While many of us, well all of us unless you play in a defense only league (if you do hit me up), are focused on the incoming class of offensive rookies, those of us more sophisticated fantasy players need to know about everyone in this draft class to give us the biggest chance of ‘winning’ our rookie drafts.
I say we need to know everyone, obviously not offensive lineman. As Super Bowl LV showed, they’re just not important in the modern game. Although, if you play in an offensive lineman-required league let me know, I need to see that!
In this article I’m going to take a high-level look at each IDP position, pointing out 2 or 3 players from each group that you need to know going into your rookie draft.
The first thing to note this year is that this class isn’t as strong as in previous years. There is no Chase Young type player that everyone is going to want to snag. To illustrate this, most mock drafts have the first defensive players off the board at 9 and 10 (cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Caleb Farley) with about half of the analysts predicting linebacker Micah Parsons being the first defensive player off the board at 7 and the other half predicting him around pick 13.
To give context, the only time in the last 10 years that at least one defensive player didn’t get picked in the first 5 selections was 2012 and then the first selected, cornerback Morris Claiborne went sixth overall.
All of these players have questions about their ability to make it at the top level. As pro teams need to know the answers to these questions, so do you. After all, we’re in the business of building the best rosters we can.
Christian Barmore: 21, Alabama, 6’5” 310 lbs
Barmore is a man mountain, just exactly the kind of disruptive force teams want on the interior line. Despite his size, he moves well, exploding forward from the line of scrimmage and laterally along the line.
He uses his long arms and size to engage blockers well away from his body. His size, power, and those arms give him excellent pass rushing abilities.
He has occasionally shown a tendency to let his pads rise, allowing blockers to get under him and drive him back. He also needs to improve upon his shedding of double teams and his defense against the run.
The Question: Has he shown enough to be an every-down lineman?
Despite rising to the top of his position group in this class he only has one year of starting experience in college. In 2019 he mostly played as a third-down pass rusher. In 2020 he started lukewarm before coming into his own over the back half of the season. Teams will need to decide if he has shown enough in a limited amount of games to make him their first-round pick.
Levi Onwuzurike: 22, Washington, 6’3” 293 lbs
Onwuzurike can generate incredible power from the snap, driving into offensive linemen and rocking them back on their heels, even on occasion tossing them aside. Despite his height, he remains low and inside his opponent’s pads, he can collapse the pocket, force himself into the backfield and hold his own when double-teamed.
He is slightly undersized and will need to work on his strength in the pros, he also needs to develop his pass rush technique but could be a solid value pick for any team.
The Question: With only one game in 2020 has he enough tape to convince teams he’s their guy?
Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season, he does however already have plenty of game time under his belt. An appearance at the 2021 Senior Bowl perhaps wasn’t as impressive as it could have been, mostly due to a lack of playing time but if a team feels he has shown enough in the tape they do have (plus what he does on his Pro Days) then he could be the first tackle off the board.
Daviyon Nixon: 22, Iowa, 6’2” 306 lbs
Nixon may well be on his way to becoming my favorite player in this class, as the above shows the big man has some moves. If there is anything better in this world than a defensive tackle returning the ball 70 yards for a pick-6 I’m not sure I want to know what it is.
Nixon is a strong, athletic, and explosive interior tackle. Despite his size, he is light on his feet with a quick change of direction and explosive power. He’s a strong tackler who can quickly become a three-down player at the next level.
The Question: He only broke out in 2020, is it truly indicative of his ability?
Nixon had a quiet 2019 after a convoluted road to college football. 2020 showed him to be an outstanding prospect. He won first-team All-American honors and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award. However, it’s the only tape scouts have to go on, and after all, it was 2020.
Gregory Rousseau: 20, Miami, 6’7” 265 lbs
Rousseau combines length with explosive power, making him a deadly force on defense. Despite only converting from wide receiver in his senior year of high school he has shown ability along the line.
His quick burst and ability to control offensive linemen with his long arms allow him to get into the backfield and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
He is still quite raw at the position and will need to improve on his pass-rushing if he wants to make it as an elite edge option in the league, however the right team should be able to coach those improvements.
