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2014 NFL Rookie of the Year Watch (Defensive)

By: Kyle Howe

This year's defensive rookie of the year watch has some serious star power. Clowney, Mack, Donald and more. Who will take the 2014 defensive rookie of the year? Click here for the Offensive Rankings.

Kyle Fuller Rookie Interception 1. Kyle Fuller (CB Chicago Bears)

In what was an impressive comeback win by the Bears over the 49ers on Sunday night, none of it would have been possible had it not been for Kyle Fuller. Fuller has been the most dominant rookie this season, without question. Through just two weeks of the season, Fuller has 12 tackles, two pass deflections, and two interceptions, both of which came from Chicago’s come from behind win against the 49ers. With Charles Tillman going down for the second season in a row with a torn tricep, Fuller immediately steps in and becomes Chicago’s number one corner. While the experience may not be there with Fuller, the youth and athleticism should allow Chicago’s secondary to not skip a beat as they go on without Tillman.

Khalil Mack Rookie of the Year 2. Khalil Mack (OLB Oakland Raiders)

In what was a disastrous home opener for the Oakland Raiders, the rookie first-rounder and second-rounder showed why there is a slight glimmer of hope in the future. Khalil Mack was not a monster according to the stat sheet, but when analyzing the tape on the first round pick out of Buffalo he was very impressive. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack finished with a grade of +4.4 (compare that to JJ Watt’s -1.7 on the day) and racked up six tackles, a pass deflection, and a quarterback hit and hurry. As we’ve said before, give this kid some time and he’ll be special. The issue with Mack currently is he plays on such an atrocious defensive unit it will be very difficult for this kid to showcase his skills, particularly once he begins to step his play up and finds himself running into several blockers per play. Although, in such a weak defensive rookie class, never say never, this kid could still run away with the DROY.

Ryan Shazier Steelers 3. Ryan Shazier (LB Pittsburgh Steelers)

After a strong week one showing against the Cleveland Browns, Ryan Shazier followed it up with another very solid week two performance against the Baltimore Ravens, tallying 11 tackles on the night. While Shazier had lapses in coverage, he was very good against the run in the performance and was very sharp shedding blocks and flying through the line, something he struggled with in college. Nights like these are what we expected from Shazier as he was a tackling machine in college, just don’t go calling this kid Luke Kuechly or Patrick Willis, he has a long ways to go before he is a complete NFL linebacker.

CJ Mosley Ravens Rookie 4. CJ Mosley (LB Baltimore Ravens)

Ryan Shazier’s rookie counterpart may have had an even better performance on Thursday night in the division matchup between the Steelers and Ravens, tallying nine tackles, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on the night. While the stat sheet was impressive for the rookie linebacker out of Alabama, there still is a lot of room for improvement, namely in pass coverage. Mosley made an exceptional play on Thursday night, forcing a fumble on Heath Miller and later recovering it, but he was beat far too often in coverage and bit on too many fakes by Roethlisberger. This kid is extremely talented and working with the Ravens staff, we know where he will be at by the end of the year though; the best is yet to come for CJ Mosley.

Aaron Donald Rams Rookie 5. Aaron Donald (DT St Louis Rams)

Defensive tackles are some of the most underappreciated players in the NFL unless they are recording sack after sack or showing uncanny strength like Ndamukong Suh. Proving my claim, Aaron Donald has been a rock for the St. Louis Rams so far this season, however due to a lack of stats his name has gone unmentioned for the most part. Donald has recorded positive grades in each of his two games this season, recording a +4.4 rating this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Pro Football Focus. Playing without Chris Long, the St. Louis Rams defense didn’t skip a beat this weekend, partly because of Aaron Donald’s performance. The only thing holding back Donald at this point early on in his NFL career is the lack of playing time (just 56 snaps through two games.)