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Finding the edge: 2022 rankings

Ranking the 2022 NFL Draft edge defenders

Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft will take place April 28th through April 30th. With the draft finally here, it’s time to finish evaluations and stack positional rankings. One of, if not the, deepest positions in this year’s class is the edge rushers. There are 32 flavors of pass rusher: prototypes at the top of the draft, get off speed to power demons, black belt certified hand counter specialists, bendy Gumby-like contortionists, thick framed inside/outside versatile brick walls and everything in between.

With the Baltimore Ravens in the market for at least one, if not two edge rushers in this year’s draft, it’s the position that deserves the most attention. While the need perfectly meets the depth of this class, the Ravens could likely find immediate contributors in each of the first four rounds. Luckily, Baltimore has a whopping nine picks in the first four rounds and plenty of ammo to find one.

Without further adieu, let’s stack the 2022 Day one and two edge prospects.

  1. Kayvon Thibodeaux - University of Oregon.

Where he wins: Thibodeaux uses elite get off married to adequate bend while consistently locating his long arm bull rush and converts speed to power. He forces tackles to vertical set with urgency while simultaneously protecting their chest plate for four quarters. The combination of explosiveness and bend he possesses turns into splash plays time and time again.

Why he could fall short: the unanimous All-American isn’t small, but as his spider chart displays, he’s not the lengthiest or biggest edge defender. While he maximizes his length well and is great in pursuit of both QB’s and ball carriers, top shelf NFL tackles may be able to engulf him. He’s not built to be a true base-end unless he can add mass.

One sentence: Thibodeaux wins outside, through and inside against tackles with elite get-off while consistently showing a combination fluidity and toughness as a plus athlete against the run and in space.

2. Travon Walker - University of Georgia

Where he wins: Walker is a metal bending, glass eating, potentially “generational” run defender who possesses truly rare athleticism and size/length. Tight ends are play-things as he shocks, peaks and sheds SEC tight ends like rag-dolls. His length, change of direction, functional strength and pursuit skills are all freakish.

Why he could fall short: Walker is an enigma as a pass rusher. He possesses the body type and athleticism to be an apex pass rusher at the next level, but in Georgia’s man-2 heavy scheme on passing downs, which was designed to have a contained rush that prevented scrambling lanes, Walker was asked to play a patient, low-gear game. For a player that potentially is taken with the first pick in the draft, Walker could take too long to become a consistent rusher with a defined game plan.

One sentence: Walker’s combine numbers are no fluke and he will immediately become a weapon as a dominant run defender and fluid, violent athlete that possesses rare movement skills, size and length while he figures out his foundation as a pass rusher.

3. Aidan Hutchinson — University of Michigan

Where he wins: Hutchinson can win the inside track with the best of them. He has enough bend to swipe blocker’s hands then flatten into efficient paths to the quarterback. The Heisman finalist has outrageous stamina to press for four quarters with a bevy of swipes, lifts and counters to manufacture pressure consistently. He’s a plus run defender who crosses face and wins inside consistently.

Where he could fall short: Hutchinson isn’t a special player in space and lacks arm length and total wingspan. Maxx Crosby and Trey Hendrickson have succeeded without length and consistently won the inside track and converting speed to power regardless, but this decreases his margin for error and could prevent him from becoming an apex pass rusher in the NFL.

One sentence: Hutchinson will be a successful pass rusher quickly relying on his two-hand swipe, converting speed to power, physical endurance, advanced hand usage and ability to quickly process run vs. pass.

4. Jermaine Johnson II — Florida State University

Where he wins: Johnson is a twitched up, explosive and violent presence in all phases who possesses plus pursuit skills in space. He maximizes his length to set the edge with enough sand in the pants to hold his ground. With real stopping power in his hands and a full tool-belt, Johnson can win on all three tracks. Rips, swipes, stabs and even flashes a sudden and crisp inside spin counter. Good get off to convert speed to power. He possesses solid pursuit/closing speed to surprise quarterbacks and find ball carriers in space.

Where he could fall short: Johnson has a well rounded game but gets caught in long lulls of stalemates. Seems to lack snap anticipation at times which prevent him from being steadfast in manufacturing quick pressure. He needs to use his get-off and length to convert speed to the long arm stab more consistently to open up the rest of his counters.

One sentence: Johnson is ready to make an impact against the run from day one as an outside linebacker and has the athleticism and pass rush plan to be a productive, although maybe never great pass rusher.

5. Arnold Ebiketie — Penn State University

Where he wins: Ebiketie is relentless and rarely stays blocked in true passing situations. His swipe/rip and club/rip into flattening the corner is arguably the most impressive move in this draft class. He’s long, sudden and patient with pneumatic hand placement to keep his chest clean when blockers shoot their hands. His effort is persistent, blocking kicks, running down ball carriers away from the play and bringing tangible energy to his defense. The former Temple Owl has fluid change of direction ability in all aspects.

Where he could fall short: Nitpicking, Ebiketie is light and may be vulnerable taking on pullers against power schemes. He marries his hands and hips well in exchanges, but functional strength against power scheme run teams could be lacking.

