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2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Analysis, Odds & Pick

Jalen Carter Georgia NFL Combine Lucas Oil Stadium
Jalen Carter of Georgia looks on during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 02 2023 Stacy RevereGetty ImagesAFP

NFL Prop Pick: Jalen Carter to Win 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year (+800) at BetRivers

The 2023 NFL draft saw four defensive prospects taken in the top 10 picks, though it is not always a pick that high that wins the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Three of the last six winners were taken outside of the top 10, including a second-round linebacker (Shaquille Leonard) in 2018.

The first four defenders drafted this year – Will Anderson Jr. (Texans), Devon Witherspoon (Seahawks), Tyree Wilson (Raiders), and Jalen Carter (Eagles) – are in fact the top four in the NFL odds to win Defensive Rookie of the Year at many of the top-rated sportsbooks.

What usually stands out to voters for this award, which of these top choices is the best value, and are there any longshots worth looking at? Using the current odds found at OddsTracker, we break down the 2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and make our pick below.


What Sways Voters for Defensive Rookie of the Year?

The Associated Press (AP) has been awarding a Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) since 1967. Sauce Gardner of the Jets won the award last year, becoming just the 9th cornerback to win it. Here is the breakdown of winners by defensive position since 1967:

  • 27 linebackers
  • 12 defensive ends
  • 7 defensive tackles
  • 9 cornerbacks
  • 2 safeties

It should be noted that there was a tie in 1980 when two linebackers (Buddy Curry and Al Richardson) for the Atlanta Falcons shared the award. Richardson was an 8th-round pick who made 7 interceptions as a rookie, so he really should have won the award outright as he also got 3 votes for Defensive Player of the Year.

Richardson in 1980 aside, there are even stronger trends with the draft picks used on the 57 winners:

  • 46-of-57 winners were 1st-round picks (80.7%)
  • 9-of-57 winners were 2nd-round picks (15.8%)
  • Only 2-of-57 winners were not a 1st or 2nd-round pick chosen in the top 51 picks (3.5%)
  • 30-of-57 winners were top 10 picks (52.6%)
  • 45-of-57 winners were top 20 picks (78.9%)

You have to go back to 1988 to find the last time a player not drafted in the top 40 picks won the award when 3rd-round safety Erik McMillan won DROY. The only other players since then to win the award as 2nd-round picks were linebackers Kendrell Bell (2001 Steelers), DeMeco Ryans (2006 Texans), and Shaquille Leonard (2018 Colts).

Ryans may have been the most impressive since he upstaged teammate Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick at edge rusher in the 2006 draft. Now, Ryans will make his coaching debut in Houston with the highest-drafted defender in the 2023 class (Will Anderson).


Linebackers Dominate

Clearly, it pays off to be a linebacker, though that is a very generic term for the versatility of the position. You can win the award as an interior linebacker such as Brian Urlacher (2000), Patrick Willis (2007), or Luke Kuechly (2012). You can more easily win it as a dominant edge rusher (outside linebacker) such as Lawrence Taylor (1981), Derrick Thomas (1989), Von Miller (2011), or Micah Parsons (2021).

Are double-digit sacks a must for DROY? It certainly helps, but Chase Young won the award in 2020 with 7.5 sacks, which still led the 2020 rookie class. As with any award in any walk of life, you only need to be as good as your competition. But in Young’s case, it also helps when you are the No. 2 pick, popular, and expectations are high.

Similar things happened in 2019 when Nick Bosa (9.0 sacks) got 43 votes to 4 votes for runner-up Maxx Crosby despite similar statistics. But Bosa was well known, his brother Joey won the award in 2017, he was the No. 2 pick, he played for the best defense and team in the NFC that year (49ers), and Crosby was just a 4th-round pick on a bad Raiders defense and team that missed the playoffs.

But making the playoffs is not a prerequisite for DROY. Since 2002, only 9-of-21 winners were on a team that made the playoffs that year. Only 12-of-21 were on a team without a losing record.


Fade the Safeties


Despite Sauce Gardner’s win last year, corners have it tough with this award because it is usually a very hard position to excel at in Year 1, but their counterparts at safety struggle to stand out even more.

Safeties have been almost entirely absent from the winners of this award. Only Erik McMillan (1988 Jets) and Mark Carrier (1990 Bears) won, and neither will be in the Hall of Fame. It just tends to be a hard position to dominate right away as even Troy Polamalu and John Lynch needed time to shine.

With a 2023 class led by Lions rookie safety Brian Branch (+3000 at Caesars Sportsbook), you can safely fade the safety class here.

The Favorite: Will Anderson Jr. (Houston Texans)

Many had Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr as the top defensive prize in the 2023 draft, but the Texans bought him with extra bells and whistles after trading a small fortune to Arizona to move up to the No. 3 pick after already using the No. 2 pick on quarterback C.J. Stroud.

The moves have been criticized, so there is extra incentive for the Texans to nail these picks as they start a new era with head coach DeMeco Ryans, who will be viewing Anderson as the Nick Bosa in his defensive front.

