DROY Chase Young

Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

  • Antoine Winfield Jr
  • Awards
  • Chase Young
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • DROY
  • Jeremy Chinn
  • L'Jarius Sneed
  • NFL
  • NFL Awards
  • NFL Honors
  • Patrick Queen
By Mitchell Wolfe January 9, 2021 0 Comment
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As the regular season draws to a close and the NFL season moves into the playoffs, it is time to start discussing awards. The NFL names an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year at the end of every season. This article lists five candidates who are most deserving of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Note: All statistics are from Pro Football Reference.

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Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team

16 games, 16 starts, 769 snaps at 74%. 44 tackles, 32 solos, 10 TFLs (t-8th most, 1st among all rookies), 12 QB hits, 7.5 sacks (t-13th, 1st among all rookies, next closest has 4). 4 forced fumbles (3 recovered, 1 returned for TD; t-4th most, t-1st among all rookies), 4 passes defended. 10 hurries (t-11th), 5 QB knockdowns, 23 pressures. PFF Grades: 87.2 Overall (6th among all edge rushers, 1st among rookie edges, 1st among all defensive rookies, 2nd among all rookies behind only Justin Jefferson). 80.4 Run Defense (7th among all edges, 1st among rookie Edges), 76.5 Pass Rush (19th, 1st), 82.6 Coverage (3rd, 1st).

Going into the season, many predicted or even assumed Chase Young would win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young was a Heisman finalist in his final year at Ohio State, a rare honor for another award that is almost solely the property of quarterbacks. The Washington Football Team selected Young with the 2nd overall pick, bringing the Maryland-native back home. Washington clearly expected him to be a vital cog in their remade 4-3 defense under new head coach Ron Rivera. Luckily for Young, he would be aided by one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, featuring four other first-round draft picks (Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat).

Young started hot, repeatedly getting to the quarterback in the first two weeks. He hit a bit of a rookie wall in the middle of the season. But during Washington’s stretch run to clinch the NFC East, Young heated up again, recording four sacks and eight QB hits in the final six games. He also forced four fumbles and recovered three (returning one for a touchdown) during that stretch. Young’s PFF grades were also stellar; his Overall grade was the best among rookie defensive players. He was elected to the Pro Bowl and was even awarded Dwayne Haskins’ captaincy after Haskins’ was cut. For all these reasons, Young is an excellent candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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Patrick Queen, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

16 games, 16 starts, 858 snaps at 81%. 106 tackles, 66 solos, 9 TFLs (t-9th most), 3 sacks, 10 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered (1 TD), 2 passes defended, 1 interception. 55 targets, 42 completions (76.4%), 3 TDs, 103.6 passer rating against, 2 hurries, 7 QB knockdowns, 12 pressures. PFF Grades: 29.8 Overall (worst among rookie LBs), 29.3 Run Defense (worst among rookie LBs), 30.0 coverage (2nd-worst among rookie LBs), and 72.5 Pass Rush (best among rookie LBs).

Patrick Queen experienced a meteoric rise during the pre-draft process. A relatively unknown, undersized, run-and-chase linebacker from LSU, Queen exploded onto the scene during the Tigers’ historic championship season. The Baltimore Ravens selected him 28th overall to be their next great inside linebacker. Obviously, Queen has a long legacy to live up to, but winning Defensive Rookie of the Year would go a long way towards meeting and exceeding expectations.

Based on normal statistics, Queen had a very good rookie season. He rushed the quarterback, made plays behind the line of scrimmage, and forced multiple turnovers. However, if you use some more advanced statistics, they tell a different story. The problem with using raw tackle numbers is they don’t tell you where the tackle is made. So a tackle that held the running back to a minimal gain is the same as chasing down a wide receiver 30 yards downfield. So this makes the number of tackles misleading. Furthermore, according to PFF, Queen really struggled in coverage and run defense. Queen’s struggles in pass coverage can be observed in his catch rate allowed (76.4%) and passer rating against (103.6). Luckily for Queen, PFF does not decide who wins Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

9 games, 6 starts. 410 snaps at 38%. 41 tackles, 31 solos, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 7 passes defended, 3 interceptions. 52 targets, 31 completions (59.6%, 3rd lowest among rookie defenders), 4.8 yards/target (8th lowest among DBs, 16th lowest among all defenders), only allowed 1 TD,  54.2 passer rating against (3rd lowest among DBs and lowest among rookies). PFF Grades: 73.9 Overall (19th among all CBs, 1st among rookie CBs), 73.8 Coverage (1st among rookie CBs), 69.4 Pass Rush grade (2nd highest among rookie CBs), 65.3 Run Defense grade (6th among rookie CBs).

If I told you that a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year only played 410 snaps in 9 games, you’d probably demand my resignation. But few rookies have produced in such little playing time like L’Jarius Sneed. Sneed was selected in the 4th round at 138 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was drafted as a safety, the 12th safety drafted, and the 27th defensive back. Sneed got off to a hot start, recording two interceptions in the first two weeks, before breaking his collarbone in Week 3. He was reactivated before Week 11 and played every game since.

