Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, the 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, set a high standard for those who follow. A second-round pick out of South Carolina State, Leonard set defensive team records for a rookie player, including most tackles in a single season (163). Leonard also became only the second first-year player to have more than 160 tackles and seven sacks in one season.
Nicknamed The Maniac, Leonard’s success is due not only to his talent, but also a Colts defensive scheme drawn up by another Indy rookie, defensive coach Matt Eberflus. Eberflus, a former linebacker’s coach for the Cowboys orchestrated a Colts defense that rose from 30th in the league in defensive yards allowed, to 11th in 2018.
Aligning talent with opportunity, here are three candidates for 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa was the second pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, joining a team on the rise. Even before selecting Bosa, the team used previous draft picks to select Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas. Adding even more depth, the Niners traded a 2020 second-round pick to Kansas City for veteran linebacker, Dee Ford.
Bosa, a rangy, powerful pass rusher, will fit in nicely at DE with the freedom to use his speed and other athletic gifts to harass opposing quarterbacks. Team GM John Lynch, a former defensive star, will ensure his team’s linebackers and defensive backfield will be up to the challenge of playing in a tough NFC West.
Greed(y) Is good
Andraez (Greedy) Williams is the latest defensive back from Louisiana State University, an NFL pipeline for corners and safeties. The Louisiana native hopes to follow in the all-pro footsteps of Patrick Peterson, Tre’Davious White, Eric Reid, and Tyrann Matthieu (aka The Honey Badger).
Williams left the Tigers after his sophomore year to enter the draft, and the Cleveland Browns took him in the second round with the 46th pick. The Browns are on the upswing with the addition of the often-energetic Odell Beckham Jr. and second-year QB Baker Mayfield.
Williams not only was disappointed that he was not selected in the first round—seven defensive backs and corners were selected ahead of him—the former LSU standout is quite unhappy about his profile in Madden 20. Williams vows to force EA Sports to change his rating once he becomes a star in his rookie year.
Another Steeler smasher
The 10th pick in the 2019 draft belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers. True to form, the team that once boasted a Steel Curtain, went for a true smash mouth defender, Devin Bush Jr., a linebacker from the University of Michigan. Bush, the son of former NFL safety Devin Bush Sr., is noted for being one of the hardest hitters in college ball.
The Wolverine standout — a winner of every major collegiate linebacking award — joins a franchise noted for its great linebackers. As such, the Steelers often feature their speedy linebackers in blitz schemes and in coverage. Bush will fit the black and gold like a glove and have a chance to join former Steeler linebackers Kendrell Bell and Jack Lambert as former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year winners.