The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) award is usually won by top-of-the-draft pass rushers. A few cornerbacks and linebackers have won the award in recent years, but pass rushers have an edge in this race.
The DROY race tends to have the fewest contenders, so we’ll take a look at just 18 candidates:
|Will Anderson +400
|Jalen Carter +750
|Christian Gonzalez +950
|Tyree Wilson +1000
|Devon Witherspoon +1000
|Jack Campbell +1400
|Lukas Van Ness +1500
|Emmanuel Forbes +2000
|Will McDonald IV +2200
|Nolan Smith +2200
|Calijah Kancey +2500
|Joey Porter Jr. +2500
|Deonte Banks +3000
|Cam Smith +3000
|Felix Anudike-Uzomah +3500
|Myles Murphy +3500
|Mazi Smith +4000
|BJ Ojulari +4500
Will Anderson, Texans, Edge +400
Will Anderson is a blue-chip edge rusher who was selected in the top five picks of the NFL draft. That’s the profile of several recent DROY winners, and Anderson is the most notable pass rusher on the Houston Texans by a considerable margin. That means opponents can more freely game plan for him, which isn’t an issue for most of his competition in the DROY race.
Jalen Carter, Eagles, Defensive Tackle +750
Edge rushers win DROY far more often than interior linemen, but Jalen Carter is a generational defensive tackle prospect. He’ll also get the benefit of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, who, last season, led the league in sacks by a wide margin. The Eagles open the season with their softest schedule stretch, so Carter is well-positioned to start strong.
Christian Gonzalez, Patriots, Cornerback +950
Christian Gonzalez fell further in the draft than many anticipated (he was the 17th overall pick), which resulted in him landing in Bill Belichick’s defense. Cornerbacks who have recently won DROY have done so through high interception totals, such as Marcus Peters, or by exceptional play, such as Sauce Gardner last season. In Belichick’s system, Gonzalez could conceivably get to the award through either path.
Tyree Wilson, Raiders, Edge +1000
Tyree Wilson is in an interesting position because he’ll play alongside one of the best edge rushers in the league, Maxx Crosby. So unlike Anderson, opponents won’t focus their game plan on Wilson. That said, Wilson could be in more of a rotation than Anderson because veteran Chandler Jones is still with the Raiders.
Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks, Cornerback +1000
Jack Campbell, Lions, Linebacker +1400
Jack Campbell is an interesting option in this race because he could lead all rookies in tackles for a contending Detroit Lions team. However, Campbell likely needs the primary pass rushers in this race to fail to win DROY. On the flip side, Anderson likely doesn’t need Campbell to fail to win DROY.
Lukas Van Ness, Packers, Edge +1500
Emmanuel Forbes, Commanders, Cornerback +2000
Cornerbacks tend to have an uphill battle in the DROY race, but Emmanuel Forbes will be aided by the Washington Commanders’ premium front four. Exceptional pass rushes create forced errors, which could lead to more interceptions for Forbes.
Will McDonald IV, Jets, Edge +2200
Nolan Smith, Eagles, Edge +2200
How the rest of the league allowed the Eagles to get a dynamic talent such as Nolan Smith at the end of the first round is mystifying. That said, similar to the situation McDonald is in, Smith is likely eased in as a rotational player early.
The Mid-Range Long Shots
Calijah Kancey, Buccaneers, Defensive Lineman +2500
Calijah Kancey is a good interior player, but it’s hard to see him leapfrogging so many first-round pass rushers.
Joey Porter Jr., Steelers, Cornerback +2500
Outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary has more questions than reliable answers. That will likely thrust Joey Porter Jr. into a starting role. Porter’s DROY path would require splash plays (interceptions, sacks, forced fumbles) more than consistently strong coverage.
Deonte Banks, Giants, Cornerback +3000
Deonte Banks will be an opening day starter for the New York Giants, and New York is more willing to leave its corners on an island than most defenses. That could lead to more turnover-generating opportunities for Banks, especially if the Giants’ pass rush can play up to its potential.
Cam Smith, Dolphins, Cornerback +3000
The injury to Jalen Ramsey could lead to Cam Smith having a larger role early this season. That said, it would make sense if veteran Eli Apple joined Xavien Howard on the perimeter. Smith has a narrow DROY path.
The Long Shots
Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Chiefs, Edge +3500
Felix Anudike-Uzomah will have to jump a number of pass rushers to contend in this race. However, he plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, so he’ll have more opportunities to play with a lead than most defenders on this list.
Myles Murphy, Bengals, Edge +3500
Myles Murphy likely opens the year as a secondary member of the Cincinnati Bengals’ edge rotation. That said, Murphy is the most dynamic athlete in the group, giving him a path to ascension as the year progresses.
Mazi Smith, Cowboys, Defensive Tackle +4000
Mazi Smith will likely start the year as a secondary member of the Dallas Cowboys’ rotation. However, Smith plays for an elite defense without any true gatekeeper to more playing time on the inside. Chances are Smith won’t be productive enough to contend in this race, but he couldn’t have landed in a better spot than Dallas.
BJ Ojulari, Cardinals, Edge +4500
You could argue the Arizona Cardinals have the worst pass rush in football. That means BJ Ojulari should see plenty of playing time early in his career. That said, the Cardinals are positioned to be the worst team in the league this season, and playing with a lead is good for pass-rushing production.
Ryan’s DROY Pick: Jalen Carter
Ryan’s Favorite Long Shot: Myles Murphy