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The NFL has millions of fans across America who tune in each week to experience gameday excitement. But there’s also always an eye on the latest round of recruits, and those that stand out from the crowd and compete for the prestigious end-of-season rookie awards.

With this in mind, we decided to analyze which of the last 20 winners of both the Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pepsi Rookie of the Year awards are best loved by supporters across the country.

With the likes of Travon Walker, Garrett Wilson, and Drake London from this year’s group of rookies already looking like stars, we’ve also picked out the favorites for this season’s award. Read on to find out where your favorite rookies rank!

The most loved defensive rookie of the year winners


We’ve looked at each of the last 20 winners of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and ranked each according to how well-loved they are among football fans, based on social media sentiment data.

Taking top spot, with a 10.00% positive sentiment score, we have 2012 winner and former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Meanwhile, 2006 winner DeMeco Ryans ranks second, with 8.90% of all online conversations about him considered positive.

Placing third, we have 2021’s winner and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (8.05%), ahead of LA Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (7.43%), who earned the award in 2014.

Earning a top five spot, 2003 winner Terrell Suggs sneaks in with a positive sentiment score of 6.66, while 2016 victor and LA Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (4.66%) just misses out.

2011 Rookie of the Year and two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller ranks seventh with a positive sentiment score of 4.61%, just ahead of 2019 winner and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (4.60%) - brother of Joey. 

Meanwhile, Super Bowl XLIV victor and 2004 rookie of the year Jonathan Vilma (4.36%) ranks ninth, ahead of 2017 winner and New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (4.23%) who rounds out the ten-highest ranking rookies.

The most loved Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year winners


We’ve looked at the previous winners of the defensive rookie award, but how about the stars eligible for the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost half of the last 20 winners of the coveted award play in the quarterback position, with the remaining positions largely populated by running backs and wide receivers.

Taking the number one spot and the title of best-loved rookie, former Carolina Panthers QB and 2011 victor Cam Newton registered a positive sentiment score of 11.00%.

Next up, we have another quarterback in Justin Herbert (9.08%), who won the award in 2020, while Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (7.64%) places fifth. Meanwhile, wide receiver pairing Percy Harvin (7.97%) and Ja’Marr Chase (7.97%) also feature in the top five, earning the awards in 2009 and 2021 respectively.

In sixth, 2013 rookie of the year and LA Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen records a positive sentiment score of 5.95%, ahead of Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson (4.62%) who won the award a year earlier.

The ten best-loved rookies of the last 20 years are rounded out by 2019 winner Nick Bosa (4.60%), who won the award alongside ‘best defensive rookie’, 2002 award winner and former New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey (4.35%), and New Orleans Saints running back victor Alvin Kamara (4.19%), who picked up the award in 2017.

Which defensive rookies are in the running for this year’s award?

Looking ahead to this year’s rookie awards, which first year defensive stars are tipped to take home the prize? We’ve picked out the five likeliest candidates and compared the rate of positive sentiment each records across social media.

1. Nakobe Dean, Philadelphia Eagles

In top spot, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nakobe Dean is the most adored new rookie, with a positive sentiment score of 8.83%. The linebacker was a third-round pick following a college career that saw him taste National Championship success and win the Butkus Award.

2. Devin Lloyd, Jacksonville Jaguars

Next up, Jacksonville Jaguars draftee and linebacker Devin Lloyd has a positive sentiment rating of 5.13%. The round one pick earned his first NFL contract after a successful NCAAF career at the University of Utah.

3. Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions

Trailing slightly, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson records a 5.03% positive sentiment score. A first-round pick for the Detroit Lions, the University of Michigan alumni won numerous personal accolades during his four-year NCAAF career, including the Ted Hendricks Award, Lombardi Award, and Lott Trophy.

4. Travon Walker

This year’s number one draft pick, defensive end Travon Walker is already showing fans why he’s up there with the favorites for the award, demonstrating explosive power and impressive athleticism in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ opening game against the Washington Commanders.

With a positive sentiment score of 4.99%, Walker places fourth on our list, and was selected by the Jaguars after a three-year NCAAF career that included National Championship victory in 2022.

5. Sauce Gardner, New York Jets

Rounding out the five most popular rookies, we have cornerback Sauce Gardner, who earned an NFL contract with the New York Jets as a first-round pick. Gardner spent his college career representing the University of Cincinnati, during which time he was awarded the AAC Defensive Player of the Year award.

The best of the rest

Just missing out on a top five finish, defensive end Jermaine Johnson of the New York Jets earns a positive sentiment score of 4.62%, followed closely by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (4.41%) of the New York Giants.

Meanwhile, the top ten is completed by Green Bay Packers’ new linebacker Quay Walker (3.88%), Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (3.11%), and Houston Texans cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (2.57%).

Despite missing out on a place among the pre-season favorites for the award, Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London both also deserve mentions, with each making a dream start to life in the NFL.

With the NFL officially back, it’ll be interesting to see which rookies can handle the heat, stand out from the crowd, and claim the coveted title of best in the business. In the meantime, check out the latest American football odds and picks for your team, or explore the latest NFL news.


To determine the rookies with the most positive online sentiment, we used the Linkfluence social listening tool. Linkfluence crawls data on mentions across the internet from the past 12 months. Using this data, we ranked the players on who was most positively talked about online.

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