Ranking the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates for 2014

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Who is Athlon's pick to be NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in '14?

Ranking the NFL Defensive Rookies of the Year Candidates for 2014

Four rookies went to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Three played on offense and they all were from the NFC North — the Packers' Eddie Lacy, the Bears’ Kyle Long and Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson. The lone defensive Pro Bowler was San Francisco thumper Eric Reid.

However, the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year was Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The former Mizzou star and first-round pick (13th overall) was just the second non-linebacker to win the DROY award since 2002 (Ndamukong Suh in 2010). A linebacker has taken home nine of the last 11 DROY honors and no defensive back has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1998.

Additionally, the last seven DROYs were not only first-round picks but were all top-15 selections. DeMeco Ryans in 2006 was the last NFL DROY taken outside of the first round (33rd overall). So the best bets for 2014 ROY on defense would have to be a linebacker or a defensive lineman taken in the first half of the first round.

With that in mind, here are our favorites for AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014:

Note: Odds courtesy of Sportsbook.com

1. C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore (15/1)
He was taken with the 17th overall pick — basically, the halfway mark — and plays a pure linebacker position for a defense traditionally built around the position. Mosley is incredibly instinctual, will stuff the stat box, will play on a team pushing for a division title and/or playoff spot and should start from the first week of the season. Mosley is already a high-profile name after two national championships at Alabama, so he should be a household name quickly on the NFL level as well.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston (2/1)
Both literally and figuratively, the biggest name in the ’14 draft class is the star defensive end from South Carolina. The No. 1 overall pick could play a variety of spots for the Texans and is the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors according to Vegas lines. Clowney is a physical specimen the draft hasn’t seen since Julius Peppers won ROY a decade ago. With J.J. Watt opposite of Clowney, the Texans' hybrid pass-rusher has a great chance to live up to the remarkable hype.

3. Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh (8/1)
From a playmaking standpoint, few players were as good in college as the former Ohio State Buckeye. Shazier posted 144 tackles, 23.5 for a loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles last year. He was taken in the top 15 (15th) and lands on a team that is known for developing linebackers. Look for Shazier to play all over the defense, to stuff the stat sheet and find himself in the heart of the ROY race at year’s end.

4. Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland (4/1)
Mack is an explosive edge player that may get lost on  a really bad team. The former Buffalo Bulls linebacker could finish with admirable stats — 50 tackles, 12.0 TFL and 8.0 sacks, for example — and still not find himself atop the ROY charts. Playing in the Bay Area on a bad team is a recipe for obscurity. Barring a monstrous first season, Mack won’t win Rookie of the Year honors despite what many believe is electric playmaking ability.

5. Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis (8/1)
The former Pitt Panthers nose guard posted arguably the most productive and decorated single-season in NCAA history for a D-lineman. He won every award and posted 59 tackles, 28.5 for a loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while stepping up in competition from the former Big East to the ACC. And with opposing offensive lines focused on Robert Quinn and Chris Long, Donald has a chance to have a Richardson-like season in St. Louis.

6. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Green Bay (25/1)
Few safeties step into a better situation than Clinton-Dix in Green Bay. He will learn alongside a great player in Morgan Burnett and comes from a school known for producing elite defensive backs. Clinton-Dix will start from day one and has a long track record of elite talent (five-star recruit) and big-time success (two-time NCAA champion). It’s tough for a defensive back to win the award but a playmaking safety in Titletown might be the best bet.

7. Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota (10/1)
Barr is a lengthy, prototypical hybrid edge rusher who was a terror getting after quarterbacks at UCLA. He posted 23 sacks over the last two seasons and has only been playing defense for a few seasons after entering college as an offensive player. Barr will have some development to get through but his size, athleticism and playmaking ability on a defense that is rebuilding quickly should make him a factor in the ROY race next year.

8. Deone Bucannon, S, Arizona (40/1)
On a team with an excellent front seven and plenty of other playmakers in the secondary, Bucannon has a chance to step right into a starting role and make a huge impact. What will make Bucannon a candidate for ROY, however, will be his highlight-reel hits. The former Washington State Cougars safety is arguably the hardest thumper in this class and his game film will stand out among most rookies.

9. Dee Ford, LB, Kansas City (15/1)
Normally, a first-round defensive lineman for the Chiefs would be a recipe for disaster but Ford should break that mold. First, he will play both end and linebacker but his bread and butter in college was rushing the passer. He will make plays off the edge for a team that is loaded with first-round picks all over the defense. He won’t be asked to be a star — which will help him develop into a better player but likely won’t get him into the ROY conversation.

10. Calvin Pryor, S, NY Jets (25/1)
As previously mentioned, defensive backs rarely win the ROY award but there is a trio of safeties in this class who are excellent players stepping into big roles on quality teams. Pryor is one of them as he should start right away for the defensive-minded Jets. He was a big-time winner and produced at an elite level for a Louisville team that won a lot of games during his career (try 23-3 in the last two seasons).

Other names to consider:

Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago (15/1)
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas (40/1)
Timmy Jernigan, DE, Baltimore (30/1)
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati (20/1)
Bradley Roby, CB, Denver (25/1)

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