Predicting the 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Race

The 2022 NFL Draft featured some absolutely incredible players on the defensive side of the ball, and the first-round may have been one of the deepest for defence in recent memory. Several players taken in the top-10 have the ability to be generational talents, and if they can get off to fast starts, there's potentially going to be at least five players or more vying for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

It's not only those names drafted in high profile positions that will be in contention for the award, as this draft looks like it has produced several starters in every round, and it leads to the NFL having a very bright future on both sides of the ball. This may be one of the toughest awards to predict in the upcoming NFL season, as there are so many names that are ready to make an impact, but the following three are all in a position to thrive at the next level right from the off. 

3. Aidan Hutchinson

In the final few weeks leading up to the draft, before a shock No. 1 in Travon Walker emerged, many people believed that Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson was the clear favourite to be No. 1, and after his final season in Blue, it's very easy to see why. Hutchinson embodies what Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell is all about, and if he can get going early in the season, it's going to be very hard for teams in the NFC North and all over the NFL to stop him.

He's got a tall task ahead of him trying to restore the culture in Detroit, but with a talented young roster and a coach who will encourage him to be violent and every bit of himself, we could see big things in 2022 from Aidan. This race is as wide open as it could possibly be as we head into Week 2 of the pre-season, but if all the names on this list stay healthy, it's going to be one of the hardest decisions to split them, and if Hutchinson plays in every game for Detroit, he may put up some insane rookie numbers. 

2. Sauce Gardner

It was very clear from the past few years of college football that Sauce Gardner was going to be a difference maker, but most importantly a culture changer at the NFL level, and for the New York Jets, there was no better fit at the top of the draft. Sauce has an extraordinary combination of length, size, speed and athleticism, and if early reports from Jets camp are anything to go off, he's been able to keep up with receivers of any size with ease.

He made it clear at the draft that he was a name to watch, and although following in the footsteps of someone in New York like Darrelle Revis is never easy to do, he's got the attitude and belief in himself to make his mark on this team and city. The reason why he ultimately won't be able to take the Defensive Rookie of the Year award was on full display in the teams first pre-season game, as he was targeted a total of 0 times, but when he gets his chance, he's going to show everyone why he was worthy of the No. 4 overall pick. 

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux

Kayvon Thibodeaux was once touted as a future No. 1 overall pick, and while he certainly slid in the weeks and months ahead of the draft, he was still taken at pick No. 5 by the New York Giants. The Giants are a team looking to seriously turn it around, and if Kayvon's early performance at camp is anything to go by, he will pair well with Leonard Williams as this defence looks to step up and help this team regain some ground in the NFC East. 

With physical tools like few on any line in the NFL possess, Thibodeaux is going to wreak havoc on the entire NFL for years to come, and if the rest of the Giants defensive line can step up, you may be seeing a rookie do things off the edge like few in history have. This award is far from in the bag, as he's going to have an an all-time race on his hands, but given the skills he flashed at Oregon and the early reports out of New York, this is going to be a fantastic player for years to come. 

Photo Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran\ / USA TODAY NETWORK