Top 12 Rookie IDPs
Ansah had the most modest stat sheet of these 12 nominees in college, but the likely jump in his production in the NFL and the scarcity of standout defensive line IDPs make him the top target on my list. Ansah has a huge wingspan, good hand usage and a great deal of athleticism, both in straight line and lateral terms. He’ll play a big snap count right away in Detroit, because the Lions just don’t have any other talent at end.2. Arthur Brown, ILB, BAL
Even if Rolando McClain doesn’t get cut for his latest boneheaded off-the-field behavior, Brown should be a three-down linebacker for Baltimore in 2013. His motor and athleticism really jump out, and he’s quick to diagnose plays. The McClains – Rolando and Jameel – can’t keep Brown off the field.
3. Jonathan Cyprien, S, JAC
Cyprien is an almost automatic starter for Jacksonville, a team that should see a fairly high defensive snap count due to an offense that will likely struggle due to poor quarterback play. Cyprien was extremely productive at Florida International, totaling 365 tackles in four years.4. Kenny Vaccaro, S, NO
Malcolm Jenkins (94 tackles) and Roman Harper (115 tackles) both posted big IDP numbers in 2012, and Vaccaro will inherit the role of one of those disappointing players. Between playing nearly all of New Orleans’ snaps and seeing the field often due to Drew Brees’ tendency to score quickly, Vaccaro is one of the strongest rookie bets to see 100 tackles.5. Alec Ogletree, OLB, STL
Ogletree is a bit of a gamble because he’ll need to beat out Jo-Lonn Dunbar for nickel snaps in St. Louis, but Ogletree’s upside is enormous if he does so. Ogletree’s rare combination of length and athleticism give him a great deal of range, and he’ll likely have room to roam with offenses primarily concerned with the likes of Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford and James Laurinaitis. Ogletree totaled 111 tackles in 10 games in 2012.
Minter piled up 130 tackles in 13 games in 2012, including four sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He's a thumper more than anything, yet he pursues effectively. He'll be especially active while Darryl Washington is suspended.
7. Manti Te’o, ILB, SD
The Chargers have almost nothing at inside linebacker other than Donald Butler, so Te'o has no good excuse to not emerge as a three-down nickel linebacker alongside Butler. Te'o pursuit ability is badly overrated, but three-down linebackers typically get to triple-digit tackles by default.
8. Xavier Rhodes, CB, MIN
Rhodes excels in press coverage, and he joins a Minnesota defense that primarily utilizes the cover-2, which absolutely maximizes Rhodes' talents. Rhodes will hit receivers hard at the line, and his big wingspan will allow him to snatch any off-target passes, which should occur fairly regularly with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Sharrif Floyd chasing quarterbacks.
Elam is a heat-seeking missile who could warrant a spot in the top five if Michael Huff picks up the Ed Reed centerfielder role in Baltimore, leaving Elam with more run-defending work. But it's not clear how that split might work at this point.
10. T.J. McDonald, S, STL
McDonald has a clear strong safety skill set, though he has the athleticism to cover more range than the typical strong safety can. He led USC with 110 tackles last year, and there's little that can get in his way on the St. Louis roster.
11. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, ARZ
It looks like the Cardinals will use Mathieu as a free safety and perhaps a slot corner, which should play to his strengths as a pest who separates runners from the football. The rest of the AFC West runs often, so Mathieu should have plenty of chances to pursue.
12. Kiko Alonso, LB, BUF
Alonso's stock is up in the air due to the lack of certainty regarding how he fits into the Buffalo defense. If he's playing in the nickel formation, Alonso should make it to 100 tackles. But he was a bit wild at Oregon, and it's not a guarantee that he'll win the coaching staff's trust as a rookie.