Last season, we watched as Cowboys LB Micah Parsons tore up the league in his rookie season, setting several rookie records en route to winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Now, with a new slew of rookie defenders looking to make an immediate impact in the league, the competition will be more fierce, especially since the first five draft picks all happened to be defensemen in this year’s NFL Draft.
Below are the current odds, according to Vegas Insider, for the DROY. Read below for our best bets and sleeper predictions:
- Aidan Hutchinson, Lions +500
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, Giants +550
- Travon Walker, Jaguars +700
- Kyle Hamilton, Ravens +900
- Quay Walker, Packers +900
- Jermaine Johnson, Jets +1000
- Derek Stingley, Jr, Texans. +1000
- Ahmad Gardner, Jets +1100
- Devin Lloyd, Jaguars +1200
- Jordan Davis, Eagles +1400
- Nakobe Dean, Eagles +2000
- George Karlaftis, Chiefs +2000
- Kaiir Elam, Bills +2200
- Trent McDuffie, Chiefs +2200
- Andrew Booth Jr., Vikings +2500
Thibodeaux might have easily been the top pick in the draft if it weren’t for reservations about his competitive fire. An injury also derailed his chances at being No. 1, which benefited the Giants when they grabbed the outside LB at No. 5. Thibodeaux is a beast and has the potential to be a menace for opposing QBs. He should fit nicely into the Giants’ LB corps right next to Blake Martinez and can provide the G-Men with the much-needed pass rush they have been lacking the past few seasons. I say this not as a Giants fan but as an unbiased sports bettor that I love Thibodeaux’s chances to secure the DROY award. He should be able to accumulate plenty of sacks and lead all rookies in that category. Thibodeaux is my No. 1 pick.
The Michigan standout was fortunate to be drafted by his home team, the Detroit Lions, at No. 2 in the draft. There is a ton to like about Hutchinson, and he brings athleticism and strength to a Lions team that struggled on the defensive end last season. He has a great football mind and character and will draw immediate respect from those around him. He is the safe pick, given he was No. 2 in the draft, but he may fall short of putting up the same numbers as some of the other DEs in his class. Still, if he can provide instantaneous productivity and bolster a Lions’ squad, Hutchinson should be in the DROY talk by the end of the season.
Jermaine Johnson II
Surprisingly, Johnson fell all the way to 26th overall in the draft. Many experts pegged Johnson as a potential top 15 pick. The Jets had their eyes on him as they traded up to snag the Florida State Seminole towards the bottom third of the 1st Round. Johnson joins a Jets squad helmed by former 49ers OC Robert Saleh. It is the perfect scenario for Johnson as he can work with a defensive-minded coach and exploit his extreme athleticism on the field. With an 83-inch wingspan, Johnson can get around coverage and tackle in the backfield for a loss of yards. In 2021, he finished the season with 17.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Johnson has the potential to be a Pro Bowler for years to come.
Derek Stingley Jr.
Many were surprised when Stingley jumped to No. 3 in the draft over Kayvon Thibodeaux and fellow CB Ahmad Gardner. However, Stingley Jr. is perhaps not only the best CB in the draft but the most talented defensive player alone. As a member of the Texans, Stingley will have his share of snaps on defense, given Houston tends to struggle on offense. That should give Stingley plenty of playing time and chances to make a name for himself in this league. It should be no surprise if Stingley emerges as the leading DROY candidate midway through the season.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
A nickname he dubbed for himself, “Sauce” Gardner certainly possesses the confidence and charisma to be noticed on and off the field. However, at times, that confidence can be interpreted more as cockiness that can get him in trouble in the wrong situation. Still, there is no denying that Gardner is one of the best at his position in this year’s rookie class. He allowed just 6.6 yards per reception in 2021 (according to PFF) and has two career pick-6s. If Sauce can live up to the hype he creates for himself, then the Jets will be more than happy with their prospect.
Elam joins a Bills squad that many consider the top defense in the NFL. As a rookie, expect Elam to be targeted often by opposing teams, which should grant him a bevy of chances to stifle receivers and make some big plays. He is rarely fooled by fakes and double moves, according to his NFL.com combine profile, which could prove to be lethal for the Bills’ secondary. A long shot, but Elam has all the tools necessary to shine in Buffalo.