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Will a defensive tackle be drafted in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft?

With question marks surrounding the defensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft, will we see one selected in Round 1 this year?

With the buzz growing around the 2021 NFL Draft, talk of the defensive tackle class is virtually silent, which is unusual. In the April 7 Draft Insiders show, Pro Football Network’s Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline discussed whether we will see any defensive tackles taken in the first round.

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Will a defensive tackle be taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft?

In anticipation of the 2021 NFL Draft, as usual, the majority of the discussion revolves around the quarterbacks. However, among the discussions surrounding other positions in this draft, one position group is conspicuous by its absence. With little buzz surrounding the 2021 defensive tackles, Pauline shone some light on whether we will see any taken in the first round when the draft rolls around.

“As far as the defensive tackle class is concerned, Christian Barmore of Alabama is getting some late first round consideration. Levi Onwuzurike from Washington is also getting some late first-round grades. But I don’t think any defensive tackle, when all is said and done, is going to end up as a first-round pick. Which is unusual. I have five defensive tackles right now graded as first or second day picks. And we usually see five to six defensive tackles taken in the first round alone.”

In Pauline’s latest big board, he has Barmore 41st overall and Onwuzurike 45th. Behind them are Daviyon Nixon (56), Milton Williams (74), Tommy Togiai (82), and Jay Tufele (94). In total, Pauline has 18 defensive tackles projected to be drafted in 2021.

How does this class compare to previous years?

The 2020 NFL Draft saw two defensive tackles drafted. However, both were taken inside the top 15 selections. Derrick Brown out of Auburn was selected No. 7 by the Carolina Panthers, with Javon Kinlaw at No. 14 to the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2019, two defensive tackles were selected in the top 10 — Quinnen Williams (Jets) and Ed Oliver (Bills). Another three were selected inside the top 20, with six taken in the first round in total. Nose tackles (Vita Vea and Daron Payne) were selected 13th and 14th overall, respectively, in 2018. The last time zero defensive tackles were taken in the first round prior to 2021 was the 2017 NFL Draft. In that draft, Malik McDowell was the first DT off the board at 35.

Put quite simply by Wingo on the show, “This is not a great class for defensive tackles.”

Is the weak defensive tackle class indicative of a weak defensive draft?

While a particular position group can be weak in a strong defensive class, that is not the case this year. As Pauline discussed on the show, this draft is top-heavy offensively.

“The 2021 defensive tackle class, I think, is indicative of the entire defense in this year’s draft. It’s a very heavy offensive draft, and the defensive players are O.K. There are not really any great defensive players. Which is why we probably won’t see a defender taken, or we may see just one defender taken in the first 10 picks. It’s going to be offense.”

On his big board, Pauline has three defensive players within his top 10 prospects. Those are Patrick Surtain (sixth), Micah Parsons (eighth), and Jaycee Horn (10th). However, with five QBs projected to go in the top 10, as well as at least one offensive tackle and wide receiver, alongside Kyle Pitts at tight end, there are limited opportunities for defensive players to be selected. The back end of the first round could see a run on defensive players, however.

In total, Pauline has 25 players projected as first-round selections. Of those, nine are defensive players. One of those players is Caleb Farley, who subsequently could slide into the second round following his microdiscectomy surgery. Furthermore, Pauline has another four defensive players considered borderline first-round selections. On the other hand, none of those borderline first-round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft are defensive tackles.

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