6 min read

Looking Back at the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Race

Graphic featuring an up-close photo of New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner on a black-and-green background and featuring the text: "Looking Back at the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Race; Ryan Reynolds; 33rd Team"

Betting in an NFL awards market is different from betting in other futures markets because voters determine the winner in awards races. In most futures markets, you’re betting on or, in some cases, against a definitive outcome. 

For instance, if you bet on the Super Bowl winner this year, there will not be any questions about which team wins that game. That’s not how things work in awards markets.

In awards markets, who wins is determined by who 50 individuals vote for. What you’re betting on in an awards market is who someone else thinks should win. It requires an entirely different process from any other betting market.

That’s why we’re going to take a look back at each awards race from last season, so we can try to see things more from a voter’s perspective than from our own.

>> READ: Looking Back at the 2022 Comeback Player of the Year Race

>> READ: Looking Back at the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year Race 

Defensive Rookie of the Year Race

Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Race (DROY) came with two top-of-the-draft pass rushers in Travon Walker (+1000) and Aidan Hutchinson (+600). Fifth-overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux (+700) was another high-end edge pass rusher who rounded out the preseason favorites.

The next tier of contenders was made up of secondary players: safety Kyle Hamilton (+1200) and cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. (+1400) and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (+1400).

First-round edge rushers Jermaine Johnson II (+1600) and George Karlaftis (+2000), monster DT Jordan Davis (+2000) and linebacker Quay Walker (+1600) rounded out the rest of the midrange longshots.

Dressed all in blue, Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson gets his hands on Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence behind the line of scrimmage

Early Season

Walker had a big opening day for the Jacksonville Jaguars with four tackles, a sack, a defended pass and an interception, which pushed him to the top of the DROY race alongside the Detroit Lions’ Hutchinson. Despite that strong opening day start, Walker’s DROY odds fell back to +1200 entering Week 4.

Thibodeaux suffered a knee injury in the preseason, so he made his first NFL appearance in Week 3 when the New York Giants faced the Dallas Cowboys. Despite being among the early DROY favorites and returning earlier from his injury than anticipated, Thibodeaux was never a real factor in this race.

Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd made some early-season noise, picking off two passes in the first three games. No. 153 overall pick Tariq Woolen, a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, intercepted passes in Week 3 and Week 4. After four games, Woolen and Gardner, a cornerback for the New York Jets, had built strong enough foundations to be on DROY radars.


Gardner was beginning to run away with this race thanks to his abnormally strong play. He had only two interceptions at the midway point, but the Jets' defense was better than expected, and Gardner was becoming a player opposing offenses avoided. In terms of advanced metrics, he was already performing like an elite veteran at this point in the season.

Starting in Week 3, Woolen intercepted a pass in four consecutive games. It’s hard to ignore a player in the DROY race when they lead all rookie defenders in interceptions.

In terms of others, Hutchinson built off a three-sack game against the Washington Commanders and led rookie defenders with 4.5 sacks through the first half of the season. Walker had 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception during the same span. 

At the midseason point, five of our six panelists would have voted for Gardner, while the other would have taken Walker. Betting markets were similarly aligned on Gardner’s place in the DROY race.

Second Half of the Season

The Jets stumbled in the second half of the season, but Gardner continued to play like an elite cornerback. He was a -330 DROY favorite after Week 12 and gradually became a more significant favorite virtually every week thereafter.

Woolen, who was in the DROY race for most of the season, tallied two more interceptions to bring him to six on the season, four more than Gardner. 

Walker didn’t add any sacks or turnovers to his resumé in the second half of the season, essentially eliminating him from contention. Thibodeaux had a great game on Sunday Night Football against the Commanders late in the year, showcasing the type of impact player he could be. But he had not built a strong enough foundation for that performance to matter in the DROY race.

Hutchinson continued to play at a high level in the second half of the year for the surging Lions, adding four sacks and an astounding three interceptions heading into the final game of the season.

An interesting component of this race is the Lions beat the Jets in Week 15. In many awards markets, when the two top contenders play each other, the player on the winning team tends to see a significant bump. That wasn’t really the case here.

In a white jersey, green helmet and black pants, New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner warms up in pregame drills

Last Week of the Regular Season

With one week to go, the DROY had three contenders: 

  • Sauce Gardner -1200
  • Aidan Hutchinson +800
  • Tariq Woolen +1600

Betting markets viewed this race as all but over, despite the fact Hutchinson was sitting on 7.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions with one game to go, and Woolen was tied for the league lead in interceptions.

The Jets lost to the Miami Dolphins 11-6 in the regular season finale. Gardner finished the year with just two interceptions, but he performed abnormally well in advanced metrics for a rookie and established himself as a premium cornerback.

Woolen’s Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams 19-16 in overtime, which resulted in Seattle becoming the NFC’s seventh seed. He finished the year with six interceptions, tied with three veterans for the league lead.

Hutchinson had two sacks in the final game of the regular season when the Lions knocked off the Green Bay Packers 20-16 at Lambeau Field to keep their rivals out of the playoffs. Hutchinson finished the year with 9.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

The Vote

Gardner, a midseason favorite, never lost steam; he finished the season fifth among all cornerbacks in SIS’s total points metric (64).

While Woolen led the league in interceptions, his total points score (47) was significantly lower than Gardner’s. Woolen had a great year, but he was a far less consistent cornerback than Gardner.

Hutchinson had the type of season that usually wins the DROY, even ignoring that he had three interceptions as a defensive end, but Gardner had a better overall season.

Ultimately, both Hutchinson and Woolen would have won a lot of DROY races in the past, but Gardner was one of the best cornerbacks in the league last season.

Follow The 33rd Team Podcast Network on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.