Two of our top 4 picks in the 2021 draft were spent on defense. The #18 pick to me was the pivotal pick because I think adding Jaelan Phillips to this defense will energize a pass rush that improved last year with the addition of Emmanuel Ogbah who led the team, and also the emergence of “AVG” Andrew Van Ginkel who really came on last season. Keep in mind Emmanuel Ogbah had 8 sacks through 9 games last season and finished with 9, so 1 sack in the last 7 games. There’s a reason, opposing teams focused on Ogbah because Shaq Lawson wasn’t getting it done. So now we have the young pass rusher we need and in exchange for Shaq Lawson, we received ILB Benardrick McKinney. Don’t underestimate this move. As much as I believe drafting Phillips was so important to our defense, I think trading for Benardrick McKinney was a big step too, though not as much as getting Phillips. Consider that Elandon Roberts is rehabbing from a knee injury very late in the season (Game 16), we needed this. In addition, McKinney will be the perfect inside backer that will continue to allow #55 to be all over the field and we’ll now have a guy who can be productive against the run and can also chase down plays to the sidelines. In round 2 pick #36, the Dolphins took who they believe to be the starting FS opposite SS Eric Rowe, Jevon Holland. Holland will be given every opportunity to win that job as good ole Bobby McCain was let go.
I think our defense already had a very promising trajectory, even before the Lawson/McKinney trade and before the draft. I like our young, strong defensive line with DE’s Christian Wilkins and Emmanuel Ogbah and NT Raekwon Davis. Ogbah is the elder statesman at nearly 28 while Wilkins is nearly 26 and Davis is only 24. AVG will be 26 at season’s start and Jaelan Phillips is 22. These guys are just going to get better, and make no mistake, Jaelan Phillips is going to make this defense better. He will be a guy that must be accounted for and when there are multiple guys on your defense that fit in that category, that’s when defenses feast. I think Phillips is going to have that impact on our defense. If AVG can improve on the good work he did last year, our defense can be a real force. He played in only 46% of the defensive snaps and managed 5.5 sacks and 10 QB hits in addition to nearly 50 tackles. If he can earn more playing time and increase his production accordingly, watch out!
The secondary was already the premier unit of the defense and hopefully Jevon Holland can elevate it even further. Last season Bobby McCain played SS and played the majority of snaps there. This year Rowe will be playing SS and it’s expected that rookie Jevon Holland will play FS. Holland may also play some slot corner and nickel corner, a job Nik Needham handled most of the time last season. With two excellent cover corners in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, this may be the best CB tandem in the NFL. Howard is the ballhawk and playmaker while Jones is your typical shutdown corner. Howard started and played in all 16 games finishing with an incredible 10 INT’s. Jones started and played 14 games last season and totaled just 2 INT’s, but as I said earlier, he does a great job of shutting down the receiver he is responsible for.
I honestly can’t wait to see this defense on the field. If Phillips lives up to the hype I’m bestowing on him this defense can be something to see. We so desperately need that player that opposing teams must pay extra special attention to and I can’t remember the last time we’ve had that. For some perspective, last season was the first season in which we accumulated more sacks on defense than we allowed in quite some time. We had 41 sacks and allowed only 34. In 2019 we allowed 58 and got only 23 of our own on defense. Still think the O-line didn’t improve??? I had to go all the way back to 2009 to find a comparison even close to last season. In 2009 we had 44 sacks and allowed 34. Our +7 from last season was impressive, imagine if we make that even better this season . . .