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2023 NFL Draft: Edge defender rankings

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Kent State at Georgia Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the NFL Draft process well underway, there is a much clearer picture of the 2023 class than there was even a month ago. With exhibition games and the Combine now in the past, it is easier to build a full profile of this year’s prospects. This edge class probably has the best, deepest group of players in the class with a few instant impact defenders and quite a few more guys who will be difference makers with some development. This is a great group for NFL teams looking to beef up the bookends of their defensive front.

1) Will Anderson Jr, Alabama

Will Anderson Jr. wins with a great burst and rare bend off the edge. Will Anderson is one of better pass rushers to come out of college football in the last few years. In three years, Anderson piled up 34.5 sacks while being showered with all sorts of honors. This production came from Anderson’s ability to speed by tackles, get low and around the edge with ease and generate quick pressures. Anderson is an advanced technician who counters blocks beautifully, always changing up his game when facing different players.

Will Anderson Jr. can take a leap by improving his motor and playing a bit more physicality. Motor and physicality questions are always tough with top level prospects like Anderson. Anderson shows he can take over games at will, but also frustratingly slacks at times. These guys are playing a lot of snaps and it would make sense they are not going to play 100% at every moment. That being said, on an NFL defense you’d want to see Anderson play with regular urgency and showing off his speed and power with every snap. He has the ability to be a special defender.

Pro Comparison: DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys

2) Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech

Tyree Wilson wins with size, physicality and a high motor. Tyree Wilson has a rare build as an edge rusher, standing over 6’6” and weighing north of 270 pounds. That being said, he played well in space at Texas Tech and terrorized Big-12 tackles with his long arms, strong hands and relentless playing style. He generated a ton of pressure in the passing game but did some of his best work against the run. He is a natural edge setter and plays through contact beautifully.

Tyree Wilson can take a leap by improving his reaction time. Wilson is a good athlete for his size, but lacks the top-end burst of a high level pass rusher. This can be offset with better instincts, something Wilson can develop as he continues to grow as a player. Also, as a taller defender, consistent pad level will be crucial in preventing getting washed out against the run.

Pro Comparison: Bradley Chubb, Miami Dolphins

3) Nolan Smith, Georgia

Nolan Smith wins with great speed, overall athleticism and scheme versatility. Nolan Smith was deployed in a variety of ways at Georgia due to his unique athletic profile. He has the speed and power to bend around the edge, and the physicality to shoot gaps as a blitzer off-ball. Smith is more of a defensive weapon than a true edge defender, but an excellent player nonetheless.

Nolan Smith can take a leap by landing with a defensive coordinator who knows how to deploy him. There are very few edge rushers in the NFL measuring under 6’2” and 240 pounds and there is a reason for that. NFL tackles are big, strong, athletic and smart enough to neutralize pure speed. Smith is certainly more than just speed, but his deployment on an NFL defense will necessitate some creativity and good complementary talent.

Pro Comparison: Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

4) Lukas Van Ness, Iowa

Lukas Van Ness wins with a balanced, well-rounded game and an easily translatable physical profile. Lukas Van Ness was immediately productive at Iowa despite technically being a rotational player during his two years starting there. Lukas Van Ness has good speed, great strength and an NFL build that allows him to long-arm offensive tackles and bullrush them into the quarterback.

Lukas Van Ness can take a leap by showing he can play in a more expanded role. Van Ness’s limited use at Iowa means he didn’t get to show off as a more consistent force and he will need to prove he can do that in the NFL. Van Ness has the talent and the skill to be a difference maker in the NFL, but it will be a big leap to jump into more of a starting role.

Pro Comparison: Geroge Karlaftis, Kansas City Chiefs

5) BJ Ojulari, LSU

BJ Ojulari wins with easy speed off the line combined with advanced pass rushing technique and a high motor getting after the quarterback. Ojulari, whose brother was a second round pick by the Giants in 2020, is pro-ready when it comes to pass rushing. He flies off the snap and bends around the edge with great coordination.

BJ Ojulari can take a leap by improving effort as a run defender. At under 250 pounds, Ojulari is going to struggle with physical lineman coming downhill at him. He can add some weight and strength, but also must improve his effort against the run. NFL teams will want to keep a dangerous pass rusher like Ojulari on the field as much as possible, but it will be hard if he can’t give a high effort against the run.

Pro Comparison: Harold Landry, Tennessee Titans

The Rest

6) Myles Murphy, Clemson

7) Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern

8) Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame

9) Tuli Tuipulotu, USC

10) Andre Carter II, Army

11) Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State

12) Derrick Hall, Auburn

13) Will McDonald IV, Iowa State

14) Zach Harrison, Ohio State

15) KJ Henry, Clemson

16) Byron Young, Tennessee

17) David Perales, Fresno State

18) YaYa Diaby, Louisville

19) Nick Herbig, Wisconsin

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