The 2022 NFL Draft was stuffed with defensive talent. The first five players off the board included three pass rushers and a pair of cornerbacks, all of whom are early favorites to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. But don’t just focus in on those players. There are plenty of other defensive talents who could easily play their way into the conversation. Here’s a look at some of the favorites as well as a few sleepers to keep your eye on this season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Favorites
Aidan Hutchinson might not have the ceiling of a few other players in this group, but he’s a master technician who rarely makes a mistake. He’s ready to go on Day 1, and he shouldn’t have any problem leading the Detroit Lions in sacks this season. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the pass rusher picked after Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, to win the rookie of the year award either. The New York Giants defensive end may still be a little raw in his overall game, but he’s a terrifying pass rusher who’ll benefit from playing in the NFC East.
The first overall pick, Travon Walker, might need some time to develop, but he steps right in as the second-best pass rusher the Jacksonville Jaguars have. It’s unlikely he’ll be limited to third downs and passing situations given his draft status. Plus, his versatility to play on the inside or out can create nightmare matchups with opposing teams.
Pass rushers get all the love, but don’t be surprised if Ahmad Gardner plays his way into the conversation. He won’t get trophy love for shutting down his side of the field, but had three interceptions in each of three college seasons. If he can show off his playmaking chops, he could take home some hardware. Derek Stingley Jr is another corner to keep your eye on. He had six picks in a single season three years ago, but the concern here is that his play was up or down in limited appearances over the last two seasons.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Sleepers
It’s hard to think of Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton as a sleeper in this category, but with +1000 odds, he sort of is. He can play just about anywhere in the backfield, and he’s going to be a regular on weekly highlight reels. Hamilton also has a knack for the ball, making eight interceptions in 31 games during college.
Kansas City Chiefs pass rusher George Karlaftis should slot right in as a starter opposite Chris Jones. That’s good news for his production this year, as offenses will be focused on Jones, leaving Karlaftis to terrorize the other side of the line. A three-down player with a bull rush capable of tossing aside tackles, he could easily surprise us with some impressive sack totals this season.
Prepare to see plenty of clips of Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie running down ball carriers. For that matter, don’t be surprised if he’s rolling up a fair number of sacks too. He’s an aggressive player who should fit nicely in Dean Pees’ defense.
2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year odds, post-draft
|Jermaine Johnson II||+750|
|Derek Stingley Jr||+900|
|Andrew Booth Jr||+2000|
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