If you’re a team (or a fan of one) in search of pass-rush help, you’re in luck. This year’s crop of edge defenders is one of the draft’s most talented position groups.
Last year’s draft class had six first-round edge defenders, but it wasn’t until the 18th pick that the first (the Dolphins’ Jaelan Phillips) came off the board. In addition, four of those six first-rounders were taken within the final five selections of the opening round.
This year’s draft class may not have the same level of elite talent at the very top as we saw in 2019 (Nick Bosa) or ’20 (Chase Young), but one-third of my top 18 prospects play on the edge. It’s certainly shaping up to be similar to 2019, when five edge defenders were selected in the first half of Round 1.
Here are my edge rankings for the 2022 NFL draft.
1. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (SR, 6' 7", 260 pounds)
Hutchinson set Michigan’s single-season sack record (14) in 2021 and was the first defensive player to be the Heisman runner-up since Manti Te’o in ’12. While he lacks ideal arm length (32 ⅛ "), the productive edge rusher has a quick first step and rare agility for a 260-pounder. His combine times in the three-cone (6.73) and 20-yard shuttle (4.15) ranked sixth and fourth, respectively, regardless of position. The son of a former Michigan captain, Hutchinson’s intangibles, football character and relentless motor, combined with his physical traits, polish and production, make him one of the safest picks in the draft.
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (JR, 6' 4", 254 pounds)
The top-ranked high school recruit in the ESPN 300, expectations were high for Thibodeaux before he got to Eugene. An early-season ankle injury slowed him in 2021, but he left Oregon with good production—35.5 TFL in 30 career games—even if the output didn’t fully match the lofty expectations. While he didn’t do a full workout at the combine (after saying he would), he showed an impressive combination of speed (4.58 40-yard dash) and strength (position-high 27 bench press reps) in the events he performed. With an ideal frame combined with explosive first-step quickness and closing burst, double-digit sacks should become the norm for Thibodeaux relatively early in his NFL career.
3. Travon Walker, Georgia (JR, 6' 5", 272 pounds)
My initial top 100 featured eight Bulldog defenders, and several of them (including Walker) stole the show in Indy. Weighing in at 272 pounds, Walker ran a blistering 4.51 40-yard dash, and no prospect on this list has longer arms than Walker (35 ½ "). The former five-star recruit has inside-outside versatility and even dropped into coverage some. Already an outstanding run defender, Walker’s rare physical tools should allow him to be a much more disruptive player in the passing game at the next level than he was asked to be on Georgia’s star-studded defense.
4. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State (rSR, 6' 5", 254 pounds)
Speaking of Georgia’s defense, Johnson transferred from Athens to Tallahassee and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in his lone season at Florida State. The former Bulldog led the ACC in both TFL (17.5) and sacks (11.5) in 2021. Arguably the biggest winner during Senior Bowl week, good times (literally) continued to roll for Johnson at the combine. Not only did he post a 4.58 40-yard dash, but he had a 1.55 10-yard split. He was the 10th pick in my Mock 1.0, and it’s now fair to wonder whether he’ll last that long given his combination of burst, strength, length (34" arms) and production.
5. David Ojabo, Michigan (rSO, 6' 4", 250 pounds)
Born in Nigeria, Ojabo grew up in Scotland, where he played the other football before coming to the U.S. Only a one-year starter at Michigan, he finished with 11 sacks in 2021 and his pass-rush moves are more developed than one would expect for a prospect with his limited experience. Ojabo won’t contribute much on run downs early in his career, but his explosiveness and bend give him as much upside as any other pass rusher in this class.
6. George Karlaftis, Purdue (JR, 6' 4", 266 pounds)
Whereas Ojabo primarily wins with speed, Karlaftis mostly wins with power. Karlaftis didn’t run the 40 at the combine, but his 38" vertical jump and 10' 1" broad jump showed his explosiveness. He lacks ideal length (32 ⅝ " arms) and bend at the top of his rush, but he has a quick first step, violent hands and a nonstop motor with the versatility to line up inside or outside.
7. Boye Mafe, Minnesota (rSR, 6' 4", 261 pounds)
Similar to Johnson, Mafe has generated plenty of momentum throughout the predraft process. After turning heads in Mobile, he showed off elite athleticism in Indy with a 4.53 40-yard dash (1.59 10-yard split) and explosive jumps (38" vertical and 10' 5" broad). Mafe is an ascending prospect who could end up sneaking into the back end of Round 1.
8. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State (rSR, 6' 2", 250 pounds)
A transfer from Temple, Ebiketie had 9.5 sacks and 18 TFLs in his only season with the Nittany Lions. Per PFF, Ebiketie had the third-highest win rate among Big Ten edge rushers in 2021, after Hutchinson and Karlaftis. While he isn’t as effective against the run, his length (34 ⅛ " arms), bend and active hands should allow him to become a productive pass rusher early in his career.
9. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina (SR, 6' 4", 258 pounds)
10. Drake Jackson, USC (JR, 6' 3", 254 pounds)
11. Cameron Thomas, San Diego State (SR, 6' 4", 267 pounds)
12. Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma (rJR, 6' 3", 248 pounds)
13. Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati (SR, 6' 5", 228 pounds)
14. Dominique Robinson, Miami (OH) (SR, 6' 5", 253 pounds)
15. Josh Paschal, Kentucky (rSR, 6' 3", 268 pounds)
16. Alex Wright, UAB (JR, 6' 5", 271 pounds)
17. Sam Williams, Mississippi (SR, 6' 4", 261 pounds)
18. DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky (SR, 6' 3", 243 pounds)
19. Jesse Luketa, Penn State (SR, 6' 2", 261 pounds)
20. Amaré Barno, Virginia Tech (SR, 6' 5", 246 pounds)
Kevin Hanson is contributing mock drafts and position rankings to The MMQB during the 2022 NFL draft season. His mock drafts have been graded as the seventh-most accurate (tied) over the past five years, per The Huddle Report. His ’15 NFL mock draft was graded as the most accurate.