Written by Ryan Lippert
After releasing my Offensive Rookie of the Year predictions on Thursday, it’s now time to look at the defensive side of the ball. While the offensive rookie class does have some playmakers, this class is loaded on the defensive side of the ball. There are several players this year that will be Week One starters and potential Pro Bowl caliber players early in their careers. With that being said, here’s who I think will stand out in this deep defensive rookie class.
Nick Bosa, DE (San Francisco): The second overall pick and the top-rated defensive prospect in this class by many people definitely belongs on this list. Much like his brother, Bosa wreaked havoc off the edge when he was healthy at Ohio State. He joins a 49ers defense that desperately needs some star power. If he can stay healthy, I believe Bosa will be just that and be a Pro Bowl defensive end in the NFL for many years to come.
Devin White, LB (Tampa Bay): White was one of the top defensive prospects in this class and one of the best linebacker prospects we’ve seen in recent years. He comes into a situation in Tampa Bay where they need a leader for this defense after losing Kwon Alexander. White will do just that and become the face of this defense. I strongly believe that he could be the next great linebacker in the NFL.
Devin Bush Jr., LB (Pittsburgh): This list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include the guy that my Steelers lucked out by trading up for in this year’s draft. Ever since the tragic injury to Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh has been looking for an athletic inside linebacker to fill his role. They have finally found that with Bush. I believe that he will be a Week One starter and show flashes of what Shazier used to bring to this defense.
Quinnen Williams, DT (New York Jets): There was a lot of debate between Bosa and Williams regarding who was the top prospect in this year’s draft class. If you picked Williams, no one could truly argue with you as he was a beast at Alabama. With Williams, you get a defensive tackle he is a force against stopping the run and is a solid pass rusher as well. Williams will fit in perfectly on the interior of a young but impressive Jets defensive line and should have an outstanding career.
Ed Oliver, DT (Buffalo): To wrap up my list of frontrunners, I simply couldn’t leave Oliver off the list. He was one of my favorite prospects as he is very strong on the interior but this guy can also move for his size! He is a solid athlete and gives you an interior defensive lineman who can get to the passer. In Buffalo, I believe Oliver will quickly become the face of this defense and possibly a Pro Bowl caliber player.
Josh Allen, DE (Jacksonville): Allen was tricky for me. Due to his draft position, I easily could’ve listed him as a frontrunner. However, the reason that I list him as a sleeper is that he is going to be on a crowded defensive line in Jacksonville. He will have to fight for playing time at the defensive end spot with Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell. Once Allen can solidify himself in a starting role on this defense, he will have the same type of impact in Jacksonville as he did at Kentucky.
Greedy Williams, CB (Cleveland): Williams was one of the steals of this draft as he was one of the top two corners and fell to the middle of the second round to Cleveland. He was arguably the fastest corner in this draft and is a very solid athlete which will help him become an elite man to man corner in the league. If he can get better in run support, he could easily become one of the most complete corners in the league. The combination of him and Denzel Ward will give Cleveland one of the best young cornerback duos in the league.
Jerry Tillery, DT (Los Angeles Chargers): Tillery is one of the prospects in this draft class that I think will thrive based on his fit. The Los Angeles Chargers have an outstanding defensive front but needed a solid interior force to put them over the top. I believe that they have finally found that in Tillery. I see Tillery developing into one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league and being a very solid starter for many years to come.
As you can see, this award is wide open. This defensive rookie class is loaded with talent and there are many other players I could have mentioned on this list. The fan side of me wants to pick Devin Bush Jr. here. Even though I truly do believe that he has a chance to be special and win this award, there is another player that is way too good to pass up. If I had to vote today on who I think will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year, I’d have to go with Devin White. As I already mentioned. White is one of the best linebacker prospects we’ve seen in recent years and I truly believe he could be the next great linebacker in the NFL.