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Breakdown of the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

Cowboys CB Matchups

There is no doubt that the defensive talent in the 2022 NFL Draft has shown out in their rookie years. The prior three years, the award has been one by productive pass-rushers, Micah Parsons (2021), Chase Young (2020), and Nick Bosa (2019). Prior to that, the last true linebacker to win the award was Darius Leonard in 2018, while the last defensive back to win the award was Marshon Lattimore in 2017. Let’s take a look at the candidates to win the 2022 defensive rookie of the year award.

Breakdown of the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

Honorable Mentions

The 2022 NFL Draft saw a near 20% of first-round picks being defensive backs. Who knows, should Derek Stingley Jr. and Andrew Booth Jr. have played more games, the top five selections may have been defensive backs.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jordan Davis and New York Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux both have been exceptional players, but injuries hinder their odds. Davis has played in 11 games (five starts), whereas Thibodeaux has started all 13 games he has played in but has had games where he has been a non-factor. Nevertheless, both returning healthy during their respective team’s December playoff push gives them a chance to boost their chances.

Lastly, it is worth noting the performance of Detroit Lions rookie linebacker James Houston. A sixth-round pick, Houston didn’t appear in a game until Week 12. Yet, in five games, Houston has totaled five sacks, eight quarterback hits, and a fumble recovery on just 77 total snaps. Should these players have seen more time on the field, they all may have been considered for the 2022 defensive rookie of the year award.

Linebacker Quay Walker

Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker is an incredibly athletic linebacker who has deflected six passes in 2022. He has played in 15 games this season and has started all but one of those. As the Packers 2022 injury crisis has overwhelmed their defense, making Walker’s role has become increasingly important. He became the Packers MIKE linebacker when All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell suffered a knee injury in October. Campbell was quoted as saying “I’m proud of where he is at this point” in September before he suffered his injury.  

Walker leads the team with 106 tackles, with five being for a loss as well as 1.5 sacks. In coverage, the Georgia product has given up a rating of just 60.8 and has yet to give up a receiving touchdown. Perhaps more notably, Walker’s impressive campaign has calmed fans down regarding the Packers refusal to draft a first-round receiver. 

Safety Jalen Pitre

The only rookie to have made more tackles than Walker is Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre. Wracking up an impressive 126 total tackles, Pitre has been phenomenal on a lackluster Texans defense. He even leads all NFL safeties in tackles, ahead of Giants Julian Love by six. The 37th overall pick also has a sack, forced fumble, and a fumble recovery to his name.

Not only Pitre has been a tackling machine, but he has been a playmaker in pass coverage. His four interceptions are tied for the third-most in the league, with only two rookies having more. Pitre also has seven pass deflections as well.  

Safety Jaquan Brisker 

The 48th overall pick by the Chicago Bears, Jaquan Brisker has been a stud performing above the level of the rest of his team. Brisker is second on the team in tackles (86), first in sacks with four, and has played 100% of snaps across 13 games (all starts). Considering the Bears struggles with getting after the passer, Brisker has been a Jamal Adams-type playmaker for the Bears. Additionally, Brisker has an interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and a pass deflection too.

Cornerback Tariq Woolen

No rookie has more interceptions in 2022 than Seattle Seahawks Tariq Woolen. His six interceptions are tied fo the league lead while being tied-fourth in pass deflections at 14. Starting all 15 games played, Woolen has also forced a fumble and recovered two others. His impact isn’t limited to the defense though, as he has played 103 special teams snaps and even blocked a kick.

Selected 153rd overall out of UTSA, Woolen has emerged as a fan favorite in the Pacific Northwest. He’s earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie and will be a building block for Seattle for years to come.

Edge Rusher Aidan Hutchinson

For the Detroit Lions, number two overall pick Aidan Hutchinson is looking like everything the team dreamt he’d be. To begin, the Michigan product leads all rookies with seven sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and 24 pressures through 15 games (all starts). Not only his productivity as a pass rusher is making the Jacksonville Jaguars look foolish for passing on him but his playmaking ability as well.

Hutchinson has been a game-wrecker when at his best, logging two interceptions and two pass deflections as well. He also has a fumble recovery to his name as well.

Cornerback Sauce Gardner

Without a doubt, the leading candidate for the award is New York Jets corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. From the moment he arrived in Florham Park, the fourth overall pick has left his mark. So much so, that by Week 15 against the Lions, the opposing quarterback avoided throwing at him altogether. Playing 99% of defensive snaps and starting all 15 games played, Gardner has 65 total tackles, a league-leading 16 pass deflections, and two interceptions. The Cincinnati product has lived up to his draft status and more, earning the top Pro Bowl spot amongst cornerbacks in the fan vote, and a potential All-Pro bid.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images


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