Completing our third week of positional draft rankings, we go from offensive tackles to the guys trying beat them around the edge. With how much more hybrid NFL defenses continue to become, the distinction between 3-4 outside linebackers and defensive ends in even fronts isn’t as important, but if there’s specific scheme fits that I believe make sense, I will mention them here.
This has been a heavily discussed group, because of how strong the top of the class is, with different rankings in the top-six in particular. Yet, while I have the same names as a lot of other analysts, my order looks slightly different I would say and past that point, I think I have very different opinions to a lot of the general media outlets/big boards.
Similar to the OTs earlier in the week, there are some players, who are often listed as defensive ends, but to me qualify as interior D-linemen. Those include DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M), Logan Hall (Houston), Zachary Carter (Florida) and Isaiah Thomas (Oklahoma), among others.
Once again, this evaluation does not account for injuries or off-the-field stuff, simply because I don’t have all the information and it’s hard to measure those things anyway. So on this list, that is prevalent, because we obviously saw David Ojabo tear his Achilles at Michigan’s pro day recently.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
6’5”, 250 pounds; RS SO
The number two overall recruit in the country in 2019, Thibodeaux looked like a future number one overall pick right away as a freshman, recording 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks and three passes batted down. His second season was so-so, considering how late the Pac-12 joined the party and that it took him a while to get going, but Thibs was a nightmare in the eye of USC quarterback Kedon Slovis and beat up top-15 pick Alijah Vera-Tucker pretty good in the process in the conference championship game. This past year, he was limited a little bit by a sprained ankle, but he was still a problem to deal with when on the field, making him a first-team All-American, recording 12 TFLs, seven sacks and a couple of forced fumbles.
While he has continued to fill out his frame to some degree, I think Thibodeaux still looks and moves more like an oversized wide receiver. Still, he has the raw power to make offensive linemen look small as they collide on run plays. You see Thibodeaux truly explode through the chest of a lot of blockers, lift from the bottom in order to bend them backwards and extend his arms, to find the ball. Then he has no issues shedding those blocks and closing in on the ball, if it comes nearby. He has the change-or-direction skills and short-area burst to legitimately play both the quarterback and the option-man on zone reads and speed option. And he possesses the agility in condensed spaces to slip underneath kick-out blocks. You see Thibs absolutely blow up some run plays, where he’s lined up over the tight-end and crashes through the C-gap. And whether it’s having somebody crack back on him or banging into a pulling lineman, KT has this crazy balance to barely seem affected by it. Oregon had him slant inside at times as well, where he was able to stand up guards and not allow any flow to the front-side one zone runs. From the backside, he can shuffle along initially and then showcases the quick acceleration to chase down fast ball-carriers.
All the way back in his freshman season, Thibodeaux had a snap late against Utah in that Pac-12 title game, where the right tackle instantly flipped his hips and still barely touched the talented edge rusher because of his ridiculous speed off the edge. That was the day he announced himself to the rest of the country, with 2.5 sacks and blocked a punt, despite playing limited snaps. KT’s first step is pretty much in a class of his own. He can make tackles look like they’re leaning over a table, with the angles he can turn the corner on and how quickly he gets to their outside hip, while packing a strong rip, to create a shorter angle to the QB. Plus, then he brings some serious force when he buries those hands into the blocker and he can put them on their behind. He did so a couple of times in the 2020 conference championship against USC, when he put several licks on quarterback Kedon Slovis and was a big factor in forcing him to throw three interceptions. His stutter-bull could become jarring. Thibodeaux also has one of the deadliest up-and-under moves I’ve seen from a college prospect in his bag, thanks to the way he can stress the outside initially. This guy is a problem to deal with on any types of games up front, where he has that ability to kind of slither through the O-line and then the punch power to work through contact, as somebody does slide in front of him. While he may not win cleanly all the time as a pass-rusher, what I appreciate about him is that he consistently adjusts, to take the direct path to the quarterback, and how shockingly fast he gets there once he sees an angle for himself. And you see it on a few snaps, where he’s chasing the passer, who decides to redirect and it almost looks like a workout drill, where he sticks his foot in the ground and completely changes direction. I saw Thibodeaux get cut at the line and still bear-crawl his way to the quarterback without losing a ton of time. He lined up at three-technique on rush downs a lot more last season, where his quickness was too much to handle for guards and then he could push through the inside shoulder to open that lane for himself. Along with his seven lacks last year, he had 41 additional pressures on 290 pass-blocking snaps.
While Thibodeaux can create pretty direct angles towards the quarterback by tilting around the corner, he doesn’t necessarily have great bend to actively flatten at the top of his rush. At this point he is engaging offensive linemen too straight-up instead of stressing the edge and he should still be more cognizant of building up a pass-rush plan altogether. He doesn’t feature a very diverse set of rush maneuvers at this point, often being content with running into blockers and trying to drive them backwards. Thibodeaux’s arms barely measure in above the 33-inch mark and he’s on the smaller side for edge defenders altogether. In the run game, he gets overly focused on just physically overwhelming blockers, rather than defending the scheme and seeing the ball throughout. Plus, he is too undisciplined as a contain defender, wanting to peak and often shoot inside, which allows the back to work around him on some occasions. And while it may be overstated, he doesn’t chase the ball with relentless motor necessarily.
I get why a lot of people would prefer Hutchinson as an immediate impact-starter and Thibodeaux still has a long way to go technically to become a truly dominant player, but for me the high-end talent I saw in number five for Oregon was just on a different level. To me, all the talk about KT being focused on his brand and being overly confident, is absolutely ridiculous – even though I didn’t love how he handled skipping the on-field workout at the combine and his weird reasoning. For the people saying he took a step back last year, not only was the ankle bothering him, but just go back to the Cal game, where he created 11 pressures in the second half alone (as he was coming off a target penalty the week prior), or look at what he did to those UCLA tackles. In terms of the type of player you should expect, while the size would suggest a Von Miller type coming out of college, to me he presents more of a Jadeveon Clowney-type profile. Thibodeaux had stretches of dominance in college already and he’s still so far from actually reaching his potential, that his physical gifts provide him with.
2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
6’6”, 270 pounds; SR
Nicknamed “Mr. Michigan”, this former four-star recruit barely got to see the field as a rotational player his first year at Ann Arbor, due to having Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich in front of him. When he took over as a starter, Hutchinson put up a very high tackle total in 2019 with 69 of those, which 10 of them went for a loss and he recorded 3.5 sacks. After just two games of his junior season, he broke his leg and missed the rest of the year. He came back in year four and turned himself into a different beast, showing out big-time on a weekly basis, which made him a unanimous first-team All-American and a Heisman finalist, having racked up 62 total tackles, 16.5 of those for loss, 14 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes batted down.
