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- Derwin James and Darius Leonard are now the favorites to win the 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award
- Will James break a longtime trend of safeties not winning the award?
- Can Leonard continue at his league-leading tackle rate?
Two unlikely candidates have emerged as favorites to win 2018 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
With ten of the past 11 winners being drafted in the top 15 overall, Chargers’ safety Derwin James (17th overall) and Colts ILB Darius Leonard (36th overall) had much longer odds this offseason.
Bovada Odds to Win 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Their play after four weeks has seen their odds to win 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year shorten dramatically, especially in Leonard’s case, making them online sports betting sites’ top two picks.
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Will the Chargers Have Their 2nd DROY in 3 Years?
Chargers’ management seems to have an eye for defensive talent as it was only 2016 when Joey Bosa took home DROY honors. Now James finds himself as the favorite to win the award this year.
James has immense talent, but to win the award he’ll have to break a streak that dates back to 1990 as the last time a safety has won.
#Chargers rookie Safety Derwin James has a sack or an INT in each game this season. 4 in a row.pic.twitter.com/tUuLNTyGrT
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 30, 2018
James has been involved in an impactful play each game so far, with three sacks and one interception. Of any rookie who has recorded an INT so far, he is the only one to also be wreaking havoc in the opponent’s backfield in the sack department as well.
James ranks seventh among rookies in tackles with 26
With 26 combined tackles he ranks seventh in rookie tackling, as well. Impressive as that may be, this is where Leonard has him beat by a large margin.
Leonard Tackling at Historic Rate
Leonard has reeled off double-digit tackles each of the past three weeks. His 54 combined tackles place him not only first among rookies, but a whole eight tackles above the next closest player in the entire NFL.
Darius Leonard leads the #NFL in tackles with 54, which is the most through the first 4 weeks since 2005 pic.twitter.com/2WegriXHbg
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) October 2, 2018
On a Colts defense that was supposed to be devoid of impact players, the second-round pick from South Carolina State has emerged as an early star. The first month of his NFL career impressed enough to win him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September.
Leonard has recorded a sack in each of the past three games and his four total sacks lead all rookies and ties him for sixth overall in the league.
7 Tackles for Loss
2 Pass Breakups
1 Forced Fumble
1 Fumble Recovery
He's THE MANIAC for a reason. Congrats @dsleon45! pic.twitter.com/9lTUBvUDw4
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 4, 2018
History favors the ILB position a bit more, with Luke Kuechly being the last at the position to win DROY in 2012.
But Leonard’s stats through four games blow Kuechly’s out of the water through a similar timeframe. Kuechly recorded only 25 combined tackles without any sacks in Weeks 1-4 in his rookie season. By that comparison Leonard almost looks to be easy money if his current pace continues.
Who’s the Best Bet for DROY?
I liked James for DROY back when his odds were +1400, so now that he’s impressed enough to be favored, I don’t see much reason to change my opinion. That being said I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of a bet on Leonard as the league’s top tackler.
Derwin James has been the NFL's highest graded rookie safety by a comfortable distance so far this season. pic.twitter.com/VoxqM2yf5a
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 3, 2018
But the season is young and anything can still happen, including injuries. Leonard left last week’s game in a walking boot and is questionable for Week 5 with an ankle injury. For that reason I want to throw out another little talked about player when it comes to DROY betting.
Linebacker Fred Warner of the 49er’s has been equally impressive as any rookie so far. The third-round pick from BYU has 43 combined tackles which is second in rookie tackles and third overall. A bet on Warner is still paying +4000 at Bovada.
ICYMI: Film room: How Fred Warner became the most important player on defense [@rjmadrid] #49ers https://t.co/KJagb7ABeQ
— 49ers Webzone (@49erswebzone) September 28, 2018
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