Sunday, May 26, 2024

NFL Rookie Defenders: Ranking the Top 5 Early Contenders

HomeSports NewsNFL Rookie Defenders: Ranking the Top 5 Early Contenders

The fresh blood has arrived in the NFL, and this rookie class is oozing with defensive talent ready to take the league by storm. After an absolute offensive bonanza in the 2024 draft’s opening round that saw a historic 23 offensive players come off the board, several defensive studs still managed to land cushy gigs primed for them to burst onto the scene with rookie campaigns for the ages.

As the summer days grow hotter and the 2024 season kickoff comes into view, let’s run down the five rookie defenders who look positioned to set the year ablaze and have Defensive Rookie of the Year squarely in their sights.

  1. Edgerrin Cooper, LB, Green Bay Packers

You can’t spell “linebacker” without the letters L-B, and that’s exactly what Cooper will be asked to do for the Packers – lay the boom. The 45th overall pick was the first off-ball thumper to hear his name called, and Green Bay’s linebacking room got picked clean over the offseason. That opens the door for Cooper to stake his claim as a rookie starter from the jump.

While Cooper has some warts to his game, he’s a hard-hitting, high-motor guy who could compile gaudy tackle numbers if fed a full complementing snaps. Only Luke Kuechly and Shaquille Leonard have taken home Defensive Rookie of the Year as off-ball linebackers over the past decade-plus, with the award trending towards pass rushers andDBs of late. But if Cooper eclipses 100 tackles, he’d thrust himself firmly into the conversation.

  1. Laiatu Latu, Edge, Indianapolis Colts

You know that game “Two Truths and a Lie”? Well, here are three facts about Latu: He was the first defensive player drafted in 2024, he’s a menacing edge presence, and he’s actually a pineapple in a football uniform. Two of those are true (we’ll let you decide which is the lie).

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The 15th overall pick, Latu landed in an utterly juicy scenario to make an instant impact in Indianapolis. The Colts return a frightening interior duo of DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, two disruptive forces who will make life a living hell for opposing offensive lines. Latu should benefit tremendously from the chaos created by that wrecking crew up front.

While he may initially rotate with guys like Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, Latu’s elite pedigree as a first-rounder gives him a clear edge for an expanded role if he flashes his immense skills early. In a defense designed to induce pressure and nightmares for QBs, Latu could author a Rookie of the Year-worthy debut in short order.

  1. Jared Verse, Edge, Los Angeles Rams

Speaking of defensive fronts undergoing a major facelift, look no further than the L.A. Rams after Aaron Donald’s retirement. Losing a destructive force of that magnitude would typically spell doom, but Les Snead’s front office is banking on an extreme youth movement to help fill the cavernous void.

Enter Verse, the productive edge prospect from Florida State who has already displayed a remarkably high floor as a pro-ready player despite not wowing with top-tier athletics. Joining 2022 draftee Byron Young, who had a fantastic rookie season himself, Verse should have no shortage of opportunities from day one as the new kid on Los Angeles’ defensive line block party.

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If Verse can turn that extensive playing time into steady-eddie sack and pressure production off the edge, he could play his way into being one of the final Rookie of the Year contenders standing. He may not have the most elite physical traits, but Verse’s mature game and high-floor skill set could make him an early contributor and stat-stuffer for Hollywood’s new-look defense.

  1. Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Philadelphia Eagles

After sliding towards the backend of the first round, Mitchell may have inadvertently landed in CB Valhalla with the Eagles and their stupidly stacked defense. Philly’s front seven is an absolute nightmare already with Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, Nolan Smith, and newly-added freak Jalen Carter rushing from every angle.

For Mitchell, a self-proclaimed ball-hawk who constantly found himself around the rock in college, that’s essentially like being a kid in a candy store. The sheer volume of pressures that terrifying pass rush generates is going to result in plenty of errant, ill-advised throws and turnover opportunities. If Mitchell can make the most of those gift-wrapped chances, he could author a Rookie of the Year-type of takeaway binge on the back end.

It’s the quintessential “life comes at you pretty fast” scenario for opposing QBs. One second they think they have a clean pocket, the next they’re getting decleated by a ferocious rusher as the ball is sent helter-skelter towards a roaming Mitchell who’s already calculating his Offensive Rookie of the Year speech in his head.

  1. Dallas Turner, Edge, Minnesota Vikings

The top dog. The head honcho. The crème de la crème. However you want to put it, all signs point to Turner being the overwhelming favorite to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2024. Not just because of his immense talent as a uber-athlete who can wreak havoc off the edge or drop back in coverage, but also due to his utterly delicious landing spot in Minnesota.

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Turner simply could not have asked for a more perfect situation. The Vikings run an ultra-aggressive, blitz-heavy defensive scheme under coordinator Brian Flores that is designed to create abundant pass rush opportunities from all angles. For a player of Turner’s enticing skillset who can line up in a variety of roles, it’s an absolute cheat code scenario to make plays all over the field.

While established vets like Andrew Van Ginkel and Jonathan Greenard give the Vikings quality depth, there’s little doubt who the marquee attraction will be from day one. Turner is expected to immediately step in as the team’s go-to pass rushing force off the edge, with a clear path to tons of playing time and prime chances to make his immense talents felt in a scheme catering to them. Barring an absolute stunner, Turner should enter 2024 as the heavy-betting favorite to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year.

No matter how the 2024 season unfolds, one thing is certain – this rookie defensive class is loaded with high-end talent stepping into plum situations to make an immediate impact. From Ball-Hawk City in Philly to the blitz circus in Minnesota to Los Angeles’ new youth renaissance, it has all the makings for an absolutely electrifying Defensive Rookie of the Year race. Buckle up, folks.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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