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2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Midseason Defensive Positional Rankings

Heading into another great college football weekend, here are the top defensive positional rankings for the 2022 NFL Draft Prospects, including Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux being the top-rated defensive end.


RELATED | 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Offensive Positional Rankings


Defensive Ends

Pos. RankTop-100 RankPlayerSchool
11Kayvon ThibodeauxOregon
25Aidan HutchinsonMichigan
321George KarlaftisPurdue
427J.J. EnagbareSouth Carolina
554Myjai SandersCincinnati

Coming into the season, I had Kayvon Thibodeaux and cornerback Derek Stingley neck-and-neck at the top of my board. Both suffered injuries early on, but the Oregon pass rusher has bounced back in dominant fashion. He’s extremely athletic, and yet, it’s his power that is typically the difference-maker. He can play with his hand in the ground or stand up, and I’d have a hard time passing on him if I had the first pick in the draft.

Hutchison was one of my favorite players entering the year, and he’s been one of the top defenders in college football. What’s scary is he’s not even playing his best position. Michigan had him playing as a five tech (inside-shaded end) early in his career, and it was a perfect fit given his size and strength. This season, he slimmed down to be more of an edge player, I’d want him back up north of 280 pounds if I ran an odd-man or hybrid front.

There is a lot to love about Karlaftis, who is also having an outstanding season. He’s explosive and powerful at the point of attack. He may not have desirable length, but his motor never stops.

Enagbare is another high-energy player that excels thanks to his terrific length and strength. His athleticism may not blow us away, but the results don’t lie. There are a lot of similarities between his game and that of Derek Barnett coming out of Tennessee.

Sanders is someone whose best football may still be on the horizon. The length and athleticism are impressive, but I’m not sure he always gets the most out of either. He’s had a bit of a down year, although he’s still impacting games even if it doesn’t show on the stat sheet.

Defensive Tackles

17DeMarvin LealTexas A&M
210Jordan DavisGeorgia
343Perrion WinfreyOklahoma
461Haskell GarrettOhio State
575Devonte WyattGeorgia

While this year may produce a lot of talented edge rushers, the interior players aren’t quite as plentiful. I’ve got six in my top 100, but two could even be considered ends, with Leal fitting that description. He’s lined up everywhere on the front for the Aggies, but he does his best work on the interior. Leal could be a five tech, but considering he’s got room to add more to his frame, I think his best position is at under tackle. He’s already very powerful at 290 pounds, and I could see him jump up to 305 without losing any of that exceptional athleticism.

Davis will have a much more defined role as a 6’6”, 340-pound nose tackle. His effort and mobility are incredible for that size, and his pad-level has been much more consistent in 2021.

Winfrey is a player that continues to flash his immense potential with an exceptional combination of strength and mobility. However, there are consistency issues with his technique, which needs to be cleaned up to unlock his upside.

Garrett has come into his own over the last two years and flashes most when allowed to shoot gaps. He’s a long-armed combo tackle that could play nose or the under position in a penetrating scheme. I think he could develop into a solid two-gap player as well, but his lower half needs to get stronger.

Wyatt is a player that has grown on me quite a bit. Every time I turn on the Georgia defenses film, another player pops out to me. In Wyatt’s case, he’s a squatty player that is tough to handle because of his natural leverage. I love his balance and effort, and he’ll surprise some with his mobility in the pre-draft process.

Edge Linebackers

19Drake JacksonUSC
214Adam AndersonGeorgia
326Arnold EbiketiePenn State
430Isaiah FoskeyNotre Dame
539Nik BonittoOklahoma

Not only do I have nine defensive ends in my top 100, but I’ve also got seven more edge-rushing linebackers that could be considered ends on some boards. After a tremendous freshman season, Jackson regressed last fall, thanks largely to him being shifted to different roles on the defense. However, he is back to primarily playing on the edge this season, and tackles are struggling to slow him down. He’s got five sacks in eight games, but it seems like he is always getting pressure on the passer. Jackson’s ability to change direction and accelerate is stunning for his size.

Anderson set out to be a more complete prospect in 2021, and we are seeing that come to fruition as he’s already set career-highs in sacks, tackles for loss, and overall stops. His combination of length and flexibility helps him routinely win the edge and turn the corner.

Few have made more of a jump than Ebiketie this fall. The Temple transfer is tied for sixth in the country with 13 tackles for loss, and his 5.5 sacks and 44 stops are already career-highs. He’s a tremendous athlete and accelerates as well as any edge player in the country.

Foskey has also made a hefty surge up my board and may combine speed with power as well as anyone not named Thibodeaux. Notre Dame had a pair of edge rushers drafted on day three last April, but Foskey will be taken much higher in 2022.

