2022 NFL Draft Preview: Chargers Wire’s Top 10 EDGE Rankings
It’s NFL Draft Eve, with the first round set to kick off tomorrow evening.
As preparation, here are Chargers Wire’s Alex Katson’s top 10 EDGE prospects.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Being named a top prospect before your final collegiate season always results in your every move being put under a microscope. Such nitpicking has made evaluators and NFL teams alike sour on Thibodeaux, whose interests outside of football stem less from a me-first mentality and more from the fact that he’s a marketing major who’s selling his talents. The facts on the field are this: Thibodeaux is the kind of flexible, explosive pass rusher that tends to produce at the next level. There are whispers of struggles against the run and hints of just barely subpar power as a bull rusher, but those are small criticisms of a phenomenal player.
2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
The star of PFF’s latest podcast series very well could have been a first round pick in 2021, but he came back to Michigan to finally get a win over Ohio State and lead the Wolverines to their first CFP appearance. With 14 sacks helping him accomplish both missions, Hutchinson is now one of the favorites to go first overall to Jacksonville. My main concern is that he’s maxed out – while he won plenty with motor and physicality in college, that’s always the toughest part of adjusting to the pros. I wish his counters came more naturally to him and worry that his production will dip as he gets locked up in engagements with pro tackles. That said, he still profiles as a solid 7-10 sack per season player.
3. Travon Walker, Georgia
Walker’s ascent to possible #1 overall pick has been perplexing to many, myself included. It’s not to say I don’t like the former Bulldog: he’s an insanely versatile defensive lineman with some of the best athleticism ever recorded for a defensive end. Georgia didn’t exactly ask their pass rushers to strictly rush the passer, which hampered Walker’s raw production numbers. Another factor was the sheer amount of talent on a historic Georgia defense, which necessitated the type of frequent rotation typically reserved for youth soccer teams. It’s a bet on traits with Walker, and it’s typically easier to teach players a pass rush plan from essentially the ground up when they have the tools that he does.
4. George Karlaftis, Purdue
It confuses me that the NFL seems to be so high on Hutchinson while apparently being low enough on Karlaftis that he might slip out of the first round. One of them played opposite another first round talent with a draftable player taking up space on the interior. The other was busy getting triple teamed because opposing offenses didn’t fear any of his teammates. Maybe Karlaftis orders one portion of Chipotle steak for each blocker he expects to face. He might be the stoutest run defender of the EDGEs, which gives him the easiest projection to an every-down role. For teams without a legitimate shot at Hutchinson, Karlaftis will be a worthy consolation prize.
5. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
Before his trip to the Senior Bowl, I had Johnson graded as a second rounder. Within a day in Mobile, he proved that I had severely underestimated him. By the time the week had ended, we were talking about Johnson as a potential top 10 selection. He possesses only average bend, which sometimes forces him to take a wider than optimal angle as an outside track rusher. Normally, that’s a big deal for me as someone who prefers much twitchier pass rushers. But Johnson’s pass rush plan is one of the best in the class. His film contains resplendent examples of setting up counters throughout the game and preying on opposing tackles who begin to think they’re a step ahead.
6. David Ojabo, Michigan
Before tearing his Achilles at his pro day, Ojabo was threatening the top three of these rankings. Plenty of people whose opinions I respect suggested that the Scotsman may have been better than his household name teammate on the other side of the line. It’s a remarkable rise for Ojabo, who started playing football in 2017 after seeing the success of high school classmate Odafe Oweh on the gridiron. 2021 was his true breakout, with 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles after seeing defensive action in just one game in 2020. There’s technical tweaks to be made, namely pad level off the snap, but to select Ojabo is essentially to signify trust in your defensive line coach and veteran team leaders.
7. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
I said earlier that I prefer twitchier pass rushers, and there are few better lower half athletes than Ebiketie. It’s a projection with him, considering his dismal run defense and lack of pass rush counters, but I don’t see it as being significantly different from Odafe Oweh last draft. He’s built like a three-down player without the strength of one, which is an appealing proposition from a development standpoint. For teams with established starters in need of an impactful rotational piece right away, Ebiketie is one of this year’s best options. If the Chargers trade down from 17th overall into the late first or early second, he could very well be a target.
8. Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Mafe and Ebiketie are very similar players, but Ebiketie is a few months younger with more reps as a run defender. Despite being built more sturdily, Mafe’s primary non-pass rush experience is as a dropper into coverage, which I don’t anticipate being a role he retains as a pro. That lack of exposure leaves me with more questions than I have about Ebiketie’s development into a capable run defender. However, Mafe seems a touch more explosive on tape, which brings the two into virtually a tie for EDGE7. Either one seems to have a reliable case to sneak into the first round and I expect both to be off the board within the top 50.
9. Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
Thomas played every position on the defensive line as an Aztec, but he told me personally at the Senior Bowl that he’ll be focusing on EDGE as a pro. To that end, the Carlsbad High alum will likely be playing around 260 to 265. That weight drop from his listing of 270 on SDSU’s website may help with his quickness and bend, which are outstanding for an interior player but middling for a pass rusher. Sometimes he hangs onto his first move a bit too long, but when his long-arm and cross-chop are as effective as they are, I can’t blame him too much. Ultimately, I think Thomas will be available in the third round due to his tweener/hybrid status, but that draft status could soon prove to be a severe undervaluation.
10. Alex Wright, UAB
Wright has consistently flown under the radar leading up to this draft. He quietly declared early after logging 6 sacks in a breakout 2021 season for UAB, then strained his pectoral at the combine and was unable to complete the rest of the workouts. He’s more of a straight-line athlete, but the amount of bend he has for a 272 pounder is truly unreal. Even after contributing in all three seasons as a Blazer, there’s still miles and miles of room before Wright hits his ceiling. With the versatility to kick as far inside as three tech and flashes of savant-level football IQ, there’s plenty to like about Wright’s profile. He’ll be hindered by some subpar testing numbers, but sometimes it’s best to just draft good football players.