Breaking Down C.J. Mosley’s Competition for DROY


If only Baltimoreans were allowed to vote for the Defensive Rookie of the Year, C.J. Mosley would win almost unanimously. Fortunately for Baltimore Ravens fans, Mosley has a good enough case to win outright.

First of all, Mosley leads all rookies in tackles by far. His 133 tackles exceeds the No. 2 tackler, Buffalo linebacker Preston Brown, by 24. Voters for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award have long been swayed by a big tackle stat.

Second, Mosley has the most stuffed stat sheet of any competitor. He has three sacks (tied for ninth among rookies), two interceptions (tied for second among rookies) and ten passes defended. All told, Mosley has the best stats of any rookie.

The stats match the reality, as Mosley has made numerous impact plays throughout the year. Getting a lot of tackles is nice, but any linebacker can make tackles five-plus yards down the field. Mosley has excelled at shedding blocks and making tackles close to the line of scrimmage, further proof of his excellent year. His +11.3 rating on Pro Football Focus ranks tenth among inside linebackers, and his +12.4 rushing rating was third.

Yet, Mosley is no shoo-in. Peter King compiled a small group of voters who overwhelmingly selected St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, with Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack coming in second. Mosley was third, not far behind Mack.

Mack and Donald are pretty clearly Mosley’s top competitors for the award, so let’s take a look at their resumes.

Dec 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) scrambles under pressure from St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Donald, DT St. Louis Rams (47 tackles, nine sacks, +34.4 PFF rating, first among DTs)

When general managers draw up a one-gap three-technique defensive tackle, they draw up Aaron Donald. He’s not huge at 6’1″ 285 pounds. What he lacks in size, though, he makes up for in overwhelming explosion, as evidenced by his nine sacks.

Impressively, Donald is not just a star pass rusher; he is also a top-tier run defender, as he ranked third among defensive tackles in stops according to Pro Football Focus (stops refer to tackles made at or behind the line of scrimmage).

Donald is a well-rounded player, but voters don’t care about that. If he wins the award, it will be in large part because of those nine sacks.

December 21, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) rushes against Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler (84) during the fourth quarter at Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Khalil Mack, OLB Oakland Raiders (75 tackles, four sacks, one interception, +55.3 PFF rating, first among 4-3 OLBs)

Khalil Mack has the distinction of being the highest rated rookie on Pro Football Focus despite his underwhelming stats. Mack, drafted to be a top-tier pass rusher, has only gotten four sacks this year, though he has still generated plenty of pressure.

Where Mack made his presence most felt, surprisingly, was in run defense. Mack immediately become one of, if not the best edge setters in the NFL, excelling at stopping outside runs. His 48 stops were tied for seventh among 4-3 OLBs, though his 11 missed tackles hurt.

His lack of eye-popping stats when compared to Mosley and Donald will probably keep Mack from winning the award, and playing for the lowly Oakland Raiders doesn’t help either. Mack is a certified stud, though, and he could be a force for a long time.

So the question is, who will win, and who should win? At the risk of attracting the ire of Ravens’ fans, the answer to both questions is Aaron Donald.

Of all rookies, Donald has been the most impactful toward overall defensive performance. In the first four games of the Rams’ season, Donald was a role player, and in those games, St. Louis gave up 29.5 points per game. After Donald became an every down player in Week 6, the Rams have given up just 19.6 points per game, including two shutouts.

Further, Donald is the best of all rookies at the most important defensive skill in the game, rushing the passer. When a rookie immediately asserts himself as a dominant pass rusher, he has earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in my book.

Mosley has had a great season. In most seasons, he would win the award in a walk. Unfortunately for him, this isn’t most seasons. There is a very good chance Mosley will have to settle for a Playoff berth and a Pro Bowl selection, and that is not a bad consolation prize at all.

Next: Playoff Joe Flacco: Fact or Fiction?