While his production as a pass-rusher is what earned Hutchinson most of the attention he received this past season, he may actually be a better run-defender. He consistently was able to attack the chest of blockers with his hands and set a physical edge, to where tackles were forced to take a couple of steps backwards at the point of attack. Hutchinson can overwhelm tight-ends when soloed up against them and can dislodge them in the run-game, especially when the back tries to cut a run back his way or tries to press front-side, while keeping vision on the backfield. He doesn’t shy away from taking on pulling guards head-on and creating chaos in the backfield either. His pursuit as the unblocked backside defensive end is so great, that he quickly takes stuff off the play-sheet, after the offense sees him blow those up. Even if Hutchinson isn’t directly at the point of attack, he can make an impact by crashing the inside gap, with well-timed hand-swipes, or squeeze his man inside to minimize the size of the B-gap. He displays outstanding effort, chasing after the ball until the echo of the whistle, and he shows uncommon overall awareness for a defensive lineman, like clueing a potential screen alert for the offense by pre-snap alignments or calling out pulling guards on multiple occasions before the play starts (especially in the Indiana game).
Hutchinson has tremendous snap anticipation and advanced hand-fighting skills. Two of his go-to maneuvers are the scissors or swim move, where working from wide alignment on most passing down, he can bait the hands of the tackle by taking a direct angle initially and then widening his path to get around the guy. While he may not have the longest arms, you saw him follow up outside rush moves more and more with a rip-through to actually clear the reach of blockers, when they were able to still stay engaged with him to some degree. Even from a pretty high two-point stance, Hutchinson can create a lot of power to drive tackles backwards once he’s set them up with his upfield burst earlier. He routinely put a potential first-round left tackle next year in Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland on his heels that way. There may be more dynamic athletes at the position, but one thing that you see routinely on tape with the former Wolverine is the balance issues he causes for blockers and that he catches them “on the wrong foot”. That was already apparent against Bucs’ first-round pick Tristan Wirfs all the way back in their 2019 matchup. At the same time, Hutchinson has the quick twitch to cross-face blockers and get through the inside lane cleanly, when it opens up for him, quickly recognizing when tackles overset him. In particular, he’s been highly effective with presenting a quick stutter and then crashing through the inside shoulder of tackles. He was able to beat the Ohio State tackles on several occasions in their matchup this past season. A large portion of Hutchinson’s production as a pass-rusher came in second halves, due to his ability to decipher but also set up blockers. He recorded 60(!) extra pressures along with his 14 sacks, which were more than any other player in the draft.
While Hutchinson anticipates the snap well, he has a bad tendency of adding a false step that with that back-foot, in order to push off with a slight kick-back. He doesn’t have the elite burst or flexibility to win cleanly around the edge I would say, And as wll as that scissors-swipe works for him, tackles who quick-set him or just get their hands inside his chest first give him trouble, because he doesn’t have the length (only 32.5-inch arms) to disengage from blocks at times. Plus, while the speed-to-power conversion is impressive, I’m not sure if he can actually straight-up bull-rush NFL tackles. Going back to 2020 Citrust Bowl, Hutchinson’ clearly met his with those two great Alabama OTs and then in his final college game – the Orange Bowl – Georgia’s tackles were able to make him far less effective, neutralizing inside moves on several occasions and being able to anchor down against the bull-rush. Hutch showed me a different side to him last year and he has great lateral agility, but I don’t at him as an athletic phenom, like most non-QB first overall picks.
Some people may say it’s a bit of a lazy comparison, but Aidan to me even looks like one of the Bosa brother in that number 97 jersey. In terms of the hand swipes and strong anchor in the run game, they are very much alike, but they also share a lack of arm length and the bend is more reminiscent of Joey. Hutchinson’s 4.74 in the 40 may actually be slightly below-average for edge defenders this year at the combine, but he did lead the group in both the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle. I may not have him at number one, like almost every ranking these days it seems like, but I still like the players a lot. Hutch plays with good motor and has already shown plenty of alignment flexibility, as the Wolverines move him inside quite a bit on passing downs, even letting him work one-on-one against centers at times. Looking back at the ’21 season, he seemingly got better every single week and will forever keep a spot in the heart of fans of the Maize and Blue, when he helped them finally defeat Ohio State in the “The Game”, racking up three sacks, to earn the school’s all-time record for a season.
3. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
6’4”, 260 pounds; RS SR
The number one overall JUCO recruit in 2019, Johnson ransferred over from Georgia during the 2021 offseason, transitioning from a rotational player, that showed some flashes (five sacks in seven games of 2020), into an every-down impact player. He turned himself into a second-team All-American selection, thanks to 17.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, a couple of forced fumbles and PBUs each, along with a scoop-and-score.
There’s some real jolt in those hands to rock the pads of blockers backwards and set a hard edge in the run game with Johnson. He keeps vision through the block, taking advantage of the “one arm being longer two” principle and doesn’t prematurely try to slip guys. Yet, then he’s sudden with his ability to disengage and meet ball-carriers as they try to cross the line of scrimmage. You see tight-ends really kick those feet into the turf with high frequency trying to move Johnson off the spot, but he keeps them locked out and then has the lateral movement skills to wrap up the back, as he tries to go slice up the gap to either side of them. When guys do overset him on down-blocks, Johnson has the short-agility and flexibility to step around and into the B-gap, while reducing the near-shoulder, to completely kill the frontside, unless the ball-carrier decides to bubble all the way around. He puts good discipline on display, to stay home on the backside of bootlegs and against reverses. Then he displays freaky closing burst to run down ball-carriers to the sideline and he’s someone you can’t leave unblocked on fly sweeps. Overall, he’s very natural with his hand usage and he gives you 100 percent every plays, despite averaging 61(!) snaps a contest last season, basically never coming off the field.
