In this week’s Bucs Briefing, I release my 2022 NFL Draft edge defender rankings and round grades. There are a few pro days left, so a couple things may still shift before the draft. But this is likely to be my final ranking of the class.

Keep in mind, my round grades are handed out in a vacuum. Each round grade is tied to the caliber of player I believe each prospect will be in the NFL. It is NOT a projection of where I believe they will or even should be drafted in the actual draft. Instead it is a level of valuation I have tied to each player’s outlook for the NFL.

If you want to see my past NFL Draft edge defender rankings, here they are:

2020 NFL Draft EDGE Rankings
2021 NFL Draft EDGE Rankings

Here are the 2022 NFL Draft edge defenders I still need to complete evaluations for.

Drake Jackson, USC
DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky
Josh Paschal, Kentucky
Sam Williams, Ole Miss
Alex Wright, UAB
Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
Dominique Robinson, Miami (Ohio)
Jesse Luketa, Penn State
Cam Thomas, San Diego State
Tyreke Smith, Ohio State

10. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina (6-4, 258, 4.87)

Enagbare is big and long with strong hands. Those traits should help him survive in the NFL, but they aren’t super useful as a pass rusher without more juice behind them. Enagbare bullied his way to six sacks this past season, and there’s no question he was a physical challenge for some college linemen. But in the NFL, you can’t win on the edge by bullying people. There are very few exceptions to that rule. You simply have to have the juice.

You’ll hear me talk a lot about The 4 Pillars of Pass Rush Athleticism in this article.

1. Explosiveness/Burst off the ball
2. Speed up the arc (can you sustain that burst in your next few steps?)
3. Bend/Flexibility to turn into the pocket at the top of the arc
4. Change-of-direction

Enagbare is a good example of what it looks like to be a solid college player, but not have the same ceiling in the NFL. And it’s largely due to traits. However, the senior could become a good situational interior rusher with further development and added muscle.

Year 1 Outlook: Backup

Year 3 Outlook: Good Backup

Grade: 4th Round (Good Backup)


9. Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma (6-3, 248, 4.54)

Bonitto is a silky smooth speed rusher who wins with burst, speed and bend. “Those are three of the most important things an edge rusher can possess, right Jon?! Why isn’t he higher up the list?”

Oklahoma OLB Nik Bonitto

Oklahoma OLB Nik Bonitto – Photo by: USA Today

Because I just don’t think Bonitto offers much else. He moved around Oklahoma’s defense, acting as a spy, dropping into coverage, etc. Bonitto wore a lot of hats, and only one of them was edge rusher. When it was, he often relied on beating tackles off the snap for wins. Even with his explosive first step, Bonitto was so predictable as a rusher that he was pretty blockable one-on-one. He has no semblance of power to his game as a rusher. It’s really hard to win by just finessing your way to the pocket in the NFL. Plus, he gets beat up way too often at the point of attack in the run game. It’s going to be a tough sell to make him an every-down player unless that changes.

I like Bonitto as an athlete though. I could see him as a versatile No. 3 outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme that likes to drop their edge defenders. He’s terrific in space, and could still act as a situational rusher on long and late downs. On tape, he’s probably a fourth-round grade. But I like his potential as a chess piece in the right defense enough to keep him in Round 3. If Bonitto can land on a team with a dangerous front, his athleticism can be a fun asset for that squad.

Year 1 Outlook: Rotational Defender/Chess Piece

Year 3 Outlook: No. 3 OLB/Long-and-Late Downs Defender

Grade: 3rd Round (Solid Starter)


8. George Karlaftis, Purdue (6-4, 266, 4.78)

Karlaftis’ draft hype started hot, but I think it will fade to at least the bottom of Round 1 by late April. This is a strong edge defender class, and Karlaftis just isn’t the athlete the rest of these guys are. He’s not a horrible athlete, at least in terms of pass rush athleticism. Karlaftis’ burst, speed and bend are adequate in a class where most edge defenders check those boxes emphatically. His change-of-direction is not great, but there’s enough functional mobility that he can pull off the occasional counter move.