Anderson had 34.5 sacks at Alabama, including 17.5 in his 2021 standout season. He should be a Week 1 starter, and he will draw a schedule with the Colts and Titans four times, who could be easy to sack in 2023.

A knock against Anderson would be Houston’s expected trailing time, not giving him more advantageous snaps to rush the passer with the lead in games, but for the top four options for DROY, Anderson is in the best position to be a double-digit sack player in 2023.


The Other Favorite: Jalen Carter (Philadelphia Eagles)

Plenty of other draft analysts had Jalen Carter as the best defensive talent in this draft, but character concerns dropped him to the Eagles at No. 9. It may be a blessing in disguise as he joins the defending NFC champs, fresh off a Super Bowl season where they had 70 sacks in the regular season.

The Eagles had four players with at least 11 sacks last year, but Javon Hargrave joined the 49ers in the offseason. That means Carter could potentially line up next to veteran Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle in Week 1. Not a bad mentor to have, and the Eagles are still loaded at the edges with Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham, and they also drafted Nolan Smith, who is +2200 for DROY.

If Carter is up to the task, he is in a great situation to dominate for what may still be the best team in the NFC this year.


The Insurance Pick: Tyree Wilson (Las Vegas Raiders)

The Raiders were supposed to be an improved defense last year after adding Chandler Jones. Instead, the team blew six fourth-quarter leads, still ranked poorly on defense, and Jones only had 4.5 sacks. Maxx Crosby tried to carry the pass rush with 12.5 sacks in a Pro Bowl season.

It is understandable why in a division where pressuring Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, or Russell Wilson on a few key plays can be the difference in winning or losing those games the Raiders would opt for Tyree Wilson from Texas Tech. Wilson did not have huge numbers in college, but he had 7 sacks in each of his last two seasons there.

The problem here may be the presence of Crosby and Jones, not allowing Wilson to get as many quality pass-rushing snaps over the veterans in his first year.


The Corners: Devon Witherspoon (Seattle Seahawks)

It was a little surprising when the Seahawks took corner Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 pick instead of Jalen Carter, but time will tell if that was the right move.

Sauce Gardner only had 2 interceptions for the Jets last year, but he led the NFL with 20 passes defended, so it is not always about interceptions for DROY. Gardner also got credit for allowing one touchdown and shutting down several big-name receivers.

Witherspoon allowed only 34.9% of his targets to be completed in 2022 according to PFF. If he had success like that in the NFL, then he will get his respect early in his career. But the Seahawks have a pretty tough schedule of opposing wideouts, including Cooper Kupp, CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, A.J. Brown, etc.

Plenty of great corners came nowhere close to winning DROY. This corner class also had some pride taken away on draft night after Christian Gonzalez slipped to No. 17 and Joey Porter Jr. fell out of the first round entirely to go to Pittsburgh at No. 32.

It does not seem like a class that will produce an instant stud.


The Longshots


It is hard to argue with decades of evidence pointing at top 50 picks almost universally winning DROY. For that matter, the top 20 picks win it 78.9% of the time. Picking some 4th-round diamond in the rough is likely throwing away a bet in a class with a couple of premiere talents at the top.

But if we are going to pinpoint some long shots from the first round, these would be the choices.

Lukas Van Ness (Green Bay Packers)

What if Matt LaFleur comes out of the Aaron Rodgers era with a team that plays better defense? Van Ness was a 2-year starter at Iowa with 13 sacks. He could learn from Preston Smith and former 1st-round pick Rashan Gary and be a pleasant surprise this year.

Emmanuel Forbes (Washington Commanders)

We may be down on the corner market, but Forbes could be the best value as the Commanders are badly in need of a playmaker in the secondary. Ron Rivera is also going to need the best defensive effort he can get as the team hopes to be relevant enough for him to keep his job beyond 2023. Forbes had 14 interceptions with 6 returned for touchdowns at Mississippi State and should be a Week 1 starter.

Myles Murphy (Cincinnati Bengals)

Some felt Murphy could have been a top-20 pick. If Trey Hendrickson or Sam Hubbard went down with an injury, Murphy would be in a great spot to take over as a full-time starter at edge rusher for what is still expected to be a top AFC team.


Conclusion: Anderson vs. Carter (Round 2)

At the end of the day, it looks like another tight battle between Will Anderson and Jalen Carter. They were battling for the top defensive position in this draft, and the off-field issues arguably cost Carter that recognition.

The street racing element of his issues should be well behind him. If the Eagles’ success and veteran locker room can keep him motivated every day to be great, then he has a fantastic situation to thrive in for a team that should win a lot of games and plays from ahead to generate a high number of sacks again.

Meanwhile, Houston is still not projected to be good in 2023, but the draft picks of Stroud and Anderson are supposed to turn that around eventually. The hype will be huge on Anderson after the king’s ransom sent in a trade, but even Mario Williams (4.5 sacks) and J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks) needed time to grow.

With Hargrave in San Francisco and Fox turning 33, this could be set up perfectly for Carter to shine. Then we will be talking about how he should have been drafted higher, which many were saying before April’s draft night, to begin with.

NFL Prop Pick: Jalen Carter to Win 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year (+800) at BetRivers


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