Commentary

Tip Sheet notes: Who's the next DROY?

DTs Suh and McCoy have higher profiles, but if trends hold an LB will reign once again

Originally Published: May 14, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com
The controversy surrounding Brian Cushing's suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug -- and his denial that he violated the NFL's policies -- has provided plenty of debate fodder. This week the Houston Texans linebacker retained his 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year Award, despite an Associated Press revote in the wake of the news of his suspension.

The brouhaha reminded us that Cushing is the seventh straight linebacker to claim DROY honors. The last lineman or defensive back to claim the honor was Julius Peppers in 2002, when he was a defensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers.

In fact, in the award's 43 seasons (since 1967), linebackers have won 22 times. The award to Cushing, already considered one of the game's top strongside linebackers, did end a streak of three straight inside backers (Jerrod Mayo in 2008, Patrick Willis in 2007, DeMeco Ryans in 2006) winning the citation.

"I think [linebacker] is still a position that is [conducive] to winning the rookie award," said San Diego Chargers star linebacker Shawne Merriman, winner of the 2005 DROY. "You have a chance to make a lot of big plays and make a pretty fast impact."

The first part of that equation might not bode well for defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, the first two defenders chosen in the 2010 draft -- at least in terms of winning the top rookie honor. As good as the Detroit Lions' Suh and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' McCoy are -- and there are scouts who feel they are among the best interior line defenders to enter the NFL in recent years -- tackles generally do not put up eye-opening numbers. Only five tackles have ever taken DROY honors, none since Dana Stubblefield (1993) and Tim Bowens (1994) won the award in consecutive years.

Just as ominous for Suh: The first defensive player selected in the draft hasn't won the award since Peppers in 2002.

In fact, over the past 10 seasons, the average draft spot for winning the rookie of the year award is the seventh defensive player selected. Twice in that stretch -- with the Texans' Ryans in 2006 and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Kendrell Bell in 2001 -- the award went to second-rounders. Four times in the past seven seasons, the ROY award went to the fifth defensive player selected. This year, that's inside linebacker Rolando McClain of Oakland -- behind Suh, McCoy, safety Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs ), and cornerback Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns). Those players, and others, of course, figure to be viable ROY candidates. But if history is any indicator, McClain is the early-line favorite.


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