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NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Edge rushers

Indiana v Purdue Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Edge defender might be the deepest, most talented, and most polarizing position in the 2022 NFL Draft. With so many productive and athletic defensive ends and outside linebackers, there are a million different ways this class could shake out. For the Eagles, there is no doubt that more youth and more juice is needed on the edges of their defense. Haason Reddick might not be a full-time defensive end, Derek Barnett should be relegated to a lesser role, and Josh Sweat needs a running mate. Luckily, the Eagles are in luck with the wide range of talent available this year. Here are the top ten edge defenders in the class.

PREVIOUS POSITION RANKINGS: Quarterback | Wide receiver | Running back | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon, 6’4”, 254 Pounds

What he does well: Kayvon Thibodeaux has been the best player in the 2022 draft class since his freshman year at Oregon. Thibodeaux is an explosive pass rusher with a great first step, overwhelming power, and the agility and flexibility to bend the edge. A young prospect with his physical gifts might get away with not being technically proficient, but Thibodeaux goes into every pass rushing snap with a plan and a backup plan to get to the quarterback. He is an advanced player in every way when it comes to rushing the quarterback. In the run game, Thibodeaux’s strength and speed mean he can fight through contact to find the ball carrier or chase down runners from the back side. When Thibodeaux is on, he is unblockable.

Where he can improve: Gauging the “motor” of college defensive linemen is always going to paint an uneven picture. The best athletes on the field are going to play way more snaps in college than they do in the pros. This means not every snap is going to get maximum effort. Knocks on Thibodeaux for his “want to” are overblown, if not a total farce. Thibodeaux being a starter in a defensive line rotation will bring out the most in his talents and it is hard to judge a guy who had to play through injuries and a Covid-shortened season.

NFL Comparison: Danielle Hunter

Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan, 6’6”, 260 Pounds

What he does well: Aidan Hutchinson produced one of the best seasons ever by a defensive player in 2021. His production and leadership of a fantastic Michigan defense earned him Heisman consideration and many consider him a favorite for the top pick in the draft. His success can be attributed to his blend of athleticism and motor getting after the passer. He has the ability to bend the edge with ease, flashing moments of getting low to evade offensive tackles. He is very active with his hands and his physicality makes him a viable run defender as well.

Where he can improve: Hutchinson’s tested athleticism is extremely impressive and shows there is so much room for him to apply his physical gifts on the field. While he flashed bend, he needs to improve his balance and ended up on the ground a bit much for a player with his talent. His shorter arms means he needs to win off the snap consistently to avoid getting bullied at the point of attack. The Georgia game seemed to take him by surprise because those tackles were not afraid to get in his pads.

NFL Comparison: Trey Hendrickson

George Karlaftis, Purdue, 6’3”, 266 Pounds

What he does well: George Karlaftis has only been playing football for a few years, but his talent is evident every snap he is on the field. The Greek-born pass rusher has phenomenal strength when getting after the quarterback. His burst off the line and the way he initiates contact with blockers tends to overwhelm them to the point that he can create instant pressure. His high motor complements his physical gifts to make him a load to handle on every snap.

Where he can improve: Karlaftis flashed as a run defender, but still has room to grow in terms of finding the ball carrier on running plays. He was a rush-first type of defender and made big plays against the run on his way to the quarterback. That being said, this is still a raw and talented player that can grow into quite a difference maker.

NFL Comparison: Chris Long

Travon Walker, UGA, 6’5”, 272 Pounds

What he does well: Travon Walker’s talent and upside is so obvious that it could get him drafted first overall. Walker is a truly special athlete along the defensive line and that was as evident at Georgia as it was at the NFL combine. Walker’s talent was used in a unique way on the Georgia defense as he was rarely lined up as a true edge and was usually head up on tackles instead. The product was he was a world destroying run defender with a never-runs cold motor.

Where he can improve: Walker’s role at Georgia means there is a lot of room for him to grow as a pass rusher. He undoubtedly has the talent to impact the game on passing downs, but he needs to develop the technique to become a skilled pass rusher. Walker’s ability paired with the right coaching staff could produce quite an outstanding player.

NFL Comparison: Jadeveon Clowney

Jermaine Johnson II, FSU, 6’4”, 254 Pounds

What he does well: Jermaine Johnson II thrived in his first year starting for Florida State. The athletic edge defender won ACC Defensive Player of the Year due to excellent play and production in the Noles defense. Johnson’s burst off the line, his playing strength and a high motor made him a formidable run defender and he flashed some brilliance as a pass rusher.

