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These guys will look to become the future sack specialists of an NFL franchise. Today I rank the top five edge rusher prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Aidan Hutchinson- Michigan
Bio: After playing sparingly as a true freshman, Aidan Hutchinson was named a starter the following year. By his senior season, he set the Michigan single season sack record at 14 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Strengths: Strong, fluid and explosive. Weight room warrior. Traits and toughness to play end in any scheme. Quick lateral reaction from blockers first move. Bursting force into first contact. Early arm fighter to set the edge. Consistent leverage and base at the point of attack. Hands and feet work in sync to slide through blocks. Core strength to break free from blocks instantly. Rapid hand movement as a pass rusher. Pacing remains in high gear throughout the rush. Great success using hand swipes. Rarely neutralized by a single blocker. Counter moves are instinctive and makes his rushes consistent. Inside moves are surprisingly smooth and catch linemen on their toes. Second gear to collapse the edge and burn by pass protection.
Weaknesses: Frame is maxed out and can't handle more mass. Shorter arms for a rusher his size. Instincts against the run are just average. Plays the position like a technician rather than with a natural feel. Must learn to dislodge opposition rather than just blow past them. Slow to change direction in the middle of a rush. Burst won't be a challenge for more athletic tackles. Has to access his counter moves more quickly when stalled. Only one season of serious production. Missed most of his junior season with a broken ankle.
Pro Comparison: Nick Bosa
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Detroit Lions
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux- Oregon
Bio: The USA Today High School Football Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, Kayvon Thibodeaux chose t sign on at Oregon over several offers. In his three years with the Ducks, he registered 84 tackles,19 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Strengths: Fueled to succeed, motor will never be in question. Long, strong, and dangerous off the edge. Fast and wild movements off the snap. Speed to put the fear of god in tackles. Ideal dip and turn around blockers. Firm base makes it hard for him to be pushed off path once he's reached the edge. Insane closing speed to the quarterback. Strong hands to convert speed to power rushes. Decent bull rush for his size. Plays with good combination of upper body strength and length. Quick hands get into blocker's frame before they can react. Generates separation with arm extension and powerful first strike. Bullies through tight ends. Back side acceleration to chase down running backs for a loss. Great pursuit in the run game.
Weaknesses: Not a natural pass rusher and lacks instincts. Lacks desired knee bend for solid leverage. Hand technique needs coached up. Missing a consistent counter move to get by streetwise tackles. Doesn't have great awareness or play recognition skills. Timing and body control need to be better at the point of attack. Ability to set the edge is a work in progress. Tackles are aimed high and a tad disjointed.
Pro Comparison: DeMarcus Ware
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons
3. Travon Walker- Georgia
Bio: As a true freshman, Travon Walker played in every game. The following year as a starter, he led the team with 36 quarterback pressures. In 2021, he played both end and tackle while help the Bulldogs win the National Championship.
Strengths: Big, long, and powerful at the point of contact. Great understanding of how to generate leverage. Strong hands to get under tackle's pad and get them off balance. First punch is violent and jarring. Consistent arm extension to set edge. Able to engage and discard tackles near developing gaps. Length make it difficult for blockers to latch onto. Decent closing speed around the pocket. At time core strength will create paths to the ball. Keeps his feet under him at all times. Experience playing all along the line in a 4-3 defense.
Weaknesses: Poor get off quickness whether playing inside or out. Very limited knee bend. High pad level and lacks flexibility. Bland pursuit speed in the open field. Not threatening as an inside rusher. Couldn't get by Alabama's Evan Neal with pure power. Slow going through his movements. Scheme dependent as a rusher.
Pro Comparison: Arik Armstead
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Denver Broncos
4. David Ojabo- Michigan
Bio: Not playing football until his junior year of high school, David Ojabo signed on at Michigan and was their top defensive scout team player as a true freshman. Becoming the starter in 2021, he burst onto the scene with 11 sacks and was named first team All-Big Ten.
