7 Players Who Deserved 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year More Than Sheldon Richardson

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7 Players who Deserved NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year over Sheldon Richardson

New York Jets
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This past Saturday at the NFL Honors presentation, New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson took home the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Recording 77 tackles is an impressive total for a defensive end, let alone a rookie. Tallying 3.5 sacks certainly helped his case as well, but his two rushing touchdowns are likely where he cut his teeth with the voting committee.

While Richardson was certainly the favorite heading into the award show, but he was not the overwhelming front-runner that some may think. Over the course of the past couple of seasons, rookies have dominated in their rookie years. Looking to the quarterback position alone, three rookies led their teams to the playoffs last season. Luke Kuechly, this season’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Richardson’s predecessor for the rookie award, led the NFL in tackles last season as a rookie with 205 tackles.

We are no longer in an age where rookies must bide their time behind established veterans in order to soak up information and ease their way into the starting lineup. Players are adjusted to the speed of the NFL at historic rates and are performing like seasoned pros very early in their careers. Richardson is a force who will be here for years to come. However, other defensive rookies were plenty worthy of taking home that award as well.

With that said, I have come up with a list of seven rookies who deserved the Defensive Rookie of the Year award more than Richardson.

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7. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

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Kuechley’s teammate and fellow first-round pick Star Lotulelei had a fantastic rookie season. Largely considered a top-three prospect heading into the draft, he dropped to 14 and landed with the Carolina Panthers. Joining an already stout defensive line and improving defensive unit, Lotulelei became an embarrassment of riches for the Panthers as he racked up 42 tackles and three sacks, unusually high numbers for an inside d-lineman.

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6. Eric Reid, S, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco
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Did you notice that All-Pro Patrick Willis was out towards the beginning of the season while All-Pro Aldon Smith (Richardson’s teammate with the Missouri Tigers) missed almost two months, and the San Francisco 49ers’ Defense didn't miss a beat? Give rookie safety Eric Reid credit for a lot of that. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and totaled 77 tackles to go with four interceptions.

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5. John Cyprien, S, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Who? Cyprien was a high second-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars last year out of little-known Florida International University. Certainly, one wouldn’t expect a Jaguars player to win any awards after a year like they had, but Cyprien more than held his own on a defense that lacked stars. He tallied 104 tackles as a rookie safety for the Jags and appears to be a leader heading into the future on a defense that can only get better from here.

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4. Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams

St. Louis
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

More than any other team over the past few offseasons, the St. Louis Rams have stocked up on young defensive studs. One of those studs in last year’s first round was Alec Ogletree. Aside from some legal troubles, all Ogletree did for the Rams this past season is rack up 117 tackles and six forced fumbles. He will be a force in the future for a Rams team on the rise.

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3. Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

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The Detroit Lions took a chance on this raw prospect out of BYU last season and they hit gold. Ansah totaled eight sacks as a rookie and will join Nick Fairly and Ndomukong Suh to lead one of the best and most versatile defensive lines in the entire league.

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2. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills

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The Buffalo Bills' second-round pick out of Oregon started the entire season at linebacker and came out of the gate like gangbusters. The presumptive favorite for the ROY award at the midway point, Alonso tailed off towards the end of the season and allowed Richardson to overtake him. However, Alonso’s 159 tackles and four interceptions are promising for an upstart defense that was much better than advertised.

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1. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals

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The most intriguing prospect heading into the 2013 NFL Draft was Tyrann Mathieu. A Heisman finalist in 2011 and considered the best defensive player in all of college football, he sat out the entire 2012 season for personal reasons and entered the 2013 draft with mixed expectations. The Arizona Cardinals took a chance on him in the third round and paired him with close friend and former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson. What resulted was Mathieu’s reemergence as a top-notch defensive back and menace for quarterbacks and receivers alike. Unfortunately for Mathieu, he tore both his ACL and LCL in an early December victory over the Rams that ended his rookie year and likely denied him this award.