Analysis

Top 10 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates in 2022: Jaguars, Jets duos highlight list

At this time a year ago, I ranked the Dallas Cowboys' Micah Parsons as the top candidate to win the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year award based on his rare explosive traits and ability to wreak havoc all over the field at linebacker.

Parsons went from linebacker to defensive end out of team necessity at times and posted 13 sacks en route to taking home DROY honors, a second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting and a first-team All-Pro selection.

This year's rookie crop doesn't appear to have a player who offers the rare blend of elite athleticism and playmaking potential that Parsons did, but it's a deep group with several prospects worthy of legitimate consideration. Let's take a glance at some historical notes and trends that could help up piece the Defensive Rookie of the Year puzzle together.

  • No safety has won this award since Mark Carrier did it for the Chicago Bears in 1990.
  • Since 2009, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson (2013) is the lone winner of the award to come from the SEC.
  • A player from the Big Ten has won this award in five of the last six seasons (Parsons, 2021; Chase Young, 2020; Nick Bosa, 2019; Marshon Lattimore, 2017; Joey Bosa, 2016).
  • Marcus Peters (2015) and Lattimore (2017) are the only two cornerbacks to win this award since 1999, with both posting 5-plus interceptions as rookies.

Now, looking ahead to this season, here are my top 10 candidates to take home the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

NOTE: The odds below provided by FanDuel are current as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 26 unless otherwise noted.

Rank
10
Derek Stingley Jr.
LSU · DB · +1200

Drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall


Stingley has the talent to be ranked higher on this list, but there are several players ahead of him that I believe have the opportunity to tally more production as a rookie. While Stingley hasn't been able to show sustained elite play since his freshman season in 2019, it's almost impossible to forget the ball skills and takeaway talent he displayed throughout that year. If NFL offenses test him often enough this fall and Stingley can stay healthy, he will have a chance to grab interceptions and launch himself into the DROY conversation.

Rank
9
Travon Walker
Georgia · OLB · +1000

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall


Walker is a big, tough guy with long arms and terrific power in his hands to set impressive edges, but that won't mean much for this award. Walker is a coach's dream, providing excellent field aggression and a willingness to stay within the scheme in order to allow his unit to flourish. However, he might need to become a more impactful individual pass rusher if he wants to catch the attention of DROY voters.

Rank
8
Nakobe Dean
Georgia · LB · +2500

Drafted: Round 3, No. 83 overall


We know linebackers with playmaking tendencies have a good shot to find their way into the conversation when it comes to DROY contention, and Dean fits into that category. He slid into the third round of the draft due to medical concerns, which might have taken him off of some radars for this award. However, Dean will have former Georgia teammate Jordan Davis eating up blocks in the middle of the Philly D-line to put him in good position to make plays. Both Dean's sack total and ball production against the pass improved in Georgia's championship season, so he should be one to watch if he can stay healthy and win a starting job early on.

Rank
7
Sauce Gardner
Cincinnati · CB · +1200

Drafted: Round 1, No. 4 overall


History tells us that interceptions are key when it comes to providing rookie cornerbacks a chance to win DROY. Gardner pulled three interceptions in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati, which is impressive considering how infrequently quarterback's challenged him and how often he played tight, press coverage. He has take-it-away talent, a catchy nickname and bravado for days, which should all work in his favor.

Rank
6
Jermaine Johnson II
Florida State · DE · +1200

Drafted: Round 1, No. 26 overall


You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last Jets edge rusher to post double-digit sacks in a season (Calvin Pace, 10). Fast forward to 2022 and Johnson will be lining up with a fairly deep defensive line that should fare much better than it did in 2021. He's a plus run defender with good strength at the point of attack and the athleticism to put together some highlight-reel tackles for loss. His hands and spin moves got better and better throughout last season at Florida State, but the key for Johnson will be his continued growth as a pass rusher. He might be ready to make early noise as a rookie.

Rank
5
Kyle Hamilton
Notre Dame · S · + 1000

Drafted: Round 1, No. 14 overall


Hamilton was my highest-graded draft prospect in 2022 thanks to his rare traits and impact potential. In Baltimore, free-agent signee Marcus Williams provides the Ravens with a center fielder who should allow Hamilton to move around the field, where he can range and attack the football. He can be a little bumpy in man coverage at times, but he's a hard worker and ferocious hitter whose hybrid talents could create more production than most safeties see in a rookie season.

Rank
4
Quay Walker
Georgia · LB · +1200

Drafted: Round 1, No. 22 overall


Walker's size (6-foot-4, 241 pounds), athleticism and toughness should make him an instant favorite of the defensive coaching staff in Green Bay. His instincts and discipline are what make him a top four candidate for this award, in my opinion. Walker plays with an above-average feel for play development and uses take-on strength and tackling technique to finish what he starts. With size and talent along the Packers' defensive front to occupy blockers, Walker should be able to run, hit, and pile up tackles this season.

Rank
3
Kayvon Thibodeaux
Oregon · OLB · +600

Drafted: Round 1, No. 5 overall


Thibodeaux is strong and explosive with pretty good insight into the art of the pass rush. However, he has to show he can execute as a pass rusher on a consistent basis in the NFL. His ability to close to the sideline should make him tough to run against, but sacks are what win this award.

Rank
2
Devin Lloyd
Utah · LB · +2000

Drafted: Round 1, No. 27 overall


I know I like Lloyd's chances better than others do, but his ability to fill up columns on the stat sheet should not be discounted. The last true linebacker to win this award was Shaquille Leonard, who piled up 163 tackles with 12 for loss and a pair of interceptions in 2018. Lloyd showcased his ability to produce at a high level in each of those categories during his final season at Utah. Look out for this guy.

Rank
1
Aidan Hutchinson
Michigan · DE · +600

Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall


Few defenders from the 2022 class will come into the league as game-ready as Hutchinson. He has NFL size (6-7, 264), strength and a relentless motor that will help him find production against offensive tackles unable to keep up with his pace. Hutchinson is able to impact both the run and passing games, and has quick hands that should help him acclimate more quickly to facing OTs at the pro level. The Lions' defense has a chance to be much better this season, and that improvement could amplify Hutchinson's case for DROY if he plays well.

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