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2022 NFL Draft: Falcons top targets at EDGE

The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly here, and we’re wrapping up our coverage with our final positional rankings. Today’s focus is EDGE, where Atlanta has a massive need and could consider a top prospect with the 8th overall pick.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft is almost here, and it’s finally time to wrap up all of our draft coverage with my final positional rankings. I’m proud to say I watched more than 100 players this offseason, far more than ever before. On the site, our team has compiled more than 20 full scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the class—with more to come over the next week! While you may not always agree with our rankings or analysis, we hope you’ve at least enjoyed the discussion and additional viewpoints.

For the positional rankings, these will be based on my personal rankings, not necessarily the rankings of our other writers. I watch players through the lens of the Atlanta Falcons: I prioritize and rank based on the perceived fit in Atlanta’s offense and defense. So keep that in mind, as these rankings may not line up with a generic big board.

I’d also like to note that while I watched a lot of players, I didn’t watch anywhere close to the nearly 300 who will be drafted. As a result, I’m only going to rank the players that I’ve seen at least 2-3 games of. There are tons of other prospects who I’ve seen limited tape of and discussed with other scouts, but I don’t feel comfortable ranking them without at least a few full games watched.

I hope you enjoy these rankings, and if you miss any position groups, you can find them all below:

DEFENSE: EDGE

1: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

RAS: 9.88 | Projection: Top-5

The Falcons aren’t likely to have much of a shot at drafting Aidan Hutchinson, but he finishes as my EDGE1 in this class. One of three or so players in contention for the #1 overall pick, Hutchinson is a prototypical edge rusher with terrific size, athleticism, and competitive toughness. He’s a pro-ready, scheme-versatile prospect and one of the safest picks in the draft.

2: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

RAS: 9.63 | Projection: Top-5 | Scouting Report

Thibodeaux is a prototypical 3-4 OLB at 6’4, 254. He’s an elite athlete (9.63 RAS) who can win with explosiveness, bend, and power at the point of attack. Despite anonymous scouts questioning his effort and “love of the game”, in reality Thibodeaux plays hard and with great competitive toughness. I love his array of pass rush moves and he is very savvy with his hands and counters. He’s also better against the run than expected, with good tackling and ability to keep contain on the outside. Atlanta shouldn’t overthink the selection if teams are foolish enough to allow him to fall to 8.

3: Jermaine Johnson, Florida State

RAS: 9.22 | Projection: Top-10 | Scouting Report

Johnson is a prototypical edge rusher at over 6’4, 260 with an elite near 83 inch wingspan. He’s got length and strength, and pairs it with some of the best athletic traits in the class. Johnson can beat you with bend, with explosiveness, and with power. He’s also one of the smartest players I’ve scouted in this class. Johnson rarely makes mistakes and doesn’t fall for play-action or other eye candy in the backfield. He’s got an advanced toolset as a pass rusher and plays both the run and the pass at a high level.

4: Travon Walker, Georgia

RAS: 9.99 | Projection: Top-10

Walker has been a bit of a late bloomer, but he’s having an excellent season on a loaded defense. He’s a unique edge prospect, with a massive frame at 6’5 and 275 pounds but the athleticism to play as both a hand-in-the-dirt and stand-up rusher. Walker is explosive and powerful, with a hot motor and the tenacity to chase down plays from all over the field. He needs more technical refinement as a pass rusher, but his floor as a strong run defender should make him an instant three-down starter.

5: George Karlaftis, Purdue

RAS: 9.21 | Projection: 1st Round

At nearly 6’4, 266, Karlaftis is a big-bodied edge rusher who is more than capable of holding his own against OTs in the run game. However, he’s athletic enough to play as either a stand-up or hand-in-the dirt rusher and has plenty of experience in both roles. Karlaftis is primarily a power rusher, and his strength and burst off the snap are capable of immediately dominating opponents. Combine that with his hand usage, impressive arsenal of moves, and tremendous football IQ and you’ve got a Day 1 impact starter on your hands. His ceiling isn’t as sky-high as the top two prospects in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson, but his floor is among the highest in the class.

6: Boye Mafe, Minnesota

RAS: 9.92 | Projection: 1st-2nd Round

Mafe is mostly traits at this point—although he had his most productive season in 2021 with 10.0 TFL and 7.0 sacks and put on a show at the Senior Bowl—but those traits are enticing. His athleticism is exceptional, with the ability to turn the corner, explode off the ball, and chase down plays from the backside. You also have to love his non-stop motor and relentless style of play. Mafe is still very raw in most facets: he can have trouble diagnosing plays and biting on play-action, and lacks an arsenal of counters and block-shedding moves. It’s going to take time for him to find his footing in the NFL, but the ceiling of an impact starter is clearly there for Mafe.