Johnson is at his best as a pass-rusher when he can stress with his burst and then transition to the long-arm, where he can put blockers on skates at times. Overall, speed-to-power is his go-to move and when he hits the outside pec of the tackle the right way, he can significantly shorten the arc. He had one play rushing off the left side against Miami last season, where he literally made the right tackle do a full 360-degree spin before getting a strip-sack himself. Off that, he packs a nice scissors move where he initially takes a direct angle up the middle of blockers and then almost euro-steps back to the outside, paired with the swipe-action to swat away the hands of the opponent. If he continues to work on those hesitation moves, combined with the pop in his hands, he could create major issues for tackles. And he has the mobility in his hips and ankles to flatten at the top of the rush that way. Johnson routinely crowds passing lanes by getting his arms up and when he’s closing in on the quarterback with those branches in the air, you see some real discomfort by the passer trying to get the ball over/around him. His effort as a pass-rusher is also highly impressive, as he overruns the QB at times or his rush stalls, but he tracks down that guy anyway as the scramble start. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Western Michigan’s Ali Fayad are the only players in this draft, who recorded more than Johnson’s 12 sacks this past season, plus he had 32 additional pressures in 2021. In early February, he went down to the Senior and proceeded to whoop ass for two straight days, basically winning every single rep in one-on-one’s in decisive fashion and in a variety of ways, where his combination of length, power, speed and technique were just too much for opponents.
The first question with Johnson is why it never worked out for him Georgia with those kinds of physical tools, as talented as that Bulldog may have been. In general, he is often a tad bit late off the ball. The timing and placement of his downward chops is off by quite a bit on occasion, which doesn’t allow him to actually clear the hips of blockers and flatten his rush. He utilizes the outside spin move on too many occasions, where it’s now almost impossible to create an angle towards the passer anymore. I don’t believe Johnson has the flexibility to truly bend underneath the reach of blockers consistently and he gets too predictable with setting up his inside moves. And overall, he needs to learn how to fluidly transition into a secondary move, where he gets into too many stalemates, even though he does continue to chase, but just not getting to the quarterback at the top of his drop. At times I would also like him to just not get hung up with tight-ends sealing his on the backside of boots for example.
Johnson has had an OUTSTANDING pre-draft process. What he did down in Mobile was so damn impressive, that his agent probably called him up and told him to shut it down after those first two practices. Then he followed that up by running a 4.58 in the 40 and had a 10’5” broad jump at the combine, weighing in at 258 pounds. His burst out of his stance and ability to take advantage of tackles having to respect his speed could end up with a lot of guys getting driven into their quarterback’s lap, while his condor-like 83-inch wingspan offers a lot of room for error, and he sets a very physical edge in the run game. He will have to continue working on his craft and develop a reliable second move as a pass-rusher, but there are no physical limitations to really speak of.
4. Travon Walker, Georgia
6’5”, 275 pounds; JR
A five-star recruit in 2019 (number three defensive tackle), Walker was a rotational player for that loaded Bulldog defenses the first two years (5.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks combined). He finally did step into a more prominent role this past season, when he put up 33 total tackles, 7.5 of those for loss, six sacks and two passes batted down, ending the season with a national championship.
This guy has lined up anywhere from one- to seven-technique at UGA and transformed his body depending on where they needed him to play. He may be one of the very few players actually capable of playing anywhere across the front even if he doesn’t know what exactly to do yet. If you tag him as an edge defender, I’m not sure if there’s a stronger guy in this class. Walker comes out of his stance with his hands ready to strike and rock the pads of blockers backwards, while having those long arms to keep guys away from his chest. You see him at times get combo-ed on the front-side with the tight-end and he’s not moving off the spot whatsoever. When he’s sealed off on the backside, Walker can just drive the tackle behind the center at times, to create chaos in the backfield. Having him matched up with tight-ends will likely end with those guys getting rag-dolled or Walker flat-out crashing through the inside shoulder and chasing the play down. He can redirect without really any wasted steps and when he chases the ball, he always moves faster than it looks like he does. In particular as he shuffles laterally initially and then just takes off to chase things down as an unblocked man. And Walker is a strong tackler, who can stop momentum and pull ball-carriers backwards. A play that isn’t talked about enough from Natty was when Alabama threw one of their receivers a shallow crosser, who broke the first tackle and looked like he may out-angle the safety for six, but Walker came from being tangled up in the middle to chasing the ball down 20 yards downfield at the numbers.
Walker operated quite a bit out of a four-point stance on all three downs. He packs a mean long-arm maneuver, which you see some blockers brace themselves for at times. Plus, then he can pull very large men off himself, once they start leaning into him, like they’re 200 pounds. He has the flexibility to contort his body on wider angles and make it tough to cut off his path, as linemen have to switch onto him on twists and stuff like that. What I like about Walker as a pass-rusher is that if he gets close, but there’s still a blocker in his way or the guard has slid over, he doesn’t try to find a different path anymore, but just powers through and takes away the quarterback’s space to step up. And as he wins on an inside move, he can still compress the pocket, even when the guard slides over to help out. Walker’s production as a pass-rusher was limited by having zo slant inside and open a lane for one of his teammates and not being put in wide alignments, to create more favorable angles. Still, you see snaps on tape where he lines up at one-technique and loop all the way around the tackle and reach the passer at the climax of the drop. Even as the set-up man on twists, he can power through the reach of blockers, to get home. On a few obvious passing situations, he times up the snap perfectly, to explode like a fire-ball. Walker was put over guards quite a bit on longer downs last year, where the initial twitch can give those opponents issues. Altogether, he had nine more QB hits and 20 hurries, to go with his six sacks. And he has plenty of experience dropping into the hook area, especially on the field side, and taking away the number three at times when stemming down the seams – although I wouldn’t say he looks super-comfortable in space necessarily yet.
However, too often Walker is the last guy out of his stance for the Georgia D-line. He simply doesn’t have much of a plan as a pass-rusher at this point and just bangs into bodies on a lot of occasions – particularly on the interior – and it’s not like he has some secondary moves to win anyway. When it’s all coming together, it can be beautiful, but Walker’s upper and lower half aren’t always in sync, he doesn’t attack half the man consistently enough and puts stress on blockers with his initial approach, before going after the area, that they leave themselves vulnerable at. He lacks some feel for timing up games up front and understanding how to approach blockers in his way. While I love the natural power, there’s certainly a bull-in-the-china-shop “quality” to him and he will have to refine his technique, to actually win cleanly with hand-swipes. There’s not a whole lot to criticize as a run-defender, but at times he seems pre-occupied with his blocker and doesn’t decipher schemes.
