Each year at least one explosive defensive rookie makes a name for himself, but generally it’s not until his second or third year that most mature enough or get enough regular playing time to really make an impact at the NFL level. In 2009, it was the St. Louis Rams' James Laurinaitis. In 2008, the New England Patriot’s, Jerod Mayo and the Atlanta Falcon’s, Curtis Lofton were exceptional rookie standouts. In 2007, it was San Francisco 49ers, Patrick Willis. Willis has been the top IDP fantasy pick ever since his rookie year. The ten defensive rookies below all have a chance to make their mark on the field and on fantasy scorecards in 2010. My pick for 2010 IDP rookie of the year is the Oakland Raiders' Rolando McClain, but I think a couple of the other guys below could prove me wrong.
Defensive Linemen are football’s big play machines, and the primary sack magnets. Because of this it is hard to count on consistent points each week. A 17 point week may be followed by a two point week. There are also fewer elite DL’s to be had, so it may be wise to grab one solid DL before going for your first Linebacker. But in case you miss out, here are some nice rookie possibilities.
Derrek Morgan, TEN ~ Morgan will be the Titans starting right end, and he was the most NFL ready of the defensive ends in the 2010 draft. His impact should be immediate for Tennessee. He should be the #1 rookie fantasy producer at the DL position.
Gerald McCoy, TB ~ McCoy, a former Oklahoma Sooner, is a defensive tackle, and I generally shy away from them in IDP fantasy, but McCoy may be an exception. Due to the scheme's employed in Tampa Bay, he should have more opportunities for big plays. Their defense will also be on the field a lot which improves his fantasy value. If your league requires a DT rather than the standard DL spot, he's a good name to slap on your cheat sheets.
Brandon Graham, PHI ~ Graham has leap-frogged Juqua Parker, and will start the season lined up next to Trent Cole. I'm not usually hopeful for first year linemen, but Graham is in a great situation, and could produce solid numbers this season
Linebackers are the primary tackle machines in football and are generally the most consistent year after year in terms of fantasy production. They are also the most likely to make a fantasy impact as a rookie. In 2010, few rookie linebackers will get the starting nod, so the only two names that need be on your radar this early are the guys below.
Rolando McClain, OAK ~ I expect that McClain will be this year's standout defensive rookie, at least in fantasy terms. He will join the list along with Willis, Laurinaitis, Mayo and Lofton of 100 tackle rookie monsters. He's ranked in my top 10 at the position, and a must for dynasty and keeper leagues. He already leads the team in tackles through three preseason games.
Daryl Washington, ARI ~ Washington joins the Cardinals, and a great situation with the team losing Karlos Dansby, and expected to spend more time on defense with the loss of Kurt Warner. He's on the bubble of my top 50 at the position, but he could prove to be a pleasant surprise. With Gerald Hayes expected to miss the start of the season, Washington projects to start alongside Paris Lenon.
Defensive backs are arguably the most difficult IDP position to speculate on. Each season sees a high turnover in top performers from the season before. Last season saw only a handful of 100 tackle DBs. However, if your league includes return yardage points, then DBs can offer quite a bit of weekly consistency for those who get return duties added to their gig. This year there is a lot of rookie talent at the DB position, which is another reason you can wait until late in your draft for defensive backs.
Eric Berry, KC ~ The Chiefs took Berry awfully high in round one this year, and their expectations are high. Berry plans on delivering. He's leading the team in tackles during the preseason, and he will be the team's starting free safety.
Morgan Burnett, GB ~ Burnett has been a standout in the Packers' camp this summer. Atari Bigby is hurt, and has been outplayed by the rookie anyway. He will be Green Bay's starting strong safety, and looks to have an impressive rookie campaign.
T.J. Ward, CLE ~ Ward has been lighting it up in the preseason, with 14 solo tackles through parts of 3 games. In doing so he has secured the starting nod for the Browns at free safety. He is a major DB sleeper this season.
Earl Thomas, SEA ~ Thomas get's the starting free safety gig for the Seahawks this season. He already has an interception returned for an 86 yard TD this preseason. He is a big time play-maker on a team in a weak division.
Nate Allen, PHI ~ Free safety, and second round draftee, Allen gets the nod to start this season alongside strong safety Quintin Mikell. He is also the 2nd Eagle on this list. Of the 5 DBs listed here he seems least likely to make a big fantasy splash, but he is in a division with a lot of pass heavy teams, so the opportunities will be there.