1. Nick Bosa, DE San Francisco 49ers
The highest pick defender in the draft, Nick’s brother Joey Bosa won the DROY award back in 2016, and Nick will try to do the same this year. Bosa will have the luxury of playing alongside Pro Bowlers Dee Ford and DeForest Buckner, meaning he’ll likely never have to face a double team and should have a much easier time pressuring the quarterback. The 49ers defense also features linebackers Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander, and cornerback Richard Sherman. The 49ers are beginning to fill out a talented roster.
2. Devin White, LB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Linebacker Darius Leonard won DROY last year, and while White plays in the middle and not the outside, I still think the Buccaneers’ top selection will have a real shot at filling up the stat sheet across the board. Linebackers have won the DROY award 12 times since 2000, meaning White plays the position with the highest statistical chance to take home the award.
The LSU product will have some help in Tampa Bay as well. The Buccaneers defense currently features Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul up front and White will be playing alongside Lavonte David at the second level.
3. Quinnen Williams, DT New York Jets
I flopped back and forth between having Williams or Bosa as my top defensive player going into the draft, and while I ultimately went with Bosa, Williams is right up there as well. With Jamal Adams in the secondary, C.J. Mosley as the middle linebacker, and Leonard Williams accompanying Quinnen on the line, the Jets are trying desperately to set down the cornerstones for a strong defense. Williams will certainly play a big role in their grand scheme.
Back in 2013, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson won DROY with the Jets, and I anticipate Williams will also have a shot at the award, but hopefully he’ll have longer staying power, and fewer off the field issues, than Richardson.
4. Josh Allen, DE Jacksonville Jaguars
Christmas came early in Jacksonville when Allen fell to them in the draft. The Kentucky product dominated in his final collegiate season, racking up 21.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks along with 88 combined tackles. While the Jags do need secondary help, it was impossible for them to pass on this top tier prospect.
Allen will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays alongside pass rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. With Telvin Smith and Myles Jack serving as run stoppers and coverage linebackers, not to mention A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey in the secondary, Allen will have a lot of room to maneuver and should get plenty of good looks from opposing offenses.
5. Ed Oliver, DT Buffalo Bills
Oliver has a tremendous amount of potential and I think some people forget about him in this draft because of players like Bosa and Williams. Oliver has just as good a shot to be an All-Pro as those guys though. While his junior campaign wasn’t as bright as his freshman and sophomore seasons, Oliver still was a force at Houston in college. It will be great to see him chasing after quarterbacks and plugging the run in the AFC East.
It should be noted that the Bills as a whole have a lot of holes on both sides of the ball and realistically are a year or two away from fielding a semi-competitive team. Oliver might rack up a lot of big numbers during that time, but he’s also got the least support around him of any player on this list.
Next Best- Clelin Ferrell, DE Oakland Raiders
Ferrell was taken higher than most people anticipated he would go, but that doesn’t diminish his talent nor the huge role he’ll be stepping into on the Raiders. The Raiders entered total overhaul mode when Jon Gruden took the helm last year, and Ferrell seems like the guys who’s been pegged to be the team’s star pass rusher. While he’ll be playing alongside second-year players like Maurice Hurst and Arden Key, Ferrell will face the pressure of having to fill Khalil Mack’s shoes.
People might ask about there being no defensive backs on this list, but this was a draft stocked with defensive linemen. Also, there were only two DBs taken in the first round and there was no clear Derwin James, Marshon Lattimore, or Denzel Ward type player this year. I mean, personally, my top-rated defensive backs didn’t even come off the board until the second round. I think that shows how stacked the talent is this year towards the defensive linemen. It’s also worth noting that since 2000 only two defensive backs, Marcus Peters and Lattimore, have won the DROY award.