Top 5 Riskiest Defensive Picks In 2021 NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft is on April 29, as the next big event in the professional football offseason arrives. The quarterbacks are always the top-line story in the draft, but defensive players form a huge part of the puzzle for NFL teams which have needs on that side of the ball. There are solid picks, there are elite players, and then there are players who might have some upside but carry a lot of risks. We look at some of the riskier picks here, pointing out that they might not be risks in an overall sense, but certainly in relationship to other players of similar talent who might be taken at a similar point in the draft. There are two examples below in which a player on a college team is being projected higher than a teammate which might be much better value in the draft. That is the kind of situation you will want to pay attention to when the draft begins:

Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami

Phillips is a solid edge rusher to be sure, but one can make a convincing case that his Miami teammate, Greg Rousseau, is an even better rusher. One might find a lot of mock drafts and prospect evaluations in which Phillips is rated higher than Rousseau. To that extent, Phillips might be slightly overrated in the draft, which means that teams need to avoid taking him early in the first round – possibly in the top 15 – and should instead wait to see if he will still be available on the board in the back end of the first round. This is not a massive overvaluation of Phillips, but every degree of difference matters. If you think a player is worth a No. 25 pick, you don’t take him at 12 or 15. That’s a lot more money to commit to a player. Saving money matters. Phillips might be a very good player, but he is also a risk if taken at No. 12. This underscores the point that “risk” is not so much about picking a player in the first place, but much more about picking a player at a specific spot on the draft board.

Marlon Tuipulotu, Defensive Line, USC

The situation outlined above with Phillips and Rousseau at Miami also applies to USC. In many mock drafts and player evaluations, Marlon Tuipulotu is listed as a better defensive lineman than teammate Jay Tufele. The point to note here is that Tufele opted out of the 2020 college football season due to the uncertainties attached to the coronavirus pandemic. Scouts might be hesitant to rate Tufele higher for that reason, but Tufele was more imposing at USC than Tuipulotu ever was. Tuipulotu could still help an NFL team, but his spot on the draft board might be overvalued by a range of 10 to 20 picks, while Tufele might be underrated to that same degree.

Milton Williams, Defensive Line, Louisiana Tech

The Louisiana Tech defensive lineman is viewed by many analysts as one of the top five defensive linemen on the board. That might be too much of a reach for a player who – in the pandemic – did not get tested against strong nonconference competition. Remember that college football had far fewer nonconference games than normal because of the pandemic’s many complications. That could leave Williams overvalued, because he didn’t face strong competition last year.

Chazz Surratt, Linebacker, North Carolina

The North Carolina Tar Heels’ defense was below average last season. Surratt has natural talent, but he is one of the oldest linebackers in the draft class. Is an NFL team going to get a maximum amount of mileage from him? A lot of questions exist here.

Tre Norwood, Safety, Oklahoma

There is a belief that Norwood could be converted from safety to cornerback, so a team which picks him as a safety might be taking a risk, whereas a team which picks him to become a cornerback might be taking much less of a risk. That is something to watch here. There is a lot of concern about Norwood’s tackling ability, which a safety needs to have. It’s much less important for a cornerback.


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