Looking for a potential candidate for the NFL defensive rookie of the year award? Look no further than Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones. There should be a lot of good candidates this season, which should make for a close race, but by season’s end you should expect Jones to walk away with the award, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, he plays the right position. The current state of the NFL lends itself to outside pass rushers being able to make the biggest difference on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s exactly what Jones is: an outside linebacker that can get after the quarterback. In recent years, the NFL’s best defensive players have been players like J.J. Watt, Von Miller, and Clay Matthews, all of whom are pass-rush specialists that rack up huge sack numbers, which is the exact mold that Jones fits into. Also, the recent history of the defensive rookie of the year award has favored pass rushers, so it stands to reason that Jones is already in good position to be rookie of the year because of his position on the field.
Jones should also be favored because he’s the most polished of the pass rushers drafted in the first round, which means he’s the most ready to succeed in the NFL as a rookie. Players like Dion Jordan, Ziggy Ansah, and Barkevious Mingo may have a higher ceiling than Jones, but they are raw and unpolished compared to Jones, and they’ll also have to deal with either a change in position or a change in scheme. Meanwhile, Jones played in a 3-4 at Georgia and will be playing the same position in the same scheme with the Steelers. Jones also has two years of experience as one of the most feared pass rushers and most productive defensive players in the SEC, which should help him to make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Jones playing for the Steelers should also help his rookie of the year campaign. Although many of the key players on Pittsburgh’s defense are getting older, it was one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL last season and has a long history of being among the league’s elite. With a talented collection of players around him, especially a veteran group, Jones won’t be relied upon to do too much, just what he’s comfortable doing, which is rushing the quarterback. If Pittsburgh’s defense is anywhere near as good as they were last year, Jones will be unleashed on the quarterback quite frequently, giving him ample opportunity to standout among rookies with a high sack total. Jones is essentially filling the void left by James Harrison, and if all goes according to plan, he should be able to exceed the six sacks Harrison had a year ago by a significant margin, which should be enough to give him the rookie of the year award.
Jones may not seem like the obvious choice for defensive rookie of the year in 2013; there may not even be an obvious choice. But he plays the right position, he has the right skill set, and he’s a good fit for the team that drafted him. All are reasons why Jones is set up to have a great rookie season and end up being the defensive rookie of the year in the NFL.