2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Predictions: Should Bettors Take the Favorites?
Getty Images: Aidan Hutchinson (left) and Travon Walker.
It’s the final countdown before the NFL season, so it’s time to dig into some season-long awards picks.
I’ll be previewing each market over the next week and returning to these all season. Today we start with Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY), an award that isn’t exactly sexy but has some surprising value because of how overlooked the market is.
Let’s build a DROY winner profile, add a few notes about long shots we’ll keep an eye on, and zero in on three favorites to consider betting right now.
Be sure to check out all the other award picks if you haven’t already:
- Most Valuable Player (MVP)
- Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
- Coach of the Year
- Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
- Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
- Season Awards podcast ft. Gilles Gallant & Brendan Glasheen
Who Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year?
1. Unlike many other awards, favorites do tend to win DROY.
The last three DROYs started the year at +700 or shorter, among the favorites from the very start of the year. In fact, seven of the last 10 winners were +900 or shorter when the season kicked off. Only three players have odds that short heading into the new season, so that would narrow the field drastically.
2. This tends to be an award for pass rushers.
Six of the last eight DROYs tallied at least seven sacks their rookie season. It’s tough to find playing time quickly as a rookie and even tougher to put up enough numbers to make a noticeable impact, but it’s easier to flash a few times enough to tally some sacks.
Only two corners have won this award this century, and though this used to be a linebacker’s award, only one LB (Shaquille Leonard) has won this century. Look at the most recent three winners and the profile is pretty clear: Micah Parsons, Chase Young and Nick Bosa are pass rushers through and through.
3. Winning doesn’t seem to matter much.
Unlike some other awards, voters don’t expect one rookie defender to come in and work miracles. Winning and even team defensive metrics do not seem particularly important for DROY winners. Seven of the last 12 winners’ teams finished .500 or worse.
4. The single most predictive factor is draft position.
Every DROY this century was a top-39 draft pick. Nineteen of the 22 were taken in the first round, and 18 of them (82%!) were top-15 picks. Top 15! That’s a pretty narrow field. Heck, five winners since 2010 were top-three draft picks — and remember, we draft offensive guys too!
It makes sense, and it’s a bit of selection bias. The guys taken at the top of the draft are the best prospects, the most ready to play, and most likely to step into a bad team with an easier and surer path to playing time.
So what are we looking for?
We want a pass rusher that was a top-40 draft pick, likely top-15, and flashy plays matter much more than winning. It’s probably one of the favorites.
Let’s get to the names to consider…
9 Longshots To Keep an Eye On
EDGE Logan Hall, Bucs +6500
Hall was selected one pick outside of the first round, but he could get a rotation spot rushing the passer for a Tampa Bay defense that should be among the best in the league. He had six sacks last season and will get plenty of one-on-one matchups on a public team.
EDGE Sam Williams, Cowboys +6000
Williams was taken as the No. 56 pick, so he would be the lowest DROY winner this century and is a true long shot. He did explode for 12.5 sacks last season at Ole Miss, though, and is another guy who could get some chances at one-on-one pass rushing opportunities on a talented, public defense.
EDGE George Karlaftis, Chiefs +2000
Karlaftis is another name in a high-profile spot, and unlike the guys above, he joins a defense that isn’t loaded and one where he should get more quick reps. He’s looked good in the preseason and should get plenty of pass-rushing opportunities for a team that will likely have the lead a lot. Of all the guys in this section, this No. 30 pick would be my favorite long shot bet.
LB Devin Lloyd, Jaguars +2000
Lloyd was a first rounder for Jacksonville and should find easy playing time on a defense that needs the help, but remember, this is more of a pass rusher award than one for linebackers. Lloyd did have seven sacks and four interceptions last year in Utah, so you’d need some of those flash plays.
EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Jets +1600
Johnson was a late first-round pick and should get plenty of playing time for a Jets defense that was anemic last year, ranking dead last in PPG and with very little pass rush to be found. He had 11.5 sacks last year, and Robert Saleh has done well developing pass rushers, but Johnson has reportedly struggled to find his footing so far this preseason.
