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Published: Aug. 25, 2015 at 09:12 a.m.
Updated: Aug. 25, 2015 at 07:44 p.m.

Marcus Peters, Randy Gregory headline NFL DROY candidates

Last week, I presented my top five candidates for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. This week, I'm turning my attention to the defensive first-timers. And I'm predicting something will happen that hasn't since 1998: a cornerback will be named Defensive Rookie of the Year. (Charles Woodson took home the hardware after the '98 campaign.)

Yes, the list of rising defensive rookies presented below includes the requisite assortment of linebackers, pass rushers and linemen. But ultimately, I see a member of the defensive backfield standing at the front of the crowd by season's end.

NOTE: To see my top five Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates, click here.

5 Photos Total

  • I initially thought he lacked a position heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, but after watching him up close in Panthers camp, I think he'll be pretty good as a linebacker. He can play in space and does a good job blitzing. He possesses long arms and great instincts -- and he's very athletic. Thompson reminds me of Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David in that he's not huge but moves around well and makes plays (except he has a slightly bigger frame than David). That's not to say Thompson will produce at the same level as David, who had the third-most tackles in the NFL last season (146), what with the other established playmakers (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis) already in Carolina. But I think he'll be pretty effective as a rookie. 5

    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    5) Shaq Thompson, LB, Carolina Panthers

    I initially thought he lacked a position heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, but after watching him up close in Panthers camp, I think he'll be pretty good as a linebacker. He can play in space and does a good job blitzing. He possesses long arms and great instincts -- and he's very athletic. Thompson reminds me of Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David in that he's not huge but moves around well and makes plays (except he has a slightly bigger frame than David). That's not to say Thompson will produce at the same level as David, who had the third-most tackles in the NFL last season (146), what with the other established playmakers (Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis) already in Carolina. But I think he'll be pretty effective as a rookie.

  • Anthony has been a real surprise to me. When the Saints selected him near the end of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, I was skeptical, seeing him as more of a second-rounder. But after watching him in action this summer, it's clear to me he's going to be a very good middle linebacker. He just <i>looks</i> like a linebacker. He can play in space, he can take on blockers and he fills quickly. If the Saints accomplish anything at all on defense in 2015, Anthony will have had a lot to do with it. 4

    G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press

    4) Stephone Anthony, LB, New Orleans Saints

    Anthony has been a real surprise to me. When the Saints selected him near the end of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, I was skeptical, seeing him as more of a second-rounder. But after watching him in action this summer, it's clear to me he's going to be a very good middle linebacker. He just looks like a linebacker. He can play in space, he can take on blockers and he fills quickly. If the Saints accomplish anything at all on defense in 2015, Anthony will have had a lot to do with it.

  • Williams was <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000486422/article/hot-100-40-leonard-williams-top-prospect-in-2015-nfl-draft">my top-ranked prospect</a> heading into the draft, and I like the No. 6 overall pick's chances in this race even more knowing that he'll likely be asked to play a lot right away, with linemate -- and former Rookie of the Year -- Sheldon Richardson <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000505238/article/sheldon-richardson-charged-with-resisting-arrest">sidelined by suspension</a>. Williams can move up and down the line. He can play tackle or end, and he has pass-rush ability. But I don't think he'll finish with a ton of sacks in 2015, given that I expect him to line up mostly inside. He just overwhelms his opponents, as he did when USC faced Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last December. I see him as a potential perennial Pro Bowler. 3

    Damian Strohmeyer/Associated Press

    3) Leonard Williams, DT, New York Jets

    Williams was my top-ranked prospect heading into the draft, and I like the No. 6 overall pick's chances in this race even more knowing that he'll likely be asked to play a lot right away, with linemate -- and former Rookie of the Year -- Sheldon Richardson sidelined by suspension. Williams can move up and down the line. He can play tackle or end, and he has pass-rush ability. But I don't think he'll finish with a ton of sacks in 2015, given that I expect him to line up mostly inside. He just overwhelms his opponents, as he did when USC faced Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last December. I see him as a potential perennial Pro Bowler.

  • Gregory is a narrow-hipped guy with kind of an under-developed upper body, but he has one important thing going for him: an extremely quick first move. The second-round pick is also a hard worker who will study film and do whatever it takes to improve himself. He's a flexible athlete who is long and explosive, having run a 1.50-second 10-yard split at the NFL Scouting Combine -- that's wide receiver speed. His only negative is that he currently struggles to play the run, but you can see him getting bigger already. I think he'll be the athletic pass-rushing force people hoped Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo would become. I could see him finishing the season with around 10 sacks. He <i>loves</i> to play football; when he gets a chance to play, he lights up. 2

    Greg Trott/Associated Press

    2) Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas Cowboys

    Gregory is a narrow-hipped guy with kind of an under-developed upper body, but he has one important thing going for him: an extremely quick first move. The second-round pick is also a hard worker who will study film and do whatever it takes to improve himself. He's a flexible athlete who is long and explosive, having run a 1.50-second 10-yard split at the NFL Scouting Combine -- that's wide receiver speed. His only negative is that he currently struggles to play the run, but you can see him getting bigger already. I think he'll be the athletic pass-rushing force people hoped Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo would become. I could see him finishing the season with around 10 sacks. He loves to play football; when he gets a chance to play, he lights up.

  • To me, Peters was the most talented cornerback in the draft, and I think he slipped to 18th overall because other people didn't do the background work on him that the Chiefs did. Yes, he was <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000423666/article/washington-dismisses-star-cb-marcus-peters">dismissed from Washington</a> last November, but in my personal dealings with him, he's been a really good guy. In fact, I like his demeanor; rather than hanging his head after he gets beaten on the field, he comes right up, smacks his fist into his hand and says, "Throw it at me again!" He's an <i>accept the challenge</i> guy, and you like to see that in a corner. Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton seem to get the most out of their players, and I think Peters will negate plenty of potential catches this season. 1

    Greg Trott/Associated Press

    1) Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

    To me, Peters was the most talented cornerback in the draft, and I think he slipped to 18th overall because other people didn't do the background work on him that the Chiefs did. Yes, he was dismissed from Washington last November, but in my personal dealings with him, he's been a really good guy. In fact, I like his demeanor; rather than hanging his head after he gets beaten on the field, he comes right up, smacks his fist into his hand and says, "Throw it at me again!" He's an accept the challenge guy, and you like to see that in a corner. Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton seem to get the most out of their players, and I think Peters will negate plenty of potential catches this season.