Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

June 12, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward (29) catches a ball during the team's mandatory minicamp at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

The NFL season is fast approaching and it is time to start looking at our preseason award candidates. I recently wrote about my picks for Offensive Rookie of the Year and now its onto the defense. The 2012 NFL draft was considered an offensive heavy draft which is seen with the first five picks all being offensive players. However, there are still a plethora of talented defensive players that could make big impacts in their rookie seasons. Here are 8 possible Defensive Rookies of the Year.

1. Morris Claiborne, CB, Dallas Cowboys (Round 1 Pick 6)

  • Claiborne was the top rated defensive prospect in the draft and the Dallas Cowboys traded up 8 spots to take the talented corner. Claiborne combines great size and speed and has a knack for making plays. Claiborne will likely compete for the number 2 corner spot in Dallas and plays in a pass happy conference so he will have tons of chances to make plays for Dallas.

2. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (Round 1 Pick 9)

  • Kuechly is a ball-hawk linebacker who can make a dozen tackles in a game and be disappointed. It would not be shocking to see him break the single season rookie tackles record this year and if that was the case, he will likely run away with the defensive rookie of the year award. He is currently the favorite to start for the Panthers at MLB and if he wins that job, he could have 100+ tackles.

3. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills (Round 1 Pick 10)

  • Gilmore was known as a ball-hawking DB with poor tackling skills. Because of his poor tackling skills, teams will likely try and throw at him more and hope for broken tackles. However, that will also likely increase his chances at interceptions and he could very well have a Devin McCourty like rookie season where he does a bad job covering people but he racks up on interceptions.

4. Bruce Irvin, DE, Seattle Seahawks (Round 1 Pick 15)

  • Bruce Irvin was considered a Day 2 prospect at best but shockingly was taken with the 15th pick in the draft. I was always very high on him because of his pass rushing abilities and he could easily get 8 to 10 sacks this year. He is a gifted pass rusher with incredible athleticism and while he does not stop the run at all, he could still get some consideration for DROY because of his pass rushing skills.

5. Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots (Round 1 Pick 25)

  • Jones is a versatile player who landed in a perfect system for himself. He will be able to play RE on the Patriots and just rush the passer all game long. His long arms and great athleticism will give him a good chance at sacks. He will also likely be able to rack up the tackles because he is capable of playing the run as well.

6. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Baltimore Ravens (Round 2 Pick 35)

  • Upshaw was originally drafted to spell Terrell Suggs and compete for the other OLB job but with Suggs achilles injury, he will now be asked to lead the Ravens linebackers to a ton of sacks. If he stays focused and improves on his weaknesses (pass rushing), he could get 6 to 8 sacks and maybe 60 to 80 tackles and really make a strong push at DROY. The success or failure of Upshaw will be a huge factor in the Ravens success as a defensive unit this year.

7. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks (Round 2 Pick 47)

  • Bobby Wagner was one of my favorite prospects in the draft because of his all around talent at every facet of the game. He is a good pass rusher as well as a great tackler and he has incredible instincts. If he is able to win the starting job, he could push for 100 tackles this year.

8. Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers (Round 2 Pick 62)

  • Hayward is my sleeper for DROY this year. He is an absolute ball-hawk and was the only player on Vanderbilt that instilled fear in SEC quarterbacks. He is stellar in man coverage and has awesome hands and if the Packers can get their pass rush back to their Super Bowl season level, then Hayward will have plenty of chances at interceptions.
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