Rookies can make or break a team. Whether it is a playoff team that needs one final piece to compete or a rebuilding team that is counting on their investment to payoff, rookies can be just as important as established veterans. In this article we will look at defensive rookies. Defensive lineman, edge rushers, linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties will all be considered for this list. Without further a do, let’s get into it.
AFC North: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah- Cleveland Browns
It was somewhat of a surprise when JOK didn’t go in the first round only to find out he had a medical scare with his heart. Since then, those rumors have been put to rest and the former Notre Dame defensive standout’s trajectory is looking sky high. He is an ultra versatile chess piece who showed his speed and coverage skills in preseason.
AFC South: DE Kwity Paye- Indianapolis Colts
Out of all the defensive ends in the draft this year I would have told you that Kwity Paye is my pick to have the best career. Since being drafted Paye has shown some promise with a dominate training camp and preseason when healthy. On a defensive line with DeForest Buckner in the middle, Paye is going to get a ton of one on one looks to get to the passer.
AFC East: DE Gregory Rousseau- Buffalo Bills
I was a big hater of the Rousseau pick back in April and he is shutting me up with his caliber of play in the preseason and training camp. The Bills haven’t had a ten sack pass rusher since 2016 when Lorenzo Alexander posted 12.5 on the season. I think Rousseau is going to break the pass rushing drought in Buffalo and could be a staple in NY. I really hope he proves me wrong.
AFC West: CB Patrick Surtain II- Denver Broncos
Jaycee Horn was the best corner in the draft but I would bet a large sum of money that Surtain II will have the best rookie year. Surtain II is a pro ready press man cornerback who plays a physical brand of football and focuses on tracking the ball. I think both Horn and Surtain II will be incredible cornerbacks in this league, I just think Surtain II will find success sooner.
NFC North: DT Levi Onwuzurike- Detroit Lions
Rookie defensive tackles rarely find real success in their rookie season and Onwuzurike is definitely a low floor high ceiling player but he is also one of my favorite defensive lineman in this class. The Lions need to establish some big bodied pass rushers for their 3-4 scheme and I think Levi can be just that. I think either he has an astonishing season or he is shaking off the rust from opting out but I’d bet this guy is going to be pretty special in the near future if not his rookie year.
NFC South: CB Jaycee Horn- Carolina Panthers
My favorite cornerback in the draft this year was Jaycee Horn. His ultra aggressive and physical brand of man coverage locked up even the best of the SEC receivers and I expect it to continue in the NFL. Like I said, I think Horn will get off to a slower start than Surtain II because I think his aggressive style will get him in trouble early but once he gets the hang of it he will undoubtedly be one of the premier cover men in the league.
NFC East: LB Micah Parsons- Dallas Cowboys
At first I didn’t like this pick for the Cowboys because they had bigger areas of need plus they usually only play two linebackers at a time and have Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch. However, the more I think of it, the more I think that Micah Parsons is going to set the league on fire. In Dan Quinn’s defense Micah is going to steal a starting job fro LVE or Jaylon Smith almost immediately and will play in a role that utilizes all of his athleticism. I’d expect Parsons to become a combination of Devin White and Demario Davis’ play styles.
NFC West: LB Zaven Collins- Arizona Cardinals
Some people thought that the Cardinals taking Zaven Collins at 16th overall was too early but I was not one of those people. Zaven is a massive bodied linebacker who is best described as a “playmaker”. Whether he is blitzing, in coverage, filling his gap, beating a blocker, or going sideline to sideline, Collins always ends up at the ball and has a unique style of read and react football. I am very excited to see him playing next to Isaiah Simmons.