Generating pressure on the quarterback is one of the most important jobs of defense in the modern NFL, and the edge position is devoted to that task. Some of the best defensive players in the NFL now are edge players, and this class has a handful of players who are hoping to be added to that elite group. In this article, I’ll break down my top players at the edge position in this year’s draft class and provide some strengths and weaknesses for each player.
|Name||Pos. Ranking||College||Class||Overall Grade||Draft Range|
|Aidan Hutchinson||1||Michigan||Senior||96||Top 3|
|Kayvon Thibodeaux||2||Oregon||Junior||93||Top 10|
|Jermaine Johnson||3||Florida State||RS Senior||91||Top 10|
|Travon Walker||4||Georgia||Junior||90||Top 10|
|George Karlaftis||5||Purdue||Junior||88||Top 20|
|David Ojabo||6||Michigan||RS Sophomore||87||Top 20|
|Boye Mafe||7||Minnesota||RS Senior||84||Late 1st Round|
|Arnold Ebiketie||8||Penn State||RS Junior||82||2nd Round|
|Drake Jackson||9||USC||Junior||80||2nd Round|
|Nik Bonnitto||10||Oklahoma||RS Junior||78||3rd Round|
|Kingsley Enagbare||11||South Carolina||Senior||77||3rd Round|
|Amare Barno||12||Virginia Tech||Senior||76||3rd Round|
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- Relative Athletic Score Standouts At Each Position
#1: Aidan Hutchinson – Michigan
Aidan Hutchinson likely would have been a first-round pick last year, but he returned to Michigan for one more season with unfinished business. In 2021, Hutchinson took his game to another level with a career-high 14 sacks and several awards, including a Unanimous All-American nod and a finish as a Heisman finalist. Hutchinson will bring a tireless work ethic, relentless motor, and technically refined to the NFL.
- Excellent pass-rush plan and technique – loves film and preparation
- Fast, violent, powerful hands that he uses to chop down offensive linemen
- Explosive off the line with elite agility for counter moves
- Great awareness, football IQ, and leadership qualities
- Lacks the same top-end speed as other top edge prospects
- Arm length is limited, can hamper his ability to turn the corner
- Hand usage can continue to be refined
- Needs more moves around the edge as inside counters won’t be as productive in the NFL
Summary: Hutchinson may not have the same elite All-Pro upside as the Bosa brothers, Myles Garrett and Chase Young, but he can absolutely produce at an elite level. Hutchinson is a hard worker with power, strength, and agility for days. His production across the board is far and away the best in this class, and he’s the highest-floor prospect in this draft.
Draft Range: Top 3
#2: Kayvon Thibodeaux – Oregon
Entering the University of Oregon, Kayvon Thibodeaux was the best high school prospect in the country as he topped the ESPN 100 list. Thibodeaux didn’t have the same level of team success as Hutchinson, but he flashed elite ability with 19 sacks over the past three seasons. There doesn’t seem to be much of a debate between Hutchinson and Thibodeaux anymore, but the Oregon prospect can still produce at an elite level in the NFL.
- Excellent first step off the line, especially for his size
- Ideal strength, length, and frame for an edge defender
- Flexible and bendy around the edge with awesome speed-to-power upside
- Elite speed for his size – 4.58-second 40-yard dash
- Needs to have a more developed pass-rush plan to keep defenders off balance
- Lacks discipline in pass-rush and run defense
- Hand technique and timing are lacking
- Awareness and play recognition are going to need developing
Summary: Kayvon Thibodeaux’s evaluation is fueled by athletic traits more than skills, instincts, and proven production for now, but the athletic traits are there in spades. His upside as a speed-to-power pass-rusher is enormous, and the sky is the limit for his potential once he gets more attention from NFL coaches. There seem to be a few questions regarding his buy-in, but by all accounts, he’s a committed player with a tremendous ceiling.
Draft Range: Top 5
#3: Jermaine Johnson – Florida State
After struggling to break through on a loaded Georgia defense, Jermaine Johnson transferred to Florida State last season and produced a career-high 70 tackles and 12 sacks. One of the biggest risers in the pre-draft process, Johnson had an excellent Senior Bowl and tested incredibly well at the combine. He’s now regarded as one of the top edge prospects in a loaded class at the position.
- Get-off speed is absurd – 98th percentile 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash
- Powerful lower body boosts edge-setting ability in run defense
- Checks all of the boxes with athletic traits in agility, speed, strength, etc.
