The 2024 NFL Draft saw a record-shattering 23 offensive players taken in the first round, including 14 consecutive picks on that side of the ball to start April's event. Five of the top-10 picks were quarterbacks. Oregon's Bo Nix made it six total signal-callers off the board within the first 32 selections when the Denver Broncos drafted him 12th overall. 

UCLA edge rusher Laitu Latu had to wait almost two hours before the Indianapolis Colts took him off the board at No. 15, breaking the historic streak of assorted quarterbacks, wide receivers and offensive linemen. 

While the top of the 2024 crop was filled with players whose main objective is to score the football, the 2025 class is highlighted by an elite group of guys with the sole purpose of stopping them. Add in what looks like a relatively weak group of quarterbacks and -- as of this writing -- no superstars (think Marvin Harrison Jr. level) at the skill positions, 2025 looks to be top-heavy with defenders. 

Several players at every level of defense could develop into Day 1 picks. Call it the year of the defender, a resurgence of the often unheralded unit in football after all the glitz of 2024. Here are some defensive stars that could dominate the 2025 NFL Draft

James Pearce Jr., EDGE, Tennessee

Pay attention to Pearce's name, because you might hear it called first next April. The former unheralded recruit out of Charlotte, North Carolina has quickly emerged as one of the best players in all of college football -- regardless of position. He tied for the SEC lead with 10 sacks last season and amassed well over 40 pressures while singlehandedly wrecking opposing backfields. Though his 6-foot-5 and 242-pound frame may look slight against SEC offensive tackles, Pearce has deceptive power and packs a punch at the point of attack. He also jumps out of his stance to race past offensive linemen and has a deep bag of pass-rush tools. If Pearce continues to develop, NFL teams will be tripping over themselves in pursuit of his talent. 

Nic Scourton, EDGE, Texas A&M 

Scourton, who ranks as the No. 15 overall player and No. 1 edge rusher in 247Sports' Transfer Rankings, was a huge get for first-year Texas A&M coach Mike Elko. Scourton led the Big Ten with 10 sacks last season while starring with Purdue. He had two against Michigan, which boasted one of the nation's best offensive lines throughout its journey to a 15-0 season. Scourton registered at least a half sack in eight of 11 appearances and finished the year with 42 pressures, averaging almost four per game. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, he comes with an NFL-ready frame. A strong season with the Aggies will vault him up NFL Draft boards. 

Deone Walker, DL, Kentucky 

It's kind of freaky how well Walker moves given his immense frame. A 6-foot-6 and 348-pound behemoth, he's Kentucky's best pass rusher despite frequently drawing double teams on the interior. He paced the Wildcats with 7.5 sacks last season and tallied well over 50 pressures. That kind of production from a true nose tackle-type player is almost unheard of, especially when battling in the SEC trenches. He's obviously an effective gap stuffer and run-stopper on top of his ability to disrupt. Walker is the complete package, and it wouldn't take him long to acclimate to the professional level. 

Mason Graham, DL, Michigan 

It didn't take long for Graham to make an impact on Michigan's coaches. He earned a key rotational role as a freshman in 2022 despite the presence of several veteran players ahead of him and parlayed that into a starting opportunity in 2023. He flourished in the spotlight, finishing the year with 30 generated pressures, 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks while helping the Wolverines their first national title since 1997. 

Walter Nolen, DL, Ole Miss 

Ole Miss struggled against the run at times last season. In its two losses against Alabama and Georgia, it gave up a combined 431 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Nolen will go a long way towards fixing that issue. The No. 2 overall prospect in the 2022 class and the No. 3 player in 247Sports' Transfer Rankings, Nolen is a monster against the run. He moves well laterally and fills gaps with his 6-foot-4 frame, clogging running lanes and preventing running backs from getting space. That translated to 8.5 tackles for loss at Texas A&M in 2023. Nolen has suffered through some injury issues in the past, and he needs to work on consistency before he can hit that next level. But when he's on, few interior defenders compare. 

Harold Perkins, LB, LSU 

LSU has moved Perkins all over the field during his relatively brief collegiate career. He flourished into a starting role as a freshman, where he played primarily off the edge and registered 7.5 sacks. The staff tinkered with him at inside linebacker early in the 2023 season before moving him back toward the line of scrimmage. Amid the transition, his production dropped off a bit. Now he's back in the box with the hopes that he can settle in as a playmaker in the middle of the field. Perkins certainly has the athletic traits to flourish as a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine. It's not a bad idea to just turn him loose and let him go after the ball. 

Travis Hunter, ATH, Colorado 

Hunter is an athlete in the purest sense of the word. He excels at both cornerback and wide receiver and the return game. The jury is still out on where he'll find a home in the NFL but, at worst, Hunter is a ball of clay that can be molded into just about any role. If teams decide to use him as a defensive back, no one could fault them. Hunter is a sticky corner with excellent ball skills thanks to his offensive experience. Though limited to just nine games due to injury last season, he still managed three interceptions and five pass breakups while playing more snaps than just about any non-quarterback in the country. He can handle that load, though he'll almost certainly settle into one position in the NFL

Will Johnson, CB, Michigan 

A former top-40 prospect out of Grosse Point, Michigan, Johnson started five games for the Wolverines in 2022 as a true freshman before stepping into a more permanent role last season. He was a fixture on the defense that spearheaded Michigan's run to its national title and earned first-team All-American honors after tallying four interceptions and four pass breakups. On top of that, he was named the Defensive MVP of the College Football Playoff National Championship after logging an interception off of 2024 first-round pick Michael Penix Jr. to start the second half. The 6-foot-2 Johnson has excellent length at boundary corner and was clocked at 20 miles per hour during a pick-six return against Minnesota. He's also a willing tackler, a trait that NFL front offices love from their cornerbacks. 

Benjamin Morrison, CB, Notre Dame 

Morrison has been one of Notre Dame's top defenders from the moment he stepped foot on campus. He immediately nabbed a starting job in 2022 and earned 247Sports Freshman All-American honors after logging six interceptions, which led the Fighting Irish and tied for seventh nationally. He added three more interceptions to his career total in 2023 while also leading his team with 10 pass breakups. Opponents are slowly learning that testing Morrison is not a wise decision, which just makes it easier for him to completely lock down his side of the field. 

Malaki Starks, S, Georgia 

This was Starks' first career interception, in his very first quarter at the collegiate level: 

That set the tone for one of the most prolific careers we have seen from a safety in quite some time. Starks finished his first year as a finalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award after pacing the Bulldogs with seven pass breakups and intercepting two passes. In 2023, Starks was a 2023 CBS Sports First Team All-American and a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe Awards while collecting three interceptions and seven pass breakups. Starks is the ideal modern safety: he can move like a wide receiver in open space, has excellent ball skills and isn't afraid to get down into the box and play run support.