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FanHouse Roundtable: Who Should Win Defensive Rookie of Year?

May 10, 2010 – 11:59 PM
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On the heeJeff Sinerls of news that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing tested positive for a banned substance -- an infraction that carries with it a four-game suspension to start 2010 -- the Associated Press decided to hold a re-vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year, which Cushing initially won in a landslide.

In the first vote, Cushing hauled in 39 of a possible 50 votes, blowing away Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd (six votes), Packers LB Clay Matthews (three) and Washington LB Brian Orakpo (two).

So how might the re-vote go? Some of our NFL writers weigh in with their winners -- and remember, Cushing's still eligible to take the award home.

Dave Goldberg: Clay Matthews

I thought he was closing in on Cushing when the season ended, but I voted for Cushing for his consistency. Matthews was an easy vote for me this time. Some people I respect voted again for Cushing, but the guy broke the rules. So it was easy to drop him. (Note: Dave Goldberg is one of the 50 AP voters for this award.)


Dan Graziano: Jairus Byrd

I think it's ridiculous to re-vote. The idea that, "Well, he shouldn't be eligible because he was caught cheating in September and obviously his performance was aided by what he took" is simplistic and misguided. What if you vote for Jairus Byrd and it comes out next week he tested positive, too? You're going to just keep voting until you get somebody who doesn't get suspended?

We go through this as baseball Hall of Fame voters (Note: Dan Graziano is a voting member of the Baseball Hall of Fame). Either you vote for the steroid guys or you don't. But this sets a bad precedent. I guess I'd vote for Byrd if I had a vote and the information I have right now, but I can't fault anybody for sticking with their original Cushing vote, given the fact that we don't know the names of EVERYONE who used performance-enhancing drugs in 2009.


Chris Harry: Jairus Byrd

The Buffalo Bills haven't had much to poke their chests out about lately, thanks to that AFC-worst 10-season playoff drought. So as long as we're re-polling the 2009 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award, give it to Bills safety Jarius Byrd. But not out of sympathy. Byrd earned it.

Unlike Brian Cushing, Byrd didn't cheat the system -- and, no, I don't buy the Junior Juicer's lame excuse -- by pumping banned substances into his body. And unlike the two other vote-getters in the original polling, both of whom had impressive debut campaigns, Byrd didn't come with first-round pedigree. Didn't need it, either.

In 14 games (including 11 starts), Byrd had 45 tackles and tied a trio of the game's finest defensive backs -- Darren Sharper, Charles Woodson and Asante Samuel -- for the league lead with nine interceptions on his way to be voted runner-up Rookie of the Year. During a five-game run of his rookie season, the former Oregon standout was as good as any safety in the league, making 19 tackles and intercepting eight balls, including a three-game run with two picks in each.

Byrd was good enough to finish second in the balloting. By rule -- a foreign concept to Cushing, apparently -- that should make him No. 1 now.


Stephanie Stradley: Brian Cushing

If the vote has to happen right away, I select Brian Cushing. Not only was he the best defensive rookie, but the case could be made he should have been overall Rookie of the Year. He was voted All-Pro as a rookie (though that too might be rescinded) and had a playmaking effect on games despite play hurt all season.

I think that the AP writers rushing for an unprecedented re-vote is a sanctimonious spectacle. Though we may not know any of the relevant facts about how Cushing's PED violation occurred, the AP seems to want to rush the vote without: 1) even finding out any basic facts that may come to light -- whether the violation was intentional, unintentional, major, minor -- those things don't matter to PED policy violations, but they do matter to people judging the situation; 2) giving the voters some thinking time to figure out the best alternative candidate if they choose to pick someone who wasn't the best rookie, but the best rookie who didn't get caught violating the PED policy.

Those who chart games recognize Byrd's good fortune with his interceptions and question marks with the rest of his game, and many would not consider Matthews, but for him being a part of the postseason.

The NFL's drug policy rightfully and sensibly requires players to be responsible for everything that goes into their bodies. But if I had to vote right this second, without time for additional facts on the situation, I think the best vote is for Cushing.

Chris Burke: Clay Matthews

I suppose I'm excluding Cushing on principle, though I'm aware that kind of sets a stern precedent going forward (or looking back) in regard to how to treat those who get suspended for positive drug tests.

But I can justify my Matthews selection because, if I had a vote, I might have originally voted for Matthews anyway. Cushing had a tremendous season, but Matthews played a huge role in the Packers' postseason push and put up big performances against tough competition -- from Weeks 12 through 15, in the thick of the playoff push, he had tallied six sacks, five coming against either Baltimore, Chicago or Pittsburgh. It's that factor that bumps him ahead of Cushing, in my mind, and also on top of a guy like Brian Orakpo, who had 11 sacks (one more than Matthews), but beefed up against mediocre competition (no sacks against a playoff team) and struggled down the stretch.

I'll make special mention of Detroit's Louis Delmas here, too. It's hard to leapfrog him over the others in play here, but Delmas was arguably the best player on the Lions' defense. Had Detroit finished better than 2-14, he would've gotten more attention.
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