Scouting Report: 2022 Rookie Edge Rushers (Part 2)
Wrapping up this two-part series, Jon Macri breaks down the top half of the 12 best incoming edge rushers for the 2022 NFL Draft.
If you missed it, here is Part 1, where Jon covered EDGE 7-12.
6: (SLEEPER ALERT) Drake Jackson, USC
88.3 pass-rush grade
70.4 run defense grade
Production: 26 pressures, 6 sacks
RAS: 8.6 (25th in class)
Elite first step. Can rush from anywhere on the line though and be effective. Excellent bend - among the best in this class.
Doesn’t have to rely on his outside move. Can win inside as well and will switch it up.
Definitely needs to work on his run defense and developing a counter to OLs trying to move him off the line.
His speed move and pass-rush instincts are strong and he’s a younger prospect (just turned 21 years old this week!
I think Jackson could develop over time and might be worth a day two pick for a team willing to be patient.
Ideal Landing Spot: Pittsburgh Steelers
Doesn’t have to play right away and can be a rotational piece behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith, but eventually could step into a starting role, likely over someone like Highsmith because I think he’s good enough to get there eventually.
5: Travon Walker, Georgia
65.8 pass-rush grade
73.7 run defense grade
Production: 34 pressures, 5 sacks
RAS: 9.99! (Best in class)
ATHLETICISM! (AKA the primary reason he’s been vaulting up draft boards, like it or not)
I do like that he isn’t just shut down on a lot of his reps where he doesn’t win immediately.
He has the ability to turn to his strength for example if his outside move doesn’t win.
Bull rush is a definite strength of his. Can drive offensive linemen back into the QBs lap and collapse the pocket.
You can see the speed.
Doesn’t have great bend but it’s not terrible and has a decent counter if it doesn’t work.
Good run defender
Doesn’t get caught too far up field
More methodical as a run defender
Plays gap sound but needs help in space.
Line him up on the edge, but also some good reps from the B and A gaps as well playing as a 3T, which is always kind of a nice bonus for a player, seeing how they do from different alignments.
A lot of his wins come via 2nd effort.
So while it’s nice that he has that counter, he does have to use it quite a bit because he hasn’t developed enough of a pass-rush repertoire to win with his first step. Which brings me to my second negative point…
Lack of get-off
This was a big surprise to me considering his elite athletic profile.
Often isn’t the first player off the line.
Sometimes even the last one out of his stance.
Slow down the tape and you can see that the rest of the Georgia line is all out of their stance before him.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about his explosiveness but I think on the season as a whole he could actually improve there.
Wrapping up in space.
Way too many open spaces misses.
Slipping off tackle attempts
Over/under pursuing QBs and RBs on the move.
Stunts are concerning
Why can’t he stunt?
He’s running into his own teammates, he’s tripping over his own feet, he gets lost. It looks like he needs a road map to get home when Georgia calls a stunt
Stunts should essentially be a cheat code against college offensive lines, but Walker turns it into an actual clusterfuck every time.
Another one of those physically gifted edge defenders, but not as polished as a pass rusher (yet). Probably the biggest boom/bust player in this entire draft. That lack of get-off definitely stands out to me but that is certainly something that he can develop over time and if he does, he has the traits to make it as a strong NFL talent. Did see a little more of that explosive potential in the CFP against Michigan and Alabama, so that could be the two games that people will point to, and maybe he’s playing with a little more juice in those games but would like to see that on a consistent basis.
Ideal Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons
It’s no secret that the Falcons pass-rush sucked in 2021. They do need someone to make an impact right away, and Walker isn’t necessarily that, but he’s someone that they can move along the line and get plenty of reps to contribute and develop quickly.
4: George Karlaftis, Purdue
75.1 run defense
Production: 54 pressures, 5 sacks
RAS: 9.21 (13th in class)
Wins with power
Not a speed rush edge.
Looks to his bull rush and inside move to win.
Does both well.
Because he’s so physically dominant, he often outlasts blockers allowing him to make plays late in reps.
