NFL Draft 2021: Top 5 Defensive Line Prospects

Story posted April 8, 2021 in

With the NFL Draft right around the corner, it is the perfect time to take a look at players entering the draft who could make big impacts at the next level.

This year’s defensive line class is a little weaker than years past however there are still many guys who will be ready to contribute on day one.

1. Kwity Paye, Michigan

Standing at 6-4 and weighing 252 pounds, Paye is one of the most intriguing players in the draft due to his athletic ability coming from the defensive line.

At his pro day, Paye displayed in front of scouts his freakish ability, as he rose up teams’ draft boards. Paye ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and he finished with 36 reps on the bench press.

Over his four years at Michigan, Paye played in just 28 games however his production in those games is what excites scouts. In 28 games played Paye registered 23 1/2 tackles for loss and 11 1/2 sacks.

Paye is projected to be picked anywhere from 11-27.

2. Jaelan Phillips, Miami

A consensus 5-star recruit coming out of high school, Jaelan Phillips played his first two seasons at UCLA before transferring to Miami where everything came together in 2020. Phillips was flashy at UCLA but played a modest amount of snaps across 11 games in two seasons due to injuries.

Phillips this season was dominant putting up stats of 45 tackles, 15 ½ tackles for loss, and eight sacks. Phillips is a playmaker against the run and pass, where his exciting blend of size, length, power, technique, and athleticism make him a challenge for offenses to neutralize.

The only question with Phillips is his injury history and that may scare many teams off but if his physicals come back all clean teams should have no problem taking him.

3. Christian Barmore, Alabama

Barmore is a very interesting prospect as after redshirting in 2018 he went on to play a key role as a backup in 2019 and many expected him to become the starter in 2020 however Barmore still served as a backup.

Barmore played in just 23 games for the Crimson Tide however his numbers are eye-popping. He tallied 63 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks.

The knock-on Barmore is the lack of games played but he has the talent to be a key contributor for whatever team selects him.

4. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

Onwuzurike profiles as an interior defensive line prospect. He features excellent athleticism and demonstrates good body quickness as a pass rusher. He plays with exceptional leverage which helps him excel as a run defender.

Onwuzurike decided not to play in the 2020 season and prepare for the draft. In his three seasons, Onwuzurike registered 95 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and seven sacks.

He might not be a day one starter for whatever team picks him but if he develops he can certainly be a force on the defensive line.

5. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa

At the start of the 2020 season, not many people were talking about Daviyon Nixon being a top prospect in the draft however Nixon balled out this season for the Hawkeyes.

In just eight games Nixon tallied 45 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for loss, and 5 ½ sacks. Nixon also had a 71-yard pick-six in Iowa’s victory over Penn State.

Nixon has very good spring and burst out of his stance to shoot gaps and create havoc in the backfield. In a class that is lacking in potential splash defenders along the defensive line interior, Nixon’s talent will be in high demand.

Nixon is not a finished product but if put in the right system he can develop into something special.

Alex Rocco is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at afr5646@psu.edu.