Kwity Paye and Jaelen Phillips were not the first two defenders to hear their name called in the 2021 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t among the frontrunners to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
WynnBET has Phillips with the second-highest odds (+700) and Paye with the third-highest odds (+1000) to win the award. Phillips was taken with the No. 18 overall pick by the Miami Dolphins and Paye followed him soon after at No. 21 to the Indianapolis Colts.
Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II, Micah Parsons and Zaven Collins all went before the two edge rushers, but only Parsons (+425) has better odds to win Rookie of the Year.
So why are Paye and Phillips so highly touted?
History tells us that defensive lineman and edge rushers are more likely to be named Rookie of the Year, even though the last few have been higher picks than Phillips and Paye. Five of the last eight seasons a defensive lineman or edge rusher has won the award and Chase Young and Nick Bosa have made it two straight for defensive linemen.
Both Paye and Phillips are in great situations to make their impact felt, whether it be through sacking the quarterback or piling up tackles, during their first professional season.
Phillips will likely have an immediate path for snaps after the Dolphins released Kyle Van Noy and traded Shaq Lawson this offseason. This should help him get a lot of opportunities to get after the quarterback, which is where he succeeded the most in college with eight sacks last season with the Miami Hurricanes.
As for Paye, he is joining a defense that allowed the eighth-fewest yards in the NFL last season and already has two elite players in its front seven in DeForest Buckner and another former Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard. Paye totaled 11.5 sacks in his four seasons at Michigan, and he could see a lot less attention from opposing teams when lining up alongside Buckner.
It will be a lot easier to see where these rookies will end up once they start climbing (or falling) their respective teams’ depth chart. As we know, getting to the quarterback is the name of the game on defense in the NFL and these two players are the best in their class at doing just that.