While most of the first-round selections were defenders, some of the top first-half performers were throughout the seven rounds as well as college free agents. Let’s take a look at how these young players have fared thus far.

Patrick Peterson, Arizona, 6-0 219: While this dynamic player is fine-tuning his skill set as a cornerback, he brings all the attributes to develop into a Pro Bowler at the position. He has the combination of height, weight, speed and ball skills that are all very important. He has excelled immediately as a punt returner. An eight-game starter at corner, he has produced two interceptions and eight passes defended. His off-the-chart production comes as a punt returner with three returns for a touchdown, the last coming on a 99-yard return in overtime to seal the deal against the Rams. Has earned Rookie of the Year honors as of today, for all rookies. A dynamic player and future Pro Bowler.

Softli Draft Notes: Early-out junior … Exceptional athlete with great body balance and control brings dual threat and versatility to the next level … Has a rare combination of size, speed, burst and acceleration … The best combo return man in the draft (29.1-yard average on kickoff returns, 16.1 average and two touchdowns on punt returns) … Man press corner that is physical, tough and extremely competitive along with aggressiveness, who doesn’t back down from anyone and plays with passion … Very good use of hands to jam and redirect receivers or knock them off course … Good foot quickness to step and replace, stem and adjust while maintaining cushion to accelerate pedal … Smooth hip transition to flip and mirror with gear change and stop-and-go quickness … Exceptional football instincts key and diagnoses with route recognition … Good click and drive downhill on balls as if he is the intended receiver … Exceptional deep ball range and ball skills to track and compete, out-jumping receivers with great timing and anticipation, body contort with very good production at the highest point with quick hands … When the ball is in the air he doesn’t worry about receiver location, his mentality is the ball is mine and he attacks it … Soft hands and natural receiving skills. Very good open field tackler with good collision and wrap … Good force tackler with arrows through snow, or head up to hit with eyes and wrap … After his first two contracts, move him to safety where he will continue his Pro-Bowl level of play … In my opinion he is the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Von Miller, Denver, 6-2 246: An outside linebacker that has and will develop into a force off the edge in coach John Fox’s defense. In eight games, he has 31 tackles, 25 solo, 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. This young ‘backer is off to a great start and based off his history at Texas A&M, he will finish strong.

Softli Draft Notes: Smooth and exceptional athlete with a great combination of height, weight and speed … A Pro Bowler in 3-4 defense will excel in a 4-3 front as well … The best rush outside linebacker in the draft with initial burst from two-point stance; can flip and clear hips with burst to quarterback … Good chase and pursuit with gear change and production outside of box … Good football instincts, plays smart despite slow eyes at times to key and diagnose, relies on outstanding read reaction quickness … Willing at point of attack vs. the run with force and contain while attacking line of scrimmage … Defender with good range and redirect … Plays with leverage, knee bend and strikes with good hand combat to defeat … Good man coverage in tight and open space … Has natural movement in zone drops with change of direction, acceleration out of turns with awareness of both ball and receiver … A collision run-through tackler with strong wrap and explosive finish, hits with authority … Top-5 pick.

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo, 6-3 319: The man in the middle, active and dominating with a great presence. He has 29 tackles. After watching film, I still believe he was a top-five pick and now he is making his presence felt in the NFL. An eight-game starter who has recorded 29 tackles, 3.5 sacks as an interior lineman. He will be a dominant player for years to come.

Softli Draft Notes: Good athlete with versatility to align and produce at several positions along the front … Very good football instincts and read reaction quickness … Is competitive, tough and aggressive and will play injured … Good frame to add bulk, thick in buttocks and thighs with lower body explosion … Interior defensive lineman with first-step quickness, flat back to play behind his pads with strong use of hands to butt and press and create separation from defender … Physical to stack point of attack and edge with steer, toss, tilt and shed with burst to hole or ball carrier … Good lateral slide in chase and pursuit with quick feet to stick foot in ground and change direction … Explosive inside pass rush skill set to bull rush and split double team and pressure pocket … Will need refinement and develop technique out of stance, hand combat and counter production … An explosive tackler to hit with his eyes, strong collision and wrap and will leave feet to making diving tackle production … Top five talent.

J.J. Watt, Houston, 6 5 288: The 2011 draft’s Eveready bunny. The Houston Texans drafted a non-stop motor, with relentless pressure on the pocket and the ability to flatten down the line of scrimmage. A nine-game starter with 29 tackles (27 of those are solo), two sacks and two fumble recoveries. While the stats are good, they are not great, but when you turn on the film the relentless motor and pressure on the pocket are evident as well as his second effort.

Softli Draft Notes: Good athlete with combination of power and quickness … Has the skill-set to play both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive end positions and might be better suited in the 3-4 front … Has displayed the ability to collapse the pocket on inside push with relentless motor to the quarterback; must block this player until the whistle … As pass rusher is physical; will need hand combat refinement with counter move development … Good football instincts and read reaction quickness, eyes flow to ball carrier with tackle for loss production … Has long lever to create separation on the move … A former tight end and transfer from Central Michigan is truly disruptive football player with great production for a two-year player at Wisconsin … Good collision tackler … Top 20 pick.

These are the defensive rookies that jump off the charts for me. For the next eight games, track which players maintain their performance and which youngsters surge to make a name for themselves.