Purdue DE George Karlaftis

Purdue DE George Karlaftis – Photo by: USA Today

But Karlaftis is going to get picked on in the NFL more than he did in college. His open 2-point stance might give him a better pre-snap angle to the pocket in college, but at the next level pro offenses will come for him. Ohio State did it, leaving Karlaftis in no man’s land and running inside of him when he couldn’t get down the line of scrimmage from his wide stance. Then, when he crashed hard, they optioned him off and ran outside of him. It was clear Karlaftis couldn’t play in space like the top guys in this class.

Also, tackles in the NFL are just better athletes. Karlaftis won’t hesitate to bring power rushes, but the results are pretty mixed. Hardly any edge rushers at the pro level win primarily on power. They have to threaten the edge to be effective. I’m not sure Karlaftis can do that at an elite level. However, he does have good hands and pass rush instincts. I still think he can be a solid point-of-attack run defender who will kick inside occasionally on long and late downs. If there is talent around him, Karlaftis will be productive as a pro. His motor alone will keep him in contention for playing time.

Karlaftis can help an NFL team as part of a rotation, perhaps from a variety of alignments one day. But I don’t see a first-round caliber talent when I watch him. In the NFL, it takes more juice than he has in the tank.

Year 1 Outlook: Rotational Defender

Year 3 Outlook: Solid Starter

Grade: 3rd Round (Solid Starter)


7. Travon Walker, Georgia (6-5, 272, 4.51)

Walker’s climb to a likely Top 5 pick is one of the more unlikely rises I’ve seen in my time studying draft prospects. The junior notched just 9.5 sacks in his college career. Almost all of those were due to coverage or quarterbacks stepping up into his lap in the pocket. I’ve never seen an edge rusher destined for the Top 5 with less pass rush wins than Walker on tape. There are several layers to his evaluation, but it is hard for any draftable edge defender prospect to go an entire college career without more than a handful of one-on-one wins. Let alone a Top 5 pick.

Georgia DE Travon Walker

Georgia DE Travon Walker – Photo by: USA Today

But Walker will be one of the more rare size/athleticism freaks in the league from day one. His testing numbers at 6-5, 272 pounds are jaw-dropping. And when he’s playing in space, you can see Walker’s athleticism. He’s got range in his coverage drops, and he covers a ton of ground in pursuit. His long strides allow him to chase down runs to the boundary or quarterbacks rolling out. And when plays break down, Walker is a great closer on quarterbacks trying to escape the pocket.

But right now … that’s pretty much it. Walker doesn’t have a go-to move, he doesn’t have counter moves and he can’t bend at the top of the arc. There are flashes of him being explosive off the ball, but not enough reps to count on it in the NFL. For all his athleticism, Walker looks stiff when trying to corner, and he plays upright at the snap too often. Working against smaller offensive linemen, that wasn’t a concern. But in the NFL, his pad level and technique will matter more.

Right now, Walker is a project. At full development, perhaps he’s an even better Za’Darius Smith or Jadeveon Clowney. But he’s not on the level of those guys right now. Can he get there? I’m honestly not sure. He’s a lot less experienced as an edge rusher than those guys were coming out of college.

Yes, Georgia’s scheme had an impact on this. Walker was often aligned in the B-gap and over tackles. Sometimes they dropped him into coverage, and sometimes he had containment responsibilities as a rusher. But Walker still received almost 400 snaps outside the tackle last season. He had ample opportunity to show more as a pass rusher. He just never did. I understand the upside is significant. But I’d be quite nervous about taking Walker in the range he’s expected to be drafted in.

Year 1 Outlook: Rotational Defender

Year 3 Outlook: Solid-Good Starter

Grade: Early 3rd Round (Solid-Good Starter)


6. David Ojabo, Michigan (6-4, 250, 4.55)

When you can erupt off the ball like Ojabo, you always have a chance. After all, burst and speed up the arc are two critical elements of pass rushing at the next level. Ojabo clearly has both of those traits, even if they don’t show up every rep. He has to be a little more aware of snap timing, rather than being caught off guard by the play’s start so often. But when Ojabo gets a jump, he has the stop-start quickness to create space at the top of the arc.