Travon Walker has had a meteoric rise since the conclusion of this past season, as people fell in love with the freaky upside he presents. Dane Brugler was first to talk about him as a top-tier prospect, having him at number six overall on his big board back in February. Then Walker went to combine and put on an absolute show, when he ran a 4.51 in the 40 at 272(!) pounds, was good in the jumps and top-three in both agility events for the position. More importantly, people his size should not be able to move as easy in space and go through the bag drills the way he did. And his hips looked so loose running the figure-eight and bending that inside shoulder. With that being, he is so much of a projection as a pass-rusher, because he didn’t have a ton of success actually winning around the corner and showing that he can string together moves, by having his hands and lower body unified. At this point, he seems to be a lock for the top-five, which is too rich for me. He has the physical tools to end up as the best defensive player in this draft, but he still has a long way to go.
5. George Karlaftis, Purdue
6’4”, 275 pounds; JR
Once having been a member of the U-16 Greek national water polo team as a 13-year-old, Karlaftis came other to the US in 2014, after his father had died of a heart attack. He became a two-time Indiana state champion in the shot put and quickly acclimated himself to the life on the gridiron. Karlaftis joined the nearby Purdue Boilermakers in 2019 and immediately was a monster for them on the field, racking up 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two PBUs and fumble recoveries as a freshman. He appeared in only two games the following season, due to a combination of injury and COVID, before turning it back on in 2021, when he was named first-team All-Big Ten, recording ten TFLs, 4.5 sacks, four PBUs, a couple of fumbles forced and recovered, along with a scoop-and-score.
Even though the nickname of “The Greek Freak” will probably be limited to NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karlaftis presents a dense, muscular frame. He has the body type to play five-technique and has been part of some odd fronts, but also has plenty of experience rushing from a two-point stance. This guy is one of the most “smack-you-in-the-face” type of players in this draft. He plays with heavy hands against the run and mostly controls offensive tackles, being able to pull them off himself to either direction. Karlaftis does a good job of keeping full extension and contorting his body, so he can lean in against blocks and not get moved off the spot. He stops the flow on zone run plays routinely. If tackles overstride with their first step, he can instantly switch to the inside and pairs it up with an effective hand-swipe to slip those blocks. When unblocked on the backside, he flatten hard down the line and is ready to bang into sifts underneath the formation. Yet, when the quarterback rides the mesh point to potentially pull the ball, Karlaftis switches to a shuffle, before tracking the ball down with good burst. And when tight-ends try to seal him away from the play, he caves in the edge by driving those guy into the middle. Karlaftis is one of the better tacklers you will find on the edge, wrapping up and flattening ball-carriers from the side routinely.
Karlaftis’ first step and activity level as more a true 4-3 defensive end improved a lot in 2021 I think, where he’s now consistently the first to attack the hands of blockers. It also applies to the way he shoots upfield initially, to make tackles respect the speed rush, to go with converting that effectively into power and forklifting guys. Karlaftis is very efficient and non-stop with his hand usage, while keeping his pads low to reduce the surface area for blockers to target. You can tell that he’s worked a lot on his hand-combat maneuvers and there’s no pause from one to another, to clear the hands of his man. He often operated out of two-point stance with the “wrong” foot forward, so he could take a more direct path towards the quarterback and condense the edge, with an often devastating bull-rush. Karlaftis is a pretty complete pass-rusher coming out of college already, with the initial burst to get tackles out of their vertical sets, but then the power to make them pay for getting too tall, while displaying awareness for when they overset to the outside, at times slapping at the inside hand and swimming over the top. Karlaftis also shows good recognition and countering skills against backs coming over to chip or wing-men working across the formation towards him off play-action. And opposing teams started sliding protections and giving him extra attention more and more in ’21. He may only have had 4.5 sacks, but he added 14 more hits on the QB, along with 35 hurries on 335 pass-rush snaps.
With that in mind, Karlaftis simply isn’t the most twitched-up, sudden athlete. He’s such a linear pass-rusher. There’s some stiffness to his movement and he can’t pair hand-swipes and cross-face steps in a very fluid way, to beat tackles cleanly on inside counters. His spin moves in particular aren’t very effective, because he’s barely moving off the spot, At 32 ½ inches his arms are at the low spectrum for edge rushers and you see that show up at times, when can’t quite reach the elbow of tackles trying to land clubs. And if his first two steps are upfield, he doesn’t have the natural flexibility to curve his rush to the quarterback without having to initiate contact. Karlaftis has to do a better job of avoiding holds or at least making the officials aware of it, by forcing guys to stretch at his jersey – even though he has certainly started doing a better job of working through contact. And I would just like to see a more defined rush plan, rather than throwing a bunch of different stuff at tackles. While Karlaftis is a very physical run-defender, when blockers do catch from the side on angular blocks, you see him not be able to anchor that way. And overall the lateral agility to come off blocks and set the tackle needs improvement.
This is an ultra-physical player with a non-stop motor. Karlaftis looks and feels like somebody who spent almost too much time lifting heavy weight, to where he’s not loose enough in certain areas you would like from an alpha pass-rusher, and his length will make defeating the hands of blockers more challenging. However, if you’re looking for somebody to re-set the line of scrimmage in the run game and collapse the pocket with power off the edge, along with setting the tone for your defense with his all-out effort, this guy can be a quality starter for a long time. He does need to become more efficient with actually disengaging from blocks though and a push-pull off the bull-rush should become a key component of his game.
6. David Ojabo, Michigan
6’5”, 250 pounds; JR
A four-star recruit in 2019, Ojabo grew up in Nigeria and moved to Scotland when he was seven years old. Ten years later, he came to the US and initially started playing basketball, yet received 35 football scholarships. He really didn’t have any role for Michigan’s defense until his junior year, having played just 26 total snaps, due to all the guys the Wolverines had in front of him – Kwity Paye, Joshua Uche, etc. However, when he got his chance, he immediately became one of the biggest threats rushing off the edge, recording 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and three passes knocked down, making him a second-team All-American this past season.
Ojabo may not be that close to being a great run-defender, but it’s certainly not due to a lack of willingness to contribute. He keeps his outside arm free against in that area and rarely gets beat around the corner, even by wide receivers on sweeps and stuff. And I saw him crash low into pulling guards and tight-ends sifting across to him on kick-outs on multiple occasions going through his film. When left unblocked on the backside of run plays, Ojabo has tremendous accelerate to chase the ball-carrier down from behind. As tight-ends/wings try to seal him away from the play, he has the agility to slip over the top and flow to the ball on lateral run scheme. And something I saw times on tape was how well he sold or rather indicated holds, as blockers grabbed at the outside of his shoulder-pads and slightly held him back. Ojabo was peeled off the edge a few times last year and while it was very basic, just standing up and being in the way of quick in-breakers, he can show off his speed to chase down receivers after catching the ball.
