The 2021 Class of Defensive Linemen was not as exciting as 2020, where we saw Chase Young go second overall, or even 2019, where we had several pass rushers taken early in the first round. With all the hype around the three top QBs and the Kyle Pitts hype train, we didn’t see a pass rusher come off the board until 1.18, with Miami taking Jaelan Phillips out of the University of Miami. I suppose we can count Micah Parsons as a pass rusher, to an extent, but he’s in a class of his own.
This article is going to focus on those pass rushers who were drafted in the first three rounds but may not have produced at a high level… yet. I’ll go through the draft and highlight players in DL-only leagues. Leagues requiring DTs will have to reach out in person to get my takes on players like Christian Barmore and Milton Williams.
**All rankings and ADPs will be based on Sleeper stats, and scoring is based on IDP123 scoring. I’ll also focus on a fantasy metric that I think is one of the best indicators of fantasy consistency – Point Per Snap (PPS). This metric will show how effective/efficient they were on the field. This can help us determine a player’s value, even if they didn’t play much. Having a PPS above 0.25 is pretty solid, while anything above 0.30 would be considered elite. We also need to take into account the “Impact Play” rate for players who tend to rely heavily on impact plays like sacks and forced fumbles. **
- Forced Fumble (FF)
- Fumble Recovery (FR)
- Pass Deflection (PD)
- Interception (INT)
- Tackle for loss (TFL)
- Safety (SAF)
- Sack (SK)
Jaelan Phillips, MIA
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.18 (MIA)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 54%
Coming into the draft, Phillips had several concerns about his health. Despite that, he was still taken in the Top 20. He’s a talented player who has overcome several obstacles and has carved out a significant role on the Dolphin’s defense. He only played 54% of the defensive snaps in 2021. You want starters to get in the 65%-75% range for consistent playmaking opportunities. That said, he still managed to get 8.5 sacks (six coming in three weeks, weeks 11-13).
Phillips’ impact play rate isn’t alarming, but you also want to see that in the 3.5-4.0% range for a starting DL. We saw enough last year to feel confident that he’ll take a step forward, and he also remained healthy for the whole season. He’s being taken around rounds 15-16, which I think is a little early. People are likely hedging their bets on him continuing to improve and build off of a solid rookie year. I see him as more of a DL3 with a DL2 upside.
Kwity Paye, IND
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.21 (IND)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 66%
Paye was a disruptive force at Michigan. In his junior year (2019), he racked up 12.5 sacks and 50 total tackles. 2020 was a shortened season, but he still managed four sacks in four games. Many thought he would be the first pass rusher taken in the 2021 draft, but Phillips beat him by three picks.
Paye’s rookie season was ok. But with a 0.16 PPS and 1.72% impact play rate, it wasn’t what people were expecting. He only tallied four sacks, and ten QB hits in a starting role. Hopefully, he can improve this season, but I’m only considering him a streaming depth piece in deeper leagues at this point, especially with the addition of Yannick Ngakoue during the offseason.
Payton Turner, NO
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.28 (NO)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 41%
Turner was a surprise first Round pick by the Saints. They needed youth at the DE position with Cameron Jordan nearing the end of his career, but several other prospects were available and more highly valued.
Turner only appeared in five games as a rookie and only tallied one sack. He went on IR with a shoulder injury in November of last year. He’s also dealt with calf and elbow injuries. If Turner can stay healthy, he has a chance to make an impact, but I’m avoiding him or leaving him on taxi until he proves himself. He could likely be a cut candidate to make room for this year’s class.
Gregory Rousseau, BUF
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.30 (BUF)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 49%
Rousseau is another pass rusher from the University of Miami, and some had him higher than his classmate, Phillips. Buffalo was in dire need of pass rushers with their current ones either getting up there in age (Mario Addison, now with Houston) or not meeting expectations (AJ Epenesa).
Rousseau started all 17 games for the Bills but was still used as a rotational piece, only seeing 49% snap share. In those games, he managed a serviceable 0.31 PPS and a 3.39% IP rate. Both are decent metrics. Buffalo added Von Miller this off-season, but Rousseau is still listed as a starter opposite of Miller. Hopefully, the addition of Miller can open up some opportunities for Rousseau to improve his four-sack season.
