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With training camps well underway all around the National Football League, and preseason games due to begin imminently, it won’t be long before names are being thrown around as potential candidates for all sorts of end of season accolades. With that in mind, here are your (very) early Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.
Shariff Floyd – Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings can count themselves lucky that Floyd fell all the way to them with the 23rd pick, and the former Florida man could well make an instant impact. As a defensive tackle, Floyd led Florida in tackles for loss in 2012, and will certainly help improve Minnesota’s defense against the run, if he can emerge from training camp as a starter. Although Floyd was not considered one of the most prominent pass rushers from the interior in college, the presence of Jared Allen and Kevin Williams on the same defensive line could draw a lot of attention, and allow Floyd to wreak havoc on unsuspecting offensive lines.
Star Lotulelei – Carolina Panthers
Like Floyd, Lotulelei could benefit from playing on a successful defensive line, and the threats of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson on the edge, could allow Lotulelei to flourish on the interior. Concerns over a potential heart condition may have caused Lotulelei to fall further in the draft than many expected, but the Tongan is arguably the most NFL-ready rookie at the defensive tackle position, and should help improve the Carolina’s defense against both the pass and the run.
Jarvis Jones – Pittsburgh Steelers
If Jones can see off competition from Jason Worilds and earn himself a starting spot with the Steelers, there’s no reason he won’t be able to put up the numbers necessary to make him a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The Pittsburgh defense may be ageing, but it is still one of the best units in the league, and Jones could make himself an integral part of it. Jones can get to the quarterback, track down running backs in the backfield, and has a penchant for forcing fumbles. Needless to say, expectations are high for Jones, and there are few better places for him to realize those expectations than in Pittsburgh.
Eric Reid – San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco’s offseason was a perfect example of the rich getting richer, and although no one expects Reid to instantly play at the same level as recently departed safety Dashon Goldson, he can certainly have an immediate impact. Reid’s playmaking ability will be helped by a dominant pass rush in San Francisco, and he could help the 49ers improve their turnover differential of +9 from the 2012 season.
Johnathan Banks – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Banks may not have stolen the headlines in the same way Tampa’s other defensive additions have, but he certainly should benefit from their arrivals. Quarterbacks will be reluctant to throw the ball in the directions of Darrelle Revis or Goldson, and with Eric Wright recently released by the Buccaneers, Banks should see plenty of the ball. Providing Tampa can put more pressure on the passer than last season, Banks could shine against oppositions’ number two receivers, whilst Revis attempts to take their primary receivers out of the game.
Arthur Brown – Baltimore Ravens
There are few shoes bigger to fill in the world of sport than Ray Lewis’, but second round pick Brown should do good job of filling that void in Baltimore. The former Kansas State man will help improve Baltimore’s defense against the run, which uncharacteristically struggled last season, but also has the speed to cover tight ends in the passing game, and consequently should be on the field for the majority of Baltimore’s defensive plays.
A number of players deserve honorable mentions, but didn’t make the final list due to competition at their spot from within their own rosters, a lack of talent around them at key positions, having to transition to a new position in the NFL, or a combination of the three; Dion Jordan (Miami Dolphins), Barkevious Mingo (Cleveland Browns), Margus Hunt (Cincinnati Bengals), Desmond Trufant (Atlanta Falcons), Kenny Vaccaro (New Orleans Saints), Tyrann Mathieu (Arizona Cardinals).
Photo Courtesy of Rick Burtzel