Micah Parsons favored to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

April 27th, 2021

The general consensus in the NFL is that great offense is borne out of elite decision-making, while great defense is borne out of instinctive reactions. If that is true, the notion that an elite athletic talent can come in and more quickly make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball should also be true.

Recent winners of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award help support that notion of immediacy, as the Bosa Brothers, Chase Young, and Darius Leonard have played at a Pro Bowl level upon entering the league.

With the 2021 NFL Draft this week, many teams will be looking to find the player that can shore up a current weakness and get rewarded with the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Let’s take a look at the top candidates and make a selection.

Defensive Rookie of the Year 2021/2022

Sun, February 6 2022, 11:00 PM

Parsons, Micah


Owusu-Koramoah, Jeremiah


Paye, Kwity


Surtain II, Patrick


Phillips, Jaelan


Farley, Caleb


Ojulari, Azeez


Collins, Zaven


Horn, Jaycee


Davis, Jamin


Parsons' athleticism is off the charts

Micah Parsons is the favorite at +400, and while he isn’t the favorite to be the first defensive player selected, the athletic talent and ball-hawking middle linebacker is considered one of the most versatile athletes in the entire draft.

Parsons doesn’t have tremendous experience as he opted out of Penn State’s 2020 season, but the former 5-star high school recruit has elite athleticism that will allow him to find the field in a number of different ways. He is projected as a middle linebacker, but could also excel at outside linebacker or as a blitzer off the edge.

Three years ago, Darius Leonard tackled his way to the award with the Indianapolis Colts. Parsons is a logical choice to do the same, no matter where he lands. One final thought; interior linebackers have won six of the last 15 awards as their positioning in the middle of the field allows them to stuff the stat sheet.

Owusu-Koramoah is a bit of tweener at the next level

Next on the odds list at +700 is Notre Dame safety/linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. "JOK" won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and was a consensus All-American. He recorded 11 tackles for loss in his final season, and while he offers downhill aggression and clear athleticism, he is potentially between positions at the next level.

As a linebacker JOK may be undersized, while at safety he still has work to avoid mistakes. If he gets moved to a safety position with Las Vegas or another weak defensive team, his likelihood to win Defensive Rookie of the Year will drop, as only two safeties have ever won the award. If he remains at linebacker, he will have to prove he can be a reliable option that deserves to see the field on every down. There are too many unknowns at this time for me to like JOK at these odds.

Paye is a project

The third name on the board is Kwity Paye, who currently sits at +900. Paye is considered a safe defensive line pick, as the former Michigan edge rusher has all of the physical tools that equate to success at the next level. Paye is well-documented as a hard worker as well, and so while the game tape doesn’t always show the explosive physicalness that his testing results hint to, it should be considered that he really only has 19 college starts under his belt.

Paye is likely still a project, but NFL general managers would rather take a player that has lots of upside and mold them into a better trained professional than take a low-ceiling player that is maxed out already upon entering the league. Where Paye lands will likely impact the amount of time he sees on the field in Year 1, which is a question mark I don’t want to wager on prior to the NFL Draft taking place.

Don't sleep on Zaven Collins

One final name to consider heading into the draft is former Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins at +1400. Collins was a state championship quarterback in high school in Oklahoma, so he understands the field in a different way that gives him an edge relative to most linebackers.

At 6’5” and 259 pounds, Collins also has the size to join any NFL roster and hold up against the run, an important consideration when looking for a player that can stuff the stat sheet with tackles. He earned the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards, and was the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Recalling that linebackers have a natural advantage in this betting market, +1400 odds are an exceptional value for for one of the nation's most successful collegiate linebackers.