I would feel confident drafting Rousseau as my DL3/bye week filler, but I am not ready to bump him up to a DL2 just yet.
Odafe Oweh, BAL
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.31 (BAL)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 65%
Oweh played with Parsons at Penn State and had decent success as a pass rusher while in college. The Ravens selected him with their first-round pick as an OLB/pass rusher. That’s where he spent his time. He played in all 17 games but was only listed as a starter for two.
Despite that, he still managed a 65% snap share, which is toward the bottom of where you want DLs to be. His IP rate (2.6%) and PPS (0.21) leave a bit to be desired, but he showed some flashes of potential with 15 QB hits. If he’s able to convert those into sacks, then we might have something special here.
Baltimore drafted David Ojabo (2022, 2.45) out of Michigan, but he tore his Achilles during his pro day, so we probably won’t see him until late in the season, if at all. They also added Kyle Phillips to help the secondary, which might create more opportunities for Oweh in the pass rush.
I see Oweh as a sleeper this season and see him creeping into the DL2 conversation by the end of the season. The opportunity is there. He needs to finish strong.
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, TB
- 2021 Draft Position: 1.32 (TB)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 49%
With the last pick in the first round, Tampa Bay selected Tryon-Shoyinka out of Washington. Tampa has Shaq Barrett and had Jason Pierre-Paul as their starting edge rushers, but with both of them aging, they went with Tryon’s raw talent to build off of for the future.
Tryon opted out of the 2020 season, in which his team only played four games. However, in 2019, Tryon notched 12.5 sacks and 41 combined tackles.
He only played as a rotational piece in 2021, with JPP still playing, but with JPP gone, Tryon has a chance to step into the spotlight. I can see Tryon making his way into the DL2 conversation by the end of the season. I would try to acquire him now before he breaks out.
Azeez Ojulari, NYG
- 2021 Draft Position: 2.50 (NYG)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 67%
The 2022 draft class out of Georgia was historic, but that doesn’t mean 2021 was without its stars. Ojulari was a two-year starter for Georgia, racking up 18.5 sacks in that span. The Giants took him in the second round, and they desperately needed a pass rusher.
Ojulari started 13 games and played in all 17 as a rookie. His stats were above average for a rookie, and I see him improving on last year’s numbers. Eight sacks for a rookie is nothing to sleep on.
Ojulari is still in the DL3 range with a less-than-ideal PPS (0.21) and IP rate (2.44%), and now the Giants have added Kayvon Thibodeaux (2022, 1.05) to the mix.
Boogie Basham, BUF
- 2021 Draft Position: 2.61 (BUF)
- 2021 Defensive Snap Share: 39%
- 2021 IDP123 Points: 57.40
- 2021 PPS: 0.28
Buffalo had already drafted a top pass rusher at the end of the first round, but they weren’t done there. They took Basham at the end of the second round. A prolific pass rusher out of Wake Forest, Basham racked up 19.5 sacks and 35.5 TFLs throughout his collegiate career. I read some scouting reports that thought Boogie was one of the best pass rushers in the class.
Basham was only used as a rotational piece last year but still managed to make the most of his playing time. In eight games, he could register 2.5 sacks and four TFLs.
He’s still going to be a depth piece this season with Von Miller now a Bill and Rousseau playing well enough to hold his position but keep your eye on the “Boogie Man” because he could easily find himself in a position to make plays should an injury occur to Miller or Rousseau.
Draft him late in deep leagues, or keep him on your taxi for now.
I chose to end with the second round because nobody else taken later stood out to me as someone who might step into a solid role this season. The only two players worth monitoring are Derrick Barnes (mentioned in my LB article) and possibly Baron Browning. As of now, Aug 2022, they both have DL/LB designations on Sleeper, and both Detroit and Denver have defenses who are still looking for an identity.
I hope to get the Defensive Back article done here soon, so STAY TUNED!
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