NFL Draft’s First Round Was Offensive for Defensive Players

Defense may still win championships, but it doesn't get drafted

Laiatu Latu poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
At 15th overall, Laiatu Latu was the first defensive player to be selected in the draft.
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With teams increasingly prioritizing putting up points instead of preventing them, the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night played out as if fantasy football fans were making the selections with quarterbacks and receivers flying off the board like hotcakes. When the dust settled and all 32 picks had been made, six quarterbacks, seven wide receivers and one pass-catching tight end had been selected. To support those passing-game players, nine offensive linemen were also picked. In all, 23 of the round’s picks (71.8%) were used for the offensive side of the ball.

The corollary of that is just nine picks were used on defensive players in Round 1 and, for the first time ever, zero defenders were taken in the top 10 of the draft. The first defensive player off the board Thursday night was UCLA edge rusher Liatu Latu, who the Indianapolis Colts took with the 15th pick after a senior season in which he had 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss. Previously, the latest first defender to come off the board was cornerback Jaycee Horn, who the Carolina Panthers selected eighth in 2021.

“You just do the math, then you thought, all right, ‘who’s going to be the first defensive player drafted?’” Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton, who used his team’s first-round pick on QB Box Nix at No. 12, said, “I think when you have that receiver class with the quarterback class that it is a little bit historic. It doesn’t happen that often. And then you have the tackles. So, I think that league-wide we felt there was going to be more offensive players taken in the first half of the draft.”

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The historic run on offense in the first round means the later stages of the draft, which continues from Detroit tonight with Rounds 2 and 3 before the final four rounds are held on Saturday, should be loaded with defensive talent. The Bills will have the first crack at it, as they hold the first pick of the second round after trading down twice out of the first and not making a selection Thursday night.

Buffalo may trade out again, but it’s also quite possible they’ll use the pick on a top defensive prospect like Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, Texas A&M inside linebacker Edgerrin Cooper or Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. The Bills do need a player to replace star wideout Stefon Diggs, so they could look to wide receivers Ladd McConkey of Georgia or Adonai Mitchell of Texas, both of whom were graded as first-round talents by some.

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