2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Bobby Wagner and Casey Hayward leading a crowded race for the award

Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Sure, Andrew Luck and RG3 are cool, but the defensive rookies from the 2012 NFL Draft deserve some love.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will always be the first names that come up when discussing the 2012 NFL Draft. Whether it is this year or 20 years down the line, the two franchise-altering quarterbacks will be the topic of conversation.

But 2012 rookie class has provided the league with instant impact players on defense as well. While RG3 appears to have the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award locked in, the Defensive Rookie of the Year race is just getting started.

Let's take a look at the updated leading candidates for the award.

Bobby Wagner, Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

Out in the Pacific Northwest, a former Utah State linebacker is playing a huge role in one of the league's most dominant defenses. Bobby Wagner, a second round pick, has quickly become a leader and playmaker for the Seahawks. Linebackers have historically had an inside track to rookie of the year because of the quick learning curve, and Wagner is proving that to be true.

Casey Hayward, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers

The teams that are consistently competitive in the NFL find star players after the first round. It looks like the Packers have done that once again, snagging Casey Hayward late in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Hayward already has four interceptions on the season and has proven himself as a reliable cover man for a Green Bay secondary that was in need of young talent. Ted Thompson has done it again.

Chandler Jones, Linebacker, New England Patriots

Has anyone else noticed that the Patriots front seven is a completely different animal in 2012? First round pick Chandler Jones is a big reason why. Bill Belichick has found ways to effectively utilize Jones' elite athleticism and allow him to make plays. Through the seven games, Jones has five sacks and three forced fumbles. He's been a difference maker from day one.

Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, St. Louis Rams

NFL teams were concerned about Janoris Jenkins' laundry list of character concerns, causing him to fall to the Rams in the second round. Thus far. Jeff FIsher has gotten the most out of the former Gator. He has shown flashes of being a dominant, shut down cornerback. Jenkins has made a few too many mistakes to top the list, given how difficult it is to win the award as a cornerback anyways.

Mark Barron, Safety, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers turned some heads when they draft Mark Barron over Morris Claiborne in the top ten of April's draft, but Barron has quickly become one of the most consistent playmakers in Tampa's secondary. His athleticism and physicality have led to immediate production from the former Alabama defensive back. Barron has forced two turnovers this season and piled up 42 tackles thus far, but his impact goes beyond the stats.

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