Three Linebackers Who Could Beat Out Chase Young for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

As we continue to wait for any news or information regarding the NFL’s plan for the 2020 season, Las Vegas hasn’t skipped a beat, releasing a plethora of “future bets” to their casinos as they, too, wait with anticipation for commissioner Roger Goodell to lay out the blueprint for this upcoming year. While things could change in a hurry, the outlook for at least playing football to any degree seems like a lock to come true with details still being ironed out.

As the countdown to football continues, I’ll be going bet by bet in a new article each week to give you the rundown of the heavy favorites along with my personal best-value plays. If you missed last week’s best 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates get caught up here. Today I take a deep dive on the best Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

No one in the entire NFL ended up with more draft picks than Rick Spielman and the Minnesota Vikings, who wound up making 15 selections plus a slew of undrafted rookie free agents, a new common era record. Nine of those were on the defensive side of the ball, but only one was taken with one of their first three picks, cornerback Jeff Gladney, who could carve out a starting role immediately despite the lack of OTAs.

Let’s jump into the DROY candidates, including Gladney who offers tremendous value at 40:1, along with his rookie teammate and linebacker Troy Dye from Oregon not far behind at 55:1.

Chase Young (Washington) +200

Isaiah Simmons (Cardinals) +450

Patrick Queen (Ravens) +900

Jeff Okudah (Lions)  +1200

Kenneth Murray (Chargers) +1400

Willie Gay Jr. (Chiefs) +1800

Javon Kinlaw (49ers) +2200

Derrick Brown (Panthers) +2500

Julian Okwara (Lions) +2500

Xavier McKinney (Giants) +2800

Jordan Elliott (Browns) +3000

A.J. Epenesa (Bills) +3000

C.J. Henderson (Jaguars) +3500

Grant Delpit (Browns) +3500

Jeff Gladney (Vikings) +4000

Kristian Fulton (Titans) +4500

Jaylon Johnson (Bears) +5000

Troy Dye (Vikings) +5500

Trevon Diggs (Cowboys) +5500

Akeem Davis-Gaither (Bengals) +6600

Curtis Weaver (Dolphins) +10000

Ashtyn Davis (Jets) +10000

Marlon Davidson (Falcons) +10000

At first glance it’s clear Chase Young is the hands-down favorite to walk away with the award for best defensive rookie in 2020. However, there’s a few things to consider before laying down the pink slip to your four-door sedan on the best pass rusher in the country.

For example, you may think because he was the No. 2 overall pick, first defensive player drafted and playing a position that caters to a plethora of sack totals is, at worst, a 50-50 chance at being the best defensive rookie in the league. And it’s true. Nick Bosa, another defense end, hoisted the trophy just last season. However, unless your last name ends with “Bosa,” only one defensive end has taken home the hardware since Julius Peppers nearly two decades ago in 2002.

In order for a pass-rush specialist like Young to thrive, his offense needs to put the team ahead late in fourth quarters where he can pin his ears back and do what he does best, get after the quarterback. The problem here is the Redskins were ranked dead last out of all 32 teams last season when it came to points scored, and after using their first pick on Young and trading their second-round pick last draft to move up for Montez Sweat (another edge rusher), the front office wasn’t able to address their offensive skill players until the third round.

That doesn’t exactly fill anyone’s tank with confidence that this offense will be much better in 2020. Meaning Young and the rest of the front-seven may be focusing on stopping the run more in the second half then they are getting into the backfield and after opposing quarterbacks. So despite his all-world talent and his inevitable success as a long-term NFL-caliber player, when it comes to punching this ticket, I’m passing on Young and looking for better value, specifically at a position that offers more bulk in the stat box.

Did you know, to start the 21st century, Brian Urlacher won the award in 2000 and started a run that would go on to see eight linebackers crowned DROY in the decade and 10 linebackers winning in 13 seasons? It’s no coincidence. With the award coming down to mostly stat-based votes, linebacker is the position that offers the most versatility for a player to collect and tally stats both in the running and passing game. In any given season while a standout defensive end could collect more sacks, his linebacker counterpart will tally a handful of sacks, as well as far more tackles and interceptions. Vice versa, a rookie player in the secondary will almost certainly record the most pass deflections and interceptions, but will only have a fraction of the tackles, tackles for loss and sacks when compared to a linebacker.

From a pure numbers perspective, linebackers are put in the driver’s seat, but as the league has slowly started to trend towards a pass-happy league, we’ve now seen just one linebacker win the award in the last five seasons (Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard in 2018).

Two defensive ends who thrived at exploding into the backfield and two stud cornerbacks made up the other four players to win over the five-year span (Joey Bosa, Marcus Peters, Marshon Lattimore and Nick Bosa). Each player took advantage of opposing offenses leaning more towards the pass than the run compared to recent years. With that trend likely to continue throughout the league you can find more value than ever when honing in on your DROY wager.