This kid was the speed-ball to Aidan Hutchinson’s more technique-based dominance on the opposite side. Ojabo has great explosion off the snap, the ability to reduce his inside shoulder and bend around the corner, which paired with good snap anticipation, forces tackles to flip their shoulders almost instantly at times. Whether it’s the ghost or the dip-and-rip, Ojabo can win around the loop consistently. You see him get so low at times that he can actually touch the ground with the inside hand. Plus, we’ve seen him be able to defeat the hands as he’s running the loop, by pulling the low-arm up forcefully and using that momentum to shorten the arc even further. Ojabo is so sudden in his movement and can almost lull tackles to sleep at times with hesitation maneuvers. He already does a good job of keeping blockers off balance with some uncommon step sequences, without being able to pair that up with diverse hand-combats yet. And this is a guy, where your quarterback has to be aware of where he’s coming from and that he can’t escape the other way, because once Ojabo can widen his path a little bit and run after that guy, he will get there in a hurry. Along with his 11 sacks, he had 33 more pressures on exactly 300 pass-rush snaps last year.
At this point, Ojabo isn’t rather poor at defending the run, at least certainly trying to hold his ground on the front-side. You see him get taken for a ride on several occasions and offenses made it a priority to go right at him. He almost exclusively lined up on the weak side of the formation and in a seven-alignment or further out, being allowed to chase from the back-side, if he was even out there on early downs. And overall, his game is very reactive at this point, not ID-ing run schemes and having to process run-pass altogether. He barely saw the field against Georgia, when they ran the ball. As a pass-rusher, it’s all about speed at this point, without any dependable hand-swipes to call upon, other than the rip. There’s no real power element to speak of. Ojabo gets caught with his back to the blocker at times, when attempting lethargic spins, if hung up initially. And he limited his speed a lot of times, by this little hop out of his stance, while typically not being first to come off the ball. Obviously, the big concern with Ojabo is that torn Achilles he suffered at the Michigan pro day, which will knock him out for his rookie campaign and he may never be fully back to that explosion he showed before – which for him particularly is a huge deal.
I feel really bad for this young man, because without the Achilles, he’s most likely a top-20 pick. Looking back at some other prospects, who suffered that same kind of injury in the pre-draft process, the few that come to mind simply never made it all the way back in terms of athletic traits. That being said, if he can get all the way back – which potentially could take all the way until 2024 – Ojabo has that speed off the edge that you simply can’t teach. With his ability to bend and the feel for setting up blockers with hesitation moves, to momentarily stop the opponent’s feet and now if he can develop reliable hand-swipes, he can clear the hips and close on the quarterback. To be a full-time player, he will have to add more muscle to his frame and work on his run-defense altogether, but if he returns all the way to form, his ability to stress the edge on passing downs is something the NFL covets highly.
7. Boye Mafe, Minnesota
6’4”, 255 pounds; SR
Just a three-star recruit in 2017, Mafe’s playing time increased every season with the Gophers (4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two batted passes in 2020). His career was highlighted by an excellent senior year, when he recorded ten TFLs, seven sacks and a fumble forced, making him a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
Mafe mostly lines up in a two-point stance with the outside foot forward and his body aimed directly at the tackle, while switching into a more parallel position if he tight-end is motioned in/over to him. Thanks to that alignment, he can be the one establishing contact in the run game and not allow blockers to move him off the spot when he’s at the point of attack. Mafe’s ability to flow laterally on the backside of zone runs with his shoulders nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage is super impressive, plus then he can slip underneath sift-blocks across the formation in fluid fashion and chase down the running back, usually wrap up effectively. When a tight-end tries to seal him off on the back-side, he has the upper body strength to press that guy off and create an angle on the ball for himself. He doesn’t shy away from crashing into a pulling guard and stopping the momentum right there, and overall he muddies up the picture in the backfield on several occasions. Mafe has the athleticism to shuffle with somebody slipping underneath the formation on leak routes and then make that transition to bearing down on the quarterback in a hurry. The coaches trusted him to even pump tight-ends off the line and then run with them down the seams or match running backs on wheel routes, where he has some highly impressive tape of running with guys 20+ yards down the field. Of course, he also did with more simplistic spot-drops, where he can quickly cover ground and is an asset at chasing down receivers to eliminate potential for YAC.
The Gopher standout displays great acceleration up the arc and a rapid inside-arm that he can swipe up or down with, to clear himself from the tackle’s reach, along with an effective swim move and ability to flick the hips around. He’s very sudden to get around blockers and if guys stop their feet momentarily, they’ll open up shortly after, trying to chase after him. He flashes a very promising cross-chop, which could do wonders in combination with that. And he packs more force than you’d think, to where he can get tackles off balance at times, when they get too far onto their heels or he catches them lunging, by lifting at the inside shoulder and pushing them further upfield, in order to open up a path to the quarterback. Then he has the closing burst to run quarterbacks down, trying to escape either way. As he continues to diversify his pass-rush portfolio, learning to incorporate subtle hesitation moves, along with his bursty style, will make him only more dangerous. On obvious passing downs, Mafe will at times put the inside hand down with a lot of weight out in front, looking almost like a sprinter, in order to get out of his tracks as explosively as possible. You see some Minnesota B-gap blitzers have a freeway to run through because of the way he attacks vertically. Overall, Mafe recorded 42 total pressures on 257 pass-rush snaps last season.
With that being said, Mafe has to do a better job of establishing half-man relationships in the run and pass game. He gets his eyes trapped inside a few times, particularly when he sees traffic coming his way, such as sift blocks by a tight-end or wing-man, and he loses his contain in the process. Ohio State’s Miyan Williams had a 71-yard touchdown largely thanks to Mafe shuffling inside to take on the tight-end working underneath the formation, whilst the running back was headed for the sideline already. Once linemen are able to get into his frame, he struggles to disengage, and he needs to do a better job of feeling down-blocks, when the offense pulls the tackle out to the corner on toss plays, as they’re able to pin him inside, rather than him being able to work over the top. As a pass-rusher his biggest limitation is the lack of length at 32 ½ inches and the fact he doesn’t yet know how to maximize it, as a lot of hand-combats don’t quite defeat the hands of blockers and they quickly re-attach after slipping off a little bit momentarily.
