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N.F.L Rookie Watch (Defensive)

Updated: January 2nd

By: Kyle Howe

2013 hasn't been a banner year for defensive rookies in the NFL, but that doesn't mean there aren't players out there who aren't major contributors to their teams. See who has been most impressive this year. Click here for the Offensive Rankings.

Kiko Alonso Rookie NFL Bills 1. Kiko Alonso - LB Buffalo Bills

The Bills defense was one of the biggest surprises in the league this year; finishing second to only the Carolina Panthers in sacks this season. With limited additions on defense, it’s tough not to give credit to Kiko Alonso for the Bills defensive turnaround. While Alonso registered just two sacks on the season, he was one of the league’s best linebackers in coverage, recording four interceptions (2nd amongst rookies), and was a tackling machine, recording 159 tackles (3rd in NFL). Alonso proved the doubters wrong this season after many thought he wasn't physical enough to play MIKE Linebacker. Now, with a strong supporting cast surrounding him in Buffalo, the Bills appear to be just a few chips away from contending for an AFC East title.

Sheldon Richardson Rookie of the Year 2. Sheldon Richardson - DT/DE New York Jets

Sheldon Richardson took a page from the Rex Ryan handbook when he called himself the defensive rookie of the year ‘without question’. While Richardson has had a phenomenal season, he's not going to win the award because he's a five technique defensive end in a 3-4, and they just never get the credit they deserve. Nevertheless, Richardson still falls in our top two DROY candidates simply for the impact he had on the Jets defense, as well as the number of tackles he recorded on the season (77), which ironically is the same amount as safeties Matt Elam and Eric Reid. With Rex around for at least another year, expect the Jets defensive line to continue to dominate up-front, collapsing pockets and shutting down running lanes. Richardson and his ‘Gang Green’ defensive line are the real deal.

Eric Reid Rookie of the Year 3. Eric Reid - Safety San Francisco 49ers

In what was somewhat of an up-and-down rookie season, Eric Reid finished the year with a bang! Against the Cardinals in week 17, a game with major playoff implications, Reid recorded 10 tackles and a pass deflection on the day as the 49ers went on to win and clinch the number five playoff seed in the NFC. While Reid makes some rookie mistakes, the kid is a rock and plays the game with intensity one would expect to see from an elite safety in today’s NFL. After finishing the season with 77 tackles, fifteen pass deflections, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles, Reid will be a key piece to the 49ers playoff run. Who needs Dashon Goldson???

Ziggy Ansah Rookie of the Year 4. Ziggy Ansah - DE Detroit Lions

There was no better athlete in this year’s draft than Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah. But while scouts and analysts were in love with his athleticism, they were equally critical of his experience and ability to pick up the game after starting for just one season at BYU. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh, whom he calls his ‘African Brother’ (Suh’s grandparents are from Africa and Ziggy grew up there). Ziggy got off to an incredible start, recording 2.5 sacks in his first three games, but injuries slowed down the Lions rookie midway through the season. Even so, Ansah went on to tally eight sacks in his rookie season, a number which exceeded most expectations. His learning curve was nowhere near what we expected, and he certainly is well on his way to reaching his amazing potential.

Tyrann Mathieu Rookie of the Year 5. Tyrann Mathieu - CB/S Arizona Cardinals

For the Cardinals, Sunday’s loss to the 49ers had to have been tough after missing out on a playoff spot, and at the hands of a play Tyrann Mathieu easily could have defended. As Quinton Patton snagged the ball from out of the air to get the 49ers within field goal range as the clock was winding down to the last few seconds, the Cardinals saw their playoff hopes slip away right before their eyes. Had Mathieu been on the field for that play, he would have impacted that catch one way or another. For the Cardinals and their fans, they should soak up the feeling of a 10-win season and be thrilled for a future which features Tyrann Matheiu and Patrick Peterson. Mathieu missed the final month with an ACL tear, which shows you just how great he was when he was out there.