SI All-American Watch List: Top 10 Edge Defenders

Premium position stars, the pass rushers, dominate SI All-American discussion in the latest Watch List rankings
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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 first batch released Thursday ahead of the top 10 reveal. 

1. Jeremiah Alexander

Vitals: 6'2", 235 pounds
School: Alabaster (Ala.) Thompson
Recruiting: Committed to Alabama 

Alexander is the 2022 classes’ premiere fast-twitch magician off the edge. Apart from first class instincts, he’s a fantastic tackler. He plays with linebacker skills off the edge, but he’s also done heavy damage in between the tackles off stunts. He’s got a natural ability to shed blocks, with that high football IQ to diagnose and attack. Alabama is well positioned to develop Alexander into another tackling machine in that front seven and we could see him being utilized as a packaged pass rusher as well. Perhaps a third down specialist early on in Tuscaloosa, but we think Alexander has got the capability to grow into a true three-down player for the Tide.

2. Shemar Stewart

Vitals: 6'5", 260 pounds
School: Opa Locka (Fla.) Monsignor Pace
Recruiting: Considering Miami, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Georgia, others

One of the tougher evaluations nationally, from a position projection perspective, Stewart would be among the best ranked on the edge or as an interior defensive lineman. What pushed it over the top to keep him on the edge, where he has the most experience, is the sheer athleticism and length. Yes, Stewart has added to his frame and could work inside this fall with plenty of effectiveness, but his bend, balance and comfort lies on the outside. The Miami native hasn't sacrificed twitch as he has added good mass, with enough polish to continue to win with speed and/or counter with power. Improved work with his hands could take his game to the level that could push him to the top of the list. 

3. Marvin Jones, Jr.

Vitals: 6'5", 245 pounds
School: Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage
Recruiting: Considering Florida State, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, others

Jones exhibits impressive nuance to his pass rush with multiple entry points. Will play chess with his matchup, flashing his hands to get the tackle to punch or stop their feet. Shows he can keep mobile quarterbacks wrangled by rushing to the back shoulder of the passer. Lean, linebacker type body with excellent pursuit skills. Takes proper angle along the line of scrimmage defending the run. Bend is elite. Jones is lightning quick and is capable of flipping his hips to chase scrambling quarterbacks or assignments out of the backfield. If he can play lower off the snap, Jones is even more dominant. Fantastic foot-fire as he bends the corner into the pocket. Will benefit from additional weight to play the run and could then project as a classic defensive end type.

4. Omari Abor

Vitals: 6'5", 248 pounds
School: Duncanville (Texas) High School
Recruiting: Considering Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, others

A strong combination of technical ability and instincts off the edge, the Texan can win in many ways. The first step and edge bending ability is obvious, but a closer look at how Abor combines it with his hands is where he becomes special. Advanced hand-fighting and block-shedding ability allow him to pressure the passer and/or gear down and play the run, even getting his hands on ball carriers well down the line of scrimmage at times. Abor is as disruptive as it gets in high school football, with that knack for making a play in the backfield and attacking the ball in the process -- not to mention doing it against some of the best prep competition anywhere. Few at any position have a stronger floor than he.

5. Malick Sylla

Vitals: 6'6", 230 pounds
School: Katy (Texas) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Texas A&M

Sylla has all the tools defensive line coaches look for in their evaluations. Size, speed, and motor are all there. Sylla is slippery in between the tackles, and has the length and speed necessary to compete against any tackle in the country out on the edge. Athletic as any in this class despite his height. He fires out low and does a good job of changing the rhythm of his get-off. He has a huge frame (and a huge target) for offensive linemen to grab ahold of, but he still is able to slip and slide in between blockers in both his junior and sophomore film. Those intricacies are what separates him from the rest of the class. Will be a force in the trenches, especially once he fills in his frame with more muscle. 

6. Mario Eugenio

Vitals: 6'3",240 pounds
School: Tampa (Fla.) Gaither
Recruiting: Committed to Michigan

One of the fastest out on the edge in the 2022 cycle. Eugenio impressed coaches with his hand fighting and footwork on his way to a dominant junior season at Gaither. Uses his long arms to keep tackles off his chest versus the run and pass to combine with elite motor. Good vision, but he can pop his pads up sometimes. His hands and feet move in unison during his pass-rush. Very balanced rusher, never finds himself on the ground from leaning too much. Can defend the edge from stretches and wide runs to his side. The only time we saw him get beat was by playing himself out of position. If he can improve technique, and he's already 10 pounds heavier, Eugenio will have plenty of success in the Big Ten.

7. J'Mond Tapp

Vitals: 6'4", 245 pounds
School: Donaldsonville (La.) Ascension Catholic
Recruiting: Considering LSU, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, others

Tapp takes the cake as a “freak of the class” edge prospect. Tapps defensive end ceiling is as high as they come; he’s huge and is a capable pass-catcher all wrapped in one jumbo athlete. Tapp is a player that steps into a program and immediately elevates everyone around him. He is an absolute bowling ball, knocking around offensive tackles like pins on his way to a strike. Leverage and overall technique could be improved, but there is absolutely no obvious holes in Tapp’s game. He’s as physically complete as they come, with a frame to build on even more at the next level.

8. Kenyatta Jackson

Vitals: 6'4.5", 235 pounds
School: Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade-Madonna
Recruiting: Considering Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, others

Jackson is a crafty, bendy defensive end from the Sunshine state. He’s one of the most complete players at his position in this class. Explodes off the ball, and keeps his feet moving through the entire play. He’s got discipline hand placement and controls the middle part of the tackle’s pads. Seldom gets washed due to his strength and constant foot fire. His hands never stop punching and swiping at the hands of the lineman. Great lateral quickness makes him a complete edge defender. Jackson is one of the gems of this position group. Probably strongest player on the field throughout his career. Physicality is one of his best strengths.

9. Darris Smith

Vitals: 6'6", 240 pounds
School: Baxley (Ga.) Appling County
Recruiting: Committed to Georgia

Smith has your typical Georgia 3-4 outside linebacker build. Long and strong, with great hand fighting ability. If Georgia can harness Smith’s aggressiveness, they’ll have another monster on their hands with pass rushing prowess. Smith uses his long arms to keep blockers at bay, and closes in on quarterbacks with his speed. If he can play with a bit more leverage and technique, with his athletic profile, he’ll be a force out on the edge for a long time. Smith has three-sport experience, including head-turning basketball ability. He was the region player of the year this spring with above-the-rim ability at his size, something we see on occasion on Friday nights, too. 

10. Jihaad Campbell 

Vitals: 6'3", 220 pounds
School: Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy 
Recruiting: Committed to Clemson

Campbell is an intriguing prospect in the sense that he excels playing off edge as well as an off-ball linebacker. He has linebacker tendencies, like driving his feet through contact, but he can turn the corner like he plays defensive end full time. Excellent blitzer from pretty much anywhere in the box. Campbell’s lateral speed is also very impressive, and is one of the reasons we’re so high on him. As dynamic as this 2022 edge class is, Campbell’s utility is what separates him from the pack. Our only quip with his game is that he needs to develop better block shedding habits, because his film for the most part, revealed a reliance on pure athleticism to make blockers miss. We expect elevation now that he's at IMG Academy.