Three dark-horse contenders for 2024 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

With the 2024 NFL Draft officially in the books, oddsmakers have already started setting lines on the favorites for NFL Defensive Rooke of the Year.Dark-horse contenders for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

And while Minnesota Vikings edge-rusher Dallas Turner, Indianapolis Colts edge-rusher Laiatu Latu and Los Angeles Rams defensive end Jared Verse are the presumed front-runners (for good reason), there are some other under-the-radar players who could enter the conversation once the season begins.

Here are three dark-horse candidates for 2024 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

1. T’Vondre Sweat, DT, Tennessee Titans

One thing Sweat will have going for him during his rookie season no one else will: he’ll be playing next to two-time second team All-Pro Jeffery Simmons, who commands plenty of attention and double teams from opposing offensive linemen.

The 6-foot-4, 362-pound Sweat is surprisingly athletic (he ran a 5.27 40-yard dash at the combine, which is almost unheard of for a player his size) and he’s difficult to block with just one man. He had the second-most tackles in run defense (28) and run stuffs (24) at Texas last season, per Pro Football Focus, and he had the second-most hurries (26), third-most pressures (31) and fourth-most tackles for loss (eight) on the team.

Simmons and Sweat may just be the most difficult-to-contain defensive tackle duo in the NFL, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sweat in the eight-to-10 sack range by the end of the year.

2. Austin Booker, Edge, Chicago Bears

Before Montez Sweat’s arrival at the trade deadline, the Bears had arguably the worst pass rush in the NFL. Aside from Sweat, only six other players recorded multiple sacks and three of them are no longer on the team (Justin Jones is with the Arizona Cardinals and Yannick Ngakoue and Rasheem Green are both free agents).

Chicago needs to give Sweat some help rushing off the edge on the opposite side, and Booker will get his share of opportunities. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound defensive end led Kansas in pressures (38), hurries (27), tackles for loss (12) and sacks (eight). Booker takes long strides, has an excellent spin move and excels at shedding blocks — all of which could help him have a productive rookie season for a team in desperate need of pass-rush help.

3. Cole Bishop, S, Buffalo Bills

After losing both starting safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde and their combined 1,238 coverage snaps, safety was arguably Buffalo’s biggest area of need heading into the draft last week.

Bishop not only gives the Bills a little bit of what both Poyer and Hyde did well — he’s got great awareness and route recognition, he’s a punishing hitter in zone coverage, and he has strong ball-tacking skills and closing speed — but he’s got the size (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) to hold up in coverage against some of the NFL’s top deep threats.

Bishop allowed a completion percentage below 60 and fewer than 200 yards in coverage in two of his three seasons at Utah. His ball-hawking skills and strong ability to cut off angles from deep down field could, and he could be as productive as some of the top rookie safeties in recent memory including Baltimore’s Kyle Hamilton and Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield Jr.

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