The Question: With only one year of college production has he shown enough?
After redshirting 2018 and opting out of the 2020 season Rousseau only has college tape from 2019. Now 2019 was a breakout season, 15.5 sacks (second only to Chase Young) and 19.5 tackles for a loss certainly show that but it’s his only game tape from college. If he had played 2020 he could have been a top 5 overall pick, instead, he will drop as teams need to decide on his ability.
Kwity Paye: 22, Michigan, 6’4” 272 lbs
Paye is an explosive player with elite short-area quickness. His quick feet and strong hand technique allow him to get around blockers and at the quarterback in the backfield.
He needs refinement as a pass rusher and doesn’t have the college production levels to put him in the conversation at an elite NFL level but projects to be a three-down starter and with plenty of tape to examine coaches will know what they are getting.
The Question: Has he shown enough to earn the hype?
Paye is one of the few players in this class without a big question hanging over him. He is raw and will need development but again this isn’t a stellar defensive group, so who doesn’t? He will need to show improved in game measurables such as sacks and tackles for a loss, he’s yet to show true game affecting ability in these columns. However, he might be one of the closest to a sure thing in 2021.
Jaelan Phillips: 21, Miami, 6’5” 266 lbs
Phillips began his college career as the #1-ranked defensive recruit in America but unfortunately a string of injuries, most notably to his head, derailed his fast track to the NFL.
He began college as a disruptive force living up to his billing before injury, on and off the field, curtailed his playing time.
After retiring from UCLA, he decided to return to football with Miami in 2019 when he spent the season in the weight room. In 2020, teammate Gregory Rousseau’s decision to opt-out allowed him to start again and he managed 8 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss in 10 games.
Phillips has pro-ready size and athleticism, he has excellent burst and ability to turn the corner on his blocker to get into the backfield. Of all the edge rushers mentioned, he is perhaps the most gifted pass rusher.
The Question: Is he fit?
Despite his talent, there have to be serious questions about Phillips’ ability to remain healthy. This is a guy who has already retired from football due to concussion. In the modern game, with its focus on protecting players from concussion and brain trauma, any team looking at Phillips needs to weigh up the risk involved in signing a player that has already suffered enough head trauma to cause him to quit the game once.
Micah Parsons: 21, Penn State, 6’3” 245 lbs
Parsons logged two seasons of top production in 2018 and 2019 before opting out of 2020 with COVID-19 concerns. As a sophomore he was a consensus All American, recording 109 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks in 13 games.
He’s an extremely versatile player, showing his ability in zone and carries the athleticism for man coverage. He’s a solid blitzer with a good feel for playing on the edge.
With two years of production under his belt, his decision not to play in 2020 shouldn’t concern teams too much.
The Question: Does he have character issues?
There is no question about Parsons’s on-field ability, he is in the conversation for the most talented defender in this class, however stories regarding his character are never far away. Bust-ups with teammates, questionable hazing practices, and reports of sexual assault have all been linked to Parsons. In today’s 24-hour social media world it is becoming increasingly difficult for players to hide bad personality traits and for teams to justify taking a risk on them. An immature personality that struggles to make the right choices may be one of the toughest things to coach out of a player.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 21, Notre Dame, 6’2” 215 lbs
The JOKer has been making moves up a lot of people’s boards recently, his “swiss army knife” versatility is piquing the interest of pundits and coaches alike.
Owusu-Koramoah is a high tempo, instinctive playmaker. His time at Notre Dame was spent playing a hybrid linebacker-safety role.
He’s a fast-twitch player who can cover sideline to sideline making plays, his engine runs non-stop, and despite being undersized his instincts keep him in the game. He has also shown effectiveness against the run despite his smaller stature.
Modern coaches looking to build a more positionless style of football will look at JOK as a prototypical player for that style in their secondary.
The Question: Where does he fit in a team’s scheme?
The downside to Owusu-Koramoah’s versatility will become evident if he lands on a team that doesn’t have the ability or desire to scheme him in properly. If a coach can’t decide what to do with him then he may find himself a square peg in a round hole NFL.
