hi-res-c87631d868681bbc541adc363d0881db_crop_north.jpgPhoto Credit: Bleacher Report

The AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year race is one of the best award races in the NFL. Before getting into the piece, let’s congratulate all these rookies, this is one of the strongest defensive rookie classes in years. Four of these players made huge impacts on their team and the AFC: Denzel Ward, Derwin James, Bradley Chubb, and Darius Leonard. All have had amazing rookie campaigns and could win DROY in any other year. Let’s start breaking down the race.

First, it is important to explain what we are grading. Winning rookie of the year isn’t necessarily about being the most talented or even best rookie, but who had the best season. It is like the MVP race in the NBA, while LeBron is the best player in the NBA, he does not put all his energy into the regular season and saves himself for the playoffs. That is smart, but also he does not earn the MVP because he does not have the best season.

Fourth on my list of DROY race is Denzel Ward. Let’s remember that all of these rookies are exceptional and will have great futures. Denzel Ward was arguably the Browns best player in the secondary. He started the year with three interceptions in five games and continued to lock down half of the field the rest of the season. He had a huge impact on every game, but he does not have the stats nor the game-changing ability of the other players on this list.

The third is Bradley Chubb. He might have the highest upside of any player in the NFL. Chubb finished with 12 sacks as a rookie and stopped Von Miller from being constantly double teamed. Only four rookies ever had more, and all four had huge NFL careers. Chubb has the ability to be a game-changer right away, but with the strong rookie class did not have the best season of all.

The silver medal of sorts goes to Derwin James. James actually had an incredible season leading the defense for one of the best teams in the NFL. With 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions, Derwin made plays at every level on defense. He flew around the field the way few players can. He was one of the best players at his position and right with Chubb for the most talented rookie. In ANY literally ANY other year, he would’ve been DROY easily. Sadly for him, he might have been one of the best in his position, but the winner had the best statistical season of any defensive player.

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Darius Leonard. The DROY belong to Darius Leonard. This is no knock on any of the others on this list, but 163 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumble recovery’s is just part of the story. He had 7 sacks on just 44 blitzes and helped lead one of the most improved units in the NFL. Entering the year the Colts were projected 5-7 wins by most, because of a lackluster defense at best. The Colts ended up finishing with a top 10 defense thanks to Darius Leonard flying around the field leading the NFL in tackles by over 15, oh ya and he missed a game. Darius Leonard had a season for the ages, and might not have the talent or upside as James or Chubb, but deserves the award for this incredible season.

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