Welcome to the first defensive deep dive into the top talents entering the 2021 NFL Draft. First up on defence is at the edge rusher position, one of the most valuable roles on an NFL team. From a fantasy football perspective, some of the players below will have future value in your IDP leagues. If it’s a dynasty set-up, even better.
Let’s see which edge rushers NFL franchises may target in the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft. There isn’t a blue chip talent comparable to Chase Young (2020) or Nick Bosa (2019). However, there is depth at the position. Some of these Day One talents will inevitably fall out of the first round.
If you’re preparing for your rookie draft in an IDP league, we’ve got you, too. This article will give an early look into their fantasy football value in an IDP setup.
Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Height: 6’ 5”
Weight: 260 lbs
Production (2019): 54 tackles (34 solo), 15.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Rousseau is undisputedly the most physically gifted edge rusher in this draft class. 15.5 sacks at such an early stage in his college career meant that expectations were high. Opting out of the 2020 season hasn’t hurt his draft stock as first feared. No positional competitor has risen to his 2019 level of production. His athleticism terrorised ACC offensive lineman in his sophomore year. The problem some franchises will have is that it was exactly that: a year. With just one season of production, teams may pass on him over his positional rivals.
Though his technique requires polish, defensive coordinators will be salivating at the prospect of developing Rousseau’s talent. He has devastating speed and elite level athleticism for a defensive end.
Miami used Rousseau on both the edge of the defensive front, as well as the interior. Good news for NFL fans, not-so-good news for fantasy GMs. The potential for versatility along the line increases his draft value, but could equally stunt his fantasy production. IDP set-ups usually reward sacks above all else. If he is used as an interior rusher, his value will drop.
Kwity Paye, Michigan
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 275 lbs
Production: 16 tackles (12 solo), 2 sacks
Paye had 2 sacks in four games this season. In a disappointing season for Michigan that was disrupted by cancellations, Paye has stood out as a rare bright spot. He is explosive off the line, and uses his natural power to bully offensive linemen. His best moments come when he is facing the run. He has benefitted from playing across from Aidan Hutchinson, with college offences struggling to contain the pair. While Hutchinson will return to the Wolverines in 2021, Paye has declared.
Paye is rocketing up draft boards. Is it a result of Rousseau’s fall? Or have people seen his ferocity jump out on tape? Either way, it now seems entirely possible that Paye could be the first pass rusher off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.
At just 6’ 4”, he doesn’t have the length that premier edge rushers possess. Paye can stuff the run, but hasn’t yet shown that he can bend past the tackle. As a fantasy football GM, his value to your team is limited.
Patrick Jones II, Pitt
Height: 6’ 5”
Weight: 260 lbs
Production: 37 tackles (20 solo), 9 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Jones’ draft stock has fluctuated this season. He is a divisive prospect – he has the perfect blend of size and speed, but is still considered by some to be a Day Two pick. He saved his best tape of 2020 for the matchup with Boston College. The Eagles are famed for their history of producing top offensive line talent in the NFL. Jones had no problem powering past them on his way to the QB. He has an impressive spin move when his initial burst of speed is repelled.
Hand on heart, I’m higher on Jones than most will be. Yes, polish is needed to improve his technique. However his raw athleticism is immense. It may be some time before we see Jones contribute consistently on an NFL defensive line, but when he does, he can shine.
From a fantasy perspective, Jones is a valuable pickup due to his dominant pass rush potential. As with all NFL rookies, landing spot is key. You may not see an immediate reward, but Jones’ long term outlook is positive.
Joseph Ossai, Texas
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 245 lbs
Production: 51 tackles (22 solo), 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
Though Joseph Ossai has operated at the edge position for The Longhorns, his lack of size limits his potential at the position in the NFL. However, his speed and fierce tackling ability could signal a transition to line-backer at the next level. Though very much a raw prospect, his attributes are glaringly obvious. His speed and powerful tackling jump off the tape. Three of his four sacks came in the game against Oklahoma State. NFL Draft scouts may have been seeking a greater level of consistency from his tape. At this moment, he is a high risk-high reward pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
His pass rush technique lacks refinement, with Ossai usually seeking the shortest route to the ball carrier. As a result, bigger offensive linemen will use their size advantage to frustrate him in the NFL. However, if he transitioned to the second wave of attack, he has the potential to flourish. Right now, he is overly reliant on his athleticism. If he is to improve his on-field vision and rush technique, Ossai could be a diamond in the rough.
Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 240 lbs
Production: 25 tackles (16 solo), 5.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
Ojulari is another smaller edge rusher, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his performances this year. His hit on Alabama QB Mac Jones on the first play of the game propelled his name onto the national stage. Bulldogs fans have known for some time of his talent. Nick Saban quickly learned of Ojulari’s threat, and instructed his O linemen to support Left Tackle Alex Leatherwood in double teams. He also shone in Georgia’s Bowl Game victory over Cincinnati. He ended the game with an incredible 3 sacks, one of which was a game-ending safety.
As a redshirt sophomore, it was first thought that he would return to Athens in 2021. However, he has declared for the NFL Draft, and may well sneak into the conversation for a Day One draft pick. The sophomore has immaculate bend, and has been a living nightmare for SEC offensive linemen to contain.
Ojulari doesn’t yet show the same capability of stunting the run game as he does disrupting the passer. Another drawback is his inconsistency when countering his opponent’s blocks. But when he powers past his blocker? What a sight to see.
Ojulari could be a late round rookie draft pick. Stash him in your taxi squad and wait for his production to rise.
Carlos Basham Jnr, Wake Forest
Height: 6’ 5”
Weight: 275 lbs
Production: 28 tackles (20 solo), 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Carlos Basham Jnr is one of the more physically imposing edge rushers in this 2021 NFL Draft class. In four years with the Demon Deacons, he has shown himself to be equally capable against the run and pass. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in football smarts. Basham Jnr often outsmarts his opponents by accurately predicting blocking assignments. With his versatility and high football IQ, Basham is a low-risk selection.
Understandably for a player of his size, his most impressive snaps come as a bull rusher on the inside. Just ask Trevor Lawrence how it feels to be sacked by 275 lbs of “Boogie” Basham. Expect this highlight to be shown endlessly when you see Basham’s college tape being evaluated.
Don’t expect Basham to slip through gaps in NFL offensive lines. He much prefers to smash holes through them alone. A key area of concern for draft scouts is that he can struggle to overcome linemen when they resist his move off the line. He will needs more tools in his arsenal to outsmart veteran linemen at the next level.
Other names to look out for:
Quincy Roche (Miami)
Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
Hamilcar Rashed Jnr (Oregon State)
The @5yardcollege team hopes to have more positional breakdowns on defence in the coming days. By the time April comes around, you’ll have a clear idea of who you want your team to go out and get on Day One of the 2021 NFL Draft. As a fantasy team owner, your big board will be set for those rookie drafts as well.
Saturdays are for rushing, too!