The Pittsburgh Steelers traded up in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick. In doing so, Bush was the seventh defensive player selected, tying the record for most defensive players selected in the top 10 in one draft. Two years later, another All-American defender could be selected with the 10th pick, though he wouldn’t be the seventh defensive player selected; he could be the first.
Patrick Surtain II has the best odds to be the first defensive player selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. At -120, as of Monday, April 19, the former Alabama cornerback is ahead of Micah Parsons (+225), Kwity Paye (+600), Jaycee Horn (+1000), and 56 other players in BetMGM’s NFL Draft Specials.
If you bet on Surtain, you’re probably hoping the Detroit Lions pass on a quarterback or receiver at No. 7, the Carolina Panthers pass on a second-tier offensive tackle at No. 8, or the Denver Broncos prefer Micah Parsons or a leftover quarterback at No. 9. But even if Surtain doesn’t go inside the top seven, eight, or nine picks, your bet could cash with the most offensive-heavy top 10 in more than 70 years.
One year after Bush became the seventh top-10 defensive pick, a defensive player wasn’t called in the 2018 draft until the Cleveland Browns selected Denzel Ward at No. 4. Ward was the first of three defensive players in the top 10, tying the fewest since 1995 and the second-fewest since 1982. But even in an offensive-heavy top 10, Ward and two others – Bradley Chubb and Roquan Smith – went in the top eight and three top-10 picks isn’t far off the 20-year average of 4.4 defensive selections in the top 10.
It was the 70th straight draft with at least one defender in the top eight. Not since Texas defensive end Max Bumgardner was the first defensive draftee in 1948 (No. 10, Chicago Bears) have defensive players been shut out of the top eight. And with quarterback- and pass-catching-needy teams at the top of this year’s draft, the streak might end at 70 years:
- Jacksonville Jaguars: There are reasons why Trevor Lawrence has -10000 odds for the No. 1 pick…
- New York Jets: …and reasons why Zach Wilson has -2500 odds for the No. 2 pick.
- San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers didn’t sell the farm to draft a defender.
- Atlanta Falcons: Even if the Falcons pass on Kyle Pitts, the 49ers’ quarterback leftovers, and can’t trade back, they aren’t starting the rebuild with a cornerback, linebacker, or defensive end.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Can Patrick Surtain block? Can Micah Parsons catch passes?
- Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins need edge rushers, yes. That’s what their next three picks (Nos. 18, 36, and 50) are for.
- Detroit Lions: While most rookie cornerbacks are terrible, most rookie cornerbacks aren’t former top-three picks. The Lions want competence in the secondary after Jeff Okudah’s nightmare season, though they can wait.
- Carolina Panthers: If Penei Sewell is gone (and the Panthers don’t love Rashawn Slater or Christian Darrisaw), their leftover quarterback is gone, Micah Parsons is a reach, and the remaining receivers aren’t of interest, they could look elsewhere, including cornerback. That’s too many illogical “ifs.”
Surtain opened at +180 in NFL Draft odds to be the first defensive player drafted, only behind Parsons (-130). In climbing above Parsons, the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been a public favorite. As of Friday, he was receiving 47.7 percent of the tickets and 68.6 percent of the handle. Only South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn was above 11 percent in either area.
The public might be right on Surtain; he might become the first Alabama player to be the first defender selected since Derrick Thomas in 1989. And unlike Thomas in 1989 – at No. 4, he was the first of five defensive players drafted in the top 10 – Surtain won’t need a top-five selection to do it.
Surtain might not need a top-10 selection to do it.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM