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Houston Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) throws a pass in the first half of a preseason NFL football game under pressure from Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)


The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award is more challenging to handicap than its offensive partner, because even more than OROY, the eventual winner will be affected by the situation they find themselves playing in. Not many rookies start immediately on the defensive side of the ball, and if they do it can be due to a severe lack of top-flight talent among their teammates, which could limit their chance to shine and make voters notice them.

Between 2000 and 2012, 11 of 13 winners were linebackers. Since then, a linebacker has only one the award once, so betting based on position seems like a fool’s errand. In addition, no defensive player was selected until the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (the only top ten picks on defense were former SEC cornerbacks, Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) and Patrick Surtain II (Alabama)). There wasn’t as much of a sure thing, plug-and-play, middle of the defense player at the top of the draft this year, as in the previous two years with DROY winners Chase Young or Nick Bosa, so predicting a winner this year will be even more challenging.

With what we’ve learned from training camps, there are a few players who have improved their standing and could provide big pay days if things fall right for them, and they win the award. Let’s look at 5 good bets and where their odds have the best pay day.


KWITY PAYE, DE, INDIANAPOLIS (+1200 at DraftKings)
Based on his training camp play, Pro Football Focus has ranked him as the highest rated defensive rookie this August, and it wasn’t particularly close. A first round pick from Michigan, the Colts’ pass rush had a real need for him, and he will get every opportunity to play from the start of the season. With First Team All-Pro Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner drawing double coverage beside him, he will find himself with plenty of chances to peel back his ears, rush the quarterback and blow-up offensive plays, accumulating sexy stats like Quarterback Sacks, which the voters love to see.

Straight out of “Linebacker U”, this Penn State alum was the third defensive player selected in 2021. His athleticism and quickness are off the charts, and he will be immediately inserted into the middle of the Cowboys’ defense, which will rely heavily on him right away after finishing in the bottom 5 of the NFL last year, allowing just under 30 points per game. Playing in Big D ensures he’ll have lots of eyeballs on him and he is the prohibitive betting favorite everywhere in Vegas. The quality of teammates in the Cowboys’ defensive schemes could negatively affect his status, though, so he’s no lock.

ZAVEN COLLINS, LB, ARIZONA (+1400 at DraftKings)
Collins won both the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski Awards in his final college season as the nation’s best defensive player, though some voters will hesitate because he played at Tulsa and wasn’t always tested against the best competition. He’ll slide into a hybrid role with the Cardinals, spending time on the edge and as a linebacker able to defend both the run and the pass. His versatility will be an asset and he will have to prove himself against top quarterbacks in his own division right away.

PATRICK SURTAIN II, CB, DENVER (+1200 at DraftKings)
The DROY narrative seems destined – he was a Top Ten pick, he’s a second-generation player (his father was a Pro Bowl cornerback with Miami and K.C.) and he was the SEC DPOY for the National Championship team at the University of Alabama in 2020. At 6’2”, 202 lbs, he is the perfect size to match up against top receivers in the NFL and joins a Denver defense that is experienced and expected to be very good, helping hurry his ascension into stardom. With all those factors considered, his number is still very good and provides a nice payday if the story finishes the way he and the Broncos would like it to.


Slightly undersized for the NFL at 5’10” and 180 lbs, he was a second-round pick for a reason, but Samuel Jr. has some positive narratives going for him as well and his payday would be a lot richer than any of the others listed above. The former First Team All-ACC corner will get every chance to play for a young and improving Chargers defense. He’ll face Patrick Mahomes twice every year and if he can make a few ball-hawking plays in big games like his father did, it will keep his name in voters’ minds as the season progresses and could allow him to steal the award away from the favorites.

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