Michigan DE David Ojabo

Michigan DE David Ojabo – Photo by: USA Today

But right now the positives almost end there. Ojabo has very little speed-to-power in his game, and his upright rushing style exposes a lot of his frame to absorb punches. If tackles landed their hands on him, the rep was over. Ojabo relies a lot on being able to use hesitation moves to win the edge. He has to get tackles out of position first, because he lacks the bend to dip under them at the top of the arc.

I like Ojabo, but there are a lot of dud pass rush reps on tape. When he meets his match athletically in the NFL, I’m not sure how he wins right now. The good news is that Ojabo didn’t even play 600 snaps of football in college. With his size and length, it’s possible his best football is ahead of him. He might never fix the flexibility issue, but he can find ways around it. The traits he does have – burst, speed and some wiggle – are a great starting place.

Right now, Ojabo profiles as stylistically similar to Yannick Ngakoue in how he needs to win as a rusher. That seems like the ceiling for him in the passing game. If he bulks up and improves as a run defender, Ojabo could be a mash-up of Bud Dupree and Ngakoue. But Michigan didn’t even fully trust him on run downs in 2021. I’m not even factoring the Achilles injury into my grade, but NFL teams will care about it. I think Ojabo will slide out of Round 1, but hopefully that fall won’t impact his growth in the NFL too much.

Year 1 Outlook: Injured/Pass Rush Specialist

Year 3 Outlook: Solid-Good Starter

Grade: Early 3rd Round (Solid-Good Starter)


5. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State (6-2, 250, 4.66)

I had to watch more game of Ebiketie than every other edge rusher on this list. In the end, I decided he was a very good example of a player who doesn’t look super athletic when he moves, but has very good functional athleticism for his position. Ebiketie possesses the very rare combination of average burst with very good speed up the arc. He doesn’t erupt off the ball, but he still threatens the edge with a good five-yard burst. Because of that, his whole pass rush game opens up.

Penn State DE Arnold Ebiketie NFL

Penn State DE Arnold Ebiketie – Photo by: USA Today

From a process and execution standpoint, Ebiketie is one of the top rushers in the class. He’s crafty, instinctive and knows how to use his hands. He can bull rush, cross chop, swim inside or snatch the outside arm of the tackle. And Ebiketie thinks on his feet too, looking at rusher’s set points and building his rush plan as he goes. No, he won’t blow any opponent away with explosiveness. But he’s light on his feet and manipulates space to get what he wants. Not many college rushers are equally threatening inside and out like Ebiketie showed on tape. His diverse approach keeps opposing tackles on their toes.

Although his athleticism is the question mark I had on tape, Ebiketie posted strong testing numbers. He also didn’t shy away from the agility drills, pulling in a quality 3-cone and short shuttle. That impressed me. The biggest weakness with Ebiketie is that he will probably never be a great point-of-attack run defender. I don’t care that much about that, but teams will. He competes hard, and will make plays due to effort, especially on runs away from him. Ebiketie’s career could start as a designated pass rusher, but I’ll be surprised if he isn’t a good starter eventually.

Year 1 Outlook: Solid Starter/Pass Rush Specialist

Year 3 Outlook: Good Starter

Grade: Late Second Round (Good Starter)


4. Boye Mafe, Minnesota (6-4, 261, 4.53)

Yes, I’m higher on Mafe than consensus. And the reasoning is pretty simple. I think his combination of burst, speed and bend is rare for a man his size. And his hand usage took a late college career leap that will give him a chance to be a stud in the NFL. There just are not many 6-foot-4, 263-pound edge rushers running 4.53 and jumping in the 90th percentile.

Minnesota DE Boye Mafe NFL

Minnesota DE Boye Mafe – Photo by: USA Today

But while Mafe has athleticism and size that has drawn comparisons to Rashan Gary (Gary was heavier), the Minnesota edge has room to improve. His counter game is basically non-existent, and it could be a deadly weapon for him. Mafe is very physical and plays hard, but needs to keep getting better at keeping tackles off of his frame. Some will question his pass rush production (15 career sacks) during a mostly quiet college career. There is no question Mafe’s breakout came later than you’d like, but the tape clearly reveals a talented rusher with great upside.

