With the NFL regular season coming to a close, there was a lot learned. With a ton of new playoff teams emerging, break out players helped boost teams from a year ago. Who were the best defensive rookies this season?
Edge Defender: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Stats: 19 Solo Tackles, 7 Sacks, 2 Tackles for a Loss, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Pass Defended
The Browns may have gone 0-16, but they can take some solace in their first overall pick showing his stuff this season. Garrett took a few weeks to get on the field due to nagging injuries but was immediately an impact player rushing the passer and defending the run. Garrett getting a fully healthy offseason could mean a big year two for the talented pass rusher.
Edge Defender: Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 10 Solo Tackles, 8.5 Sacks, 1 Tackle for a Loss
Carl Lawson did not see the field a ton for the Bengals but made his presence felt when he did. The former fourth round pick was a rotational piece on the Bengals line but served as an incredibly productive and efficient pass rusher. Offenses will have a lot of problems against the Bengals next year if his role increases.
Interior Defender: Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants
Stats: 30 Solo Tackles, 1 Sack, 1 Tackle for a Loss, 1 Pass Defended
In a class without a star interior player; Dalvin Tomlinson shined as a second round pick on the Giants line. While the former Crimson Tide defender was not and will likely never be a star pass rusher; he is a space eater and a very effective run defender who will be a steady piece on the Giants for a long time.
Interior Defender: Larry Ogunjobi, Cleveland Browns
Stats: 17 Solo Tackles, 1 Sack, 5 Tackles for a Loss
Larry Ogunjobi was another nice pick by the Browns last year. The third round pick from Charlotte was a nice rational piece on the line who provided disruptive run defense. It will be exciting to see that line mature with him and Garrett playing more next season.
Linebacker: Reuben Foster, San Fransisco
Stats: 59 Solo Tackles, 7 Tackles for a Loss, 1 Pass Defended
Reuben Foster is like a Ferrari. He needs a fix up more often than anybody would like but he is the best one out there when he’s running well. Foster was an absolute revelation on the 49ers defense this season when he wasn’t sidelined with an injury. He will be a franchise player for the Niners if he can stay on the field.
Linebacker: Zach Cunningham, Houston Texans
Stats: 48 Solo Tackles, 1.5 Sacks, 6 Tackles for a Loss, 1 Forced Fumble
Zach Cunningham was a very good second round pick for the Texans. The 23 year old linebacker was really solid in the middle of their defense this year; looking good against the pass and run. While this season was lost for the Texas, Cunningham is one of many reasons the team has hope going forward.
Linebacker: Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions
Stats: 65 Solo Tackles, 2 Sacks, 3 Tackles for a Loss, 3 Passes Defended, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Interception
Jarrad Davis was everywhere for the Lions in his rookie year. He can attack the run, work in coverage and get pressure as a blitzer. He looked out of place at times but he has the makings of a playmaker and his career is headed in an exciting direction.
Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Stats: 43 Solo Tackles, 1 Tackle for a Loss, 18 Passes Defended, 1 Forced Fumble, 5 Interceptions, 1 Touchdown
It is not very often a rookie can alter the makeup of an entire unit. However, Marshon Lattimore did exactly that in 2017. Lattimore was an excellent, playmaking cornerback who helped turnaround the longtime woes of the Saints defense. It is hard for Lattimore to get much better, but at only 21 years old there is still a lot of time ahead of him. Scary.
Cornerback: Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills
Stats: 53 Solo Tackles, 3 Tackles for a Loss, 18 Passes Defended, 1 Forced Fumble, 4 Interceptions
The Buffalo Bills just ended the longest playoff draught in the NFL and their rookie cornerback was a big reason why. The former LSU Tiger was not only steady, but provided big plays for Sean McDermott’s defense. The playoffs will be a big test for him but there is no doubt the Bills have a budding star in Tre’Davious White
Safety: John Johnson III, Los Angeles Rams
Stats: 56 Solo Tackles, 1 Tackle for a Loss, 11 Passes Defended, 1 Interception
Despite being selected deep in a talented safety class; John Johnson III shined in Wade Philips defense and played a role in the Rams’ surprising playoff run. Johnson was a solid all around defender for Los Angeles and he should continue to blossom with more experience.
Safety: Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints
Stats: 59 Solo Tackles, 1 Tackle for a Loss, 7 Passes Defended, 4 Interceptions
Marcus Williams was a steal for the Saints in the second round and he proved that almost immediately. While Marshon Lattimore was the primary catalyst for the New Orleans defensive turnaround, Marcus Williams was a big piece as well. Williams is a rangy ballhawk and he made his impact making plays over the top of the Saints defense. Like Marshon Lattimore; Williams is only 21 years old which means this defense has a lot of upside even still.
Edge Defender: Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles
Edge Defender: TJ Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Interior Defender: Deatrich Wise, New England Patriots
Interior Defender: Caleb Brantley, Cleveland Browns
Linebacker: Kendell Beckwith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Linebacker: Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
Linebacker: Calvin Munson, New York Giants
Cornerback: Desmond King, San Diego Chargers
Cornerback: Ahkello Witherspoon, San Fransisco 49ers
Safety: Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts
Safety: Jamal Adams, New York Jets
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore
It is a legitimate possibility, if not a likelihood, that the Saints have the best offensive and defensive rookies this season. Marshon Lattimore has been unbelievable for any cornerback, let alone a rookie. The Saints have been looking to fix their pass defense for years and Lattimore came right in and fixed it up. He is a shut down cornerback with ball skills and he will be a staple on the unit for a very long time.