Defensive Tackle: Da’Ron Payne; 26 Tackles, 3 TFLs, 3 Sacks. Pre Draft Ranking: DT2
Da’Ron Payne was one of the least talked about 1st rounders coming into to the season. Maybe it was because many thought (including myself) the Redskins reached when they selected him with the 13th overall pick. However, the Alabama product has been everything and more that they could’ve hoped for. His stats aren’t eye popping but defensive tackle play is hard to measure through the numbers. You have to evaluate this position by watching film. I have watched a good bit of Payne and let me tell you. He has been freaking disruptive.
Over 8 games Payne has shown that he consistently two gap, take on double teams, and hold up the line of scrimmage with excellent leverage against the run. Don’t believe me, maybe this stat will change your mind. The Redskins were last in the league in defending the run last season. Allowing 134.1 rushing yards per game. Well Da’Ron Payne is really the only new acquisition to this defense, and they are now 5th in the league in defending the run. Allowing 89.4 rushing yards per game. I am not saying Payne has been the sole reason for this improvement because they did get Jonathan Allen and Zach Brown back from injury. However, he has clearly made a significant impact.
Lastly, for how impressive he has been against the run, he has also shown that he can be disruptive on passing downs. The demand for 3 down interior defenders is at an all time high in today’s pass heavy NFL. Every team is looking for the next Aaron Donald. Now Payne’s pass rush ability isn’t close to Donald’s, but he has been more than capable of getting pressure on the QB on long and late downs.
Honorable Mention(s): BJ Hill, Pre-draft Ranking: DT9 and Mo Hurst: DT3
EDGE: Bradley Chubb; 30 Tackles, 9 TFLs, 8 Sacks. Pre-Draft Ranking: EDGE1
Bradley Chubb has really ramped up his production over recent weeks after a slow start. He has done well in run defense, but his number of sacks is what really jumps out at you. However, don’t let his stats completely fool you. When watching all of his sacks, I noticed that 3.5 of them came off stunts and straight hustle. I know what you are thinking “sacks are sacks,” and I agree to some extent. All sacks should be appreciated. Yet, winning those 1v1 reps to get the QB are really the type of sacks that reflect a player’s skill (meaning the defender beats the man in front of him to get the sack). Sacks that come off stunts usually happen because of scheme, and hustles sacks almost always stem from bad Quarterback play. Which is why it is so important to provide context when using stats to justify how a player is playing.
With all of that being said, Chubb has still been very solid. He has 4.5 sacks by winning 1v1 reps, which leads all rookies. Many thought (including myself) he was the most pro ready edge rusher in the 2018 class, and through 9 weeks he has proven that claim true. His nuanced technique has really started to flash, using a variety of moves that a lot of other rookies just don’t know to do. I think he will continue to build off his impressive performances as the season goes on with more reps. Yet, it is clear that Chubb has been the best rookie edge defender thus far. Rightfully earning a spot on my all rookie defensive team.
Honorable Mention: Harold Landry. Pre Draft Ranking: EDGE3
Linebacker: Darius Leonard; 88 Tackles, 7 TFLs, 4 Sacks, 2 FFs. Pre-Draft Ranking: LB5
If you were to ask me (before the season) who would have the most tackles through 9 weeks. I definitely would not have guessed a rookie from South Carolina State by the name of Darius Leonard. Welp, I would’ve been wrong because he currently leads the NFL in tackles with 88. Out of all the rookies, Leonard has surprised me the most. Which is weird because I liked him a good bit before the draft. However, I thought he we need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL (coming from small school competition). I could not have been more wrong because he has hit the ground running, and has looked better in the pros than he ever did in college.
He is processing much faster at the pro level. Which is really crazy if you think about. Considering this trait is the hardest to master as a rookie. I usually hate to use the number of tackles to indicate how a Linebacker is playing. However, this statistic actually applies to Leonard because he always around the football making plays.
Honorable Mention: Fred Warner. Pre-Draft Ranking: LB8
Cornerback: Denzel Ward; 3 Ints, 9 PPUs, 40 Tackles, 1 FF. Pre-Draft Ranking: CB2
Many people criticized the Browns for taking Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb. I was one of those people, and I am here to admit that Ward has made me and many others look foolish. Sure, they could’ve used another pass rusher opposite of Myles Garrett, but they desperately needed a true number one corner and that’s exactly what they got in Ward.
He has been extra sticky in man coverage, and instinctive/reactive in zone. Also, for a smaller DB, he has been more than willing to tackle in run support. All in all, Ward has shown why he was the most complete Corner in this class, and I should’ve been higher on him before the draft.
Honorable Mention: Jaire Alexander. Pre-Draft Ranking: CB4
Safety: Derwin James; 55 Tackles, 1 int, 6 PPUs, 4 TFLs, 3.5 Sacks. Pre-Draft Ranking: S2
When Derwin James was drafted by the Chargers. I called the marriage between him and Chargers’ Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley a match made in heaven. Why? Because Bradley was the D Coordinator for the Seahawks during the “Legion of Boom” era, and he put Kam Chancellor in the best positions to succeed, a guy who is very comparable to James. Which is why I loved the fit so much. I have been right about Bradley putting James in the right positions to succeed, but have been wrong about those specific positions. Let me explain.
I thought James would be best as a Strong Safety, and to no surprise he has been amazing at that position. The guy is an enforcer when defending the run, has been the most effective blitzing Safety in the league, and is excellent when covering Tight Ends in man coverage. Yet Bradley hasn’t limited him to that one role. The Chargers also have let him play a lot of single high Free Safety. Now I never thought that James couldn’t be a Free Safety. I just thought he would be best suited as a Strong Safety, where he could play closer to the line of scrimmage. I was wrong again because he has been equally as good at FS.
His range, ball skills, and route recognition have been off the charts. I know that he only has one interception, but he is still making plays on the ball on tape. James has been everything you could want in a Safety, and his versatility has put him in a league of his own. When I say versatility. I don’t mean just because he “can” play both roles he is versatile. It’s because he is playing both roles at an exceptional level. James has my vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and is on his way to becoming one of the best Safeties in the league.
Honorable Mention: Jessie Bates
- “Pro Football Statistics and History.” Pro-Football-Reference.com, www.pro-football-reference.com/.