IDP Rookie of the Year Awards

Defensive rookies made a huge impact this season. Which of IDP’s more prominent names earned a fantasy football award?

Each year, rookies are expected to contribute more and more. For some, it takes time to crack the rotation as a rookie, if at all. For others, it’s no issue, and fantasy owners happily see their favorite prospects thrive. Who thrived and performed well enough to earn an IDP Rookie of the Year award?

IDP Rookie of the Year Awards

Best Value: George Karlaftis

Expectations were varied for Karlaftis, who arrived as a day-one pick for a team destined to face a ton of drop-backs and, therefore, sack opportunities. While it took some time, Karlaftis eventually found his form. He had half a sack or more in all but two games from Week 12 onward and seven straight games of one TFL before the playoffs.

Karlaftis has Chris Jones as a running mate for the future, and a dominant duo may be forming on the defensive end just as much as the offensive side of the ball. Karlaftis is likely the strongest on this list to earn a fantasy football award.

Most Surprising Breakout: James Houston

Nobody had this on their bingo card. In a quiet return from injury, Houston recorded two sacks in his debut game. Then he grabbed another. And another. Before you knew it, Houston finished the season with eight sacks in just seven games. All while hitting 50% of snaps or more in just two games. Wild.

Houston earned a role next season opposite Aidan Hutchinson, and his late-year rise in snaps showed the coaching staff was ready to give him a shot. Changes are coming in Detroit as the team likely pays good money for good talent, but Houston was a welcome surprise as an undrafted rookie.

Weirdest Fantasy Usage: Marcus Jones

Offense, defense, special teams, you name it — Marcus Jones scored touchdowns and caught passes while being a great CB option in leagues that rewarded return yards. While it took an injury to fellow rookie Jack Jones to get significant defensive snaps, the Patriots have again found a diamond in the rough.

Time will tell if new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien utilizes Marcus Jones on offense. But his ability in the return game shapes up for another intriguing aspect of such a weird debut season.

The Hype Award: Nick Cross

The role was there for Cross to take. Many, including myself, thought his strong summer was a sign of things to come in Indianapolis, given the rookie’s third-round pedigree. After 100% and 65% snap games to start the year, it appeared this would be the case.

Instead, the Maryland product never played more than three defensive snaps in a game for the rest of the year, despite Indianapolis’s playoff chances ending relatively early in the year.

It’s not over for Cross, who could find himself under a new coaching staff while still under the general manager who drafted him. Rodney McLeod is only getting older, after all. But after all the August excitement, it’s fair to say Cross provided far more hype than substance.

Most Fun to Watch: Jaquan Brisker

This is an incredibly subjective award, but it wouldn’t be right for Brisker not to have his name on this list. He had an incredible rookie season in the box and coverage. Brisker was indispensable to the Bears’ secondary, playing an every-down role and stepping up after veteran safety Eddie Jackson got injured.

Brisker led the team in sacks (four) as a safety, exceeded 100+ tackles as a rookie, and started all 15 games as a star. His strength in run support remains his greatest strength, with his tackles reflecting the usage and fantasy production. The future is bright with Brisker leading the way and well-deserving of this fantasy football award.

Honorable mention to Hutchinson, who finished the year incredibly strong and was just as exciting.

Best Future Outlook: Nakobe Dean

You can toss an honorable mention to Troy Andersen or Quay Walker, who could see massive usage and production in year two. But Dean is a name dynasty pundits continue to pound the table for, and for good reason.

Dean, a 2022 third-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles, barely played his rookie season. He impressed when he could, with 13 combined tackles and 9 solos on 39 defensive snaps, despite only playing in six games all year.

Dean still has immense upside in a system that allowed T.J. Edwards to be among the highest-scoring IDP options in tackle-favored formats. Edwards is a free agent and could walk to a team like Cleveland and reunite with Jim Schwartz.

Kyzir White, who often occupied the sidekick role, is also a free agent. Dean seems destined to see an increased role after a mostly redshirt rookie campaign, making him an excellent stash for 2023.

Biggest Bust: Travon Walker

Expectations were somewhat tempered, at least by #1 overall pick standards, but damn. Walker finished outside the top 50 DL despite playing 15 games. He had just 3.5 sacks in the regular season and never recorded back-to-back games with a TFL. This came after an excellent debut in Week 1 that suckered some into thinking more was coming.

Hopefully, Walker can build on a primarily disappointing rookie campaign as he heads into his second year on a rising Jaguars squad. For now, he gets the least-favorable fantasy football award.

MVP: Jalen Pitre

It’s hard to say anyone else. Even in an up-and-down season for NFL purposes, Pitre thrived in his usage, finishing as most format’s DB1.

He continued to improve throughout the year, as all rookies should. Three of his five interceptions came in the last six games, as did all but one of his five double-digit tackle games. It seems like Houston has found its starting safety in Pitre, and IDP players may be able to say the same thing.

A shortened version of this article first appeared in The IDPGuys Newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday morning straight to your inbox. Click here to sign up!

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