The South Florida Sun Sentinel continues its 10-part series looking at the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft (April 28-30) with edge rushers. Players who pressure quarterbacks are the second-most in-demand position in football, so don’t be surprised if three edge players are among the top-five selections in the 2022 draft class.
Georgia’s Travon Walker
Walker lined up all across Georgia’s talented defensive line, creating the most favorable mismatch for the Bulldogs. His statistics weren’t impressive (65 career tackles, 9.5 sacks in three seasons), but his overall athleticism is off the charts. He’s not a pure edge rusher, so whichever team selects him will need to be patient with his development. But the sky is the limit. He’s a boom-or-bust pick.
Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson’s tenacity, character and impressive physical traits make him a contender for the No. 1 overall pick, and indicates that he could possess All-Pro talent. The biggest concern is that 14 of his 18.5 career sacks came in his senior season, his fourth year of college football. But there’s little doubt he has the talent to be a Day 1 starter.
Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux
Thibodeaux reminds some of former Oregon standout Dion Jordan, without the off-field character concerns. He’s a long and lean edge rusher who bends and turns the corner with ease. He converts speed to power well, and can be sturdy on the edges. The injuries he faced in his final college season warrant some thorough examination.
Purdue’s George Karlaftis
Karlaftis is an phenomenal athlete who wins with power and physicality. He’s effective at setting the edge in the run game and plays with an aggressive temperament that will allow him to serve as a 3-4 defensive end. He uses his hands well at the point of attack and has an array of countermoves that allowed him to deliver 14.5 sacks in his three seasons at Purdue.
Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II
Johnson is a one-year full-time starter with an underdeveloped pass rush, who has occasional lapses in awareness. But the athleticism and talent level is obvious and was reflected by his one season as a Seminole, when he recorded 70 tackles and 12 sacks. He’s technically raw, so his position coach will be putting in long hours.
Best of the Rest
Michigan’s David Ojabo might have been a first-round pick he didn’t tear his ACL at his pro day in April. Whichever team selects him in Day 2 or possibly 3 might be getting a steal. Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, USC’s Drake Jackson, San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare and Houston’s Logan Hall all have the talent to become rookie starters, if not standouts in the right scheme.
Class Grade: B
This happens to be one of the deepest areas of the 2022 draft. It’s filled with an abundance of top-100 talents in this draft, many of whom have the potential to become starters in their first two seasons. But the marquee edge players in this draft don’t have the sex appeal that the Watt and Bosa brothers have. They will likely become solid pros, but not defensive ends teams build their entire defense around.
Teams in need
There isn’t a single team in the NFL that couldn’t use another edge player, and won’t consider selecting one with their first three draft selections because that’s how hard they are to find. But the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Packers, Falcons, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Dolphins Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Colts, Jaguars and Broncos need to find edge players that fit their scheme. Don’t be surprised if teams have to trade up, jockeying for the top options.
Emmanuel Ogbah is Miami’s second-best defender, but the Dolphins need to find someone reliable to put opposite him. Jaelan Phillips, Miami’s 2021 first-round pick, thrived when Miami scrapped their plans to make him an outside linebacker and used the former Hurricanes standout strictly as a pass rusher last season. Behind those two there’s only linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel and two developmental projects in Daeshon Hall and Darius Hodge as edge players.