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The 2017 NFL season begins in just under two weeks and all 32 teams are finalising their preparations for the new campaign.
Rookies will be nervously waiting for their opportunity to shine in the league, having emerged from the college ranks.
There will be a number of talented young defenders applying their trade in the league, with two of the top three selections in the 2017 Draft vying for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa won the crown last season after an outstanding campaign, notching 10.5 sacks in his rookie season.
Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas are among the names that will be jostling for the title this season at the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers respectively.
We’ll now break down those two players and another candidate who could press his claim to dominate in his rookie campaign.
The 21-year-old was a standout star for the Texas A&M Aggies during his three years at the school. Garrett made an immediate impact as a freshman, notching 11.5 sacks from defensive end, while he maintained his stellar form in the 2015 campaign.
Garrett truly put himself on the radar of NFL teams across the country in that season. He was a constant presence in the backfield, recording 19.5 tackles for a loss. With greater attention on his play in his junior term along with a high-ankle sprain, his production reduced slightly, although he was still a top-class operator.
The defensive end still notched 8.5 sacks and reaffirmed his position as the best defender in the college game. His pre-draft workouts confirmed his physical skills, while the tape proved that he was the true standout at the top of the class.
The Brown were in pole position to select Garrett first overall and with no quality quarterback to speak of – it was an obvious choice to acquire his services with the first pick.
Garrett will become a starter from day one and may operate on the right side of the defense. This means he will be going up against the best offensive tackles in the NFL, which could hinder a great deal of success in his rookie season.
He has the same strong attributes of Bosa and should he emulate the form of the Chargers’ man – Garrett could ease his way to the award. The Browns need him to shine and at odds of 7/2 4.50 +350 3.50 3.50 -0.29 with Ladbrokes, he is a solid punt to take for the crown.
Thomas redshirted his freshman season with the Stanford Cardinals, but began his journey to the NFL with a solid first campaign in the college game. Starting at defensive end for David Shaw’s men for 13 games he notched 3.5 sacks, but was a constant presence in the backfield collecting 10.5 tackles for a loss.
The 21-year-old upped the ante in his junior year as he increased his pass-rush efficiency. Thomas produced 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss, playing another full slate of matches for his side.
Playing defensive end in a 3-4 system is not always rewarding in terms of statistics. However, Thomas’ brilliance overcame those odds, while maintaining his dominance against the run game where his primary focus would have been held.
It was touted that Thomas could have been selected by the Browns with the first-overall pick. The 49ers dropped back one place to acquire a pick in a trade with the Chicago Bears. They selected quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, allowing general manager John Lynch to snag his man.
Thomas will fill the shoes of Justin Smith, who retired from the game in 2014 after a successful career. The 49ers have now built up their line with talent, adding Thomas to Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.
Having those quality players around him will help the 21-year-old settle into life in the NFL. As a result, he could have a strong rookie term as he will not be the primary focus of opposing teams.
In terms of production, Barnett was arguably a more dominant player than his rivals in the college game. The 21-year-old enjoyed three outstanding seasons in the South Eastern Conference for the Tennessee Volunteers.
He had a strong start as a freshman as he notched nine sacks over the course of the campaign along with 20.5 tackles for a loss. Barnett proved that he could maintain his form in his sophomore year, collecting 10.5 sacks, although his tackles for a loss took a slight hit.
However, he shot up draft boards with his excellence in his senior season and pre-draft workouts. Barnett collected 19 sacks in his final year with the Volunteers, establishing himself as one of the elite pass-rushers in the college ranks.
He ended his career in Tennessee with the most sacks in the history of the school. His performances saw him selected 14th overall by the Eagles in the 2017 Draft. The 21-year-old will not be pressed into starting duty straight away due to the presence of Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.
However, under defensive Jim Schwartz expect him to play a role as a sub-rusher on third down. His playing time could increase due to injuries or should he rise to the challenge of playing in the NFL sooner than expected. Schwartz has produced aggressive defenses in the past, making a priority of getting to the quarterback with regularity.
Therefore it would not be a surprise to see Barnett challenge double figures in terms of sacks. He has an excellent injury record and will have ample opportunities to bolster his statistics. Backing him at odds of 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08 with Ladbrokes could provide excellent value.
Myles Garrett To Be Defensive Rookie Of The Year
Odds: 7/2 4.50 +350 3.50 3.50 -0.29
Solomon Thomas To Be Defensive Rookie Of The Year
Odds: 7/1 8.00 +700 7.00 7.00 -0.14
Derek Barnett To Be Defensive Rookie Of The Year
Odds: 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08
For US betters check out this list of bookmakers – https://www.sbo.net/country/us/ – in order to get the best odds for the 2017 season.
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