Where he can improve: 12 sacks for Johnson tells an uneven story about his pass rushing ability. Despite the production, Johnson still can improve how consistent he is rushing the passer. He is still winning on effort and athleticism and is a few counter moves away from being a dangerous third down defender.

NFL Comparison: Brandon Graham

David Ojabo, Michigan, 6’4”, 250 Pounds

What he does well: David Ojabo is a natural pass rusher with burst and bend to cause problems for offensive tackles. He is a gifted athlete whose high motor affords him plenty of opportunities to pressure quarterbacks. He is new to the game of football yet has an impressive array of pass rushing moves.

Where he can improve: Ojabo has only played 20 games of high level football and his lack of experience shows up mostly as a run defender. Ojabo seems lost against the run at times and his lack of size does not help him. Factor in an Achilles injury this draft process, and Ojabo will have a slower start to his NFL career. Patience, a full recovery and some time in the weight room will go a long way to turn Ojabo into a full time contributor on an NFL defense.

NFL Comparison: Kemoko Turay

Logan Hall, Houston, 6’6”, 283 Pounds

What he does well: First thing to mention is Logan Hall looks to be angling to play a two-gapping end in the NFL with flexibility to play tackle. He played all over Houston’s defensive line, playing much lighter than he is now. That being said, Hall has a lot to like about him in terms of a extremely high motor, good anticipation and burst off the line. He was a terror against the run and showed he could disrupt the passing offense from anywhere in the alignment.

Where he can improve: A lot about Hall is projection right now. His position switch means there are more questions than answers in terms of how he handles NFL guards as a defensive lineman weighing in under 285 Pounds. There will be a learning curve for Hall as his role changes in the NFL, but his talent and demeanor warrant betting on.

NFL Comparison: Michael Bennett

Drake Jackson, USC, 6’2”, 254 Pounds

What he does well: Jackson’s game is speed, bend and effort. He is a terror on passing downs because he is faster, quicker and more relentless than whoever is trying to block him.

Where he can improve: Jackson’s game could use a more finessed and technical approach sometimes. He had no problem outhustling Pac-12 tackles, but will need sufficient pass rush moves to make an impact against NFL blockers. Lack of size and length limits him as a run defender and he might max out as a very good pass rush specialist in the NFL.

NFL Comparison: Cliff Avril

Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma, 6’3”, 248 Pounds

What he does well: Nik Bonitto might be the best in the class in terms of pure movement skills at the position. His bend, balance and burst off the line are extremely impressive and help him create pressure on a passing game at will.

Where he can improve: Bonitto is a bit smaller on the edges and lacks the physicality or motor to make up for lack of natural strength. He could play with much more urgency and maybe add some size to be a three down player. As of now, he looks like very good role player on an NFL defense.

NFL Comparison: Eli Harold

Boye Mafe, Minnesota, 6’3”, 261 Pounds

What he does well: Boye Mafe’s best football is still ahead of him. Mafe is a very impressive athlete and can basically do anything he wants on the football field. He has the traits to be extremely impactful defender in the right situation.

Where he can improve: Boye Mafe’s best football is still ahead of him. He has room to grow in every aspect of his game. His upside is so big, but teams will really bet on the ability to develop his athleticism and hope they can turn his college flashes into more consistent occurrences.

NFL Comparison: Rashan Gary

Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State, 6’2”, 250 Pounds

What he does well: Arnold Ebiketie had to step up in 2021 after Shaka Toney and Odafe Oweh went to the NFL. He responded with a brilliant, productive season for the Nittany Lions. Ebiketie is an explosive athlete with speed and a motor to overwhelm tackles. He is also a surprisingly good backside run defender with impressive ability to find the ball carriers and drop them for a loss.

Where he can improve: Ebiketie leaves a lot to be desired in terms of strength. He has trouble shaking blocks if he can’t make first contact and tends to get pushed around when teams run in his direction. With only one year starting under his belt, these are areas where Ebiketie can surely get much better.

NFL Comparison: Bud Dupree

Note: There are 10 players listed and the first six should be considered first round prospects with the other four comfortably in the top 50 players. A few good players missed the top ten because the class is that deep.

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