I’m a big fan of Bonitto, the athlete, but I wanted to see him take a step up from 240 pounds, and that hasn’t been the case. Bonitto is a playmaker off the edge, but there aren’t many edge rushers in the NFL that are that light.

Nakobe Dean college football 2022 nfl draft prospects
Credit: Itoro Umontuen/USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

16Nakobe DeanGeorgia
224Christian HarrisAlabama
335Devin LloydUtah
448DeMarvion OvershownTexas
566Chad MumaWyoming

I wasn’t big on this group of traditional linebackers coming into the season, but I’m changing my tune at the mid-way point. There aren’t many defensive awards that don’t have Dean as the front-runner at this point. He may not blow us away with his size or length, but he is impacting the game in a variety of ways for Georgia. He’s a sideline-to-sideline backer that has proven to be more capable on passing downs than I gave him credit for entering the season.

Harris has a similar build as Dean, but we haven’t seen him develop quite as much as Dean against the pass. Neither will be coveted for their ability to cover or blitz, but both are instinctive, tackling machines that lead the way for their units.

There will be teams that have Lloyd and Overshown as their top off-the-ball linebacker. Lloyd is an athletic backer that hasn’t just improved in coverage. He’s made it a strength. He continues to rise up my board, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he cements a first-round grade in Mobile.

Overshown is one of the most versatile defenders in the country and fits the description of a hybrid defender, ala Isaiah Simmons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He has exceptional speed and length, but teams will need to have a specific role in mind for him before drafting him.

I knew little about Muma heading into the year, but he’s surging up my board now. He may have the best instincts of anyone in the country, and his build and athleticism are reminiscent of a slightly shorter Leighton Vander Esch. The guy is everywhere on tape, and look for him to continue to jump up boards between now and April.

Cornerbacks

13Derek StingleyLSU
28Andrew BoothClemson
318Kaiir ElamFlorida
419Ahmad GardnerCincinnati
528Roger McCrearyAuburn

There is tons of talent in this cornerback class, and I’ve got ten in my top 100, and a case can be made for five more. Only my receivers and corners had all five players listed in the top 30, and my sixth corner, Washington’s Trent McDuffie, narrowly missed that designation at 31.

Stingley could be the top player in this class, but there is still a lot up in the air about his draft stock even though his season is over. After struggling with nagging injuries in 2020, Stingley required foot surgery this fall and will miss the season. When healthy, he’s got physical traits that could make him a shutdown corner. However, teams will certainly do their homework on his injuries and the potential of his long-term health.

Booth has had a tremendous season, despite Clemson’s struggles. He’s a terrific athlete with tons of length and confidence. Some even question whether he should be ahead of Stingley on most draft boards.

Elam is another tall, athletic corner, but I’ve been a little disappointed with his feet this year. We just don’t see the same twitchy athleticism that Stingley and Booth display, and it could limit what coverages coaches are comfortable putting him in. Right now, he’s best suited for a system that runs primarily press-man.

Gardner keeps this bunch’s narrative alive as a tall, long-armed corner. He’s got loose hips, but there may be questions about his overall strength to deal with bigger receivers.

McCreary has had some ups and downs this fall, but when he’s on, he can be a special player. Like Elam, he’s most comfortable in press-man, but I think his athleticism and impressive speed give him the potential to thrive in any system.

Safeties

14Kyle HamiltonNotre Dame
225Daxton HillMichigan
344Jalen CatalonArkansas
447Lewis CineGeorgia
555Jordan BattleAlabama

Not only are there nine safeties in my top 100, but there are a variety of skillsets that make projecting an order extremely tough. Hamilton has been sensational ever since showing up at Notre Dame. He’s a tall, long-armed field general with eyes that diagnose quickly and impressive pursuit speed. I have my questions about him not having the quick-twitch ability to matchup up in man coverage, but not every team will ask that of a safety.

Hill was one of my sleepers coming into the season, but at this point, everyone has been made aware of his abilities. There just aren’t many safeties that are equally capable of lining up in centerfield or matching up in man-to-man coverage. I see some Earl Thomas in his game, and I wouldn’t be shocked if some teams covet his skillset over Hamilton’s.

Catalon is the type of high-energy player teams love on their defense, as he always seems to be involved in the play. He’s undersized and needs to be more disciplined as a tackler. However, when a safety is missing tackles and still averaging 8-9 stops a game, it’s a testament to his overall feel for the game.

Cine is moving up my board as well, as a hard-hitting safety with a downhill mentality. He’s another product of a dominant Georgia defense, but he, too, needs to be more disciplined in his approach at the point of attack.

Battle is another hard-hitting safety, but he’s got more athletic limitations than the other four on this list. He fits best near the line of scrimmage, and he could even play linebacker in nickel situations. He’s also shown improvement in coverage over the last several years, though it will never be a strength.

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