Strengths: Holds himself and his teammates to a high standard. Got better taking on blockers as the year went on. Sees ball carrier through contact and works towards him. Speed to get to the edge on outside runs. Unpredictable and diverse rush moves. Puzzles tackles with changing foot speed. Access to second gear at the top of the rush. Fluid spins moves and can compile multiple moves throughout a rush. Always looks to punch out the ball. Size to play defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the scheme.
Weaknesses: One season wonder. Played in just 20 games in three college seasons. Was a liability against the run against Georgia. Was eliminated by zone blocks against Iowa. Instincts and play recognition are still a work in progress. Poor block shedding fluidity. Struggles to access counter move against strong outside punches. Lacks desired knee bend to set the edge. Plays high and gives up leverage. May need added mass to play defensive end fulltime in the pros. Tore his Achilles at his pro day, will be out six months
Pro Comparison: Leonard Floyd
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Cleveland Browns
5. Jermaine Johnson II- Florida State
Bio: After being academically ineligible to play Division I football out of high school, Jermaine Johnson enrolled at Independence Community College and was featured on Netflix's Last Chance U. He transferred to Georgia in 2019 and played two seasons for the Bulldogs. In 2021, he transferred to Florida State and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after registering a conference leading 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.
Strengths: Strong upper body build with excellent wingspan. Got noticeably bigger and stronger in his lower half as a senior. Transfers power from his hips into first contact. Gets under tackle's pad to set the edge. Length to gain separation and still make a play. Timing to shed blocks and make the tackle. Rarely stays latched for too long. Plays fast and hard. Agile with smooth change of direction. Capable tackler and always seems to be around the ball. Keeps legs driving to create second opportunity sacks. Looks to destroy once his path to the quarterback is clear.
Weaknesses: Effort in the run game is inconsistent. Tackles get to his outside shoulder, causing containment loss. Depth needs to be more consistent to set more dominant edges. Play recognition is erratic. Rushing attack could use a little finesse. Plays high with stiff hips and knees when getting around the pocket. Counter moves are usually stagnated. Hands are violent, but technique still needs coaching. Balances lapses causing slips around the edge.
Pro Comparison: Maxx Crosby
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
Other Notable Prospects
DeMarvin Leal- Texas A&M
- Excellent hand speed, more brawler than technician
Drake Jackson- USC
- Tough and strong, plays too high at times
Cameron Thomas- San Diego State
- Well built frame, weak level of competition
Kingsley Enagbare- South Carolina
- Versatile pass rusher, lacks range in space
George Karlafitis- Purdue
- Great body control, average length
DeAngelo Malone- Western Kentucky
- Rare athleticism, not much room for more mass
Tyreke Smith- Ohio State
- Great lateral quickness, lacks ideal play strength
Myjai Sanders- Cincinnati
- Good burst off the snap, thin lower body
Michael Clemons- Texas A&M
- Enormous frame, can't maintain leverage
Mika Tafua- Utah
- Great anticipation, needs to spend time in weight room
Arnold Ebiketie- Penn State
- Devastating tackler, inconsistent knee bender
David Anenih- Houston
- Large wingspan, raw technique
Esezi Otomewo- Minnesota
- Insane size, lacks flexibility
Isaiah Thomas- Oklahoma
- Sturdy frame, lacks twitch as a rusher
Jeffrey Gunter- Coastal Carolina
- Prototype build, lacks awareness in space
Tyree Johnson- Texas A&M
- Slippery around the edge, undersized for the position
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa- Notre Dame
- Great first step, immediately gives up leverage
Tre Williams- Arkansas
- Great speed off the snap, off the field concerns
Zach VanValkenburg- Iowa
- Former Division II star, short arms
Scott Patchan- Colorado State
- Good length, average athleticism
DaMarcus Mitchell- Purdue
- Great range and finisher, tweener frame
Zach McCloud- Miami
- Good motor, lack rush skillset
Keir Thomas- Florida State
- Energetic pass rusher, short and stout