- Nasty demeanor – always looking to finish plays with violence
- Late breakout – undescript part-time player at Georgia before last year
- Violent hands but technique and activity are often lacking
- Finesse game is lacking – needs to improve breadth of pass-rush moves
- Older player who may be closer to reaching his ceiling
Summary: Johnson’s production over a larger workload last season showed his ability to be a top talent at his position as he never lost steam on 61 snaps per game last year. Scouts have raved about his ability through the Senior Bowl and the combine, and the momentum surrounding his draft stock has continued to rise as he appears locked into the top ten at this point.
Draft Range: Top 10
#4: Travon Walker – Georgia
Travon Walker never had elite production at Georgia, but the former five-star recruit still has all of the upside he did when he committed to the Bulldogs. Walker topped out at six sacks as a part-time player on an elite Georgia front last season, but the potential is there for much more in the NFL as he continues to refine his skillset. After an electric combine, Walker has shot up draft boards in recent weeks.
- Elite get-off speed – 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 6’5″, 272 lbs
- Long, powerful player who excels in setting the edge against the run
- Violent hands to bully smaller offensive linemen
- Ideal frame and size for a 3-4 defensive end
- Pass-rush technique is undeveloped and unrefined
- Lacks flexibility for cornering around the edge with limited bend
- Plays too tall at times and allows offensive tackles to get under his pads
- Some issues with motor declining through games where he played more snaps
Summary: Walker isn’t a refined prospect, and his pass-rush skillset is mostly projection, but his athletic traits are rare. Players of his size don’t run in the 4.5s very often, let alone a 4.51 – he ranked in the 98th percentile per PlayerProfiler. Coaches will buy into Walker’s athletic traits and believe they can refine his skill set and develop him into a top-tier edge player.
Draft Range: Top 10
#5: George Karlaftis – Purdue
George Karlaftis had an elite 2019 season, but he didn’t have a long run of high-level production at Purdue as he missed half of the 2020 season and saw opposing teams double and triple-team him constantly in 2021. However, his powerful base and high-level bull-rushing will be enticing for teams in the first round. He has the versatility to play on several different defensive fronts.
- Excellent motor during games and work ethic before and after
- Anchor-busting power in his legs and violent hands that pack a punch
- Agility and change-of-direction are above average for his size
- Knows how to get skinny to get around offensive linemen
- Needs to vary approach, can’t solely rely on power in the NFL
- Plays too high at times, lets defenders get under his pads
- Gets locked up in run defense with sluggish hand usage
- Limited length for the position, especially for a bull-rusher
Summary: Karlaftis is arguably the best bull-rush prospect in this class with excellent lower body strength and violent hands that he uses to bully opposing offensive linemen. The lack of continued production after his 2019 season may scare teams off, and his speed element and pass-rush plan are lacking for the time being, but his floor is excellent with that power element setting the foundation.
Draft Range: 1st Round
#6: Boye Mafe – Minnesota
Boye Mafe wasn’t in the first-round conversation before the combine, but his elite athletic testing vaulted his draft evaluation. While at Minnesota, Mafe was asked to play with his hand in the dirt and as a true outside linebacker, and that versatility is a big part of his projection. Mafe is one of the highest-upside edge defenders in this draft class.
- Explosive athlete with speed and agility off the line of scrimmage
- Power element allows him to bull rush and set th edge
- Awesome body control and flexibility as he turns the corner
- High-motor player who takes no plays off
- Needs refinement in footwork and hand usage
- Limited pass-rush plan – not sure if it’s a lack of understanding or just minimal coaching
- Subpar anchor in the run game with underwhelming lower body power
- Length is somewhat lacking, can get tangled up with blockers
Summary: Mafe’s elite 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump at the combine will have teams picking in the late first-round salivating at the idea of his upside as a pass-rusher, and it’s hard to imagine him lasting long into Day 2 if he’s not a first-round pick at this point. His game isn’t refined, but he has many of the traits teams look for in edge talent.
Draft Range: 1st Round
#7: David Ojabo – Michigan
David Ojabo is new to the game of football as he grew up playing soccer in Scotland before being introduced to football just five years ago. With that limited experience comes a significant amount of projection with his draft evaluation, but he has the traits to be an elite pass-rusher in the NFL. In his one season as a starter at Michigan, Ojabo had 11 sacks, and he has the profile of a high-upside edge defender in the NFL.