Mafe took over the Senior Bowl game with two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble. He forced several other sacks and throwaway as well, wreaking havoc with his explosiveness, bend and a new-found cross chop move. If he can build on that move, the sky is really the limit. Rushers who get off the ball like Mafe does force tackles into deeper pass sets. Get him to recognize inside paths to the pocket and it’s a wrap.

Mafe can also rush inside situationally, and is a monster on games up front. Maybe he never reaches his peak and becomes a team’s No. 1 edge rusher. But Mafe will almost certainly contribute to a top three, and can do so from a variety of alignments. Plus, he’s a strong run defender, too.

Year 1 Outlook: Rotational Defender/Solid Starter

Year 3 Outlook: Good-Very Good Starter

Grade: Second Round (Good-Very Good Starter)


3. Jermaine Johnson, Florida State (6-5, 254, 4.58)

My biggest frustration with Johnson is that his best reps don’t show up often enough as a pass rusher. If they did, he’d be in contention for EDGE1. Of course, the lack of consistency is forgivable when you remember this past season was his first as a starter. Johnson left the most loaded defensive line in the country (Georgia) to play a major role at Florida State this past season. With 12 sacks and an ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, Johnson is one of the top edge defenders in the class.

FSU DE Jermaine Johnson NFL

FSU DE Jermaine Johnson – Photo by: USA Today

The good news with Johnson is that his floor seems remarkably high. He’s such a great run defender and relentless competitor that the NFL transition should be smooth for him. Johnson bullies tackles at the point of attack, exploding off the ball and rocketing into contact. Lots of players play hard, but Johnson takes that to another level. His energy and physicality are eye-popping at times. At the Senior Bowl in late January, the Seminoles star brutally won almost every rep over the first two days. It was incredibly obvious he was the best player there.

Now Johnson just needs to put it all together as a rusher consistently. His first-step burst is obvious, and he’s able to carry that speed up the arc. His counter game needs to grow, but that’s normal for young rushers. Johnson might never have the elite traits to be an annual Pro Bowler, but he’s going to be a productive starter in the NFL. And a large part of it will be the unique combination of his quickness, power and non-stop motor.

Year 1 Outlook: Solid Starter

Year 3 Outlook: Good-Very Good Starter

Grade: Second Round (Good-Very Good Starter)


2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (6-4, 254, 4.58)

The most frustrating thing about Thibodeaux is what I don’t know. I have no idea what the story is with him off the field. Of course, I’ve heard all the reports out there. And I’ve done plenty of my own digging, too. Those inquiries have led to even more confirmation of the reports you’ve all heard: Thibodeaux doesn’t care about football like a pro needs to. The bust potential is sky-high despite the talent.

Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux NFL

Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux – Photo by: USA Today

I don’t know. Maybe it’s true. In fact, usually smoke means fire in these situations. I’ll admit that. There is likely at least a disconnect between Thibodeaux and the common culture of the NFL (which has plenty of its own faults). But I don’t see anything on tape that would lead me to believe any of that. When I watch Thibodeaux, I don’t see the loafing others talk about. What I do see is one of the most explosive pass rushers I have ever scouted. When evaluating by the Four Pillars, Thibodeaux’s burst off the ball is otherworldly. He’s so consistently explosive, I think he can be a threat with just that weapon in the NFL.

But eventually, it’s going to take more than that. Thibodeaux’s entire pass rush plan is built on winning the edge with burst and bend. Occasionally some hand work is thrown in there to help him out, but he is very much a finesse rusher. Of course, winning outside the tackle is the most important plane to dominate as an edge rusher. So Thibodeaux already has that going for him. Now it’s just about rounding out his game.