Mafe is another guy who general draft media only started to catch up with since this past season concluded. He had an excellent Senior Bowl week, where his ability to win around the corner and then work some different moves off that was on display throughout practices. PFF handed him the highest pass-rushing grade among edge defenders during practices for, and then he ended the week with a couple of sacks, including one strip in the actual game. He also had a monster combine, finishing above the 90th percentile in the 40 (4.53), the vert (38 inches) and the broad jump (10’5”) at 261 pounds, while skipping the agility drills. I wish he was a little bit longer and he has to take his contain responsibilities more seriously, but he has the physical tools to be a high-level speed rusher and chase-player in the run game.
8. Drake Jackson, USC
6’3”, 250 pounds; JR
The number six defensive end recruit in 2019, Jackson recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three PBUs as a true freshman. His numbers were basically cut in half during a six-game 2020 season, although he did pick off a pass and present his physical profile of a eventual top-ten pick, which encouraged him to announce that 2021 was his final college campaign. This past season, he was named second-team All-Pac-12 for recording eight TFLs, five sacks and one’s across the board for interceptions, PBUs, fumbles forced and recovered.
Simply visually, Jackson looks like an alien sent to earth, in order to play on the edge. He has those really long arms hanging to below his knees and good thickness in his lower half. This guy creates issues in the run game with his heavy hands to set the edge and short-area quickness to back-door blockers. He can make the heads of tight-ends snap backwards at first contact and will fight across the face of zone-blockers on the backside of run plays, routinely taking the tight-end wuth him a good five yards sideways as he works his way down the line. However, when he’s allowed to back-door blockers on the edge, he will make them miss before they can process what happened. And when he’s left unblocked altogether away from the action, he has the speed to flatten down the line and chase down fast running backs. At times he will also show his impressive ability to go from a full sprint when chasing the ball to redirecting and shutting down reverses.
Man, does Jackson has some shake to him as a pass-rusher. He’s truly one of those guys, who you have to respect, being able win inside and out. Jackson packs a sudden rip move, the ability to drop the hips and run nearly parallel to the ground as he’s working around the corner, whilst pushing hard off the ground when he tries to circle back around, if he’s slightly past the quarterback. The dude has next-level change of direction to counter back to the inside, when tackles overset him. Yet, then he has the incredible flexibility to dip underneath the reach of tackles and win on ghost moves, after he’s made them respect the willigness to win inside. His ability to stab at the chest of blockers and keep them off himself on one-arm maneuvers is something you see all over his tape. There’s certainly potential to incorporate that into more multi-faceted rush maneuvers, such as stutter-bull rushes and power-to-speed. Jackson is dangerous stunting through interior gaps, with his ability to reduce his frame and crash through. You saw him slant inside and flawlessly transition to the arm-over against guards sliding over and work around them. Last year, he quietly put up 26 total pressures on 182 pass-rush snaps. Jackson was asked to peel off with the running back releasing into the flats and he was used quite a bit to match pass-catchers underneath, dictating their release initially and crowding those windows as he passes those off. He’s a very loose mover in space altogether and you saw him bang receivers to the turf on several occasions.
Had an incredible interception whilst leaping backwards against San Jose State on a screen passes and also had a nice run-back for a few yards, by making a couple of linemen miss
This certainly has something to do with what coaches allowed Jackson to do, but at this point Jackson isn’t a very disciplined run-defender, whether it’s jumping inside of guys on the edge or letting the quarterback get around him when keeping the ball on zone-reads and bootlegs. He’s still learning how to read run schemes properly and not just go after the ball. He doesn’t play half the man and extend his arms to control the point of attack, while still learning how to properly deconstruct blocks. In the pass game, he delays his start with a significant step backwards, he doesn’t have a ton of jolt in his hands when engaging with offensive linemen and he’s not always in full-on attack mode as a rusher. Jackson has to do a better job of using that length and keeping his frame clean in the pass game. Once blockers land a punch inside his frame, his rush dies out significantly. And he overruns the arc on too many occasions, not showing the ability to shorten his path by transitioning to power. As much as I like Jackson’s ability to beat tackles inside on up-and-under moves, when opponents do have the post leg ready to mirror, he doesn’t show the quick secondary hand-swipe or power to win anyway.
With his movement skills and natural athleticism, I believe Jackson could develop into an excellent RUSH linebacker. In terms of rushing the passer, he’s at his best as a wide-nine technique, where his ability to bend around the corner and cross-face tackles who overset him. He’s not a reliable edge-setter in more defined run fits and he lacks much of a power element as a pass-rusher, but I just don’t get how he’s so overlooked in this class. This guy has some elite traits for an edge defenders and he still has plenty of room to grow. To me he’s a no-doubt top ten prospect at the position. Hopefully he reminded NFL evaluators of that, with how easily he moved around during positional drills at the combine and the fact he had top-tier numbers in vert (36.5 inches) and broad jump (10’7”), while looking to have bulked up a bit.
9 Josh Paschal, Kentucky
6’3”, 270 pounds; SR
A four-star recruit in 2017, Paschal contributed in every game as a freshman, before ending up with a redshirt in year two, due to having multiple surgeries for malignant melanoma. Over these last three years, he has been a full-time starter and played pretty well (16 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick), until really breaking onto the scene this past season, with 15 tackles for loss and five sacks, including one strip, making him a second-team All-SEC selection.
Having split his time pretty equally between five-technique and outside the tackle, along with 110 snaps inside, Paschal has great length and girth throughout his frame, making him attractive for anything from a three- to a seven-technique. He plays with heavy hands and great extension in the run game. I thought he really improved his physicality in that area this past season. Paschal showcases the strong base to anchor against bumps from the side and not allow quick combo-actions to affect him a whole lot. Against combos with the tight-end, the former Wildcat really attacks the outside man and doesn’t allow actual double-teams that way, by creating a gap between the two and limiting the movement at the point of attack in significant fashion. And if he sees an opportunity, he has the suddenness to back-door zone blockers in impressive fashion with the high swim, to create negative plays. As tackles try to scoop-block him the backside of zone runs, he has the upper body strength to lock them out, in order to work down the line, or ride them into the lap of the running back. When slanted outside from a head-up alignment on the tackle, tight-ends don’t really stand a chance at sealing him there and he instantly flattens down the line, in order to run down the back. If he’s allowed to just chase as the unblocked man, his pursuit is relentless. Yet, on snaps where he’s given contain assignments in those situations, he shuffles along tightly to the last man at the line with parallel shoulders and even when it looks like the quarterback seemingly has the angle to get out wide on bootlegs, Paschal displays tremendous closing burst to force the ball to come out and often be thrown away. Pro Football Focus credited him with a Power-Five leading 12.4% run stop rate in 2021 and he had 12 solo tackles for loss.
