Curran: My top five DL prospects in the '21 NFL Draft


This isn’t a great draft for high-end, eye-popping talent at either the defensive line or EDGE positions. There’s talent, no doubt. But there’s no Chase Young or Aaron Donald-types that are jumping off the page as top-10 picks. So we’ll merge the two spots together and give you the top five at those two spots.

The Patriots could use more punch in their pass rush both on the edge and – if Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise leave – in the interior. New England just isn’t imposing in the front-seven and, despite all of our fixating on the quarterback spot, that could be as likely a Round 1 target as QB.

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Greg Rousseau, Miami, EDGE

Size: 6-foot-7, 265 pounds

Birthdate: April 5, 2000

Rousseau opted out of last season but was a force for the Canes in 2019 with 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He lined up everywhere as a pass rusher with a lot of production coming when he was lined up inside. He was a wide receiver/safety in high school until his senior year so that fact along with just one year of college activity means he’s still learning. But he’s got All-Pro potential according to experts.

Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

Size: 6-foot-3, 290 pounds

Birthdate: March 2, 1998

Also opted out of 2020 season but had some outstanding moments in 2019 with 45 tackles, six for loss, two sacks and a blocked kick in 13 games. He had 34 tackles, 6.5 for loss with three sacks as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. He plays with aggression and power but combines good foot-speed and unbelievable hand quickness to make him a very intriguing prospect.

Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Size: 6-4, 272 pounds

Birthdate: November 19, 1998

Here’s a kid to get to know. Paye grew up in Providence and went to Bishop Hendricken. He was born in a refugee camp in Guinea, his family coming to the United States when he was six months old. It’s a remarkable story and he’s got a great future.

As a junior, Paye had 50 tackles, 12 for loss, with 6.5 sacks in 12 games. A captain in 2020, he missed two of Michigan’s games and had a modest year statistically with 16 tackles, four for loss and two sacks). He’s versatile and moved all over the Wolverines front. Fast off the ball, big-time power, easily handles tight ends in the run game and plays hard all the time.

Paye's not a very intuitive player and he wasn’t as productive in his 19 college games as you’d hope. But he’s got the kind of traits, backstory and versatility the Patriots love.

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Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami

Size: 6-foot-5, 266 pounds

Birthdate: May 28, 1999

Played one season (2020) at Miami after transferring from UCLA. He nearly retired from football after a spate of injuries including concussions. In 2020 he had 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks among his 45 total tackles.

A tall and limber edge rusher, he can get around the corner fast because of his explosiveness and flexibility. How well he’d stand up against the run and setting the edge would be a concern as would the medicals. But he’s as explosive off the ball as any other defender in the draft according to experts.

Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa

Size: 6-foot-3, 305 pounds

Birthdate: December 13, 1998

Nixon was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year with 45 tackles, 13.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. He even had a pick-six which is worth taking a gander at

He’s a quick, penetrating defensive tackle playing for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. He’s really intuitive in how to get through and around blocks and shows great lateral quickness and pursuit. Not a game-wrecker and may not be a Patriots fit because of his upfield style as opposed to simply anchoring but he projects as being a solid, longtime player.

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