NFL Draft 2021: Early Predictions for Gregory Rousseau, Top Defensive Prospects

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 3, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2019, file photo, Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau (15) celebrates a turnover and wears the turnover chain during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Rousseau was selected to The Associated Press All-Atlantic Coast Conference football team, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The Miami Hurricanes have not produced a first-round pick since 2017, and they have not had a defensive player chosen on Day 1 of the NFL draft since 2016.

Edge-rusher Gregory Rousseau will likely end those trends since he is projected to be one of the top defensive players in the NFL draft class of 2021.

Rousseau headlines the preliminary list of top defensive prospects, which also includes Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses and Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.

Each of those players has the opportunity to move up draft boards, but at the moment, only Rousseau is projected to land in the top 10 by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.


Top 2021 NFL Draft Defensive Prospects

Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

Since 2010, Miami has had a single defensive player land in the first round.

Defensive back Artie Burns is one of four Hurricanes to be a first-round pick in that time span. That is a stark contrast to the previous decade, when multiple Miami players went in the first round on five occasions.

Rousseau has 59 tackles, 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in just 14 collegiate appearances. After sitting out 2018 with an injury, he finished second to Chase Young on the FBS sack leaderboard this past season. The redshirt sophomore has a chance to top that chart in 2020 since six of the players who finished in the top 10 in sacks were selected during the 2020 NFL draft.

Miller projected Rousseau as the No. 6 overall pick in his first 2021 mock draft. He described the edge-rusher as "the type of impact rusher the Jets can hope lasts until they are next on the clock." Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner has the defensive end landing even higher at No. 4, saying he has "comical physical tools."

Rousseau should have a good chance to reach double-digit sacks again, as he faces a weak nonconference schedule and plays an ACC slate without Clemson. The downfall to that is he will not face premier competition, like other defensive prospects. But if he dominates, it could be hard to turn away from him.

If the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are looking for defensive improvements through the draft in 2021, Rousseau could pique their interest. The Cincinnati Bengals could be another option for Rousseau since they improved their offense in the 2020 draft and could avoid an offensive lineman if Jonah Williams plays well in his return from injury.

Prediction: No. 4 overall.


Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

Moses has first-round talent, but he will have to answer some health concerns in 2020.

The Alabama linebacker is coming off an ACL injury and should be a key fixture in the middle of the Crimson Tide's defense. Moses recorded 86 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his sophomore season, and if he progresses well, he could firmly put himself into the high first-round discussion.

Miller listed Moses at No. 12, while Renner has him at No. 23.

If he returns to his 2018 form, Moses could boost his stock and become an intriguing option for teams such as the Denver Broncos or Cleveland Browns, who might be out to bolster the front seven.

Choosing a defensive player makes sense for Denver since it focused on additions for second-year quarterback Drew Lock in April. If Denver is more competitive in 2020 because of its offensive upgrades, it should turn to defense to find more ways to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

Moses could be part of another robust first-round class from Alabama, as wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris could all land in the first 32 picks.

Prediction: No. 15 overall


Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State

Wilson also finished the 2019 season on the sideline after suffering a hand injury against Miami.

Before his junior season was cut short, Wilson posted career highs in tackles and sacks. If that progression continues, he could be the first defensive interior linemen off the board in 2021.

Miller, who has Wilson landing at No. 14, noted the Florida State player "can play anywhere between the tackles and do it at a high level."

If he puts up larger totals, he could experience the rise Derrick Brown had up to No. 7 in the 2020 draft.

Cleveland could target the interior to find support for Myles Garrett or the Las Vegas Raiders could shore up that spot after going after linebackers and defensive backs in free agency.

For now, the hand injury could keep Wilson down draft boards. But if he proves he is healthy, his ceiling may see him positioned increasingly higher in mock drafts throughout the cycle.

Prediction: No. 17 overall.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.