CB Derek Stingley, Texans +1400
Stingley was the No. 3 pick but does not look like a good bet. Corners rarely win DROY, and Stingley still does not look fully healthy and failed to record an interception or a sack in each of the last two seasons. He does have an easy narrative as Darryl Stingley’s grandson, but that’s probably not enough.
CB Sauce Gardner, Jets +1400
If you want to bet on one of the corners, Sauce is the better play. Taken at No. 4, Gardner is more of a playmaker and racked up nine interceptions in college. He’ll be on the field early and often for the Jets. He could steal a win with a couple high-profile pick 6s.
S Kyle Hamilton, Ravens +1200
Hamilton slipped to Baltimore at No. 14 and joins a talented defense. Safeties are being used more and more, with three on the field at times and in creative roles all over the field. Hamilton fits the modern mold in that way, but he didn’t have a sack at Notre Dame and only had eight interceptions. No safety has won DROY since 1990. Hamilton just doesn’t fit the usual profile.
LB Quay Walker, Packers +1100
Walker is another of the many Georgia first-round draft picks and steps in at inside linebacker for a team that desperately needs help against the run. Green Bay could be a great defense if the pieces come together, and Walker should have the chance to rack up tackles. He fits an old-school winner profile but isn’t as strong a fit in the modern era.
The Big Impact Unlikely Winner
DT Jordan Davis, Eagles +2000
The Eagles are a popular sleeper and could have a top-five defense. Davis is a physical freak at his size and has already looked unblockable at times. He can take up multiple bodies up the middle, stuff the run, and open things up for Philly’s deep cadre of pass rushers.
It’s possible Davis is the biggest impact rookie defender. He should be an analytics darling, and the Eagles could win double-digit games and contend for the division. Davis even got Heisman votes last year — as a nose tackle!
Alas, Davis also averaged 23 tackles and under two sacks per season at Georgia, and he’s just not likely to find enough stats to catch voters’ eyes. It doesn’t matter how good you are if the voters don’t reward you.
And that brings us to the three guys you should actually consider betting on…
The High Draft Pick Sack Masters
EDGE Travon Walker, Jaguars +900
Walker was the surprise No. 1 pick, a freak athlete the likes of which we’ve genuinely never seen before at the Combine. His combination of size, twitch, athleticism, and raw ability could make him a menace off the edge once he settles in — the question is how long that could take.
Walker recorded only 9.5 sacks in three years at Georgia. And though one could argue that’s because there was so much talent around him, remember that talent was also freeing Walker up for one-on-one opportunities. Still, we are looking for flash plays and there’s no one flashier.
EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Giants +900
Thibodeaux was long presumed to be the top edge rusher in the class before falling to No. 5. Still, he racked up 19 sacks in three Oregon seasons and comes with a terrific pass-rushing profile.
He joins a team desperately in need of pass rushers for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who loves to blitz early and often. Thibodeaux and sophomore Azeez Ojulari should get plenty of opportunities as often as New York will send them, so he’s a very intriguing pick.
But he’s a pick you can wait on, because Thibodeaux is out a month with an MCL injury. His odds should drop as he opens the season on the sidelines. Once he’s cleared, you may want to add Thibodeaux to your DROY portfolio.
The Rightful Favorite
EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Lions +600
Still, any right DROY portfolio should start – and maybe end – with Michigan star, Aidan Hutchinson.
You already know Hutchinson as the Hard Knocks “Billie Jean” singer from the season premiere, and don’t think that won’t help our case here since we’re betting on the No. 2 pick staying home in Michigan for a public Hard Knocks team looking to bite some kneecaps under Dan Campbell.
Hutchinson recorded 14 sacks last year alone and should get quick playing time for a bad Lions defense. A Big Ten player has won five of the last six DROY awards, and Hutchinson could add to the list.
Even as the +600 favorite at FanDuel, those implied odds are too low for a player who so perfectly fits the typical DROY profile. Hutchinson is a high-pick prolific pass rusher everyone knows, and favorites win this award.
Aidan Hutchinson is the favorite — and he’s the right pick to make. Let’s hope Billie Jean is right and Hutchinson is the one.