7: David Ojabo, Michigan

RAS: 9.40 | Projection: 1st-2nd Round

There’s no question that Michigan’s David Ojabo has one of the highest ceilings in the class, as his RAS and flashes on tape show. However, he’s got a lot of development left to do, both in terms of rush counters and his ability to stop the run. The injury clouds things even further, and makes him a tougher selection on Day 1. I’m still interested in Ojabo if he happens to fall to 43, but I do wonder if the Falcons have the patience to wait for his injury recovery and developmental timeline.

8: Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State

RAS: 8.91 | Projection: 2nd Round | Scouting Report

Ebiketie has solid size at 6’2, 250 and possesses strong athletic traits. He’s explosive, long, and dynamic off the edge and has put together an incredibly productive season: 18.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks in 12 games. Ebiketie spent the first three seasons of his college career at Temple before transferring to Penn State and actually improving his production. That’s a good sign that this is a player who can develop quickly, and who can grow to become even better at the NFL level.

9: Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

RAS: 8.68 | Projection: 2nd Round | Scouting Report

Thomas is versatile, with a big frame at 6’4, 267 and excellent agility (6.91s 3-cone and 4.25s short-shuttle). His 8.68 RAS demonstrates his high-end athleticism, and the only concern is a lack of ideal arm length (32.5 inch arms). However, Thomas uses his hands very well and backs them up with exceptional power at the point of attack. His combination of explosiveness, lateral mobility, and strength makes him very difficult to block one-on-one, and there’s potential for him to bulk up for a 3-4 DE role as well.

10: Sam Williams, Ole Miss

RAS: 9.72 | Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams has been a steady riser over the course of the offseason, turning heads with a dominant finish to Senior Bowl week and then proving his high-end athleticism with a 9.72 RAS at the Combine. Williams is an ideal 3-4 OLB at nearly 6’4, 261, winning with a combination of explosive burst and power at the point of attack. He’s not the most bendy or lethal speed rusher, but he’s an asset against the run with his strength and physicality.

11: Josh Paschal, Kentucky

RAS: 9.70 | Projection: 2nd Round

A player I only got to watch late in the process, Kentucky’s Josh Paschal is a very intriguing EDGE prospect who offers some schematic versatility. Paschal is explosive and powerful, showing off dominant run stuffing ability and disruptive potential as a bull rusher. He’s got better quickness than expected and plays hard. Paschal took a big step forward after a lackluster 2020 season, showing off better hand usage and more consistent play recognition against the run. He lacks ideal length and is primarily a linear athlete, which probably makes him a better fit as a 5T or 4i, but Paschal has considerable starting upside.

12: Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

RAS: 9.37 | Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto isn’t your typical EDGE—at 6’3, 248, he’s a 3-4 OLB only and is best rushing from a stand-up position. But Bonitto also offers more than a traditional hand-in-the-dirt player, as he’s an asset in zone coverage and even offers ability as an off-ball linebacker. Bonitto is a dynamic athlete who also plays well above his weight as a run defender. He sets the edge very well and has impressive strength and tackling ability. As a pass rusher, Bonitto has excellent bend and explosiveness off the snap. He has a variety of pass rush moves and is technically advanced with his hands and football IQ.

13: Drake Jackson, USC

RAS: 8.60 | Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

I seem to be lower on Drake Jackson than the consensus, and the reason for it is his lack of physicality. Jackson is a 3-4 OLB only who offers a long frame and enticing traits as a speed rusher off the edge, but struggles to play the run or win with strength. As a space player, Jackson is one of the best in the class and even offers some upside in zone coverage. But I’m concerned about his weaknesses at the point of attack—is it a weight-room issue, or a want-to issue?

14: Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

RAS: 6.21 | Projection: 3rd Round | Scouting Report

Enagbare is a versatile, 6’4, 260 edge rusher who can play in both a 3-4 or 4-3, though he is most comfortable rushing from a stand-up position. While there are no glaring issues with Enagbare’s game, he does lack the ceiling of the top prospects. He’s above-average or better in most areas and has room to grow, but I think he’ll be best served as a complementary piece. This is the type of player who has a long, productive NFL career but might not ever make a Pro Bowl.

15: Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

RAS: 8.72 | Projection: 3rd Round | Scouting Report

I was down on Myjai Sanders going into the Senior Bowl. To me, he looked too light on tape and struggled to play with enough physicality. However, Sanders impressed me in Mobile both with his play and his weigh-in at a respectable 242. He clearly worked on adding mass and physicality as a rusher and run defender this offseason, and it showed. Then he weighed in at 228 at the Combine, and the weight concerns (Sanders was reportedly ill prior to the Combine) came roaring back. Sanders has terrific flashes as a pass rusher along with elite athleticism, but there are red flags that prevent me from ranking him higher.