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5 defensive rookies who have best chance at NFL success

In Sports
May 03, 2024

The NFL Draft is over and now it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming 2024 season. This year’s draft set records with 14 straight offensive players selected to kick off the event and 23 offensive players drafted in the first round. As a result, a handful of talented defensive prospects found themselves picked by competent teams who have tangible playoff aspirations.

Here are five players who are in good position to have impressive rookie seasons and put themselves in consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Turner and his promising talent should be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He landed with maybe the perfect coach to help him have a strong Year 1 with Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who plays a fairly extreme style of defense with a whole lot of blitzing that will create opportunities for Turner to make plays. Turner also will get the opportunities to drop in coverage a bit, something he did a fair amount during his time at Alabama.

Minnesota has some quality edge depth with Andrew Van Ginkel and Jonathan Greenard on the roster now. Turner will still be the top dog barring any early struggles. The opportunities will be there in droves for Turner to make plays on the ball.

Mitchell fell a little further than he was projected to go in the draft, but he might have ended up in the perfect situation to have a deeper impact as a rookie. Mitchell was already an incredibly productive defender in college in terms of getting his hands on the ball. Now he gets to play for a defense that has a boatload of edge rushers and Jalen Carter in the interior. This is a dream scenario for a ballhawk like Mitchell. Those guys up front will create chaos and force errant throws, allowing Mitchell to clean up on the backend and be the playmaker he was drafted to be. Mitchell to the Eagles was a match made in heaven as far as potential instant impact.

Verse isn’t always the flashiest edge rusher, but he was productive at Florida State and brings a high floor to the Rams. Verse would’ve had a cleaner path toward winning Rookie of the Year if Aaron Donald was still on the roster. Verse is still a qualified and talented player in his own right. He and second-year pro Byron Young, who had a fantastic rookie season, will lead the charge for an extremely young Rams defensive line. The opportunities for sacks will be there because Verse doesn’t face much competition in getting on the field. Then it’ll be about seeing how much he can produce.

The Colts made Latu the first defensive player overall off the board in this year’s draft. This is an interesting fit for Latu and the Colts because they already have some young bodies on the edge. They just picked up Kwity Paye’s fifth-year option and Dayo Odeyingbo is another developmental option. With Samson Ebukam locking down one primary edge role after a 9.5-sack season, Latu’s immediate path to the field might be in a rotational role. If he gets off to a hot start in training camp and expands upon his snap count opportunities, this could be a gold mine year for a talented, all-round defensive end. Defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart make life easier for the entire defense and Latu should find himself in advantageous situations when he is on the field.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Colts divvy up their young edge snaps, but Latu should have the upper hand given his recent draft status and projected potential. If he plays, he’ll have chances to make plays with a ton of help from the demolition crew on the interior.

UCLA defensive lineman Laiatu Latu poses with fans after being chosen by the Indianapolis Colts with the 15th overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (Jeff Lewis/AP Images for the NFL)

Cooper was the first linebacker off the board this year, coming in at pick No. 45. Cooper is a flawed player, but as a starting linebacker for the Packers, he should at least have a big statistical season. Only two off-ball linebackers have won Rookie of the Year since 2012 (Luke Kuechly, Shaquille Leonard), but if Cooper can cross 100 tackles this season, he’ll have a chance to take home some award — even though the award has become heavily slanted toward pass rushers and defensive backs over the past decade. Tackles and splash plays with a full season of starts will get Cooper some notice for this.

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