How Many Defensive Players Be Drafted In Round 1?

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As people have had the offseason time to really watch the players in the 2021 NFL Draft class, it seems as though there isn’t as much love for defensive players this year.

Cornerback needs at the top of the draft make it easy to project cornerbacks going high, but there’s a chance we don’t see the top edge rushers come off the board until the middle of the first round. Linebacker could be the same, and we might not even get an interior defensive lineman or safety in round one at all (one each seems to be the max).

As I’ve read and written many mock drafts myself, it got me to thinking, could this be the year where there are fewer defensive players taken than ever before? That question motivated me to do some more research.

Because the game of football changes every decade or so, drafts from the 1970s and 80s really wouldn't have mattered for this exercise. So what I decided to do was go back and look at every first-round since the year 2000 to see what the number was for the fewest amount of defensive players drafted, then project this year’s class to see if it might be even less. Here were the results:

  • 2020 - 14
  • 2019 - 18
  • 2018 - 15
  • 2017 - 19
  • 2016 - 16
  • 2015 - 15
  • 2014 - 18
  • 2013 - 17
  • 2012 - 17
  • 2011 - 16
  • 2010 - 18
  • 2009 - 13
  • 2008 - 15
  • 2007 - 17
  • 2006 - 19
  • 2005 - 15
  • 2004 - 13
  • 2003 - 18
  • 2002 - 16
  • 2001 - 16
  • 2000 - 14

The lowest number of defensive players drafted in a single first round since 2000 was 13, which happened twice, first in 2004 then again in 2009. But, in the last decade, last year’s draft of only 14 defensive players in round one is the lowest mark in what you would say are “recent years.”

Now let’s do some projections for defensive players in this year’s class.

Let’s start by saying we’re going to get at least three cornerbacks into the first round: Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, and Greg Newsome—we’ll get to Caleb Farley in a second. Let’s also then say we’ll see at least Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have their names called from the linebacker ground. EDGE might go late, but I assume we’ll see at least three in Jaelan Phillips, Azeez Ojulari, and then at least one of Jayson Oweh or Kwity Paye. If you add up those “for sure” players, you get eight with Surtain, Horn, Newsome, Parsons, Owusu-Koramoah, Phillips, Ojulari, and Oweh.

Let’s throw in an extra pass rusher in Paye and get Farley’s name in there, too, though we’re not sure if he’s a round-one lock anymore with the recent back surgery. That’s 10 names. Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins could be another, and then if we wanted to get a safety in there, Trevon Moehrig would be the one. There’s a chance Christian Barmore or Levi Onwuzurike could get into round one, but it’s not likely you get both. Collins, Moehrig, and Barmore get us to 13, but how likely is it all those players have their names called?

As of right now, there are exactly 13 defensive players in the top 32 of TDN’s predictive big board, with cornerback Eric Stokes as an extra name that we didn’t mention in there. After those 32 there are a handful of linebackers who come up, but will those players be first-round picks? I’m not so sure.

I think this defensive class has nice depth on day two, but at the top, it’s not nearly as alluring as years past. Maybe it won’t quite be a record-breaking low, but this year’s draft has a chance to feature the fewest number of defensive players in round one over the past 20 years, matching 2004 and 2009.

If you want to wager on how many defensive players get drafted, head over to BetOnline.

Over 14.5 (+125)

Under 14.5 (-165)

Written By:

Trevor Sikkema

Senior NFL Writer

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast.