Brian Cushing, Rookie of the Year
Brian Cushing of Houston is the Defensive Rookie of the Year. I'm a big fan of Aaron Curry, and Ray Maualuga is a big part of Cincinnati's surprise season, but honestly, it isn't close, and there aren't any offensive rookies who can match Cushing either.
I just ran new updated individual defense numbers through Week 9, and Cushing leads the NFL with 86 defensive plays. He's second in percentage of his own team's defensive plays, behind Atlanta's Curtis Lofton, and they are the only two defenders in the league who have been in on over 20 percent of their team's defensive plays.
Now, I know what you are saying... it isn't strange for a rookie linebacker to be near the top of the league in tackles. Didn't Cushing's teammate DeMeco Ryans do it just a couple years ago? Sure, that's true... but that's usually true about middle linebackers. Cushing is playing on the outside. And he's not making these plays at Ryans' expense. Ryans has 69 plays, which is 16 percent of Houston's total and still ranks eighth in the NFL. Their combination of being in on 36.9 percent of plays is the highest rate in the league for teammates, with Lofton and Eric Coleman second at 36.4 percent and Carolina's Jon Beason and Thomas Davis third at 33.5 percent.
Cushing isn't just making lots of plays. He's making important plays. Cushing leads the NFL with 20 Defeats. He has eight passes defensed, while no other linebacker has more than five. He's made his average run tackle after a gain of just 2.9 yards, which isn't among the league leaders but is above average for 4-3 outside linebackers.
The Houston defense has a lot of problems. The pass rush gets near the quarterback, but can't take him down -- the Texans are high in hits and low in sacks. The secondary is lousy, and Dunta Robinson still hasn't quite found his mojo since missing much of last year with an ACL injury. Linebacker is the only position where the Houston defense can match the Houston offense, thanks to the 2006 and (almost guaranteed) 2009 Defensive Rookies of the Year.