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2022 NFL Draft: Replacing the veterans at EDGE

Power rushers galore

This offseason is more than likely to serve as a changing of the guard at defensive end for the Buffalo Bills. Veterans Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes had effective seasons despite more limited snaps, while second-round pick A.J. Epenesa along with rookies Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham picked up the remaining slack. Now, Addison and Hughes are free agents—as is Efe Obada—and could be considered luxuries on a team looking to keep its payroll under control. That leaves only the three aforementioned younger players, who aren’t exactly proven by any means. This could cause the team to invest, yet again, in some rookie pass rushers.

What helps things is that 2022 seems to be a good year to invest in a defensive end. The first three rounds especially appear to be rich in players who specifically fit the team’s mold: big, long, power rushers. Below are some options in the draft who may be able to offer just that.

Tier I

Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
David Ojabo (Michigan)
Cameron Thomas (San Diego State)

Hutchinson is the newest clone of Joey Bosa. He’s big, long and strong but best of all, he’s a technician. He knows how to set up tackles. A bit of the opposite is Thibodeaux, who gets it done by being able to really bend and turn the edge, despite being a massive big and long human being. People his size aren’t supposed to be able to ‘turn the corner’ that well. A one-year starter, Ojabo doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet, but his speed off the edge is already NFL-ready, and he can pull off a very good dip move. He needs to learn how to be more physical though. Expect to hear more about Cam Thomas as the draft process moves on. The former defensive tackle plays in a similar style to J.J. Watt. He’s not a speed rusher, rather he defeats tackles with what may be the strongest hands in the draft class. Further, he knows how to get skinny and split offensive linemen by earning quick inside pressure.

Tier II

Travon Walker (Georgia)
George Karlaftis (Purdue)
Jermaine Johnson II (Florida State)
Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State)
Drake Jackson (USC)

Well-coached and violent, Walker’s first step is pretty great, but he’s much stronger in his run defense right now than in his pass-rush technique. He needs some coaching there. Karlaftis’s bull rush and initial pop is devastating. However, he doesn’t appear to have much length and its an open question how high his ceiling already is. A Senior Bowl standout, Johnson makes his hay with his pass-rush repertoire and high energy. He still needs to a fill out his body more to hold up against bigger, strong NFL tackles. A smaller edge player, Ebiketie gets it done based on quick penetration. He will enter the NFL as a part-time pass-rush specialist though. Similar to Johnson, Drake Jackson has the necessary speed and flexibility you want in a rusher, but he needs to devote himself to improving his run defense if he wants to be a full-time starter on the field.

Tier III

Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina)
Boye Mafe (Minnestota)
Sam Williams (Ole Miss)
Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati)

Enagbare’s lack of speed and stiffness as a rusher probably both limit his impact and ability to threaten NFL tackles’ outside shoulders. Thanks to his hand usage and initial burst though, his floor is high. Another Senior Bowl standout, Mafe looks like a solid developmental option who is a bit smaller than some of his peers. Rumors are that Sam Williams will test very well at the Combine, but on the field he is very raw in several facets. You have to love Sanders’s length, but he’s not strong and he’s not particularly bendy either.

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