Since he returned to the lineup, Sneed has played the majority of the defensive snaps and has produced at an incredible rate. Sneed has allowed a remarkably low 59.6% completion percentage the third-lowest among rookie defenders. Additionally, his 54.2 passer rating against was the third-lowest among all defensive backs and the lowest among rookies. Sneed also leads rookie cornerbacks in Overall PFF Grade. All of his grades also ranked in the top ten for rookie cornerbacks. No other rookie has played so well in such little time, which is why Sneed deserves consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year,

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Antoine Winfield, Jr., S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

16 games, 16 starts, 1034 at 97%. 94 tackles, 64 solos, 1 TFL, 4 QB hits, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 6 passes defended, 1 interception. 39 targets, 30 catches (76.9%), 17.5 yards/completion, 13.5 yards/target, 6 TDs, 147.2 passer rating against (worst among all defenders), 1 hurry, 2 QB knockdowns, 6 pressures. PFF Grades: 67.1 Overall (31st among safeties, 2nd among rookie safeties), 86.3 Run Defense (2nd among all safeties, 1st among rookie safeties), 80.8 Pass Rush (7th among all safeties, 1st among rookie safeties), 55.0 Coverage (71st/92 among all safeties, 3rd worst among rookie safeties).

Antoine Winfield Jr.’s pedigree along with his play make him a worthy candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Winfield’s name should look very familiar to NFL fans. His father played in the league for fourteen seasons and made three consecutive Pro Bowls for the Minnesota Vikings. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Winfield Jr. in the second round at 45th overall, and he immediately seized the starting free safety position.

Winfield Jr. played almost every snap for the Tampa Bay defense. He was a terror the closer he was to the ball. He created multiple turnovers and sacks. But Winfield also greatly struggled in coverage, which is frankly more important for a safety. He had the highest passer rating against (147.2), the tenth-highest yards per completion (17.5), and the fifth-highest yards per target (13.5) among all defenders. While he led rookie safeties in PFF Run Defense and Pass Rush, he was also the second-worst in Coverage, ranking 70th out of 91 eligible safeties. Because of these struggles, Winfield may not have produced enough around the line of scrimmage to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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Jeremy Chinn, S/LB, Carolina Panthers

15 games, 15 starts, 967 snaps at 91%. 117 tackles (t-16th among all defenders), 68 solos (t-21st), 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 5 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered (2 touchdowns), 5 passes defended, 1 interception. 64 targets, 47 catches (73.4%), 9.0 yards/completion, 6.6 yards per target, 6 TDs, 115.7 passer rating against. 3 hurries, 2 QB knockdown, 6 pressures. PFF Grades: 59.8 Overall (2nd worst among rookie safeties), 47.2 Run Defense (worst among rookie safeties), 62.2 Pass Rush (5th/7 rookie safeties), 65.4 Coverage (2nd highest among rookie safeties).

The 2020 NFL Draft included many positional hybrids. The most notable of these was Isaiah Simmons, a star defender from Clemson. In the later rounds, small school studs Jeremy Chinn and Kyle Dugger from DII Lenoir-Rhyne intrigued scouts and innovative coaches. Of the three, Chinn received the most playing time in 2020 and performed quite well.

The Carolina Panthers selected Chinn in the 2nd round pick at 64th overall from Southern Illinois. At 6’3″, 221 pounds, the nephew of Hall of Famer Steve Atwater played both safety and linebacker in the Panthers’ 3-3-5 defense. Chinn affected the game in many ways on defense, recording over 100 tackles, rushing the passer, stopping the run, and dropping into coverage. However, it will be hard for Chinn to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year due to his lack of splash players (1 sack, 3 turnovers forced).

Honorable Mentions: Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers; Alex Highsmith, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers; Cameron Dantzler, CB, Minnesota Vikings; Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears; Kamren Curl, S, Washington Football Team; Julian Blackmon, S, Indianapolis Colts.

Prediction for Defensive Rookie of the Year:

As detailed in a previous article, season-long awards are mostly based on statistics and winning. For Defensive Rookie of the Year, the former takes precedence over the latter. For Offensive Rookie of the Year, the choice was pretty clear, due to Justin Jefferson’s dominance throughout the season. Jefferson’s statistics dominated those of other rookies and even some veterans. My predicted winner didn’t necessarily stand above his veteran counterparts, but he certainly stood out amongst the other rookies.

Chase Young is my predicted winner of Defensive Rookie of the Year. Some may think Young failed to meet expectations in his rookie year. After all, the edge rushers selected in the top ten in the previous drafts (Nick Bosa, Josh Allen) turned in incredible rookie campaigns. But Chase Young still played very well throughout the year and elevated his game during Washington’s run-up to the playoffs. While other defensive rookies played well, they all seemed to have flaws. Whether they be statistical, analytical, or injury-related, all the other rookies paled in comparison to Young’s completeness and consistency. For that reason, Chase Young is my predicted winner of Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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I cover and write about the NFL, the NFL Draft, and the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Brawl Network. I am originally from Hershey, PA and was raised a Pittsburgh sports fan. I went to Boston College for undergrad and am currently finishing a Master's degree in Sports Business at Temple University, concentrating in Sport Analytics.

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