The 1st round of the 2021 NFL Draft gave us 6 edge players vs. just 3 off-ball LBs. But the latter position stands out as the strength this year for fantasy purposes.
At least 2 of the 1st-round edge defenders figure to carry LB designations, and several of them look more like developmental prospects than immediate contributors.
The LB class, on the other hand, arrives with only the question of draft capital.
Do you focus on the big names who landed in Round 1? Are there a couple of Round 2 options ready to outperform their earlier-drafted classmates? And who are simply the best bets at each position?
Let’s get to it with the overall top 40, followed by positional rankings that go 80 deep (25 D-linemen, 30 LBs, 25 DBs) …
1. Zaven Collins, LB, Cardinals
Micah Parsons left the board 1st on Thursday night, but Collins followed quickly thereafter. He’s a clear winner on the size-speed front. Collins stands 6-5, 260 and delivered a 105.3 speed score (70th percentile for the position). The only question is the path to immediate playing time. Arizona still has LB Jordan Hicks and LB De’Vondre Campbell, and the team drafted LB Isaiah Simmons 8th overall just last year. GM Steve Keim says Collins will play the “Mike” position, next to Simmons. That’s currently Hicks’ role. Keim also said they expect Collins to contribute right away. We learned with Simmons last year that the early draft capital doesn’t guarantee a big 1st-year role. But Collins is likely further along in his LB development than Simmons was last year. He racked up 25 tackles for loss -- including 7.5 sacks -- across 3 seasons (32 games) at Tulsa. But the big guy also grabbed 4 INTs in just 8 contests last year and finished as Pro Football Focus’ top graded coverage LB. I’ll take the risk that his 2021 playing time disappoints me to chase the ultimate upside.
2. Jamin Davis, LB, Washington
Davis also followed Parsons off the NFL Draft board, but Davis faces the clearer path to immediate playing time. Washington’s current LB depth chart sports Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb and Josh Harvey-Clemons at the top. Only Bostic saw full-time duty for more than 6 games last season. HC Ron Rivera said after the draft that Davis can play all 3 LB positions in Washington’s defense. We’ll see whether he opens on the weak side or in the middle. But Davis should quickly earn full playing time. He showed in his lone starting season at Kentucky that he can convert the elite athleticism into production: 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs.
3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Browns
Another LB over Parsons? JOK slipped to Round 2, but he still landed in a great spot for immediate opportunity. No Cleveland LB reached 80% snap share for the 2020 season, and only B.J. Goodson reached 52%. Owusu-Koramoah looks like the best bet to lead the 2021 crew in playing time. Browns decision makers said they were surprised to have a shot at him in Round 2 -- where they moved up to get him -- and most observers shared that shock. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah rated him the 15th overall prospect, and Grinding the Mocks had him going 19th overall on average. JOK likely slipped because he’s just 221 pounds. But he flies around the field making big plays. He racked up 24.5 tackles for loss in just 25 games at Notre Dame, including 7 sacks (5.5 in 2019). He also defensed 7 passes and forced 5 fumbles. This guy looks like a 3-down, cross-category contributor.
4. Jaelan Phillips, DE, Dolphins
Kwity Paye commonly got mocked as the top edge player in this class, but Phillips wound up going 1st. That seemed to answer the biggest question on him: injury history. On the field, Phillips delivered 15.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in 10 games in his lone Miami season. Then he delivered the class’ 4th-best speed score in pre-draft testing and added 68th-percentile 3-cone time. Despite floating around college (he began at UCLA) for 5 years, he’ll be just 22 when his rookie campaign begins.
5. Micah Parsons, LB, Cowboys
If you want to take Parsons over any of the LBs ahead of him on this list, I won’t fight to stop you. He certainly wins on athletic profile. Parsons’ 129.55 speed score not only leads this year’s class, it also tops each of the past 2 LB classes -- which included Isaiah Simmons (2020) and Devin White (2019). In addition to running a sub-4.4-second 40 at his pro day, Parsons delivered strong results in the 3-cone drill and broad jump. He was also no slouch last time he saw the field: 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 passes defensed for Penn State in 2019. Parsons then opted out last season. We’ll see whether that year away impacts his readiness for 2021. I’m dinging him more, though, for landing in a Dallas LB corps that still sports Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The Cowboys might well decline the 5th-year option on LVE -- we’ll find out this month -- given his health issues. Smith’s contract says he’ll likely remain a full-timer at least through 2022. At the least, Parsons looks like the worst bet for an immediate full-time role among my top 4 LBs. If you’re willing to overlook that for long-term upside, that’s fine. Perceived values can swing quickly even in this long-term market, though. So there’s a chance Parsons comes cheaper next offseason than this year.