- Length, explosiveness, and bend to turn the corner consistently
- Well-developed pass-rush plan and football IQ for his experience level
- Excellent athletic testing and ideal frame for a speed rusher
- Still very early in his development, will benefit from NFL coaching
- Torn Achilles at his Pro Day
- Get washed up in run defense – Michigan didn’t even play him on run downs in the CFP against Georgia
- Play recognition and instincts are lacking, can improve
- No power or bull rush element to his game right now
- Needs to add strength to be able to set the edge consistently
Summary: Ojabo’s torn Achilles at his Pro Day will likely tank his draft stock considerably, and I’m projecting he lasts until Day 2. Teams picking in the late first round could sell themselves on the idea of Ojabo as a high-upside project edge, and the potential is well worth a first-round pick, but the injury is a non-negotiable for some teams. Ojabo’s time with elite edge prospects at Michigan helps his understanding of the game, and if he can continue to refine his technique and add some power to his game, the sky is the limit for Ojabo in the NFL if he can get healthy.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#8: Arnold Ebiketie – Penn State
Arnold Ebiketie was late to the scene at Penn State as he didn’t play an entire season until his fifth year, but the film he put together in that season will have him pegged as a late first-round pick in some teams’ eyes. Ebiketie transferred from Temple to Penn State last year and immediately became a high-impact player to earn All-Big Ten honors in a loaded conference.
- Hand usage is some of the best in this class with consistent pop, timing, and activity
- Excellent flexibility and agility to bend around the edge
- Light on his feet for his size, great footwork
- Finesse element to his pass-rush game is very solid
- Late breakout and questions about long-term trajectory
- First step is mediocre off the line, not the most explosive player
- Strength element of his game comes and goes with minimal bull rush prowess
- Struggles to set the edge against the run with middling power
Summary: Arnold Ebiketie’s high-level production last season will have scouts highly intrigued about his long-term potential, and for good reason – he has several traits that teams will love to build upon. Ebiketie has been rising throughout the pre-draft process, and the flexibility, agility, and hand usage he has put on film could earn him a late first-round evaluation.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#9: Drake Jackson – USC
Drake Jackson is one of my favorite project edge players in this class, and at just 20 years old (he’ll be 21 by draft day), he has plenty of room to continue to improve. Jackson has traits that teams covet at the edge position, and I see him as an early second-round pick at one of the most critical positions in the league.
- Elite flexibility and bend around the edge, some of the best in the class
- Excellent length and ideal frame for the edge position
- Great lateral agility and acceleration off the line
- Some coverage snaps on film due to his short-area mobility
- Below-average play strength hurts his ability to set the edge
- Limited power element to his pass-rush game, no bull rush moves
- Minimal playmaking in the run game due to lack of strength
- Struggles against offensive linemen who pack a punch due to weaker hands
Summary: Almost all of the drawbacks with Jackson’s evaluation come from his lack of strength, and it’s hard to know whether that’s something he will build upon in the NFL. If he can add muscle while not losing his speed and agility, the ceiling for Jackson as a speed-to-power edge is massive. However, as things currently stand, he might be relegated to a part-time pass-rushing role. Still, the upside is worth taking a chance on early in the second round.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#10: Nik Bonitto – Oklahoma
At just 6’3″, 248 lbs, Nik Bonitto will immediately be one of the smaller edge players in the NFL when he gets drafted. However, he makes up for what he lacks in size in athletic talent across the board. Bonitto registered 15.5 sacks over the past two years at Oklahoma, and his ability to get into the backfield in the blink of an eye is very impressive.
- Elite athlete – agility, burst, long-field speed all top-end
- Gets off the line of scrimmage incredibly fast
- Quick processor who uses his reaction time to boost his athletic attributes
- Well-developed speed-rush toolbox with instinctive counters
- Not a set-the-edge player at his size, might never be
- No bull-rush element to his pass-rush, hurts his unpredictability
- Hands aren’t strong enough to fend off more powerful offensive linemen
- Speed-to-power conversion needs to happen faster
Summary: Bonitto’s speed-rush game is among the best in the class, earning him at least a part-time role in the NFL right away. However, some teams will keep him off their draft board due to his undersized frame, and there’s no way it isn’t an issue in run defense. Bonitto’s athletic traits are off-the-charts, but questions about his translatability keep him in the third round.
Draft Range: 3rd Round