clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: A quick look at the top candidates

A number of rookies made an immediate impact on defense this year, and the race for 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year is pretty far open.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

A lot of discussion has centered on the intrigue around the 2012 Rookie Offensive Player of the Year as a trio of rookie quarterbacks each made huge impacts on the field and led their teams to the playoffs.

On the defensive end the field is pretty wide open with a host of defensive rookies making instant impacts on the field as well.

Here is a quick look at the four favorites to win the 2012 Rookie Defensive Player of the Year award.

SB Nation's complete Super Bowl XLVII coverage

Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

Kuechly led the league in tackles with 164, the first time a rookie has accomplished the feat since San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis terrorized offenses in 2007. Kuechly started out a bit slow, but once he moved to middle linebacker by the beginning of October he was a force on the field. He rattled of six straight weeks of double-digit tackles from Oct. 21 to Nov. 18 and finished like a crazed maniac in December, averaging 11.8 tackles a game. On top of all that, he had two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and deflected eight passes. On weight of sheer numbers alone, Kuechly made the biggest impact on the field.

Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, St. Louis Rams

Jenkins might have the least flashiest of all the major contenders, but the young, troubled player the St. Louis Rams took a flyer on in the second round turned out to be a quite productive player for their defense. Jenkins finished the year with 73 tackles, four interceptions, four touchdowns and 13 pass deflections. He tied Charles Tillman for the league lead in interceptions returned for touchdowns and led the league with four non-offensive touchdowns. But as Turf Show Times points out, the best case for Jenkins is that while his numbers were lower, he did it against the top competition.

But, Jenkins was opposite of the other teams' best wide receivers, and not making plays against slot receivers. Especially, when the season first started. There was no reason to target Cortland Finnegan, when there's a young rookie corner on your star player. So when you consider who Jenkins was playing against, his numbers are comparable, to the other defensive backs.

Casey Hayward, cornerback, Green Bay Packers

The Packers second-round pick moved from fourth-string bench warmer to instant playmaker in a dramatic fashion, getting his first career interception against the Indianopolis Colts covering Reggie Wayne. The following week, he snared two of Matt Schaub's throws. All the while, Hayward was moving around the Packers secondary due to numerous injuries. He finished the year leading all rookies with six interceptions, which was also good for fifth in the NFL. His 21 pass deflections were good for third in the league and only three behind Richard Sherman, the league leader. As ACME Packing Company noticed, Hayward's restraint and maturity on the field was almost more exciting than his rookie statistics.

Equally impressive as his ball skills was Hayward's coverage ability without being penalized. Hayward didn't take a penalty during the entire regular season, nor did he allow a touchdown pass.

Bobby Wagner, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

Wagner led the Seahawks in tackles with 140 and finished second amongst rookies behind Kuechly. Based on individual numbers alone, Kuechly had the better year, but Wagner has a slight advantage of playing for a team that was bound for the playoffs. Wagner, the Seahawks second pick in the draft, quickly became the face of one of the NFL's top defenses, also snaring three interceptions along the way. Most impressively, when Wagner latched onto an opposing player, they usually went down. According to Pro Football Focus, Wagner only missed about one of every twenty tackles, and had the sixth-highest tackle efficiency of all inside linebackers.