It’s a passing league. That’s one NFL truth no one can run away from anymore. Subsequently, supplementing the pass, and stopping the pass, are two areas of utmost importance. Defensive ends are some of the most pivotal players when it comes to stopping the pass. The importance of defensive ends was evident in the 2021 NFL Draft, as teams flocked to add more to their arsenal.
Which defensive ends were drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Let’s look at the defensive ends selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, starting with those chosen in Round 1.
1) Jaelan Phillips, Miami (FL) | Round 1, Pick 18 | Miami Dolphins
The spotlight was on Gregory Rousseau heading into the 2020 season. But when he opted out of the 2020 campaign, the opportunities went to Jaelan Phillips. With those opportunities, Phillips amassed 8 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. In doing so, he leaped ahead of Rousseau on the draft board and became the top defensive end in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Phillips is supremely athletic within his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, and he has the hand usage to be an immediate boost to Miami’s defense.
2) Kwity Paye, Michigan | Round 1, Pick 21 | Indianapolis Colts
Kwity Paye had the most buzz as the top defensive end in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, on draft day, he was overtaken by Phillips. Even so, the Michigan product didn’t fall far, as the Colts scooped him up with the 21st pick.
After several seasons of relying on mid-round picks on the edge, the Colts finally invested heavy capital into one of the most critical positions on defense. With his explosiveness, density, cornering ability, and red-hot motor, Paye should be able to give Indianapolis the infusion of playmaking ability they need.
3) Payton Turner, Houston | Round 1, Pick 28 | New Orleans Saints
Four of the final five picks in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft were defensive ends, and Payton Turner was the one who started the run. Turner was one of the most surprising picks in Round 1, but the Saints felt the need to replace Trey Hendrickson with a high-level player.
Although this might have been a bit high for Turner, there’s a reason someone reached to grab him. He’s an exceptional athlete with elite length and versatility, and he’s also a high character player who should take to NFL coaching early on.
4) Gregory Rousseau, Miami | Round 1, Pick 30 | Buffalo Bills
After accumulating 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman, many quickly penciled in Rousseau as a top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. As time went on, his stock cooled. His decision to opt-out helped other defensive ends surpass him, and an average pro day performance further muddied his projection.
Nevertheless, Rousseau is a high-upside prospect for the Bills. His stellar length should allow him to develop as a run defender and a pass rusher, and he owns some inside-outside versatility.
5) Odafe Oweh, Penn State | Round 1, Pick 31 | Baltimore Ravens
We can say this, if nothing else, about the selection of Odafe Oweh: The Ravens added one of the freakiest athletes of all time. At 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, Oweh recorded a 4.37 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical, a 134-inch broad jump, and a 6.9 three-cone time. On top of all that, he possesses 34.5-inch arms.
Physically, Oweh checks every single box. He’s still fairly raw, and he needs to keep adding pass-rush moves to his arsenal. But if he can reach his full potential, he can be the most explosive and dynamic edge rusher from this draft class.
6) Joe Tryon, Washington | Round 1, Pick 32 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There were a plethora of paths the Buccaneers could take at No. 32 overall. Their team is just as strong as it was a year ago. Still, adding Joe Tryon may make it even better. The element of projection is particularly present here; Tryon opted out in 2020 after logging 8 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2019.
Despite this, Tryon is a strong athlete at 6-foot-5, 259 pounds. And in Tampa Bay, he’ll have the luxury of sitting behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett in the rotation. At the peak of his development, he can adequately succeed them.
Defensive ends selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Rounds 2 & 3
7) Azeez Ojulari, Georgia | R2-P50 | New York Giants
8) Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt | R2-P54 | Indianapolis Colts
9) Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest | R2-P61 | Buffalo Bills
10) Joseph Ossai, Texas | R3-P69 | Cincinnati Bengals
11) Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo | R3-P79 | Las Vegas Raiders
12) Chauncey Golston, Iowa | R3-P84 | Dallas Cowboys
13) Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh | R3-P90 | Minnesota Vikings
14) Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma | R3-P96 | New England Patriots
This class will ultimately be judged by its half-dozen first-round edge defenders, but the group on Day 2 has the potential to carry weight as well. Azeez Ojulari, Joseph Ossai, and Ronnie Perkins were all viewed as potential first-round picks at one point. Ossai, in particular, has a fantastic athletic makeup, and he could produce early for the Bengals.