Here’s some more to chew on with my favorite value plays of the 2020 DROY lineup.

Isaiah Simmons, Linebacker, Cardinals (+450)

Simmons will give you over double the money back compared to the heavy favorite, and unlike Young as noted above, Simmons will play with an offense that will be in a lot of high scoring shootouts, meaning the box score will be ripe full of stats to be had for all.

Simmons was one of the most polarizing prospects to come out of the entire 2020 class with his freaky ability to line up all over the field like a chess piece. With Simmons you don’t have to worry about locking into one position as he gives you the value of playing at all three levels of the defense, providing a rare trifecta of tallying the statistics of an edge-rusher, linebacker and safety every single game.

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Simmons is such an important piece to the puzzle for Vance Joseph’s defense that he will undoubtedly be on the field for all three downs (if not all four as a special teamer), making an equal impact against the run and pass.

While Young may be the best pure pass-rusher we’ve seen come out of college in the last few years, when it comes to putting money on the DROY, Simmons offers far better value thanks to his rare versatility that will in turn equate to better all around stats, on top of nearly double the ticket payout.

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Patrick Queen, Linebacker, Ravens: +900 

If you’re a Vegas bomb like me you know odds like these are in a constant state of fluid motion, and nobody’s stock has risen from pre-draft to post-draft quite like Patrick Queen. Queen has been one of the fastest risers, moving to +900 after being selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the 28th overall pick. Queen could be had at an even better value around +1500 at the beginning of April. He’s considered by many to be one of the top two pure linebackers of the class along with Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray.

Much like his former teammate Deion Jones, who was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, Queen is a freaky athlete who lined up in multiple positions throughout his collegiate career, including cornerback, where he showed off his rare athleticism even more so for such a big, strong and bulky box defender. Queen stood out throughout the entire 2019 season but specifically shined during LSU’s National Championship run as one of the best pure sideline-to-sideline defenders on the field and any given time.

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What I love most about Queen is something that I put a ton of stock into when assessing each and every rookie, and it just happens to be something that’s completely out of their own control: Their landing spot and team surroundings. While Young pulled the stink card that read Washington across from an atrocious offense, Queen slid into an already formidable stout front-seven that was one of the best in the league last year. And that was before the additions of Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers. Queen has the rare luxury of playing behind maybe the best defensive line in the entire AFC. On offense, Queen will watch Lamar Jackson continue to develop while putting Queen and the Ravens defense in constant favorable situations with a lead.

When you put all the cards on the table, knowing a hundred dollar bet nets you a cool thousand dollars back in your pocket, it’s hard not to cash in those savings bonds circa 1992 that grandma gave you “for college” and roll the dice on Queen.

Kenneth Murray, Linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers (+1400)

As I mentioned earlier, in this pass-heavy league a cornerback like Jeff Okudah could have a major impact for the Detroit Lions, even as a rookie. However, like Queen, the surrounding cast worries me too much. Remember, with a bet like this, at the end of the day it’s which player you think can generate the most eye-popping stats. And as clean and dominant Okudah was on tape against top-tier competition for Ohio State, quarterbacks could easily just pick on the Lions second and third cornerback, leaving Okudah (and his stats) in the dust, despite the flattering compliment.

Murray, on the other hand, slides into the middle of one of the youngest and most talented defenses you’ll see on paper in the entire NFL. Lined up in front of him is another Defensive Rookie of the Year in Joey Bosa and behind him is DROY runner-up Derwin James who does a little bit of everything. Maybe most important of all, though, is the guy standing right next to him, veteran linebacker and Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram.

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Murray will have the luxury to quickly learn and adapt on the fly with shortened offseason camps from one of the best in the league to do it. Queen is more of the athlete who will excel at dropping back in coverage, collecting more pass deflections and interceptions, but also won’t pay out nearly as much at the cashier’s box. Murray, on the other hand, is a true downhill thumper who plays with lightning in his shoulder pads and holds the NCAA record for most tackles in a game with a video game total of 28. And that was just his sophomore season in 2018.

It’s worth noting with Murray that you risk the possibility he doesn’t stay on the field for passing downs during his first few games in the NFL. But there’s no question, from everything I’ve seen, by year’s end no rookie should have amounted more tackles than him, and at far better odds than Queen it could be a smart risk that’s worth the asking price.

Before you book your tickets to Vegas, or walk up to your nearest sports book, I’ll leave you with this: Of the 50 years the NFL has handed out the DROY, 23 — or nearly half the recipients — have been linebackers. And last year’s winner was a defensive end (Nick Bosa), meaning that history says that we are due for another linebacker in 2020. It’s science.

Simmons, Queen or Murray. Three linebackers with three unique and favorable situations to produce in a big way their rookie season. Pick your poison, and meet me at the craps table with my cut of the winnings this winter.

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

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