With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group.

In a testament to elite recruiting and coaching, Chase Young joined the Bosa brothers to become the third Ohio State defensive end in five years to be selected among the first three picks of the NFL draft.

Let that sink in for a moment…

After a historic class of defensive linemen in 2019, however, the talent dropped off significantly behind newest Young (No. 2 overall to Washington), with the second edge rusher not coming off the board until the Jaguars selected K’Lavon Chaisson (and his 9.5 career sacks) 20 overall.

“Chase and Chaisson” concludes the list of defensive ends selected in the first round of the 2020 draft. Popular projected top 32 picks Yetur Gross-Matos (Carolina Panthers), Marlon Davidson (Atlanta Falcons) and AJ Epenesa (Buffalo Bills) among others, lasting into the second frame.

If the 2021 crop of edge rushers is to be much better, a significant influx of underclassmen may be required. Potential, rather than production, is the key word when discussing the 2021 prospects.

No one currently offers the elite skill-set of a Young or Bosa, though Miami’s redshirt sophomore Gregory Rousseau has this kind of raw talent. Despite starting just seven games a year ago as a redshirt freshman, Roussea turned in one of the most dominating seasons in Miami history, recording 54 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

His length and get-off are outstanding and it is clear that his best football still lies ahead of him, as it does for former five-star recruits Xavier Thomas and LaBryan Ray at Clemson and Alabama, respectively. Thomas has a stubby frame, but his burst and bend are very real. Few close faster or more explosively than Thomas.

Ray, on the other hand, is built more like his Alabama predecessor Raekwon Davis and may be viewed by some as a future NFL defensive tackle. Don’t be fooled by his frame, though, Ray is an explosive athlete, even by Alabama standards.

Similarly, the Buckeyes are hopeful that Tyreke Smith, a former four star recruit out of Cleveland, takes a big jump forward in 2020. Smith is one of a handful of edge rushers capable of a breakout season that catapults them into early round consideration. Among my favorites are Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant, Washington’s Joe Tryon and Michigan senior Kwity Paye.

Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham, Jr. enters the season as NFLDraftScout’s top senior edge rusher with the prototypically-built 6-4, 275 pounder already boasting 145 career tackles, including 31 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. Basham’s breakout came last season when he jumped from 4.5 sacks to 10, along with three forced fumbles. Scouts are eager to see if he can build up this success.

Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk. All players listed are potentially eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.

The Top Five

1. *Xavier Thomas 6-2, 265 Clemson

2. *LaBryan Ray 6-5, 292 Alabama

3. *Gregory Rousseau 6-5, 260 Miami

4. Carlos Basham, Jr. 6-4, 275 Wake Forest

5. Kwity Paye 6-3, 277 Michigan

Best of the Rest

6. Big Kat Bryant 6-4, 247 Auburn

7. Osa Odighizuwa 6-2, 279 UCLA

8. *Joe Tryon 6-5, 262 Washington

9. *Tyreke Smith 6-3, 267 Ohio State

10. *Aidan Hutchinson 6-5, 278 Michigan

11. *Thomas Booker 6-3, 279 Stanford

12. Jeremiah Moon 6-5, 228 Florida

13. Victor Dimukeje 6-2, 265 Duke

14. Justin Foster 6-2, 265 Clemson

15. Michael Clemons 6-5, 270 Texas A&M

16. Isaiah Chambers 6-5, 265 Houston

17. Justus Reed 6-3, 270 Virginia Tech

18. LaRon Stokes 6-4, 269 Oklahoma

19. Patrick Jones II 6-4, 260 Pittsburgh

20. *Tyree Johnson 6-3, 250 Texas A&M

Prior “First Take” Positional Previews: 

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Tackles | Offensive Guards | Centers |