Strength and power transfers to run defense
Tough to move
Has the ability to throw offensive linemen out of the way
Would like to see him win more outside.
Not much bend or speed to his pass-rush repertoire.
To his credit, he started to integrate an outside move more in the latter half of the season (I like to watch player tape in chronological order to see if there’s any kind of progression within a season and that was something that stood out with Karlaftis is that he did start to switch up his pass rush moves a bit more).
Still not great bend or speed around the edge but at least he’s working on it.
Work on pass-rush plan/develop some counters
Wants to lean on his power too often, and that will get snuffed out by NFL offensive linemen
If he does get over-powered by stronger offensive linemen then he can’t get off. Just needs to work on finding ways to win those reps more often because there will be NFL OLs that are stronger than him.
Winning his one-on-ones hasn’t really been an issue, but he does need to keep his head up afterwards and finish plays.
Oftentimes, he’ll still be in bull rush mode and miss a tackle or take bad angles, even though he’s already in the backfield. Feels like something that can be coached up.
Still a work in progress is Karlaftis, but his physicality and power can translate to the NFL. There are some things he can work on as far as developing more of a pass-rush repertoire, but he’s the type of player that can be an asset defending the run or pass. Even does a nice job setting the edge. Given his tendency to try and win inside I was worried that might cause him to be a liability there, but it didn’t come up very often when watching his tape.
Ideal Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills
Reminds me of a better version of Boogie Basham last year. Big, physical edge who can kick inside as well. Basham was a better finisher in college, but there are a lot of similarities between the two, IMO. With Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes potentially done in Buffalo now, we know how much they like these big edges and I think Karlaftis could be a nice play for them. Maybe they prefer an interior defensive lineman, but I’m giving them yet another edge lol.
3: Jermaine Johnson, Florida State University
78.9 run defense
Production: 46 pressures, 14 sacks
RAS: 9.23 (12th in class)
Not usually one of the first positives I notice with a player but Johnson is so good at setting the edge and wrapping up RBs in the backfield.
Even pitch plays that are way wide of him he closes on quickly and shuts them down.
Stands up offensive tackles with his reach and power allowing him to play the run perfectly where he keeps contain but can jump inside when needed.
He is probably, outside of Hutch, my favorite run defender in this edge class. Maybe even more. Maybe. Hutch is just a power house and dominates but Johnson wins with the exact technique needed which I think speaks more about him as a player.
Not only a great run defender, but one of the best pure pass rushers in this class
Has all the moves in his repertoire that you’d want to see out of an edge prospect
Wins with bend, speed, technique, finesse and power
Even busted out the spin move a couple of times and looked great (see the NC State game)
Throwing offensive tackles to the ground regularly
Can overrun plays from time to time
Might not have the elite athleticism that some guys in this class do, but he’s so technically sound that he makes up for it
Just the one year as a starter, but played a ton for FSU in 2021 - 736 defensive snaps (>61 snaps/game)
I LOVED what I saw from Johnson. Just does everything so well. Really well-rounded edge, who can play every down and dominate. I think if I were to comp him to last year’s class, he’d be my No. 1 edge over Phillips/Paye. This year is a bit different as we get two other dominant edges coming out, but Johnson is everything you’d want from your starting edge.
Ideal Landing Spot: Carolina Panthers
Let’s do this! Brian Burns + Jermaine Johnson, the FSU duo making offensive tackles look silly. This is my dream spot for him, I’d love to see it. I know this would dampen some of the excitement around Gross-Matos (sorry Adam) but Johnson is a clear upgrade and I’d love to see him and Burns together going after the QB.
2: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
76.8 run defense
Production: 48 pressures, 9 sacks
RAS: 9.63 (8th in class)
Timing and explosiveness
First one off the ball at the snap and gives him a significant pass-rush advantage.
That get-off is noticeable. He’s often almost a yard ahead of his Oregon defensive linemates at the snap because he’s just so explosive.
More powerful than I thought he might be.
Mostly because he’s so quick it’s easy to lose sight that he doesn’t necessarily have elite size (6’4”, 254lbs), but his power shows up on tape.
