Defensive Rookie of the Year awards tend to go to players who fill up the stat sheet with gaudy numbers. In the past eight years, the trend has swing away from impactful inside linebackers — who won the award five out of six years from 2004 to 2009 — over to edge rushers and cornerbacks.
Recent winners Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Peters were among the league leaders in interceptions and pass breakups as rookies. Edge rushers Von Miller and Joey Bosa were sacking quarterbacks with regularity in their first years. Even a few interior defensive linemen like Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh won, but they were pocket collapsers who recorded nine and ten sacks respectively as rookies.
There was a two-year blip in that trend earlier this decade. Luke Kuechly is the rare inside linebacker who can take over a game and run-stopping lineman Sheldon Richardson beat linebacker Kiko Alonso in a 2013 class that had no star pass-rushers or corners. But in 2018, there should be plenty of pass-focused defenders who should vie for this year’s award.
The Green Bay Packers have two of the top options.
According to online sportsbook Bovada, first-round pick Jaire Alexander has 18:1 odds to win this year’s award, putting him in a four-way tie for the 8th-best odds. Coming up a few spots back is his teammate, second-round cornerback Josh Jackson, who sits alone in 12th with 20:1 odds.
One of the reasons that the books value their chances highly is because both are talented ballhawks. As a sophomore in 2016, Alexander intercepted five passes and forced a fumble. He only picked off one pass in 2017, but that was due to missing half the season with an injury and teams rarely throwing the ball in his direction.
Jackson’s 2017 was even more impressive, as he lead all of college football with eight interceptions and he recorded another 18 pass breakups and a forced fumble. Jackson also took two of those picks back for touchdowns.
The two players were the second and fourth cornerbacks selected in this year’s draft. Denzel Ward, who went 4th overall to the Browns, is tied for fourth in overall odds at 14:1. The third corner, Mike Hughes of the Minnesota Vikings, was picked in round one at 30th overall but is tied for 24th in ROY odds at 40:1. That puts him behind a host of second-round cornerbacks, including Jackson, Carlton Davis (63rd overall, 33:1), Donte Jackson (55th, 33:1), and MJ Stewart (53rd, 35:1).