2022 NFL Draft Defensive End Rankings
This year's class of edge options are deep and plentiful, with options for all teams. Many will go on day one and two, but who are the best? Look no further as we present our pre combine 2022 NFL Draft defensive end rankings.
See where some of these prospects go in our latest 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
By Ben Matthews.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux — Oregon
6’5—258lbs—Overall prospect rank: 1st
Destined to be a top five pick, Thibodeaux has an elite ceiling as a potentially dominant pass rusher. Nine sacks as a freshman in 2019 hinted at what was to come and only three in 2020 should not be worrisome due to the turbulent nature of that COVID impacted season. That number rose to seven in 2021, but the Oregon prospect suffered an ankle injury that limited his overall production somewhat.
Thibodeaux possesses great length and explosion off the snap and displays the bend necessary that allows him to beat his blocker and close on the quarterback quickly. His initial explosion enables him to overwhelm offensive tackles in a hurry and sets them up for devastating inside moves. He translates his speed to power effortlessly and can use his power to bull rush opponents into submission.
His speed off the line of scrimmage is unmatched in the class, but when he is mirrored by a lineman, his exceptional length and bend allows him to get around the edge and finish plays thanks to his hustle and motor. This effort is visible when he is double teamed or has to fight through traffic and he is able to display slithery lateral movement to flow across the line of scrimmage and attack gaps.
Thibodeaux perhaps does not have as much pop in his hands as some others in this class, but his hands are incredibly fast and this often means that offensive lineman are beaten well before they are set.
He has a solid armoury of pass rush moves. His swim moves is particularly effective and he has the bend to comfortably get under tackles in order to dip and rip through them.
He still has potential to add muscle to his frame which will serve him well in order to hold up in the run game. He already has the ability to be an effective run defender though, as his natural length enables him to seal the edge, whilst his effective hands and agility allow him to disengage blockers in a hurry. He stays disciplined versus the run and has great instincts which ensure that he remains a constant disruptor on every play.
When playing the run, he keeps his head up and maintains his balance well. Using his length, he is able to disengage blocks quickly and take down ball carriers with aplomb, displaying a tackling range that is unmatched in the class even when redirected through multiple bodies or chipped by tight ends.
Thibodeuax is just a pure disruptor with a very high ceiling who creates havoc and pressure at a higher rate than anyone else in this class without an elite running mate working on the opposite side. The sky is the limit.
2. Aidan Hutchinson — Michigan
Hutchinson has everything you need in a prospect: outstanding intangibles, consistent production, an excellent athletic profile and a formidable desire to be great, both on and off the field of play.
Hutchinson looks the part of a prototypical 4-3 defensive end and will make an instant impact for whoever drafts him, likely to become a leader in an NFL clubhouse—ideal for any of the rebuilding teams who are drafting early in the 2022 NFL Draft.
He has unrelenting power, effort and length, but he is not lacking from a technical standpoint either, displaying refined hand technique and an ability to diagnose and dismantle blockers at will. He is experienced rushing from a wide-9 alignment and is effective in this position due to the angles that he takes and his sheer explosiveness. His game is much more than that though, and he is equally comfortable playing from both two and three-point stances, and can be just as devastating playing either five or three-tech.
He has serious power in his hands and is able to stun opponents early. This makes him effective setting the edge but also when stacking blocks, not allowing linemen to reach the next level. His length and power allow him to compress multiple blockers and narrow holes for ball carriers, where he is then able to disengage and take down any who do get loose.
He sometimes does whiff in the run game, but this is not a concern and I believe it is more due to over exuberance than ill discipline. When surrounded by NFL colleagues across the line at the next level, Hutchinson will not have to be the do-it-all guy who has to impress on every single play, and this tendency in his game will settle down.
His speed and power combo is devastating and displays an impressive inside and out rushing ability. He doesn’t quite have the bend of Thibodeaux, but his superior production in 2021 highlights the fact that he is equally impressive as a prospect. 14 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in his final year prove this and his three passes defended in 2021, alongside six in 2019 after injury curtailed his 2020 season show that he consistently remains effective in multiple facets of the game.
The top two on this list could be flipped in the eyes of many, and both should have long and successful careers in the NFL. Hutchinson has garnered an incredible amount of coverage as the likely higher pick when compared with Kayvon Thiboadeaux, but I’m always a sucker for upside, so Hutch lands at second on my board amongst the pass rushers.
