Last year was a great year for rookie defensive players. Maybe it was an unusually talented class, or maybe it speaks to teams' willingness to put those players in the starting lineup quickly. Whatever the case, it was the most productive group of defenders we've seen in a long time.

Darius Leonard was the standout, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and leading the NFL in tackles. Had he not missed a game, maybe he'd have surpassed Patrick Willis' total of 174 back in 2007, most of any rookie this century. As it was, he had the 3rd-best total since 2000, just one behind Luke Kuechly for 2nd.

Leonard was one of the seven rookies to go over 100 total tackles this year. That's tops for any rookie class over the last 20 years. There haven't been more than five 100-tackle rookies in any other season.

YearPlayerPos SoloAst Tot
2007Patrick Willis, S.F.ILB 13539174
2012Luke Kuechly, Car.MLB 10361164
2018Darius Leonard, Ind.OLB 11152163
2013Kiko Alonso, Buff.MLB 8772159
2006DeMeco Ryans, Hou.MLB 12530155
2018Leighton Vander Esch, DallOLB 10238140
2012Bobby Wagner, Sea.MLB 8753140
2007Jon Beason, Car.MLB 10634140
2012Lavonte David, T.B.OLB 11227139
2014C.J. Mosley, Balt.ILB 8944133
2009Brian Cushing, Hou.OLB 8647133
2008Jerod Mayo, N.E.ILB 10028128
2013Paul Worrilow, Atl.OLB 7948127
2012Vontaze Burfict, Cin.OLB 7354127
2007David Harris, NYJILB 9037127
2018Fred Warner, S.F.MLB 8539124
2006Ernie Sims, Det.OLB 8143124
2010T.J. Ward, Clev.SS 9528123
2018Roquan Smith, Chi.ILB 8932121
2018Tremaine Edmunds, Buff.MLB 8041121
2009James Laurinaitis, St.L.MLB 10713120
2006A.J. Hawk, G.B.OLB 8237119
2013Alec Ogletree, St.L.OLB 9423117
2005Kirk Morrison, Oak.LB 9125116
2004D.J. Williams, Den.OLB 8133114
2015Stephone Anthony, N.O.MLB 7042112
2015Landon Collins, NYGFS 8428112
2003Nick Barnett, G.B.MLB 8626112
2018Jessie Bates, Cin.FS 7338111
2006Thomas Howard, Oak.OLB 8822110
2014Preston Brown, Buff.OLB 6643109
2016Deion Jones, Atl.MLB 7533108
2014Chris Borland, S.F.ILB 8424108
2004Jonathan Vilma, NYJMLB 7730107
2016Keanu Neal, Atl.SS 7234106
2018Derwin James, LACFS 7530105
2005Kerry Rhodes, NYJSS 8520105
2014Telvin Smith, Jac.ILB 7232104
2013Johnathan Cyprien, Jac.SS 8717104
2012Harrison Smith, Minn.FS 7430104
2006Donte Whitner, Buff.SS 6737104
2005Lofa Tatupu, Sea.MLB 8519104
2004Madieu Williams, Cin.FS 8617103
2004Teddy Lehman, Det.OLB 7527102
2003Mike Doss, Ind.SS 7329102
2010Alterraun Verner, Tenn.CB 8516101
2004Erik Coleman, NYJFS 7327100
2002Chris Cash, Det.CB 8713100

Position scarcity and different scoring systems become factors when drafting individual defensive players. In some leagues you might be better off selecting a lineman like Aaron Donald than a linebacker like Leonard or Vander Esch. But when tackles are key, hard to consider anyone ahead of Leonard.

As for 2019, two rookies stand out as likely tackle producers. Tampa Bay’s Devin White and Pittsburgh’s Devin Bush should both start at inside linebacker right away. It was a good draft for pass rushers too; should be plenty of rookies in the rankings.

--Andy Richardson