SI All-American Watch List: Edge Defenders 11-20

Premium position stars, the pass rushers, dominate SI All-American discussion in the latest Watch List rankings
By John Garcia, Jr. and Matt Solorio ,

As the 2021 football season draws near, SI All-American continues to evaluate the nation's top prospects at every position for the college football recruiting class of 2022. The first wave of the evaluations are the 'Watch List' selections, also known as SI All-American candidates, to be released throughout the month of July.

It precedes the SI99 rankings, our preseason mark of America's top college football prospects regardless of position, to be released the first week of August.

Naturally, the quarterback watch list was up first, rolled out in several releases two weeks ago. Last week we moved to skill positions, beginning with a pair of cornerback releases ahead of the nickel defensive back watch list. To cap the week, the flip side is considered in a look at the nation's most impressive wide receiver projections. The top 10 wide receivers were released on Friday and slot receivers debuted Monday.

In moving to the edge projections, SIAA is looking for modern pass rushers with versatility. The best are able to pursue the passer from a stand-up or traditional sense, typically with another element of responsibility beyond setting the edge. The top 10 will be revealed Friday.

11. Ikenna Ezeogu

Vitals: 6'5", 230 pounds
School: Blue Springs (Mo.) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Iowa State

Ezeogu is a lengthy yet nimble edge rusher with a great motor and incredible bend. He is a disciplined rusher and always able to recover using his elite stop-start speed. He uses his hands to feel out the lean of opposing offensive line talents, even more than one as he is viscous against double teams. A great hand fighter, the Cyclone pledge can flip his hips in a hurry, too. Ezeogu is poised to have a great senior season and our staff will be anxiously awaiting the film that comes from it. He has as high a ceiling as any in this class.

12. Beau Atkinson

Vitals: 6'6", 240 pounds
School: Raleigh (N.C.) Leesville Road
Recruiting: Committed to North Carolina

First thing that pops out is the motor and leverage. Atkinson has developed great habits with his technique. He gets every pound of his frame behind him with a powerful initial punch. Good at changing the looks he gives to offensive lineman off of the snap. Might end up moving inside, but he’s sure got the look of a defensive end early on in Chapel Hill. Atkinson will benefit from more deliberate hand swipes and overall technique, but he has elite speed bending the corner. Lighting fast acceleration, plus he is a high motor guy.

13. Cyrus Moss

Vitals: 6'5", 220 pounds
School: Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
Recruiting: Considering Clemson, Oregon, Notre Dame, Florida, others

Moss is the best trench player on a loaded Bishop Gorman defense that will be tested this coming fall with a loaded schedule. He is a towering figure, but still athletic enough to drop into pass coverage. He’s a speed rusher and with the toolset to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s got fantastic bend which is even more impressive given his 77-inch frame. Moss covers a lot of ground in every step but can drop his hips quickly to redirect. He would benefit from more work synchronizing hands with his feet in pass rush. Solid against the run but Moss will be best utilized setting an edge out in space and making plays in the flat. Going to be an asset in pass coverage whether it’s zone, or man-man with tight ends.

14. Tyreese Fearbry

Vitals: 6'5", 225 pounds
School: Pittsburgh (Pa.) Perry Traditional Academy
Recruiting: Committed to Penn State

Fearbry is a gifted athlete. In addition to his defensive end work, he excelled at wideout, as a sprinter and is even a long jumper. Fearbry wins most of the time with athleticism, and he will benefit from additional weight on his lean frame. Can redirect well, is good in pursuit, but we’d like to see him be a little more physical at the point of attack. If Fearbry can bang around a little more in the box during his senior season, he’ll make a ton of plays. Might be a good fit as an off-ball flat defender. Creating better habits with his freak athleticism will be important to harness potential.

15. Popeye Williams

Vitals: 6'3", 230 pounds
School: Westfield (Ind.) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Louisville

Williams has an explosive get-off and violent punch. He keeps his feet firing throughout the play and has a good motor that never stops. Williams’ and rip move is outstanding. Williams plays with nastiness. Wins with speed more often than not, but he is capable of stacking and shedding. Our staff thinks Williams is a high floor-type guy that already has the fundamentals down. He’s lightning fast, period. If he can manage to add good weight and transfer his speed to power, Williams will be a star at the next level. Looking for him to be physically dominant during his senior season.

16. Anto Saka

Vitals: 6'3", 225 pounds
School: Towson (Md.) Loyola Blakefield
Recruiting: Committed to Northwestern

A versatile play-maker with experience on the edge and as a traditional linebacker, Saka's quickness jumps off the tape. His ability to diagnose and explode towards the assignment -- from depth or the line of scrimmage -- makes him a three-down asset in the Big Ten. The linebacker experience allows him to read lineman and navigate the wash well while the frame and length makes him a fit on the edge. Saka has great straight-line speed relative to his size, with great efficiency and closing speed flashes on tape as well. It wouldn't surprise to see him in coverage at some point with his overall ability and intellect, too.

17. Malaki Hamrick

Vitals: 6'4", 210 pounds
School: Shelby (N.C.) High School
Recruiting: Committed to North Carolina

Lighting off the edge, it's all about twitch and natural ability to bend for the in-state Tar Heel pledge. He screams down the line of scrimmage against the run and can win with relative ease off the edge in the speed game. The production is gaudy here, as he has averaged better than a sack per game since the 2019 season began, but there is plenty of room to improve in the frame and polish department. Hamrick's length and overall athleticism jump out on tape, so the foundation to become a three-down force in the ACC is present.

18. Enai White

Vitals: 6'5", 230 pounds
School: Philadelphia (Pa.) Imhotep Institute
Recruiting: Considering Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, others

White put together such impressive sophomore film, we couldn’t leave him out of this list. He is one of the most sought after edge defenders in this class for a reason despite being raw. He’s high on virtually everybody’s board as a fast twitch sack machine. White is lanky but doesn’t play like it at all. He glides across the turf. Little junior film to evaluate, but we are confident in what we saw to confirm he is still presently one of the best edge defenders in the class of 2022. Extremely talented young athlete who may still be too low on the list.

19. DJ Wesolak

Vitals: 6'4", 240 pounds
School: Boonville (Mo.) High School
Recruiting: Considering Clemson, Georgia, USC, Florida, Missouri, others

A big, physical edge prospect with the potential to grow into an interior prospect at the next level, Wesolak is dominant on Friday nights. He has the leverage and short-area explosiveness to overpower prep blockers while possessing the fluidity and lateral strength to work around them as well. While there is room for improvement from a technical perspective, he has plus awareness on the fly to combine with his redirection ability to play the run very well. The twitch to change course without much wasted movement is head-turning by itself, and he has plenty of power to finish with authority.

20. Aric Burton

Vitals: 6'5", 220 pounds
School: Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International
Recruiting: Committed to West Virginia

Incredibly long on the hoof, the Germany native is now working at one of the top programs in Florida and he's hit the ground running. Not only has he added some weight, but Burton's first step remains in order to put pressure on blockers. An enormous wingspan helps him shed blocks and finish on routine, with enough stride to run down plays from behind as well. The future Mountaineer was ultra productive over seas and didn't miss a beat in camp season, where he boosted his recruiting profile via multiple Power 5 offers before jumping on the WVU tender. When he fills out, watch out.