3. Jermaine Johnson II — Florida State
An exceptional Senior Bowl week has helped to skyrocket Johnson’s stock. He consistently beat offensive linemen during one-on-one drills thanks to his power and speed. Johnson mightily impressed on the field in 2021 too, to the tune of 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, 70 overall tackles, two forced fumbles and two passes defended.
He is a high motor player, who plays with an extremely physical style that enables him to overwhelm opponents at the point of attack. This power allows Johnson to be a threat on the inside as well as off the edge and he can be a genuine nightmare to deal with on stunts inside, an exciting trait that should appeal to NFL teams in a league where interior pressure is a rare commodity.
Johnson has a thick build and certainly looks the part of an NFL defensive end. He will enter the league with an existing set of pass rush moves, displaying an effective rip move, a clean and defined spin move, as well as a powerful bull rush that highlights his overwhelming play style as mentioned above.
He has great length which enables him to set the edge effectively against the run and means that offensive linemen do not gain easy access to his chest. This lets him comfortably drive opponents off their spot before he unleashes his dynamic speed and power moves to win battles. He is a polished prospect because of his ability to play the run and will therefore appeal to teams who run both odd and even fronts. Johnson also displays a versatility that could see him play in wide alignments, as a 5-tech or shaded inside.
His ideal measurables and ability to win with both speed and power make him a top-10 pick as a more complete prospect than many of his positional peers. The former Seminole is by all accounts a vocal and influential leader on defense and will become a foundational piece for a lucky franchise in 2022.
4. Travon Walker — Georgia
As my colleague James Pike described on the Franchise 33 NFL Show last week, Walker is a “ball of clay” that will appeal to multiple teams in the 2022 NFL Draft. Walker could seek to drop a few pounds and work on his pure athleticism in order to work mainly off the edge, or perhaps add a bit of weight and concentrate on his interior presence. This isn’t to say that he is a ‘tweener’ as he already is an effective base end who offers genuine penetration wherever he lines up.
Walker is explosive off the snap and can win immediately with his length, firing his heavy hands directly at offensive linemen in order to stun them into submission. The burst and and athletic traits that he possesses allow him to shoot gaps effectively and win from the edge with ease.
He will appeal to multiple teams due to his versatility along the line, but also due to the fact that he is an excellent run defender who is able to set the edge as well as make plays along the line of scrimmage, utilising his lateral fluidity and quickness to track and take down ball carriers.
Questions abound regarding his lack of relative production when compared to his peers, but with a bit of seasoning in the NFL this is a player who could blossom into a three-down cornerstone on someone’s defensive line.
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5. George Karlaftis — Purdue
Strength, size and sheer power through his lower half and hips are Karlaftis’ calling cards. This is not a pass rusher who possesses extreme bend or fluidity, but he is extremely precise with his stunts, has a strong repertoire of moves, and packs a mighty punch with his hands.
Karlaftis has a tape littered with instances where he wins with superior play strength to that of his opponent, and when combined with a relentless force of will and motor, he is an enticing prospect with a high floor who will contribute on all three downs at the next level.
The “Greek Freak” may not have the statistical resume of some of his peers, but there is a lot to love. His hand timing and placement is exceptional and he wins early in the snap, leaving offensive linemen powerless in their attempts to counter Karlaftis’ swim move as he hunts the QB.
He does not have the oily hips or explosiveness of the likes of Thibodeaux, but he is able to convert power to speed effortlessly and uses his refined skillset in a way that some other prospects in this class simply cannot. High floor, high character, high effort — high pick.
6. David Ojabo — Michigan
Ojabo had a breakout season in 2021, finishing with 11 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 35 total tackles, five forced fumbles and three passes defended whilst playing opposite Aidan Hutchinson on Michigan’s defensive line. Impressive statistics in what was his only real season of production. This does raise the question of whether or not he is a one season wonder, or merely scratching the surface of what he could become.
The Michigan man is extremely quick off the edge and displays a distinct bend when attempting to traverse the pocket, and is able to easily unfurl his body as he straightens back up to attack the quarterback. His get-off is undoubtedly explosive and he maintains his hand/feet coordination throughout the snap, hinting further at his untapped potential which could be unlocked at the next level with some further refinement to his pass-rushing moves. He does have a nose for the ball, too, with an uncanny knack of stripping the ball free as evidenced by his five forced fumbles in 2021.
Ojabo also has excellent lateral movement which he exhibits when wrapping up tackles behind the line of scrimmage; his speed in pursuit allowing him to easily chase down ball carriers.
