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Top 5 Contenders for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Written by George Haraktsis

Marshon Lattimore (CB, New Orleans Saints)

If the season plays out as we all expect it to, the New Orleans Saints may end up with the 2017 Rookie of the Year on both sides of the ball in Kamara and Lattimore. Lattimore, the 11th overall draft pick this year, has been nothing short of spectacular to the tune of five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, 17 passes defended and a forced fumble to go along with a 91.2 grade and #4 overall CB rating according to Pro Football Focus. No one player has had a larger individual impact on the Saints defensive revitalization than him. The only knock on Lattimore is the injury bug that has followed him from college to the NFL, he has missed three games due to injury this year. With that being said, Lattimore looks to be one of the top two contenders to win the award, and set to be a key part of the Saints defense and one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks for years to come.

T.J. Watt (LB, Pittsburgh Steelers)

While T.J. Watt may never entirely escape from under older brother J.J.’s enormous shadow, he’s doing a hell of a job trying. In his first regular season appearance Watt recorded two sacks to go along with an interception all in just a 13 snap span against the Browns. While Watt may have slowed down with just 4 sacks (6 total) and no interceptions since that first game, he has still managed to make his mark in other ways. Watt has succeeded in keeping James Harrison on the sideline for most of the year, he has batted 6 balls as a linebacker, and seems to make big plays when they’re need most. His strip-sack of Joe Flacco in Week 14 sealed a win over the Ravens and locked up an AFC North-clinching victory for the Steelers. While Watt has clearly slowed down in recent weeks, he is also one of only a few players with at least 40 tackles, six passes defended and six sacks in the NFL. We cannot deny the talent that is there, so let’s stop calling him J.J.’s little brother and just start calling him T.J.

Myles Garrett (DL, Cleveland Browns)

This year’s first overall pick has not had the most conventional start for an NFL top choice. Garrett’s off-season injury kept him out for the first four games of the season, as well as another in late October. His injuries have forced him off the field but when he has played, he has played fine — though unspectacularly. His numbers on paper do not jump out at you, although Garrett does lead the Browns with five sacks. Even if Garrett’s talent has been apparent; He has not been on the field enough to put up the big stats. Though Garrett may not win the award, he is the 14th ranked edge defender according to Pro Football Focus and should at least be in the conversation.

Tre’Davious White (CB, Buffalo Bills)

Seemingly Lattimore’s only real competition for the award, Tre’Davious White has been trending upward all year. White is second in the NFL with 18 pass breakups and tied for fourth in the league with 4 INTs. Like T.J. Watt, White has a knack for making big plays in the game’s most crucial moments. Like his scoop and score in week 4 that sealed a 23–17 win against the Atlanta Falcons. Or in week 6, when White forced an Adam Humphries fumble to set up Steven Hauschka’s eventual game winning field goal. Not to be outdone by his two late-game interceptions in week 12 and 15 to seal a victory. With a PFF grade of 91.4, making him the 3rd ranked CB in the league, White has firmly entrenched himself in the DROY race. While he may or may not win the award one thing we do know is that the Bills got themselves a plus-starter for the foreseeable future.

Carl Lawson (LB, Cincinnati Bengals)

After falling to the fourth round due to major injury concerns, Carl Lawson has become this year’s not so dark, dark horse for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The former Auburn tiger now leads all rookies with 52 QB pressures and his 8.5 sacks this year puts him within 1.5 of the Bengals rookie sack record. Because Lawson is mostly in on the Nickel package he has only played 361 snaps but has performed at high level when given the opportunity. Even though the competition is very tough to win this year’s award, Lawson is not out of the DROY race yet. He will need a big performance in next week’s upcoming match against the Ravens to have any chance to win.

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