The 2021 NFL Draft had a different trend than years prior in its first two rounds. In what was deemed a weak edge rusher class we saw a ton of pass rushers go early. The first thing we must do in order to point out and dissect a trend is to look at the two prior drafts to this year’s in order to get a feel for relative normality.
2019 NFL Draft
In 2019 we saw a total of seven edge rushers go in the first two rounds, all seven of which were actually in the first thirty-two picks. Those seven players being Nick Bosa, Clelin Ferrell, Josh Allen, Rashan Gary, Brian Burns, Montez Sweat, and L.J. Collier. Almost all of those names have gone on to become stars for their teams and guys like Rashan Gary and Montez Sweat are poised for big seasons in 2021. It seems like, for the most part, these teams have been good at evaluating edge rushers and projecting the players into their respective defenses. It is worth noting that no team doubled down on edge rushers in the first two rounds of this class.
2020 NFL Draft
The 2020 Draft saw similar numbers to the 2019 NFL draft as six edge rushers were taken in the first two rounds only two of which were taken in the first round. Those six pass rushers were Chase Young, K’Lavon Chaisson, Yetur Gross-Matos, Darrell Taylor, A.J. Epenesa, and Joshua Uche. Of those players it seems like less made an impact in their rookie seasons but most if not all are set to have big roles in their respective defenses this year. Epenesa, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Joshua Uche should all start this year and could be crucial to the success of their teams. It is worth noting that no team doubled down in the first two rounds of this draft.
2021 NFL Draft
In 2021 we saw a major spike in edge rushers taken. In the first two rounds nine edge rushers were selected, six of which went in the first round. These nine QB hunters are Jaelan Phillips, Kwity Paye, Payton Turner, Gregory Rousseau, Odafe Oweh, Joe Tryon, Azeez Ojulari, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. Seven of these nine players would be deemed high ceiling raw players who need to be developed. Two teams, the Colts and the Bills, doubled down on edge rushers in the first two rounds. Roughly six of these players will start for their teams before the season is over.
Why were so many of these teams dead set on improving on their pass rush this year? Super Bowl LV is why. The Buccaneers reminded us that no matter how good a quarterback, no matter how smart a head coach, and no matter how prolific of an offense, a good pass rush will stop anyone and everyone in their tracks. The Bills and the Colts, two teams firmly in the AFC championship race, took Basham Jr, Gregory Rousseau, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Kwity Paye with their first two picks because they saw what happens when you get after Patrick Mahomes and the juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs. Not all of these picks will hit, but we have seen in recent years that teams have gotten better and better at evaluating edge rushers and projecting success in the NFL so these clubs are much more willing to role the dice on players who can get after the quarterback and can be the difference between a Super Bowl title and an early exit.