Making the transition from college to the National Football League is not supposed to be easy. And for NFL rookies, the vast distinction between the two levels is something you’ll figure out right away. The players are better, the game is faster, and the expectations are a lot higher. It doesn’t matter if you’re the No. 1 overall pick or the a bubble player fighting for a position on the roster, if you’re not willing to put in the necessary work, you will struggle mightily. As a player on the defensive side of the ball, this is especially true.
The NFL is a very pass-oriented league. The rules are made to protect the offense; the days of the overly physical defense are a thing of the past. Not all defensive rookies will be able to handle the demands of the National Football League. Of course, if they’re unable to compete at the highest level, they will be weeded out. However, some — even in their first season — will manage to standout and thrive among the rest.
As it is with most aspects of sports, the folks in Sin City like to predict who these individuals will be. Prior to the start of the 2015 season, the oddsmakers have already determined which players they believe have the best odds to capture this year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
If you’re familiar with this year’s draft class, most of the names on the list should seem pretty familiar. If that’s not the case, well, that’s what we’re here for. So with that in mind, here’s a look at who Vegas is betting on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
5. Randy Gregory, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys
- Odds: 14-1
Had it not been for a failed drug test at the NFL combine, defense end Randy Gregory had the potential to be a top-10 pick in the 2015 draft. He’s that talented of a pass rusher. Unfortunately, his off-the-field flags caused him to slide out of the first round. The Dallas Cowboys decided to take a chance on the former Nebraska standout, selecting him with the 60th overall pick. If Gregory can keep his nose clean, and play up to his potential, the Cowboys will have definitely found themselves with the biggest steal of the draft.
4. Vic Beasley, linebacker, Atlanta Falcons
- Odds: 10-1
Vic Beasley (pictured above right) is an explosive athlete with crazy ability coming off the edge. Per NFL media draft expert Mike Mayock: “Beasley’s easily the best athlete among the edge rushers. On Day 1, I think he’s going to be a situational pass rusher while he learns to set the edge.” If you take these abilities into consideration, it’s no surprise the Atlanta Falcons selected two-time Consensus All-American out of Clemson with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft
2. Stephone Anthony, linebacker, New Orleans Saints (Tie)
- Odds: 6-1
New Orleans didn’t select inside linebacker Stephone Anthony until the end of the first round (No. 31 overall), but we have to believe the club is super excited about its pick. Anthony has had quite an impressive training camp with the Saints, flashing power, athleticism, and a noticeable work ethic. While playing the Mike linebacker position, the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder out of Clemson has shown he’s ready to excel at the next level.
2. Erick Kendricks, linebacker, Minnesota Vikings (Tie)
- Odds: 6-1
Although he wasn’t taken until the second round — No. 45 overall — Eric Kendricks has already shown the Minnesota Vikings (and the opposition) why he was the recipient of the 2014 Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Whether it was against the run or in coverage, Kendricks was all over the field during the Vikings preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys this past Saturday. If he can improve as a pass rusher, Kendricks should be a major force in Norm Zimmer’s defense.
1. Leonard Williams, defensive lineman, New York Jets
- Odds: 4-1
Leonard Williams was considered by most to be the best overall player in the entire 2015 draft. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, the defensive lineman out of USC is big, powerful, and has the potential to be a force in the league for year’s to come. The fact that he fell to the No. 6 overall pick had to please the New York Jets — especially considering the trouble surrounding beleaguered star Sheldon Richardson. If he can live up to the hype — and avoid major injury — there’s no reason Williams shouldn’t run away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Odds are courtesy of sportsbook.ag.