Impact rookies are what take playoff teams, and turn them into championship teams. They can also pull a franchise that is stuck in the mud out back into relevancy. The 2020 NFL Draft was full of talented prospects top to bottom, but today we are going to focus on the defensive side of the ball. I am going to list my Top 5 candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year, along with one honorable mention as well.
Honorable Mention – Javon Kinlaw
The 49ers defensive line was the best in the NFL last year, and when they traded away DeForest Buckner, I thought that might change. Then they drafted Javon Kinlaw. On pretty much any other defensive line, Kinlaw would draw double teams pretty quickly, but you can’t do that with the 49ers. Kinlaw will have the opportunity to be a real problem down the middle for offenses. The reason he is here and not on the list though is the fact that there simply will be so many other great defensive lineman doing the same thing for the 49ers. Even Solomon Thomas, their rotational defensive lineman, is going to get his when subbed in. It is a gift and a curse being on such an incredibly great defense.
5. Grant Delpit
While Delpit might have not been the first safety taken this year, the defense he was drafted to is the reason why I think he has the best chance amongst them. Cleveland is currently pretty stacked on defense, particularly in the secondary now, putting Delpit into a defense filled with stars already will only allow him more opportunity. People forget how talented he really is, and how versatile of a defender he can be for the Browns. I believe his tackling issues in 2019 were more of a fluke than an actual lack of being able to tackle, but he will have to prove it in the NFL.
4. AJ Epenesa
Last year they selected Ed Oliver in the Top 10, and he had a successful season. Now with Oliver commanding the double teams, offenses will show Epenesa one on one looks more often and he will hopefully be winning those battles. If you look at some of the past 1st and 2nd place candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year, you see something in common with a lot of them. They’re placed into defenses that were already good, and their impact makes them great. That is something that I think AJ Epenesa can for the Buffalo Bills. Not only will this defense compete for being the best in the NFL, the Bills now have a chance to win the AFC East with Brady leaving the Pats
The Ravens knocked this draft out the park, and it started with Patrick Queen. One of the biggest reasons the Ravens got trashed by Derrick Henry and Co was because of the lack of talent in the middle. Boy did the Ravens fix that this off season. Their defensive line is revamped and should be creating plenty of opportunities for Queen to make plays. Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike are one of the heaviest defensive lines in the NFL, and will make an instinctive linebacker like Queen’s job a lot easier. I would expect big tackle numbers, with a great possibility of tackles for loss. Patrick Queen is set up to have an impactful rookie season, on one of the top defenses in the NFL. He will be blitzing, stopping the run, but his ability to make plays in coverage might set him over the edge for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Arizona Cardinals defense had a few holes to fill this off season, and Isaiah Simmons fills them all. The Cardinals defense was pretty much last in every statistical category last season, and if Isaiah SImmons comes in to fix that, it will lead to wins for this young team. He can help Jones rush off the edge, he can line up in the middle to stop the run or play out as a safety to cover anytime of possible mismatches. Simmons has the possibility to fill up the state sheet, and impact the game all over the field. Not to mention the fact he is the perfect counter when facing quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, or Russell Wilson. Last year Arizona had an Offensive Rookie of the Year; could they have a Defensive one this year?
1. Chase Young
Chase Young is going to be the best rookie this season. I wish there was more to it, but he isn’t just the best prospect from the 2020 NFL Draft, he is playing against the NFC East’s offensive lines. The Giants best offensive lineman is a rookie. The Cowboys tackles are good when healthy, just rarely healthy, and the Eagles are going to have to find a replacement for veteran left tackle Jason Peters. He has plenty of ways to get after the quarterback already, and he also has the strength to just bull rush you wherever he pleases. The Redskins defensive line is deep enough to force teams to pick which guy isn’t double teamed, and if that guy is Chase Young, it’ll be a tackle for loss. I find it hard to believe Chase Young not becoming the fourth Buckeye in five years to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.