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Bevy of defensive playmakers are available in Round 2 of the NFL draft after historic offensive run

Bevy of defensive playmakers are available in Round 2 of the NFL draft after historic offensive run

(AP) — The unprecedented run on quarterbacks, wide receivers and pass protectors in the NFL draft‘s opening round pushed plenty of standout defenders down the board and allowed some of the top teams to select players who normally wouldn’t fall to them.

It also shoved plenty of first-round worthy defenders into the second round Friday, led by Cooper DeJean, the Iowa cornerback who broke his lower leg in November but has been cleared to return to football activities.

DeJean is one of the best ballhawks in this class and also one of the best punt returners available, having averaged 13.1 yards per return over the last two seasons.

Other defenders who will almost certainly hear their names called early Friday night when teams have had a chance to gather their thoughts and dive into the second round include Texas A&M inside linebacker Edgerrin Cooper and Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry.

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Cooper led the Aggies in tackles (84), tackles for loss (17), and sacks (8). McKinstry, besides having among the coolest names in the draft, is seen as a plug-and-play performer.

McKinstry is like DeJean in two ways in that he’s an elite punt returner and he’s coming off an injury. McKinstry couldn’t participate in drills at the NFL scouting combine because of a broken bone in his right foot. But he ran at his pro day on March 20 and then underwent surgery to repair the fracture. He’s expected to be ready to go by training camp.

Another name to keep an ear out for is Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton, one of the best interior pass rushers in this year’s draft. He pressured the quarterback more than 100 times over the last two seasons combined and also had 13 sacks and 22 1/2 tackles for loss in 2022 and ’23. He didn’t work out at the combine or his pro day after undergoing foot surgery after the season.

The first defensive player off the board Thursday night was UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu, who is coming off a senior season in which he had 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss. The Indianapolis Colts chose him with the 15th pick after a record half-dozen quarterbacks, four offensive linemen, three wide receivers, and a tight end were taken.

The latest the first defender had come off the board in previous drafts was eighth in 2021 when the Carolina Panthers selected cornerback Jaycee Horn.

In all, the first round featured the six quarterbacks selected along with seven wide receivers, nine offensive linemen and a tight end. On defense, there were five edge rushers, three cornerbacks and one lineman drafted.

That’s 23 players on offense and nine on defense.

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“The one thing we did feel, and I think everyone around the league felt, was it’s a receiver-heavy draft (and) there were some talented quarterbacks,” Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “You just do the math, then you thought, all right, who’s going to be the first defensive player drafted?

“But I don’t think there was a big surprise around the league the first 10, 12 (were on offense). … So, 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.”

The second half, too.

Of course, some of the top talent available in Round 2 also is on offense. That includes wide receivers Ladd McConkey of Georgia and Adonai Mitchell of Texas.

McConkey might have slipped into Day 2 because of his injury-riddled 2023 season in which he dealt with ankle, knee and back ailments while catching 30 passes for the Bulldogs, two for touchdowns.

On the clock first Friday are the Buffalo Bills, who traded out of the first round in deals with the Chiefs and Panthers.

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