End-of-season award prediction for 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

Three of the league's elite pass rushers came from the 2011 rookie class. In fact, the top three finishers in sacks were sophomores: Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5), San Francisco's Aldon Smith (19.5) and Denver's Von Miller (18.5).

Miller was last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Smith has the second-most sacks (33.5) over the past two seasons behind only Minnesota's Jared Allen (34.0).

Not just a pass-rushing specialist, however, "J.J. Swat" is tied for 10th in the league in passes defended (16). The only other non-DBs to have double-digit passes defended were Washington linebacker London Fletcher and Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs (11).

Turning our attention to this year's rookie class, there are several players in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Here is my prediction for the winner and runner-up of the award (see past winners):

Winner: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

In three seasons at Boston College, Kuechly was a tackling machine, but the instinctive linebacker picked up in his first NFL season where he left off in college.

Kuechly led the NFL in tackles (164) and finished with 15 more than San Francisco's Navorro Bowman, who finished second this year.

Aside from leading the NFL in tackles, Kuechly had three fumble recoveries, which ties him for sixth in the NFL, one sack and two interceptions. He also had eight passes defended.

With the addition of Kuechly, the Panthers defense allowed more than four fewer points per game in 2012 (22.7 from 26.8 PPG in 2011). Plus, they held opponents to a total of 333.1 yards per game (down from 377.6 YPG) and 110.1 rushing yards per game (down from 130.8 YPG).

Runner-up: Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams

The choice for runner-up was close as I considered Casey Hayward, who led all rookies with six interceptions and 21 passes defended, Tampa Bay's Lavonte David, Seattle's Bobby Wagner and Minnesota's Harrison Smith.

Along with Patriots safety Tavon Wilson, Jenkins was tied for second among rookies in interceptions (four). Remarkably, Jenkins has returned three of those four interceptions for touchdowns. The only other player to return three interceptions for scores this season was Chicago's Charles Tillman.

In addition, Jenkins finished 11th among rookies in tackles (73). All of the rookies inside the top 10 were linebackers (eight) or safeties (two).

He is third in passes defended (14) behind Hayward and Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore.

Throughout the rest of the week, I will make my predictions for the remainder of the postseason awards. For an easy way to keep track of my picks, they will all be recorded on this page.

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