Bears

Hub Arkush’s 2022 NFL draft positional preview: Edge rusher

Georgia's Travon Walker celebrates after sacking Missouri quarterback Tyler Macon on Nov. 6, 2021, in Athens, Ga.

Forgive the hyperbole but this could prove to be one of the best classes of pass rushers ever and is clearly the deepest position in this draft.

Aidan Hutchinson seems likely to be the first overall pick or at second at worst, and as many as six or seven could go in the first round and at least 10-to-12 should go in the first 64 picks.

The one downside is there are a number of boom-or-bust-type guys with great traits but still in need of a lot of growth, which doesn’t always happen.

There is the possibility that with so much depth some teams will wait and focus on other positions knowing there will still be great value in the third or fourth rounds.

DAY 1 PROSPECTS

1. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (6–6 ½, 260, Senior)

Born and bred to play the position, the Heisman Trophy finalist cemented his spot ahead of Kayon Thibodeaux when he played the best game of his career in the biggest game of his career against Ohio St. Hutchinson is an excellent athlete with extremely high character. He is a rare accomplished technician with great instincts, and he plays the game with a purpose and nonstop motor. There are no sure things but also no red flags on Hutchinson’s resume.

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (6-4, 254, Junior)

Thibodeaux is as good an athlete as Hutchinson. Yet, he has some wow traits he hasn’t learned how to maximize yet because he’s not nearly as far along technique-wise, but he definitely has the tools to be special. Attitude and effort are no concern but how coachable he is and how long it will take for him to reach his ceiling is the question. He’s not a one-trick pony, very solid against the run and he’s unlikely to disappoint.

3. Travon Walker, Georgia (6-5, 272, Junior)

Walker has a rare combination of size, speed and strength and is already a plus run defender, which will put him at the top of the lists of 3-4 teams looking for five-techniques. But while not a bad pass rusher, he hasn’t demonstrated great pass-rush skills and may never be a double-digit sack guy. He can be an important piece of a great defense but is unlikely to become the bell-cow.

4. David Ojabo, Michigan (6-4, 250, Redshirt Sophomore)

Ojabo was flying up draft boards following Michigan’s postseason run until he tore his Achilles at his pro day. It shouldn’t impact his pro career, but it will cost him 10-to-20 spots in the draft, possibly even dropping him to the second round. He’s a special athlete who didn’t start playing the game until five years ago. He played just 20 games in college and won’t turn 22 until mid-May. A bit of a risk as a developmental project, but his upside is huge.

5. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida St. (6-4 ½, 254, Redshirt Senior)

The kind of kid that wins general managers an Executive of the Year Award or gets them fired. A big man for such an excellent athlete with a huge wingspan and who’s still growing. But he’s an unfinished, raw prospect with just one season as a full-time starter and outstanding traits but undeveloped skills. No red flags, just nagging concerns about why he isn’t already further along than he is.

6. George Karlaftis, Purdue (6-4, 266, Junior)

Shows special flashes as a pass rusher with limited experience in just 2½ seasons at Purdue. He will have to get better against the run. Karlaftis seeks contact with a physical brand of football coaches love and has the maturity to suggest he’s NFL-ready right now.

DAY 2 PROSPECTS

7. Arnold Ebiketie, Penn St. (6-2, 250, Redshirt Senior)

Ebiketie is a bit undersized to play with a hand on the ground and doesn’t appear to have much room to add weight on his frame, but he’s an accomplished edge bender with a solid future as a pass-rush specialist as an outside edge rusher out of 30 fronts.

8. Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma (6-3, 248, Redshirt Junior)

Bonitto is another undersized athlete if you’re looking for front line defenders, but he’s an excellent pass rusher built to play the outside rush linebacker spot. He’ll excel as a penetrator and as a pass rusher in nickel and/or dime packages, but he may have some issues playing the run.

9. Boye Mafe, Minnesota (6- 4, 261, Redshirt Senior)

The Big Ten was loaded with pass rushers last season and this kid has the traits and body type to be one of the best. Great triangle numbers with the frame to get bigger, but his technique needs work. Flashes with just his God-given talent. The sky’s the limit if he learns how to use and control it.

10. Sam Williams, Mississippi (6-3 ½, 261, Senior)

His speed, quickness and agility for a man his size is impressive. He has developed some nice skills as a pass rusher, but his run-stopping abilities are a work in progress.

11. Dominique Robinson, Miami (Ohio) (6-5, 253, Senior)

Robinson is a converted wide receiver still just learning to play defense with a very impressive frame and room to add even more size. With time, coaching and a little patience, he should prove to be well worth the effort.

12. Josh Paschal, Kentucky (6-2 ½, 268, Redshirt Senior)

Paschal has outstanding character, a very impressive NFL body and he appears to be completely in love with the game. His body type and skill set will probably keep him from becoming an elite pass rusher, but he’s a very well rounded player you want in your huddle and locker room.

DAY 3 PROSPECTS

13. Cameron Thomas, San Diego St. (6-4, 267, Redshirt Junior)

14. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina (6-4, 258, Senior)

15. DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky (6-3, 243, Senior)

16. Christopher Allen, Alabama (6- 3 ½, 241, Redshirt Senior)

17. Micheal Clemons, Texas A&M (6-5, 263, Redshirt Senior)

18. Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma (6-5, 266, Redshirt Senior)

19. Zach Carter, Florida (6-4, 282, Redshirt Senior)

20. Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati (6-5 1/4, 228, Senior)

Previous entries in this series

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end

Offensive tackle

Interior offensive line

Defensive line

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.