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NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates: Chase Young in front

The phrase "generational talent" is being used way too often these days, but I do feel like it's a potentially deserved tag for Washington Redskins rookie Chase Young. First-year edge rushers have a good shot to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, as long as they get to the quarterback on a regular basis. That is something Young appears ready and able to do.

Inside linebackers are also frequently in the mix if they step into a starting job and have the speed and versatility to stay on the field for all three downs. Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray could fit that bill this season.

Let's take a glance at some historical notes and trends that could help piece the DROY puzzle together.

  • No safety has won the award since Mark Carrier did it for the Chicago Bears in 1990.
  • Only three DROY recipients over the last 31 seasons were not drafted in the first round: Darius Leonard (2018), DeMeco Ryans (2006) and Kendrell Bell (2001).
  • Ohio State alums have won this award in three of the last four seasons.
  • Since 2002, six edge rushers have won it with season sack totals ranging from nine to 12.

Below are my top eight candidates (plus, one dark horse) to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award for the 2020 season.

1) Chase Young, edge rusher, Washington Redskins

With the Buckeyes producing winners of this award in three of the last four years, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise to see Young positioned as the favorite to take home the hardware this season. He has great size and length to transition to playing against NFL tackles. He's also shown a consistent pattern of growth as a rusher. He has the quickness and disruptive qualities to become an early factor as a run defender, too, which should bolster his production portfolio as a rookie.

2) Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens

While just two DROY winners over the last 10 seasons were off-ball linebackers, both players (Darius Leonard and Luke Kuechly) played fast and offered coverage versatility on third downs. Queen is not only fast in a straight line, but his scrape explosiveness is extremely impressive and he can cover both tight ends and running backs down the field. He plays with an alpha mentality and should stack plenty of tackles for a proven defense in Year 1.

3) Kenneth Murray, LB, Los Angeles Chargers

Murray was one of the fastest linebackers in 2020 NFL Draft, with the ability to move around the field like a big running back once he diagnoses the play. He's very comfortable matching up man-to-man on passing downs. He's also a voracious competitor and film-eater who figures to be as prepared as any rookie defender we will see in 2020. If he can improve his ability to leverage gaps and take on blocks, he could end up as this season's DROY.

4) Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Simmons is a tremendous athletic specimen with rare versatility to go with impressive height, length and speed. His ability to operate as a hybrid defender could allow Arizona to move him around the field as a matchup neutralizer. There's risk in asking him to do too much too soon -- something the Cardinals appear to be aiming to avoid -- but he has the potential to shine in a manner similar to Darius Leonard.

5) Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions

Given the difficulty of his position and his relatively low ball production in college (three INTs, 18 passes defensed in three seasons), perhaps I've ranked Okudah too high on this list. Here's the thing, though: He's a terrific athlete with great length and the physical ability to twitch and explode on throws. He hasn't learned to fully trust his eyes, but if it starts to click for him in that area as a rookie and if he's allowed to play a little more off-man coverage, those explosive traits could pay early dividends.

6) K'Lavon Chaisson, edge rusher, Jacksonville Jaguars

I had the Jaguars' Josh Allen in this exact spot in last year's edition of this list, but he ended up finishing fourth in DROY voting. With Allen likely to take another step in Year 2 -- not to mention the possibility of Yannick Ngakoue returning to the team if he has a change of heart about his future with the franchise -- there could be loads of opportunities for the ascending Chaisson to slither his way around one-on-one matchups with offenses paying attention to his more proven fellow pass rushers. In a division full of offenses that could be at least somewhat hit or miss, Chaisson has a chance to sneak up on people who aren't expecting him to be a hit in 2020.

7) CJ Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Yes, that's right. I'm doubling down on Jacksonville Jaguars. And this shouldn't come as a big surprise. After all, by the end of the pre-draft process this spring, I kept hearing from NFL executives who actually preferred Henderson over Okudah as the draft's CB1. Henderson ended up being selected six picks after Okudah was chosen third overall, but Henderson's combination of size, speed and fluidity are exceptional by NFL standards. Plus, he possesses decent ball skills despite failing to record an interception in his final season at Florida. It's rare for cornerbacks to win this award (only two have done so in the last 21 seasons), but Henderson has talent and a solid pass rush in front of him, which could help him see a higher percentage of rushed throws.

8) Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers

I know Brown doesn't play the sexiest position, but over the last decade, three interior linemen have won the DROY award (Aaron Donald, 2014; Sheldon Richardson, 2013; Ndamukong Suh, 2010). So, I don't see any reason to keep Brown off this list. He was one of my top-rated players in the 2020 draft thanks to his size, power and disruptive effort inside. While he plays a dominant brand of football, Brown doesn't generate consistent pocket pressure, which could ultimately keep him from rising to the top tier of contenders for this award.


Jeff Gladney, CB, Minnesota Vikings: He's not the biggest or fastest rookie cornerback, but he might be the most consistently competitive on-the-ball defender in this draft. Gladney is twitchy and instinctive. He should get on the field right away for the cornerback-needy Vikings. He will take his lumps, to be sure, but look for Gladney to make more plays on the football than most rookie starters.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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