In the 2021 NFL Draft, a defensive player was not taken until the eighth overall selection. The first front seven player was not taken until 12th overall. While the top half of the first round was mostly offensive players, there were still good defensive players in the draft. There might not be a clear front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The first two defensive players taken in the draft were cornerbacks Jaycee Horn, and Patrick Surtain Jr. Both of these players had fathers who played in the NFL, so they might be prepared for what to expect at this level. Horn went eighth overall to the Panthers, and he might be expected to be a day one starter. The Panthers needed a starter to go next to Donte Jackson. The Panthers did sign AJ Bouye during the offseason. However, Bouye will be suspended for the first two games in 2021, so Horn might play early and often.
Surtain, meanwhile, was taken one pick after Horn by the Denver Broncos. The Broncos signed Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency so Surtain could start as the number three corner. However, since Surtain was considered the top corner in the draft, don’t be surprised to see him start sooner rather than later.
After the two corners, the next defender taken was Penn State Linebacker Micah Parsons at 12th overall by the Cowboys. Sean Lee retired before the draft, and Leighton Vander Esch has had problems staying healthy. The former five-star has all the talent to be a great linebacker in the NFL. Parsons may have opted out last year, however, he should start right away and become an impact player for the Cowboys.
The second linebacker taken was Zaven Collins, and he might make just as much of an impact as Parsons. Collins could form a nice tandem with 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Simmons. Collins is a big linebacker (6’4”, 260 lbs) that could deliver some hard hits this year.
Jaelan Phillips was the first edge rusher taken in the draft 18th overall by the Miami Dolphins. Phillips is talented as he was ranked as the number one overall recruit in the 2017 class. However, at one point, he had to medically retire from football while in college. The Dolphins needed an edge rusher as the team released Kyle Van Noy, and Shaq Lawson was traded. If he can stay healthy, Phillips should team with Emmanual Ogbah to make a great pass-rushing duo.
The Bills also took a pass rusher in the first round when they took Gregory Rousseau 30th overall. Rousseau opted out last year, however, had 15.5 sacks in his redshirt freshman season. For the Bills, Jerry Hughes will be 33 by week one, 2020 second-round pick AJ Epenesa had one sack, and Mario Addison had five sacks. Rousseau is young and still needs to get better as an edge player. However, if he can get to the quarterback early, he will be someone to keep an eye on.
Patriots second-round pick Christian Barmore could also be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. Lawrence Guy is 31 years old, Adam Butler is in Miami, and Byron Coward was the only other defensive tackle that made an impact in 2020. Barmore has the talent to play right away for the Patriots and become an important piece for the defense. Defensive tackles do not get a lot of attention in football. However, don’t count out Barmore if he does make an impact and helps the Patriots get back to the playoffs.
The biggest steal of the draft could be the Browns’ second-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. If it wasn’t for health concerns, Owusu-Koramoah might have been a top 20 pick. The Browns needed help at the linebacker position, as Malcolm Smith only started four games in 2020, and Mack Wilson’s play went down. The Browns did sign Anthony Walker from the Colts to help improve the linebacking core. Getting Owusu-Koramoah in the second-round might have the best thing for Cleveland as he could step in on day one and be the impact player at linebacker that they need.
The defensive players in this year’s draft might have taken a back seat to the offensive players early on. However, this group should still make an impact right away and could be the difference for some teams. The Defensive Rookie of the Year might come down to the very end.