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Denzel Ward Back Among Top 3 Defensive Rookie of the Year Contenders

Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall of the Cleveland Browns
Denzel Ward, seen walking with Damarious Randall, has been great for the Cleveland Browns this season, recording three interceptions through the first five weeks. Photo by Erik Drost (Wiki Commons) [CC License]
  • Denzel Ward recorded another INT in Week 5, his third of the season
  • Ward’s average odds had been fading, but he now finds himself among the top 3 contenders for Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • See the odds for all DROY contenders

We’re almost a third of the way through the NFL season. That means we’re starting to get a good idea of the front runners for the end of year awards for both veterans and rookies.

On the offensive side of the ball, there are plenty of names to consider. Among the quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield are the names to remember. Running backs Saquon Barkley, Phillip Lindsay, and Sony Michel are going to make some noise, too.

Defensively the field is much shorter. But it’s a teammate of Mayfield’s that has seen his odds get a big boost from a Week 5 performance.

Average 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Odds

As you see, Ward’s two interceptions in Week 1 resulted in a pretty big move up the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year odds board for the fourth-overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. But he had been pretty quiet since.

Ward rejuvenated his odds with another interception in Cleveland’s Week 5 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Bovada’s 2018 NFL DROY Odds

Player Team Pos Odds to win 2018 NFL DROY at Bovada
Derwin James LAC S +250
Darius Leonard IND ILB +300
Denzel Ward CLE CB +300
Tremaine Edmunds BUF ILB +550
Bradley Chubb DEN EDGE +1400

*Follow the link in the table to see all betting options

Ward Playing a Major Role in Browns Resurgence

One of the biggest changes for the Browns has been on the defensive side of the ball. Denzel Ward has been at the heart of that changeover.

The corner was taken with the second of Cleveland’s two top five picks at the 2018 NFL Draft.

So far, Ward has come as advertised. The Ohio State product is on pace for nine picks this season, and he’s also forced a fumble.

If he maintains his pace, he’d be just the fifth 21-year-old in NFL history to record nine INTs.

Ward’s Impact Being Felt Across Browns’ Defense

To this point in the season, the Browns are averaging 10.8 yards per completion. Last year that number was 11.8. While some of the Browns’ other numbers are on pace to be the same, or worse, than 2017, the change has been tangible.

Season Team Coverage Grade (Rank) Yards allowed per completion (Team) Highest graded CB (per PFF)
2018 75.4 (10th) 10.8 Denzel Ward – 83.1
2017 68.1 (25th) 11.8 Brienn Boddy-Calhoun – 77.5
2016 60.5 (28th) 11.5 Jamar Taylor – 77.7

According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns’ coverage grade has improved to 75.4. That’s tenth-best in the league. It’s also a significant improvement over each of the past two years.

And it’s not like Ward has been largely ignored either. He’s been targeted 41 times. Only Ronald Darby has been targeted more at 46. Among players targeted 30+ times, only Adoree’ Jackson has a lower QB rating.

Jackson clocks in at a 51.0 passer rating against. Ward is at 52.7.

Can Ward Fend off Competition to Earn DROY?

While Ward is having an excellent season, he’s not alone in this rookie class.

The Colts’ Darius Leonard has been all over the field. He leads the NFL in total tackles. He also leads all rookies with four sacks.

Meanwhile, the Chargers’ Derwin James has been a buzzsaw in LA’s secondary. He’s got 31 tackles of his own. He also has an interception and has allowed an equally minuscule 56.3 passer rating.

The three of them combine to make a very formidable class.

Who is the Best Bet for DROY?

DROY by Positon since 2000 Winners
Linebacker 11
Edge 3
Defensive Tackle 2
Cornberback 2

Since 2000, the award has largely been given to linebackers.

Starting with Brian Urlacher, 11 linebackers have won the award. But none since 2012.

Cornerbacks have started to turn the tide too, with two out of the last three DROY playing on the perimeter.

Unfortunately for Ward, his odds aren’t worth banking on him to make it three out of four. Especially because Baker Mayfield may start stealing his headlines in Cleveland.

While we’d like to keep rolling with Derwin James, it’s pretty easy to justify that too.
But on a team that has struggled for a long time defensively, Darius Leonard has made a difference in Indy. And if he keeps leading the way in tackles and sacks?

It’ll make a difference in DROY voting too.

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