NFL Draft: Finally, a defensive player! Colts' pick of Laiatu Latu ends a record drought on D

The 2024 NFL Draft will be remembered for all of the offensive players flying off the board in the first round. There were plenty of quarterbacks and receivers to keep everyone buzzing.

It meant the defensive players had to wait a while.

The first defensive player in the 2024 NFL Draft was UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu. He went with the 15th pick to the Indianapolis Colts, which made some history. The latest the first defensive player had ever come off the board in the NFL Draft before this year was eighth overall, which happened in 2021. The 2024 NFL Draft not only broke the record for most consecutive offensive players to start a draft, it blew away the old record.

UCLA Bruins edge rusher Laiatu Latu (15) was the first defensive player taken in the NFL Draft. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
UCLA Bruins edge rusher Laiatu Latu was the first defensive player taken in the NFL Draft. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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It's not like teams don't need defensive stars anymore. This just wasn't the draft to find one early on in the first round.

It was no secret that this draft would be heavy on offense, especially at the top. There were many top quarterbacks, a lot of good offensive players and it was considered a relatively weak defensive class. The record for offensive players in the first round of a draft was 19, and that record was expected to be broken on Thursday night.

Is this indicative of a trend? Defense has become an afterthought for much of college football, and perhaps that is being reflected in the draft. Or it could be a one-off year in which the best players just happened to be on offense.

There were good defensive players in the 2024 draft. Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold, Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy, Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse and Latu were among those considered to be first-round talents.

They just weren't as coveted as many of the offensive stars at the top of the first round.

In the common draft era, starting in 1967, the latest the first defensive player came off the board was No. 8 in 2021. That was Jaycee Horn, drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Then Patrick Surtain II went ninth to the Denver Broncos. Before that, the record for the latest pick for the first defensive player in the NFL Draft was cornerback Champ Bailey, who went No. 7 to Washington in 1999.

The Atlanta Falcons were considered a candidate to take a defensive player with the eighth pick in this year's draft, but they opted for Michael Penix Jr. in a shocking move. That broke the record for the longest defensive players have had to wait for one to be selected. The Chicago Bears also have defensive needs, but opted for receiver Rome Odunze with the ninth pick.

The offensive run continued, with six quarterbacks among the 14 straight offensive players selected to start the draft. Latu had a great 2023 season, and the Colts jumped at the chance to take him. Indianapolis probably didn't expect him to be the first defensive player off the board, though.