In the 2020 NFL Draft, multiple franchises made a big impact on the defensive side of the football. The question now becomes, which of these young talents will make an immediate impact in 2020? The talent is there for a majority of these players but circumstances like playing time, scheme fit, and veteran leadership can determine a player’s effectiveness in year one. These circumstances can impact a player’s transition to the NFL. Let’s look at which of these rookies has the best chance at finding success in 2020. Here are the top ten candidates for the 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- Chase Young, Defensive End, Washington Redskins- The odds on favorite is Chase Young, who has a rare combination of power and speed when rushing the passer. He will be a starter on day one, is a great fit as a 4-3 DE in Washington, and will be surrounded by veteran leaders to show him the ropes. I expect Young to finish the year with double-digit sack numbers. Chase Young is the odds-on favorite to win.
- Isaiah Simmons, Linebacker, Arizona Cardinals- With his versatile skills Isaiah Simmons will be a great fit for the scheme in Arizona. Simmons has the potential to make the biggest impact on a game. Whether it be in pass coverage, the run game, or rushing the passer. Simmons projects to be an instant starter, and is surrounded by veteran talent like Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson who will teach him how to be a professional early on. Simmons should be in the discussion for DROY throughout 2020 if healthy.
- Jeffery Okudah, Cornerback, Detroit Lions- As the top CB in the class, Okudah will get a chance to prove himself right away. The pressure should be immense in Detroit, but he will have the chance to be their plug and play number one CB. His coverage versatility will make his transition to the next level seamless and will allow him to be a good fit in any scheme. The key for Okudah will be if he can handle the immediate pressure to succeed. It will be tough, but with the veteran leadership of Desman Trufant, Okudah will have a player to show him the ropes of being a professional. He should be a front runner for DROY if he can produce numbers in the coverage game.
- K’Lavon Chaisson, Defensive End, Jacksonville Jaguars- For being one of the later picks on this list, Chaisson’s chances of winning the award should be solid. He is a player that reminds me of a mixture of now teammate Josh Allen, and last year first rounder Brian Burns. With this skill set and versatility, I expect Chaisson to get to the QB early and often in year one. He has all the tools to thrive in either a 4-3 or 3-4, but his main responsibility needs to be a pass rusher. With the issues the Jaguars are having with outspoken veteran DE Yannick Ngakoue, who has been clear about his desire to leave, one of the starting DE spots should be open for Chaisson by week 1. If not, he may not start right away which slides him down the list one spot for me. I also worry about how young that defensive line is because the veteran leadership could be lacking in that room in 2020. He has the talent to compete for DROY but the question is, will he get a fair shake to succeed early in Jacksonville?
- Javon Kinlaw, Defensive Tackle, San Francisco 49ers- The move to trade Deforest Buckner to Indianapolis, and then replace him with a player who has a similar ceiling, is odd to me but also a smart financial move for the organization. Kinlaw has all the physical tools to be the plug and play replacement for Buckner in in week one. In my eyes, he is the best DT in the class from a pass rush perspective. He has more power and speed versatility to win his battle and chase down the QB. This will put him in position to have double-digit sacks with ease on that stack defensive line the 49ers have. I expect players like Dee Ford to show Kinlaw the ropes, but hopefully one of the younger players, like Nick Bosa or Arik Armstead, can teach him to not go offsides. With his perfect fit in the scheme, and talent around him, I fully expect a productive year for Kinlaw in both the pass rush and run-stuffing phases of the game.
- Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers- With Derrick Brown, his case for the award might be difficult to make since he is a bigger DT. The award candidacy for Brown will live and die with his sack production. Brown will have to dominate and put up double-digit sacks. This is a necessity to compete for the award with more flashy players at positions like DE, CB, and LB. I have him under Kinlaw because I worry about the leadership in Carolina and don’t feel that Brown will receive as much guidance from elite veteran players as Kinlaw should.
- Patrick Queen, Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens- This player was my draft crush and the biggest steal in the draft at pick number 28. Luckily for Queen, he went to Baltimore where he is the perfect fit for the Ravens scheme at MLB. This move will give the Ravens a LB with superstar potential like we have seen in the past with guys like CJ Mosley and Ray Lewis. With his elite coverage skills, and his upside as an all-around MLB, I see Queen as the top pure LB in the class and expect him to start on day one in Baltimore. Combine his talent with the veteran leadership around him from Matt Judon, and newly acquired Calais Campbell and Queen should have all the guidance needed to transition well into the NFL. He is a sneaky candidate for DROY thanks to his variability and elite coverage skills as the hybrid LB everyone is searching for these days.
- Kenneth Murray, Linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers- One of the shocks of the draft was to see the LA Chargers trade for the 23rd pick with New England and select Murray. This move shows that the Chargers are committed to trying to stop the Chiefs with defense. With his elite pass cover skills, and aggressive downhill ability, Murray will be a day one starter in LA, who has all the tools to be a big impact in year one. The physical nature of his play, and his prototypical size and coverage ability make him scary. His scheme fit in LA will allow him to cover and play fast in front of that great secondary highlighted by Derwin James, and that defensive line with the pass rush duo of Bosa, and Ingram. Look for Murray to make a big impact immediately and produce in both coverage and as a tackling machine. I expect Murray to live up to his first-round expectations, considering the fit and what the talent around him will give him the freedom to do.
- C.J. Henderson, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars- In recent years we have always seen the Jacksonville Jaguars prioritize quality CB talent. They got back to doing so by drafting Henderson at number nine overall in the first round. He is a defensive coach’s dream, considering his ability to create turnovers. In my eyes, he is the best CB on this list, and will have the most ball production in 2020. He is a player that reminds me a lot of Marcus Peters with the way he attacks the ball. He will be CB number one in Jacksonville, so the opportunity to produce will be there. What puts him so much lower on my list than Okudah is that he is a one-man-band in Jacksonville and won’t have the veteran leadership around him like there is in Trufant in Detroit. I think his situation will limit his production, but I expect him to be the best CB in this class that can fit in the Jacksonville scheme and create turnovers early on. I expect him to only have a chance if he can put up big interception numbers in year one.
- Willie Gay Jr., Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs- Now some people may view me as biased on this pick, but I truly believe that Gay Jr will have one of the biggest opportunities for playing time as a rookie. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has already stated that Gay Jr. was their favorite LB in the coverage game. His combination of size, physicality, and speed makes him the perfect weak side LB in Spagnuolo’s scheme. Despite the defensive growth the Chiefs saw last year, the team was always missing one piece. This piece was an elite level coverage LB with sideline-to-sideline speed in the run game. That is how I would describe Willie, he has elite level potential in his coverage game, and that aggressiveness to play sideline-to-sideline and improve the team’s run defense and pass defense on day one in Kansas City. The big concern with Gay Jr. was his off the field issues in college. I do not see that being an issue thanks to the great leadership on the Chiefs defense in Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, and Frank Clark. To be able to get the player you wanted all along in the second round that fits your defense’s two biggest needs is fantastic for the Chiefs. Now it will be up to Willie Gay Jr. to stay mentally focussed, walk the straight and narrow, and take advantage of being a plug and play lB for the Chiefs day one. I anticipate both production in the pass coverage game and a large number of tackles for Willie in year one, which makes him a sleeper for the defensive rookie of the year award.
DROY Favorite- Chase Young
DROY Sleeper- K’Lavon Chaisson
DROY Deep Sleeper- Willie Gay Jr
DROY Award Winner Projection- Chase Young