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2021 NFL Draft: Why a weak edge class could mean big contracts for the position over the next few years

College Park, MD, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Kwity Paye (19) and linebacker Jordan Glasgow (29) prior to the snap during the 2g against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft is nearly here after months of speculation over what will go down at the top of the first round. For the first time since the 2012 draft, it is very unlikely that any edge player will be taken in the first 10 picks, let alone the first 15 picks (Michigan's Kwity Paye is the current favorite to be the first defensive lineman chosen, and his over/under is pick 16.5).

As PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner tweeted recently, the draft is where you find value, while free agency is where you fill needs:

However, in a situation where there is not much in the way of value at edge defender (or, for that matter, interior defender) for an entire draft class, how does that affect team needs (and hence eventual second contracts and free agent acquisitions) down the line?

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Kansas City’s decision to trade multiple draft picks and a dole out a big-money contract to Seattle’s Frank Clark was a direct result of the draft failures of Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks. Solomon Thomas’ inability to perform in a manner expected from a third overall pick preceded the Dee Ford trade from Kansas City to San Francisco. The Khalil Mack trade compensated for Leonard Floyd’s lack of production as a top pick out of Georgia. Clelin Ferrell’s lack of production in many ways led to Yannick Ngakoue heading to Las Vegas via free agency in 2021.  

Edge is the position for which athleticism matters the most, and college-to-pro projections are therefore the most straightforward. While some players slip through the cracks (e.g., Carl Lawson), the formula is pretty clear: college production and/or upper-tier athleticism equals an asset to be coveted high during the selection process. Teams have to stick their necks out to acquire these players, and the scars can be real when those moves fail.

Edge is also a position where the most highly paid players in the veteran market are a substantial markup — often 2.5 times — over even the most highly drafted players, and thus arises the predicament pertinent to this entire article.  

Here, we highlight some teams that have a real need at edge defender and may have to overpay at the position (either via free agency or a trade — or both) in the near future due to the low chance of finding a brilliant player in the 2021 draft class.

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