Rookie Impact (besides Okudah & Young)
The 2020 NFL Draft was a great opportunity for many teams that had defensive needs, to not only address them but to land an impact player on the defensive side of the ball. While many are expecting Chase Young and Jeffery Okudah to have an immediate impact on their defenses (as both players went 2 and 3 overall in the draft), some defenders slid into the later parts of the draft yet can still have a major impact on their defenses. For this list, I took one defensive lineman, one linebacker, one corner, and one hybrid defender that are all going to teams that can either use their talent desperately or will be able to slide them into their system and bring the best out of them.
Defensive Lineman: AJ Epenesa; Buffalo Bills
AJ Epenesa was slanted to be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft early on in the process. The Bills capitalized on the opportunity to take one of the best pass-rushers in the draft and Epenesa should have an immediate impact on a rising Bills defense. The Bills defense starts with their strong secondary, led by All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White. The front-seven needed help after Shaq Lawson left for the Bills in free agency but AJ Epenesa can slide into the edge-rusher role on day one and turn the front-seven into one of the best in the NFL.
Linebacker: Patrick Queen; Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were also one of the teams that capitalized on a sliding star. The Ravens needed a middle linebacker after Patrick Onwasur left in free agency and Patrick Queen can play any role as an athletic linebacker. Queen is an incredible athlete that was part of a star-studded LSU defense last year, the Ravens defense also doesn’t have many needs and it should allow Patrick Queen to be able to make plays and not have to worry about leading the unit.
Cornerback: Jeff Gladney; Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were in a tough situation entering this off-season, with no cap room to spare, they had to make difficult trades and releases. This resulted in the Vikings trading Stephon Diggs and releasing cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings drafted a receiver to hopefully fill the void left by Diggs and later in the first round they drafted a corner in Jeff Gladney. The Vikings defense is already one of the best in the NFL and won’t ask much of Gladney. The big advantage of landing Gladney is that he played man coverage at TCU, Minnesota primarily plays man coverage on defense and it lets Gladney adjust easily (most corners play zone in college so they have a tougher time adjusting).
Hybrid: Isaiah Simmons; Arizona Cardinals
Isaiah Simmons was one of the best defensive players in College Football last year and the Cardinals got lucky when they saw him available at number 8 in the draft. Isaiah Simmons is a jack of all trades that can play linebacker, in the box, or even safety depending on the situation. The league is trending towards having players that are “positionless” meaning they can play any role when asked to, Simmons can provide more value to a defense that hasn’t been good in recent years. The Cardinals defense can improve rapidly if Simmons is truly one of the next great defenders and the future of defensive stars.