The Houston Texans have drafted well on defense the past handful of years. They have had two NFL Defensive Rookies of the Year since 2006: DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. Jadeveon Clowney is a 12/5 favorite to win the award this season.
Can Texans Go 3-for-3?
Clowney was the first defensive player taken No. 1 overall since Houston selected North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams at the top of the 2006 draft. At the time, the Texans were widely panned for taking Williams over Reggie Bush, but it turned out to be the right call even though Williams is now in Buffalo. Clowney played defensive end at South Carolina but will line up at outside linebacker in Houston's 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Romeo Crennel. That's not to say Clowney won't put his hand on the ground at times as an end -- Crennel envisions using him like he did Willie McGinest when those two were in New England. The fact that opposing offenses have to concentrate on stopping Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, can only help Clowney.
The second defensive player taken in the draft was Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack to Oakland at No. 5 overall, and he's the 5/1 second-favorite on NFL odds for DROY. As good as Clowney was at South Carolina, Mack was even more dominant in college, albeit largely against inferior competition. He holds the NCAA record for most forced fumbles and most tackles for loss in a career. You have to root for a guy who finds motivation in a video game. He apparently was so PO'd by an EA sports video game that gave him a mediocre ranking of 46 that he made it his uniform number at Buffalo. He is wearing No. 52 with Oakland. The Raiders' last DROY was cornerback Charles Woodson in 1998. No defensive back has won it since then. It has either been an end or linebacker since Woodson other than Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh in 2010.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald can each be added to your NFL picks at odds of 9/1. the Steelers apparently made QB Ben Roethlisberger angry by taking Shazier at No. 15 overall instead of a receiver. Shazier wills start from Day 1 and ran a 4.38 40-yard dash so he can fly. Pittsburgh's last DROY was Kendrell Bell in 2001. Donald was a somewhat surprising choice by the Rams at No. 13 overall as they were pretty stacked on the defensive front -- it broke the Chicago Bears' hearts as they really wanted him at No. 14. Donald led the nation while with the University of Pittsburgh last year with 28.5 tackles for loss in winning the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Outland Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award. It's tough for tackles to win DROY because they generally don't put up huge sack numbers, which is what many voters look at. Suh was a bit of a fluke as he had a career-high 10 sacks as a rookie.
The cornerback with the shortest odds at sportsbooks is Cleveland's Justin Gilbert at 14/1. The Browns took him at No. 9 overall, passing up Johnny Manziel, whom they would then trade up later for in the first round. Gilbert could put up impressive interception numbers because QBs don't want to throw at Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Gilbert had seven picks last year. Cleveland hasn't had a DROY since Chip Banks in 1982.
NFL free picks: No. 1 overall picks simply don't win this award, but the past seven Defensive Rookie of the Year winners have all come from Round 1 of the draft. Mack is the choice.