His speed to power is excellent!
There are a good number of instances where he’s driving offensive tackles 5 yards deep into the backfield, sometimes even two at a time. This helps him not only collapse the pocket, but gives him an advantage in the run game as well where offensive linemen go from being on the defensive to the offensive and are actively trying to move their opponent instead of protecting the QB.
Wins in a variety of ways
Speed rush, inside move, good hands, shedding/second effort, bull rush.
Can change directions on a dime
Can drop into coverage because he’s so athletic and he covers ground quickly.
Not as disciplined in setting the edge. Can be a little undisciplined and wants to try and win inside instead/in the wrong gap, losing contain on the outside, which can be worked on, and that will be important to fix.
Run defense in general I think would be somewhere to improve, which is the case for most edge rushers, but one of the big differences between him and Hutchinson, at least this past season, was Hutchinson's dominance in the trenches continued when defending the run, where Thibodeaux is a bit more hit and miss.
Really great pass rusher and I think a lot of IDP and devy enthusiasts have had him pegged as the 2022 IDP 1.01 for a long time, but I never like to do that with a full season of college football left to play, because we just don’t know for sure what that player, and his peers, are going to look like in the final season. Think about Joe Burrow emerging in 2019 on offense. And now Hutchinson on defense here in 2021. Nonetheless, he’s a very exciting pass rusher with a ton of potential and I think he will be a very good NFL player for a long time. All the tools are there and I think we haven’t seen anywhere close to his peak just yet.
Ideal Landing Spot: Houston Texans
All this talk about Thibodeaux potentially dropping in the draft should be considered poppycock. He’s 1b for me (spoilers) and has the potential to emerge as an elite NFL edge. The ceiling is the roof with his athleticism and everything that he can still be in the NFL and if I’m the Texans there’s no way I’m letting him fall past 3 considering how lacking their edge group is right now.
1: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
90.8 run defense
Production: 74 pressures, 14 sacks
RAS: 9.88 (3rd in class)
More than a one year wonder.
3 years of solid grades - none better than 2021 obviously, but still decent, especially 2019 where he posted 46 pressures and 6 sacks for a 76.0 pass-rush grade. Then added over 60 tackles as well.
Run defense grades have been great for three straight seasons.
Perfect combination of speed and power.
Can win with his bull rush, speed around the edge, or finesse you to the inside. Also plays with a high motor so even if you get him blocked on the initial release, he’s not letting up and never out of the play.
Backside of run plays
He is insanely good at snuffing these plays out, whether he’s left unblocked, or they run split zone at him, or just straight up try and block him at the line, he’s a constant threat to win and make a tackle that not many edges are able to make.
This makes him an every down player, IMO
Not much, to be honest
I mean, I would like to see him more with his hand in the dirt. Something that he did more prior to this past year but almost not at all in 2021. But that’s really not that important for IDP and shouldn’t affect much at all, I wouldn’t think.
Stance: Interestingly, almost all his reps in 2021 came from a 2 point stance, where previous years he lined up mostly with his hand in the dirt so would like to see how NFL teams might prefer him to line up, but I don’t have much doubt that he can still win, no matter how he starts.
He’s just so dominant. Similar to the way that Nick Bosa and Chase Young of recent years have dominated their competition by being truly unblockable in every facet of the game, and both went 2nd overall in their respective draft classes. It feels like Hutchinson will have the chance to go top-2 as well this year.
People are probably gonna knock him for not doing much in the game against Georgia in the playoff, which sure, it wasn’t near his best game of the year, but it’s not like he just disappears in big games. The Ohio State game at the end of the year, which was huge to even get them into the playoffs, and then the conference championship game against Iowa were incredible games from him. He had 15 pressures and 3 sacks against OSU. He was feeling it. Pretty sure he was just talking shit to that poor left tackle the entire 4th quarter.
Ideal Landing Spot: Detroit or Jacksonville
I really don’t think it matters. He can and will be a 3-down edge for whichever team takes him and I think he’s deserving of a top-2 pick, much like Bosa and Young were.
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