Arians: Grading NFL's Top 5 Defensive Rookies So Far

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

By: Jake Arians

While the offensive rookies have stolen the show so far in 2020, there have been some standout defensive rookies worth talking about. Let’s start with the second overall pick, Chase Young. 

Young’s stats won’t wow you at this point, only having 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble, but that doesn’t tell you how good he has been. When you watch Washington play, Young’s talent jumps off the screen as easily one of the top-three players on the field at any time. Young has been powerful, fast, very athletic, and has shown a high motor. Young has put on full display what made him so unstoppable at Ohio State. He is tied for the rookie lead in quarterback pressures with 10 and is impacting the game in many ways. He hasn’t been fully healthy, but if you plan to have success against this defense, it starts with accounting for Young. My grade for Young: B+

Patrick Queen seems to be the next great linebacker in the lineage of the Baltimore Ravens. Queen stepped right into that all-important role of middle linebacker and leader of this Ravens defense. He has been all over the field for this defense that blitzes more than any unit in the NFL. Queen has tallied 50 total tackles and two sacks. His speed has been his biggest asset like it was at LSU. The Ravens waited until the 28th overall pick to get Queen and it looks like one of the best value picks of the 2020 draft. My grade for Queen: A-

Jeremy Chinn has been a tackling machine for the Carolina Panthers. The standout safety has 68 total tackles, one interception, and five passes defended. He lines up all over the field in this defense, playing safety, linebacker, and almost a pass-rush position as well at times. Chinn is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound second-round pick that has been very physical, as well as being extremely versatile. Chinn has also returned punts for the Panthers, but he will be a staple on this defense for some time to come. My grade for Chinn: B+

Jaylon Johnson has been one of the best young cornerbacks in the league thus far in his rookie year and isn’t getting nearly enough credit. He has shown the ability to do whatever Chuck Pagano has asked of him in this defense. Johnson has 12 passes defended, tied for second-best in the NFL. He has shined in his role as the “other” corner to Kyle Fuller in one of the league’s best secondaries. The 50th overall pick from Utah looks to be one of the best cornerbacks from this draft and a perfect fit in this Bears defense. My grade for Johnson: B+

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the league’s best defenses and one of their most important pieces is Antoine Winfield Jr. Winfield took over the starting safety spot during camp and hasn’t looked back. The son of 14-year NFL vet Antoine Winfield Sr., WInfield Jr. has played like he’s a savvy vet so far in his young career. He has been outstanding in coverage, against the run, and when being called on to blitz. Winfield Jr. has 51 total tackles, two sacks, four passes defended, a forced fumble, and an interception. Smart, instinctual, and versatile only begin to describe how good the young safety is. My grade for Winfield Jr.: A

The race for Defensive Rookie of the Year is wide open at this point. The players mentioned above are leading the race thus far, but there are some honorable mentions to note. Derrick Brown in Carolina has been coming on strong after a slow start. Javon Kinlaw in San Francisco has been very solid with all the injuries the 49ers have had to deal with. Kenneth Murray has been all over the field for the Los Angeles Chargers at middle linebacker. Julian Blackmon has filled in for the injured Malik Hooker in Indianapolis and has been exceptional with two interceptions and six passes defended. 

Even though the offensive rookies, led by the quarterbacks, have been the biggest story so far, these young defensive stars have made a huge impact for their teams in 2020.