2021. However, with last season’s sack leader for Buffalo only having 5.5 sacks Rousseau could be in for a lot of playing time this season. While he will not be one of the favorites going into the 2021 season Rousseau is a sleeper to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

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