Does he need to be a great power rusher? No. Does he need to develop a counter game? To a degree, yes. But Thibodeaux will immediately be a threat to every tackle in the NFL because of his explosiveness. Now, some athletes across from him in the NFL will match him off the ball. So his all-around game will need to take steps forward. And if he doesn’t care enough to put the work in, that will be an issue.

But I don’t base any of my grades off “character concerns.” I don’t have access to the kind of information I need to consistently make accurate character assessments. If Thibodeaux busts because of that, I’ll live with it. On tape, he’s an easy first-round prospect.

Year 1 Outlook: Good Starter

Year 3 Outlook: High Quality Starter

Grade: First Round (High Quality Prospect)


1. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (6-6, 274, 4.74)

When I watched Hutchinson’s tape from early in the year, I did not think he was going to get a first round grade from me. Looking at him through the lens of the pillars of pass rush athleticism was a bit concerning. Given how Hutchinson wins as a pass rusher, with power, hand usage and variety, his first step is crucial to his success. Without explosiveness off the ball, speed-to-power rushes don’t exist. And Hutchinson needs them to exist, as his rush package is built off of those exchanges.

Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson NFL

Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson – Photo by: USA Today

But early in the year, Hutchinson was massively plagued by false steps. Working predominantly from a 2-point stance, Hutchinson would step in place when the ball was snapped, before taking off. On many reps he would lift his entire back foot before moving forward off the ball. This wasted movement delayed his get-off considerably, which limited his whole arsenal. As a result, Hutchinson was good, but not great on tape.

Until around midseason. Then, it seemed like something clicked. Hutchinson cut down significantly on his false steps, erupting off of the ball with outstanding first step burst. Immediately the power moves and hand work to win the edge clicked into place. Hutchinson could now threaten tackles out of their stance, which opened up inside counters. When Ohio State’s tackles started over-setting on him, Hutchinson crossed their face all day, piling up three sacks.

In the NFL, the tests will get harder. Hutchinson tested like an elite athlete at edge rusher, but he doesn’t always look like one on tape. However, neither did T.J. Watt in college. Even now in the NFL, Watt wins more off of a variety of moves and quickness, along with absurd power. Of course, Watt also checks the boxes athletically, even if he isn’t a freak on the field.

Now, will Hutchinson match Watt’s production or accolades in the NFL? Only time will tell. I don’t think Hutchinson is the run defender that Watt is. But there are enough stylistic similarities in how they rush to see the comparison. When Hutchinson wins off the ball, he’s a force. When he doesn’t, he can be controlled. Hutchinson is not as consistently explosive as Kayvon Thibodeaux, and he’s definitely not as bendy. But he wins in a greater variety of ways, even if he’s dependent on his first step to make it all work. I think he’ll be a quality NFL player for a long time, even if he never cracks the Tier 1 edge defender group.

Year 1 Outlook: Good Starter

Year 3 Outlook: High Quality Starter

Grade: First Round (High Quality Prospect)

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
2 months ago

Call me crazy but I feel like the Bucs go edge in round 1. Lots of edge rushers in the mix for late round 1 while Rounds 2 and 3 is usually where Bucs nab DBs IMO.
I am on the Mafe bandwagon for a while.

Last edited 2 months ago by Alldaway 2.0
Captain Sly
Captain Sly
2 months ago

Think you have Kayvon Thibideux graded way too high. Talk about getting “lost on tape” he’s the poster child. Reminds me of a Vic Beasley always trying to win off the edge, and at some point you have to beat your man inside. Thib’s has shown no ability to bull rush, cross chop or a spin move to win at the next level. Hard to justify this ranking.

The Freeman
The Freeman
2 months ago

i prefer next year class if they want to pick another edge rusher early

nitey
nitey
2 months ago

I agree with Al, I think OLB/DE is where they will target at the end of round 1 if they don’t trade back. My reason is that they have only a unproven Tryon-Shoyinka and a mostly average Nelson as your #2 and #3 edge rushers and even if they add a vet, this seems the position most vulnerable to poor play if either edge defender goes down with injury. Also, Bowles said that he blitzed too much last season, so doing something to improve the 4 man front seems like a logical pick. I like that Mafe can probably already… Read more »