One sentence: Twitchy, precise and unrelenting, Ebiketie is the classic prospect that checks every box and we wonder why he wasn’t picked higher three years from now a la Justin Houston, even if he never becomes an impact run defender.

6. Josh Paschal — University of Kentucky

Where he wins: Paschal is an explosive, heavy handed brute with absolute stopping power as both a pass rusher and run defender. He has a wide, sturdy base with a muscular lower half that allows him to lock out with ease. The Maryland native violently sheds all types of blockers after maintaining good leverage to slingshot himself into ball carriers. Tight ends simply can’t compete with his power and technique. As a crasher on stunts, he folds linemen like chairs and creates chaos. He possesses strong pursuit skills for his play style and can run down quarterbacks and ball carriers to make impact plays.

Where he could fall short: Paschal played all over Kentucky’s front and will likely be asked to do so in the NFL. He could become a “jack of all trades, master of none” who is regarded more for what he can do on first and second down. While he maximizes his length, he doesn’t possess bend or the skillset of a speed rusher, limiting his profile.

One sentence: Paschal will be an early starter who has the sheer violence, understanding of leverage and explosive power to create chaos while doing the dirty work for his defense.

7. George Karlaftis — Purdue University

Where he wins: Karlaftis has power in his cinderblock hand strikes that can collapse blockers into the pocket. He coils in his stance well to threaten with his first step and processes different sets from blockers seamlessly which can result in quick pressures. Rarely finds himself out of place and stays within his limitations well. He uses a nice hesi into speed to power paired with an arm over and swipes to counter inside. The Greek crosses blocker’s faces inside with easy processing and closes down the line well in the run game. When he wins and quarterbacks don’t have time to escape, he delivers crushing blows.

Where he could fall short: While Karlaftis has flexibility in his ankles, he doesn’t possess the bend or pace to threaten the outside track as a speed rusher. His lack of length shows up in the run game where his margin for error against blockers is low and he repeatedly fails to have the tackle radius to wrangle down ball carriers in space against the run or translate pressures into sacks as quarterbacks work away from him. His overall movement in space is clunky and laborious. He has a spin move that is in slow motion.

One sentence: Karlaftis has the raw power, advanced hand usage and first step to be a successful power rusher if he continues to sharpen his skillset within his length and movement in space limitations.

8. Drake Jackson — University of Southern California

Where he wins: Jackson has elite bend at the top of his rush. He can consistently dip and ghost tackles then flatten at crazy angles that perplex blockers who think he’s overrun the quarterback. He has the length to keep himself clean and can whip inside spin counters when tackles overset. Jackson can close in a hurry and can make plays in coverage/space underneath consistently.

Where he could fall short: Jackson’s ability to defend the run is currently solely dependent upon his ability to stab a blocker’s chest off the ball and win with that initial punch. If it fails, or a blocker recovers, he’s often rendered defeated. If he doesn’t widen his base, increase his understanding of how to use his hips to lock out and add overall strength to his lower half, he could be deemed just a designated pass rusher who struggles to get full-time snaps.

One sentence: With quick feet, length, awesome bend and and surprising get-off, Jackson has all the tools to develop into a pass rushing weapon if he continues working on the boring stuff in the run game while adding to his frame.

9. Boye Mafe — University of Minnesota

One sentence: Mafe is an elite athlete with hip flexibility and powerful chops/swipes that are enticing for immediate usage on passing downs while he adds technical refinement in his approach and as a run defender.

10. Sam Williams — University of Mississippi

One sentence: Williams poses issues for less athletic tackles and guards with his rocket ship get off, crazy pursuit and closing speed and an ideal build who should be viewed as a boom or bust prospect due to his barebones pass rush plan and lack of consistency snap to snap, game to game against the run.

11. Michael Clemons — Texas A&M University

One sentence: Clemons is underwhelming against the run considering his frame and experience, but has a complete tool belt as a pass rusher and surprising flexibility for his size.

12. Myjai Sanders — University of Cincinnati

One sentence: Sanders has awesome acceleration with hand usage and intelligence while lacking the functional strength currently needed to step into heavy snaps from day one.

13. Alex Wright — University of Alabama-Birmingham

One sentence: Wright is a bet on outstanding size, length, explosion and movement skills with ample effort who needs help finding his niche as a pass rusher and refinement taking on blocks and processing in the run game.

14. Nik Bonitto — University of Oklahoma

One sentence: Bonitto is a bet on an extremely undersized edge defender who needs to add a modicum of functional strength to pair with fun acceleration, quickness and flexibility.

Aside from the 13 prospects listed, I wanted to mention that David Ojabo’s injury prevented me from stacking him in this class. Ojabo has some of the most exciting and high-level pass rush reps in this class and tested well, but is a developmental run defender who needed work in order to become a full time player at the next level. Depending on his recovery, Ojabo could certainly become one of the most productive pass rushers and edge defenders in this class. His projection is difficult considering the development he needs and the fact that he likely won’t be able to get it until the 2023 off-season.