Whilst Ojabo possesses obvious natural play strength at the collegiate level, he can be overly reliant on this which will not initially be enough to overpower NFL offensive linemen, or make him consistently effective in the run game. He could certainly stand to get stronger and develop his frame to become a true three-down edge defender in the NFL and he was indeed often taken off the field at Michigan when in obvious rushing downs, adding fuel to the argument that he may have been better suited to staying in school for an additional year in order to solidify—and most likely raise—his stock.
7. Boye Mafe — Minnesota
Boye Mafe is an exciting athlete who has exceptional physical gifts (making an appearance on Bruce Feldman’s 2021 college football Freaks List) and appears to have prototypical length. This enables him to both influence the pocket, as well as gives him the requisite natural ability to get his hands up and into throwing lanes. Furthermore, he is a high motor player who is relentless in pursuit whenever plays bounce to the outside and break free and will chase ball carriers downfield without question. His effortless movement skills in space, combined with his size and weight hint that he’d be just at home as a defensive end/LEO or SAM linebacker in a 4-3, as well as a traditional 3-4 OLB.
In the run game, there are times where Mafe can get glued onto blocks but this is not a major cause for concern as his length, quick-twitch athleticism and short-area burst mean that he can avoid this issue more often than not.
There are some technical refinements needed for Mafe, but he is just so smooth and makes everything look easy. He quite possibly has the highest upside of everyone in this class. Sometimes prospects of this type who play with such effortless ease lack power or avoid true combat; Mafe relishes the battle. He is able to translate his speed to power with an impressive bull rush or can violently rip away the hands of his opponents, demonstrating his ability to win in a number of different ways.
As mentioned, Mafe is a high ceiling prospect who will jump into round one when he dominates the NFL combine. He’s shown season-by-season growth at Minnesota both developmentally and statistically and is just scratching the surface of what he could become.
8. Arnold Ebiketie — Penn State
Arnold Ebiketie offers enticing speed and twitch off the edge. The majority of his snaps in year one could see him used predominantly as a designated pass-rush specialist, but he has the potential to become a three-down defensive end. When watching the tape, you can see how he can be utterly overwhelming off of the edge. He is able to get low and run underneath blockers and has enough bend and body control to stay skinny and slip between bodies.
Combine testing will be interesting to see if he has true length to appeal to teams high up their draft boards, but there are times where he lets blockers into his body too easily, which can nullify his effectiveness.
He’s got the tools to be more effective here though. He is fluid and reacts well in space. With more NFL coaching and in the right scheme he will become an effective run defender who can guard the perimeter.
9. Joshua Paschal — Kentucky
Paschal is a violent inside/out rusher who plays with his hair on fire. He has aligned across the defensive line throughout his career as a base end, shaded inside the shoulder of the tackle, at 3-technique, as well as over the center where he has displayed immense power.
His power is what is hugely impressive. Paschal is a pure warrior with extreme burst and relentless effort and when paired with his heavy hands, he is the type of player you want on your line. Someone who is a tone setter who can truly inspire and fire up a defense.
Paschal was the first player in Kentucky history to be named a three-time team captain in 2021, further highlighting his character and influence. You want him in your locker room.
Whilst he may not be the most bendy edge player in the class, Paschal makes up for that with devastating upper body power and aggression. This aggression serves him well in the run game as he is able to burst into blockers, winning quickly and setting a solid edge or exploding into the backfield to destroy ball carriers. He is an impressive tackler.
He may never become a double-digit sack artist in the NFL, but he will give any team a lift because of his presence alone. He will occupy blocks and/or collapse pockets from the interior, enabling his line mates to eat. Another who should be taken on day one or two at the latest.
10. Cameron Thomas — San Diego State
Cameron Thomas is another defensive lineman who plays like his life depends on it. As an athlete, he is not quite as pliable as some of the others in this class, but he does have good initial burst and agility.
Where he does impress though is with his overall body control and domineering play style. He is extremely difficult to block one-on-one on the outside and can squeeze through gaps on the interior, giving him a versatility that teams will covet. He may not be able to dominate NFL offensive linemen so easily at first, but he is an excellent run defender, so he should see the field early.
Thomas has explosive hands and having played as a full time defensive tackle the former Aztec will be well suited to play as a base end in a 4-3. He is rising quickly up draft boards and will be an excellent depth piece as a minimum for the majority of teams at the next level.
Next best of the remaining 2022 NFL Draft Edge players:
11. Myjai Sanders — Cincinnati
12. Drake Jackson — USC
13. Sam Williams — Mississippi
14. DeAngelo Malone — Western Kentucky
15. Kingsley Enagbare — South Carolina