For playing at about 270 pounds, Paschal shows some serious juice out of his stance on passing downs as well. He has some of the most violent hands in this draft, where that initial club routinely creates upper body rotation for blockers and opens up the lane to stop through, as Paschal follows up with the rip or swim. However, he’s also incredibly twitchy for that size, often times giving a little shake when he has room to operate and making blockers stop their feet momentarily. Paschal shows the flexibility to disconnect his upper and lower half to some degree and corner around blockers. As a three-technique in particular, that ability to beat guards across their face, as they set to the outside, leads to him running right at the QB on several occasions. Those qualities could make him a nightmare to pick up on twists, as the set-up man or wide looper. This guy has the natural force to break the anchor of large men routinely. He truly takes guys for a ride when he commits to power and then can pull cloth to discard them. Yet, once he feels blockers take their eyes down, as they dip their head into contact, he pulls out a rapid arm-over to get past them. When slanted inside and guards don’t have their eyes on him in slide-protection, I’ve seen straight-up put those guys on their behinds on several occasions. Watching the Georgia game, you see him make one of the strongest offensive lines in the country get physically overwhelmed on quite a few snaps. When you look at Paschal’s pass-rush win rate of 16.3 percent, it’s a slight step down from the top of the group, but it’s still pretty impressive considering how often he had to widen his rushes from head-up alignments of the tackle or would have a guard slide over towards him, because Kentucky didn’t have anybody else to really scare offenses on passing downs.
At this point, Paschal is not a very refined pass-rush, often times just banging into bodies and not getting those clean wins in that regard. His aiming points are slightly off on a large percentage of his rushes and he doesn’t yet attack the edges of blockers efficiently enough. While I would certainly argue he makes more of an impact on passing downs than the numbers would indicate, coming up half a sack short of double-digits over the course of these last three years (35 games), speaks to his inability to finish in that regard. The physicality and want to be a great run defender are certainly there, but Paschal is a little slow to ID chemes still, having to fight through seal-offs or down-blocks on the backside, at times whilst the guy in front of him was used as a puller, and getting pinned inside initially when offenses try to get the ball out to the perimeter. He also rarely saw reverses coming. He also limits his ability to control the point of attack, because head-up linemen are able to get their base around before he can step into his gap, forcing him to work over the top of those running blocks.
While I wouldn’t say that they’re quite the same time, watching Paschal’s tape gave me flashbacks of evaluating Dayo Odeyingbo at Vanderbilt a year ago. Both are just such violent players with positional versatility, who popped off the screen even though those plays wouldn’t reflect on the stat sheet. Similar to last year’s second-round pick of the Colts, the description “bull in a china shop” certainly fits, as Paschal just goes with the flow a little bit too much and doesn’t always rush with a plan. He will have to learn to play a little more within himself and speeding up his process of recognizing plays, but he’s a guy who can line up all over the formation and “F” plays up.
10 Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
6’5”, 245 pounds; JR
Right around the top-1000 overall recruits in 2018, Sanders saw very limited action his freshman season, but turned himself into a very valuable piece to that Bearcats defense in year two and then as a junior he led them in sacks with seven, to go with 10.5 tackles for loss and five passes knocked down, for a unit that finished the year in the top ten in terms of points allowed. His numbers took a dip this past season, with 7.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks, to go with another five PBUs, but he helped Cincy become the first Non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff.
This is a long and athletic kid on the edge, who by the words of his own coaches could have probably survived at any spot in the front-seven purely based on his athletic tools Despite presenting a somewhat lanky frame, Sanders can surprise blockers in the run game, with the way he shoots his hands into the chest of the opponent and rocks their pads backwards at times. Then he showcases some sudden hands and agility to jump inside of blocks as he sees the ball-carrier cut it up that way, often times tripping that guy up with arms that look longer than the 32 ½ inches would suggest. He continues to fight the hands and bring his hips around to not get pinned inside on the front-side of wide zone schemes. When unblocked on the backside, he usually directly attaches to the back-hip of zone blockers, at times even slightly twisting them so they can’t climb cleanly to the second level, yet then Sanders has the suddenness to wrestle down the RB trying to cut backside. While it’s obviously not how you teach it, I’ve seen Sanders be at the point of attack on a zone run, scrape over the top and set a tackle on the running back cutting all the way back behind the opposite. He has that flexibility and agile movement to get around pulling linemen and initiate contact with the ball-carrier, while if his man is pulled and somebody blocks down on him, he displays the awareness to cross that guy’s face and create havoc in the backfield. Cincinnati slanted him inside quite a bit, where he was able to actually make blockers miss with the high swim and flexibility to step around.
Sanders has the get-off and long strides up the arc to consistently threaten offensive tackles in their sets. That speed around the corner allows him to win cleanly on ghost or dip-and-rip moves on several occasions. When tackles do seemingly cut off the angle for him, he packs a nice two-handed swipe or cross-chop, where he jabs with the inside foot and then has the loose hips to step around, as well as that rip-move, where he can arc around or hook the arm of the tackle, to keep that guy on his hip. Off that, he shows a nasty up-and-under move, where he rapidly hits the arm-over and makes tackles look like they’re stuck in quicksand. He may be forced to overrun the arc initially, but then has the athletic ability to corner all the way back around and jump on the quarterback’s back. When you let Sanders rush from a wide-nine alignment and he has that runway, where tackles have to hurry to get back in front of him and now #21 has the shake to go inside or out, he becomes a real problem. His short-area burst and bendiness also make him tough to pick up on twists or when the A-gap is left open and he sees an opportunity to take it. And the Bearcats used him as a semi-off-ball blitzers head up over the center, slicing through gaps. While his standard numbers didn’t look great season, he did have 62 total pressures on 389 pass-rush snaps.
However, Sanders’ lack of bulk does show up at instances, where he’s engaged with blockers for a longer period of time or they can clamp down on him, to make his rush stall. When blockers catch him with the outside foot off the turf on drive blocks, they can toss him to the side and drive him for a while. And evn though you love his activity in that regard, you have to question with the way he would free-lance at times if he can be relied upon to fulfill simplified run fits. He gets too far off track at times with a wide-swim, particularly against the run, and loses his balance in the process, limiting his ability to turn the corner and/or chase the ball. Alabama’s Evan Neal was able to take him for a ride a few times and had the agility to counter his sudden burst-based moves to either side, negating a large portion of his rushes. Sanders simply doesn’t have the power to close in on the quarterback when he can’t cleanly create an angle for himself to get around the blocker. He does flash some speed-to-power conversion, but it’s more sporadic if guys get way back on their heels. And he’s really antsy to get off the ball, which cost his team a few times with jumping offside.
