Which rookie can take home the hardware?
Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes
Unlike offensive rookie of the year, which is given to a quarterback an overwhelming majority of the time, the defensive rookie of the year award can be won by multiple positions consistently. The positions that win the award most often are edge rusher and linebacker because they offer immediate production and can stuff the stat sheet.
Last year, the three finalists for the award were edge rusher Chase Young, linebacker Patrick Queen, and linebacker/safety hybrid Jeremy Chinn. Even though Patrick Queen graded out as a poor coverage player by PFF, he still posted lots of tackles. As long as a player can post a decent stat line and have top 64 draft capital, they can be in contention for the award. Another important factor in evaluating these rookies is considering if they will get day one work.
Jaelan Phillips (+700)
Within the NFL draft community, Jalelan Phillips was considered the best edge rusher in the class of 2021. His freakish athleticism and pedigree made him a coveted player in the draft. The Miami Dolphins made Phillips the first edge rusher off the board, an immediate bonus for his rookie of the year chances. Phillips will be one of Miami’s starting edge rushers for week one, so if he posts double-digit sacks the award will likely go to him. Miami’s interior defensive line already has Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, so Phillips will have help generating pressure. Miami’s elite secondary will cover wide receivers for extended periods of time, giving coverage sack opportunities to edge rushers like Phillips.
Jaelan succeeded in college by aligning across the defensive line. Miami’s defense is incredibly multiple, so players like Phillips will likely get work at multiple positions in various formations. Phillips has the top 20 draft capital to make him a favorite for the award and the skill to bring home the title. Though he is priced as the second most likely player to take home the award–behind Micah Parsons at +400–he should be the favorite.
Zaven Collins (+1100)
Two picks prior to Jaelan Phillips’ selection, the Arizona Cardinals made Zaven Collins their newest addition with the 16th pick. Collins is an athletic freak of nature from the University of Tulsa. He is physically imposing, weighing in at anywhere from 255 to 270 pounds. The edge rusher/linebacker hybrid player has been given comparisons to fellow swiss army knife player Anthony Barr.
Zaven’s playstyle and strengths lend themselves to putting up impressive numbers early in his career. The Arizona Cardinals announced that they want Zaven to primarily play MIKE linebacker, so Zaven will line up in the middle of the field 3-5 yards off the line-of-scrimmage often. This location will let Zaven be involved across the entire gridiron, leading to lots of tackles. Jordan Hicks, Arizona’s current top linebacker, has already requested a trade because Zaven will be a day one starter, so his price will likely become more expensive once Hicks is officially traded.
At Tulsa, Zaven was a tremendous run defender, pass rusher, and coverage player. If he has a strong grasp of just two of these three skills in his rookie year, he will post near-historic rookie of the year numbers. Triple-digit total tackles, a handful of sacks, and a few turnovers are a reasonable projection for Collins, showing why he should be firmly in contention for defensive rookie of the year.