Beyond them, Dayo Odeyingbo is another athletic specimen who’s already stout in run defense. Basham and Golston have positional versatility, and Patrick Jones II has some measured upside if he can become more consistent. The only major reach seems to be Malcolm Koonce, but even he has potential.
Defensive ends selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 4
15) Cameron Sample, Tulane | R4-P111 | Cincinnati Bengals
16) Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa | R4-P116 | New York Giants
17) Chris Rumph II, Duke | R4-P118 | Los Angeles Chargers
18) Jordan Smith, UAB | R4-P121 | Jacksonville Jaguars
19) Janarius Robinson, Florida State | R4-P134 | Minnesota Vikings
20) Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh | R4-P135 | Tennessee Titans
21) Joshua Kaindoh, Florida State | R4-P144 | Kansas City Chiefs
Round 4 was the most crowded in the entire 2021 NFL Draft, with seven defensive ends taken in this range. Senior Bowl star Cameron Sample was the first edge defender off the board on Day 3, joining Ossai in a solid defensive line class for the Bengals. Fellow Senior Bowl standouts such as Elerson Smith, Jordan Smith, Janarius Robinson, and Rashad Weaver followed shortly thereafter.
Beyond them, there’s also Chris Rumph II, who fits the Chargers’ scheme well, and Joshua Kaindoh, who has an impressive combination of athleticism and length to mold.
Defensive ends selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 5
22) Ta’Quon Graham, Texas | R5-P148 | Atlanta Falcons
23) Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame | R5-P171 | Baltimore Ravens
24) Earnest Brown IV, Northwestern | R5-P174 | Los Angeles Rams
25) Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Notre Dame | R5-P182 | Atlanta Falcons
After the mass transit of talent in Round 4, Round 5 was quiet on the defensive line. Nevertheless, four defensive ends were picked in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and several are worth noting. Ta’Quon Graham is most often viewed as a defensive tackle. Yet, he has superb athleticism and length for his size, and he can be moved around in Dean Pees’ scheme.
Fellow Falcons selection Adetokunbo Ogundeji also has some positional flex. Daelin Hayes is a traditional edge rusher, but the high character prospect has untapped athletic upside, making him an excellent long-term investment for the Ravens. That upside is less present for Earnest Brown IV.
Defensive ends selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Rounds 6 & 7
26) Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina | R6-P191 | Philadelphia Eagles
27) Victor Dimukeje, Duke | R6-P210 | Arizona Cardinals
28) Quincy Roche, Miami | R6-P216 | Pittsburgh Steelers
29) Patrick Johnson, Tulane | R7-P234 | Philadelphia Eagles
30) Wyatt Hubert, Kansas State | R7-P235 | Cincinnati Bengals
31) Jonathon Cooper, Ohio State | R7-P239 | Denver Broncos
32) William Bradley-King, Baylor | R7-P240 | Washington Football Team
33) Shaka Toney, Penn State | R7-P246 | Washington Football Team
34) Marquiss Spencer, Mississippi State | R7-P253 | Denver Broncos
Nine defensive ends were selected in the final two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. Three teams doubled up in this range — the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, and Washington Football Team. Washington’s duo is most intriguing; Bradley-King was a standout at the Senior Bowl and offers exceptional athletic upside and proportional length.
Shaka Toney, meanwhile, is an elite athlete, although he may fit better as a 3-4 OLB. He’s being cross-trained as a linebacker in D.C., which should bode well for him. Beyond those players, Quincy Roche is an excellent value deal for the Steelers at the end of Round 6, and Jonathon Cooper provides substantial depth in Round 7.
How many defensive ends were drafted in 2021?
In total, 34 defensive ends were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Yet, some of these players — Ta’Quon Graham and Marquiss Spencer among them — may play roles that more closely resemble defensive tackles. Additionally, players like Shaka Toney and Chris Rumph II may adopt more versatile roles as linebackers by virtue of their size and athleticism.
Even despite this, the 2021 NFL Draft appears more productive at defensive end than the 2020 NFL Draft — at least on the surface. The 2020 class produced 27 defensive ends. Chase Young, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year, keeps the class afloat for now. But the 2021 class has the sheer volume, depth, and top-end talent to quickly topple its predecessor.
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