Considering what kind of superior athlete he was compared to a lot of the offensive linemen he faced, you would have like to see Sanders be more productive in the AAC. He does present a rather gangly frame and my question about him are mostly power-based, but I have no idea how he’s been falling as much on boards. He was sick at the combine and people got scared about him weighing in at just 228 pounds, but he’s put another 20 on and put up good numbers across the board at his pro day. Watching him a Senior Bowl prior to that, what really stood out about was that explosion off the snap and how patient he was with his hands before the ones of the tackle. And he made several big plays in the run game during team drills, rag-dolling tight-ends. I believe Sanders is a unique player and chess piece for a creative defensive coordinator. In no way would I let him fall to day three.
Just missed the cut:
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
6’2”, 250 pounds; SR
Around the top-2000 overall recruits in 2017 for Temple, Ebiketie saw very limited action through his first two years (16 total tackles), before making a name for himself in 2020, when he recorded 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles and a scoop-and-score, earning second-team All-ACC in the process. He decided to transfer to Penn State ahead of this past season and the move paid off immensely, as he more than doubled those previous numbers for TFLs and sacks, and was named first-team All-Big Ten.
+ Understands how to set his base with good knee-bend and pad-level while burying the inside hand into the sternum of blockers, to set the edge, L
+ Routinely wrong-shoulders pulling guards and forces the ball-carrier to bounce out wide, where the rest of teammates could clean things up, Yet if opposing teams try to kick him out on the backside with somebody working across to him on split zone runs, he can swipe that guy further that way and shut down cutbacks,
+ Shows tremendous pursuit as the chase defender unblocked from the backside, choosing a flat angle down the line
+His 18 tackles for loss speaak on his ability to come off late and make plays in the backfield
+ Adjusts his rush-plans to who he’s facing, understanding how to affect opponents accordingly and set them up throughout games
+ Comes off the ball with good forward lean and has the combination of speed and ability to tilt in order to win around the corner
+ Shows well-time club-rip or two-hand swipe, to stay on his path, yet if he doesn’t clear the hands with that first combat, there’s no pause between his follow-up
+ Does a great job of stabbing at the shoulder-pad of tackles at the side he wants to get past and is quick to counter the hands
+ Beat Ohio State’s Nicolas Petit-Frere on several quick inside moves, such as the up-and-under
+ Along with his eight sacks on the year, Ebiketie had 44 extra pressures and 32 of what PFF calls “other pass-rush wins” (fourth-most among draft-eligible EDGEs)
– Basically took him five years of college (including an initial redshirt), to turn himself into a real difference-maker on defense
– Rather undersized for an edge defender and doesn’t a ton of pop in his hands
– Didn’t nearly dominate matchups with tight-ends in both facets of the game as much he should have
– A lot of his production as a pass-rusher came on counters – will have to win with the initial move more consistently
– When blockers were able to land an early punch, he became far less effective in his approach
Ebiketie’s height and weight are on the very low-end of the spectrum for edge defenders, but his arms are just above 34 inches and his hands measure in at 10 ¼. He was above the 90th percentile in the vert (38 inches) and broad jump (10’9”). This is really sudden and bendy athlete, who can win in a multitude of ways. I don’t believe Ebiketie is a powerful player necessarily, but he flashes that ability to make tackles pay for setting him too softly or prematurely open their hips. He’s the type of guy NFL evaluators fall in love with and he was the most productive pass-rusher for Penn State since 2017, but he didn’t quite make it into my top ten.
Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
6’5”, 265 pounds; JR
A three-star recruit in 2018, Thomas was a quality player for San Diego State in his first two seasons, following a redshirt year, combining for 18.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, making first-team All-Mountain West in both of them. In 2021, he lined up all over the Azetcs’ defensive front and created negative plays for them, earning himself second-team All-American honors, thanks to 71 total tackles, 20.5 of those for loss and 10.5 sacks.
+ Dense, muscular frame that carries 265-270 pounds well and makes him attractive as a base end in a 3-4 as well
+ Very disruptive run-defender in a penetrating role or slanting across gaps, being able to get skinny
+ Combines that with well-timed hand-swipes and a highly impressive ability to contort his body,
+ Can rip or squeeze across the face of zone-blockers when working cross-face, with ridiculous ability to flow laterally and work over the top of blocks
+ His burst to chase down the ball as the unblocked defender from the back-side is eye-popping
+ Impressive first step and twitchiness for a plus-sized edge rusher
+ Has been very effective with the high-swim, fluidly following through on the initial club and placing the opposite hand on the back of the blocker’s shoulder-pad to make sure he can clear the hips
+ Relentless with continuing to work the hands, trying to pull guys to the side and he likes to finish up with a strong upwards rip, to kind of pin the arm of the blocker,
+ Shows the burst to be a real threat on inside stunts and loops across multiple gaps, making it tough for the protection to account for him properly
+ On 525 pass-rush snaps this past season, he amassed 77 total pressures and 34 “other pass-rush wins” according to PFF
– Due to an unrefined role at SDSU, he doesn’t necessarily have a distinguished approach as a pass-rushe
– Once blockers are able to get their hands inside Thomas’ chest, he has a tough time getting them off
– His 32 ½-inch doesn’t measure up to the rest of his frame and hurt him in an odd front role, where he’s asked to two-gap or “win half a gap back”
– A lot of run-down production came from slanting through gaps – wasn’t asked to do much gap control work
– So much of what he was successful with in college was based on beating opponents to the inside, which he will not be allowed to do nearly as frequently at the next level
This was one of the tougher evaluations of the entire class. Thomas has some really fun tape and he was one of the most disruptive – as well as productive – players in the country this past season. The explosiveness and sudden movement skills are very intriguing. However, his role or style of play at San Diego State is so far off anything you see or can project him to in the NFL. Some of his worst run-down plays came in more traditional assignments and he didn’t win a ton as a true edge rusher. I believe in a versatile front, where he can be a penetrator up the B-gap, is slanted a lot and has more freedom in his approach, he could be a real impact player, but that’s pretty rare in the league. So now you project a lot based on his physical tools.
The next names up:
Sam Williams (Ole Miss), Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Tyreke Smith (Ohio State), DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), Michael Clemons (Texas A&M) & Alex Wright (UAB)