The Houston Texans may need 4 new starters on the defensive line for the 2021 season. Pair that with the notion that new DC Lovie Smith will likely bring his patented Tampa 2 defense and the need for impact defensive linemen continues to rise. The Tampa 2 thrives on getting pressure by just rushing four players and thus this article will try to find us some Defensive Ends in the 2021 NFL Draft. A fun exercise would be to provide DE options in each of the 7 rounds, as even though DE is a huge need, the draft is always about finding value. So, let’s take a look at 7 of my favorite DE options in each round.
2021 NFL Draft: Best Defensive Ends in All 7 Rounds for the Houston Texans
1. Jaelen Phillips, Miami
Starting in Round One and although the Texans dont have a pick here yet, let’s imagine the painful hypothetical that we trade Deshaun Watson. Likely netting a serious haul with multiple first round picks, getting an elite DE would be wise. So for practice, imagine we have either the Dolphins 2021 1st (18th) or the Jets 2021 1st (23rd). Here, Jaelen Phillips from Miami would gain an A+.
He has ideal size for a 4-3 DE at 6’5, 258 with absurdly long arms. Phillips pairs that size with powerful hands and a variety of pass rush moves at his repertoire. He has surprisingly great bend for someone his size and that allows him to rack up the sacks (8 in 10 games in 2020). Phillips is a sound run defender who makes impact plays in the backfield due to good get off (15.5 TFLs).
In my opinion he is the best DE on Miami (Greg Rousseau, Quincy Roche included) and might be the best in the class. His question marks created by injury concerns and only one year of top production allow him to fall however, and we’d be lucky to pickup his services.
2. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Ojulari could very well be drafted in the first round but i think he falls to the early second. We could receive #34 from the Jets or #36 from the Dolphins and that’d be great value for Ojulari. At 6’3, 240 he may be a bit undersized for a typical 4-3 DE but he makes up for it with his immense length and tenacity.
He’s got vines for arms that allows him to get into the chests of offensive linemen and hold them off. He’s a fighter in the run game but can be really special in the pass game. His go to move is a stab-chop and it is DEADLY. He times his punches very well and looks like a seasoned vet at times. Ojulari racked up 9.5 sacks in 2020 but isn’t near his ceiling. As he adds more counter moves I think he can become a perennial double-digit sack guy. He projects as a Weakside Defensive End, who can rush against Left Tackle's and provide consistent pressure.
3. Jordan Smith, UAB
Finally we reach the 3rd round where the Texans have their first official pick as of now. This is sort of a sweet spot with EDGE defenders and some other names to consider could be Hamilcar Rashed Jr, Quincy Roche or Payton Turner.
However, I like Jordan Smith the best due to his picture perfect size (6’6, 255), length and athleticism. He looks like a man amongst boys and is constantly wrecking havoc. He has good get off, bend and quick hands which has earned him 12.5 sacks and 24.5 TFLs over the past two years. He could use some technical refinement, adding more pass rush moves to his arsenal, however its insanely hard not betting on his ceiling.
In a way he is the anti-Jonathan Greenard. Winning with athleticism and power, rather than technique and finesse. Smith is a moldable ball of clay who could end up being a serious steal if he continues to be projected in the 3rd.
4. Cameron Sample, Tulane
In the Fourth round I would love to pickup the Senior Bowl Star, Cam Sample. He’s a fun tweener (6’3, 280) who could play DE on base downs, providing strong run defense. Then kick inside to DT and provide a devastating pass rush. He’s very explosive off the snap and loves to use an arm-over move to quickly get past offensive linemen. He doesnt have amazing production (5 sacks in 2020), hence being available in the fourth round, however if he has a DC willing to move him around, he can truly shine.
5. Shaka Toney, Penn State
In the fifth round and beyond you want to really look for one or two traits in a prospect that you can bet on translating to the NFL. Toney has arguably the best get off in the entire class. He’s truly a freak athlete and I can’t wait to see what he clocks in at for the 40 yard dash and 10 yard split. He reminds me of Jacob Martin, flying off the edge and also has great bend around the corner to get to the QB. I’m not confident in him being a full time starter (6’3, 238) but he can be a great sub package pass rusher. More hand refinement is needed but he could add 3-4 sacks a year pretty soon.
6. Chauncey Golston, Iowa
In the 6th round we find someone who is almost the exact opposite of Shaka Toney. Listed at 6’5, 248, Golston looks even bigger on the field. He reminds me of a poor mans Arik Armstead, where he’s a powerful and long defender who doesnt have the greatest athleticism. Like Cam Sample, he would be a great DE on base downs, Golston is a very strong run defender and excels at shedding blocks.
He shows some flashes of pass rushing brilliance off the edge, but his lack of get off and bend limits his ceiling there. I can see him being very effective as an interior rusher from the 3-tech defensive tackle position, like Armstead. This late in the draft, it’d be great to get a strong two-down player with positional versatility.
7. Chris Rumph II, Duke
The 7th round is always a crap shoot so I’d personally rather shoot for the stars. That’s exactly what you’re getting with Rumph. Some plays he looks like a bonafide first rounder, and he has the production (8 sacks, 11.5 TFLs in 2020) to back it up. He can rush from the EDGE and excels with chop-rip moves, pairing that with natural athleticism and wrecking havoc. What also interests me is how Duke lines him up in the B-Gaps, reminding me of Jadeveon Clowney and Zadarius Smith. That role can be extremely devastating and is hard for offenses to game plan against. However, Rumph will also go long periods of being completely erased from the game. He needs to become much more consistent but I see a potential steal.
I hope you enjoyed this fun draft exercise. The Texans could certainly use 7 new defensive ends with how last season went. Lookout for more of these types of articled but with different positions, as we ramp up to the 2021 NFL Draft!