With a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the future of both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith following the 2021 season, the Green Bay Packers will likely be looking to address the edge rusher position early in the 2022 NFL draft.
In fact, general manager Brian Gutekunst may need to use a top pick next year to get Rashan Gary a new running mate for the long term.
Let’s take a look at eight players that Gutekunst could target in the first round of the draft in 2022.
Note: Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, George Karlafits, David Ojabo and Travon Walker are not listed due to the fact that they’ll likely be off the board when the Packers are on the clock late in the first round.
Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati
The numbers are not eye-popping for Sanders, the three-year starter. The senior edge rusher entered the 2021 season with 17 career tackles for loss and 11 sacks.
As the Bearcats prepare for the College Football Playoff, Sanders stands with 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 13 games. Sanders had arguably his best game in the AAC Championship Game against Houston when the senior edge rusher recorded six tackles and a tackle for loss and a half-sack.
Don’t let the lack of production fool you. Sanders is an explosive and dynamic edge rusher that consistently disrupts the quarterback. He has the ideal NFL length (6-5) and frame. He also has long strides and quickly closes in on the quarterback.
Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
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The Notre Dame pass rusher is a terror off the edge for the Fighting Irish. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, Foskey is an athletic freak that gives offensive linemen fits with his explosiveness.
From Bruce Feldman of The Athletic: “He’s hit 20.8 MPH on the GPS and has a blazing 10-yard split of 1.58 as well as an impressive 4.65 40.”
As a reserve in 2020, Foskey recorded five tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. This season, Foskey recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
Logan Hall, Houston
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Hall is a versatile defensive lineman for the Cougars that can line up all over the defensive front. Hall (6-6, 270) is a powerful and explosive pass rusher that converts speed to power and lives in the opponent’s backfield.
From Dane Brugler of The Athletic: “Whether he is lined up on the edge or on the interior, Hall looks the part and plays with the physical and mental quickness to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage.”
This season Hall has recorded 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. For his career, Hall has 19.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
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Ebiketie put together a monster season at Penn State. The Temple transfer recorded 62 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and nine sacks during his lone season at Happy Valley.
Ebiketie looks like he was sent from central casting, standing at 6-3 and weighing in at 253 pounds. He’s so damn explosive off the edge. The Penn State edge rusher was consistently disruptive.
From Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus: “Ebiketie transferred from Temple to Penn State and proved his production from 2020 was no fluke. He beat up on quality tackles en route to a 90.5 pass-rushing grade and 52 pressures.”
Drake Jackson, USC
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There was not a lot to cheer about in Southern California this past fall, with the exception of the Drakes (Drake London and Jackson). In 10 games, Jackson recorded eight tackles for loss and five sacks.
Jackson possesses all the tools to be a game-changer at the next level. He’s explosive. He has the frame and flexibility (bend) to disrupt the pocket on Sundays.
From Brugler: “He has outstanding play range due to his speed and hustle, but he can be more reliable as a run defender.”
Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
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Thomas is another versatile edge defender that can be utilized up and down the defensive front. The Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year recorded 68 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas led the FBS with 72 pressures.
From Mike Renner: “Thomas is a massive power end at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. He racked up an FBS-leading 72 pressures this season and finished sixth with 29 run stops.”
Thomas has strong, heavy hands that stun offensive linemen. His motor is always running and shows good lateral quickness to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage.
Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
(AP Photo/Phil Sears)
The ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished the 2021 season with 70 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. The Georgia transfer finished his collegiate career with 24.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks.
Johnson is the complete package. He gets upfield quickly with a quick first step and does a great job of converting speed to power. As a run defender, he’s strong at the point of attack and does a good job of setting the edge.
From Brugler: “Johnson put impressive flashes on film during his time at Georgia, which is why he was considered one of the top senior defensive ends in the country prior to the season. Now at Florida State, he has been an alpha for that defensive line, using his length and attacking mindset to shut down the run and create pocket disruption.”
Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
Enagbare can get after the quarterback. He could step in from day one and be a pass-rushing specialist for any team.
The South Carolina edge rusher has the ideal length that NFL teams are looking for. He shows good burst and closes on the quarterback quickly due to his long strides.
Enagbare finished each of the last three seasons with seven tackles for loss and ends his career at South Carolina with 24 tackles for loss and 15 sacks.