Zaven Collins: 21, Tulsa, 6’4” 260 lbs
Collins is a big man but that defensive edge size belies a formidable linebacking talent. He can line up all over the defensive formation and his quick feet, quick movements, and quick instincts mean he can often track the play before the snap has been taken.
Having Collins on the field will keep offenses guessing and create opportunity for defensive co-ordinators to hide their schemes.
He doesn’t have the elite speed required to get him from sideline to sideline in the pros but he’s an otherwise a solid prospect.
The Question: What position should he play?
Collins is another player whose versatility may become a hindrance if selected by the wrong team, otherwise, the only thing potentially scaring off teams will be the college he played for.
A drop to the second round in the real draft may make him the definition of a late-round steal in your rookie draft.
Caleb Farley: 22, Virginia Tech, 6’2” 207 lbs
Farley is a tall, long-limbed player. He shows a knack for keeping one eye on his receiver and one eye on the quarterback. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his previous life as an offensive player he has no problems with ball skills, proving himself adept at judging the flight of the ball and getting it out of the hands of the receiver.
Given his height, he has shown some weakness against smaller receivers and there are some minor injury concerns, including a lost year due to an ACL tear and back spasms keeping him out of his last two games in 2019.
The Question: Has he shown enough to warrant a top ten pick?
Look I’m probably reaching here, he seems a consensus lock at number 7 in the draft but he has only played cornerback for 2 years. He played quarterback in high school, went to college as a wideout in 2017. He only to cornerback in 2018 before opting out of the 2020 season.
Maybe he gets found out at the next level and is unable to build himself a desert island all of his own, but maybe a fantasy a cornerback just good enough to stay on the field but not quite have his own island is exactly what you should be looking for.
Patrick Surtain II: 20, Alabama, 6’2” 202 lbs
The son of former pro-bowler Patrick Surtain Sr. plays with the confidence you would expect from a unanimous All-American cornerback.
He’s a rangy, slender player who already has a wealth of experience at the position. He can play man and zone coverage, he’s decisive and rarely fooled by route runners.
The Question: Can his tendency to grab be coached out of him?
Surtain is another player who doesn’t have a huge amount stacked against him, he’s not in the elite level of athlete and can get a bit grabby with the receiver when at the catch point. Otherwise, he’s pretty close to a sure thing.
Trevon Moehrig: 21, TCU, 6’1” 209 lbs
Moehrig has the potential to be one of the names you hear about in the NFL, a big play specialist, the guy getting Scott Hanson worked up on a Sunday throughout the fall.
He’s a dynamic, aggressive player who rarely second-guesses his judgment. He’s fluid, can change direction quickly and has excellent ball skills. 7 interceptions and 21 passes defended in three years demonstrate that last point.
His skill set is much better in zone coverage than man and he sometimes gets a little too aggressive leaving him vulnerable to a double move.
The Question: Is he big enough for the NFL?
Again perhaps not the deepest of question marks surrounding Moehrig, he is a bit undersized and doesn’t have truly elite speed. His aggressive playstyle sometimes comes unstuck as he overshoots his objective allowing a big play for the offense.
Richie Grant: 24, UCF, 6’ 200 lbs
Like Trevon Moehrig, Richie Grant is a little undersized for the NFL but he is a fast and physical player. His experience (48 college games) makes him a smart safety, with the ability to analyze and process quickly both before and after the snap.
He’s patient and confident in man coverage and can contribute in the run game. Per PFF, he has the most run stops over the last two seasons of all eligible DB’s
The Question: Will his size be a hindrance in the pros?
Grant is most people’s top safety in this class so again his size is something of a minor quibble, although he can sometimes struggle to tackle in the open field and has been thrown off his man on a few occasions.
So there we have it, that’s my IDP primer for this year’s draft class, while there are no Chase Youngs in this group there is certainly value to be had, guys like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Trevon Moehrig could be excellent value late-round picks in your drafts this year.
Duncan Smith – Writer/IDP
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