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NFL draft: Breaking down the top defensive players available

Four pass rushers could be gone in the first ten picks of the 2022 NFL Draft Thursday night.

Top defensive players available in the NFL draft, scheduled for April 28-30:


Position outlook: This is the pass-rushers draft with as many as four top-10 selections and eight going in the first round.

Aidan Hutchinson, 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, Michigan

  • Breakdown: Relentless and efficient pass rusher with a good combination of technique and an assortment of moves. Overall athleticism is a notch below some elite pass rushers who have gone in the top five in recent years like the Bosa brothers.
  • Fact: The Heisman Trophy runner-up last season is the son of former Michigan defensive lineman and team captain Chris Hutchinson.
  • Gone by: Odds-on favorite to the the first overall pick, but far from a lock.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, 6-5, 258, Oregon

  • Breakdown: Pounces past blockers to make plays in the backfield with uncanny burst and length. Long, lean build doesn’t lend itself to adding weight.
  • Fact: Former five-star recruit seemed destined to be a first overall draft pick after freshman season, but between injuries and a shortened pandemic season he never put together a fully dominant year.
  • Gone by: Thibodeaux could slip out of the top five, but probably not far.

Travon Walker, 6-5, 275, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Speed and athleticism for his size and build are prototypical and he could probably add some weight without losing much of what makes him special. Pass-rush technique needs work.
  • Fact: One-year starter whose production (13 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks) was just OK playing as part of a deep rotation at Georgia.
  • Gone by: Top five with first overall potential.

Jermaine Johnson II, 6-5, 262, Florida State

  • Breakdown: Plays with power, leverage and great effort, making him effective rushing the passer and against the run. After he only played full time one season, Johnson’s technique and fundamentals are underdeveloped.
  • Fact: With a fifth year of eligibility, Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State in 2021 and became the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year.
  • Gone by: Maybe he slips out of the top 10.

George Karlaftis, 6-4, 275, Purdue

  • Breakdown: Quick off the ball with strong hands to knock blockers off balance, but arms shorter than ideal and needs to finish more plays after 14 1/2 career sacks in 27 games.
  • Fact: Moved to the United States in eighth grade from Greece and started playing football after being an elite youth water polo player.
  • Gone by: About pick 20.

Logan Hall, 6-6, 275, Houston

  • Breakdown: Physical specimen who never gives up on a play. Elbow surgery in December did not stop him from playing in the Senior Bowl.
  • Fact: Was used up and down the line at Houston, where he finished with 19 1/2 tackles for loss in 2021.
  • Gone by: Top 40.

Boye Mafe, 6-4, 265, Minnesota

  • Breakdown: Has some similarities as a prospect to Walker in that the physical traits stand out, but his game is unrefined.
  • Fact: Only started 13 games in a four-season career but had 19 1/2 sacks for the Gophers.
  • Gone by: Early second round.

Arnold Ebiketie, 6-3, 256, Penn State

  • Breakdown: Quick off the ball and difficult for blockers to lock up, but his lean frame might already be maxed out.
  • Fact: Temple transfer and late bloomer who had had 62 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks in his lone season at Penn State.
  • Gone by: Could sneak into the bottom of the first round.

Nik Bonitto, 6-3, 245, Oklahoma

  • Breakdown: Agile but undersized pass rusher who can get swept away against the run. Not ideal for for every scheme.
  • Fact: A four-star football recruit who also received Division I basketball scholarship offers out of high school in Florida.
  • Gone by: End of the second round.

David Ojabo, 6-5, 250, Michigan

  • Breakdown: Freaky athlete with limited football experience. Lots to learn playing at the point of attack against the run.
  • Fact: A breakout star of the 2021 season with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles after playing sparingly in his first two years at Michigan. Then tore his left Achilles tendon during his pro day workout.
  • Gone by: Went from likely mid-first rounder to a Day 2 value pick.

Others to watch: Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina; Drake Jackson, Southern California; Cameron Thomas, San Diego State.


Position outlook: Only one likely first-rounder.

Jordan Davis, 6-6, 340, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Massive anchor in the middle of a defense, but with uncommon athleticism and speed (4.78 in the 40 at the combine). Questions about whether he can be the type of pass rusher that makes him a high-snap-count interior lineman.
  • Fact: All-American who won the Bednarik Award as the nation's best defensive player and Outland Trophy as the top lineman last season.
  • Gone by: Middle of the first round.

Travis Jones, 6-4, 326, Connecticut

  • Breakdown: Thick and muscular with well-distributed weight that he uses to push back blockers, but his hands and instincts off the line are works in progress.
  • Fact: Recruited as an offensive lineman, developed into dominant defensive tackle on one of the worst teams in major college football.
  • Gone by: Middle of the second round.

Devonte Wyatt, 6-3, 315, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Disruptive with good quickness to play two gaps but could use more power in his play.
  • Fact: Returned for a fifth college season in 2021 (including a year at junior college) and developed into an All-Southeastern Conference player and second-team All-American.
  • Gone by: Late first, early second round.

Others to watch: Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma; Phidarian Mathis, Alabama; DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M.


Position outlook: A couple of first-rounders seems likely, but there is a drop after that.

Devin Lloyd, 6-3, 235, Utah

  • Breakdown: Aggressive, hard-hitting and versatile linebacker who should be able to fill multiple spots in multiple schemes. Recognition and discipline needs some work.
  • Fact: All-American and Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2021 had 43 tackles for loss in 33 career games.
  • Gone by: Top 20.

Nakobe Dean, 5-11, 229, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Diagnoses plays quickly and arrives at the ball carrier with speed and force. Size could limit him to certain schemes.
  • Fact: All-American and Butkus Award winner as the top linebacker in the country last season.
  • Gone by: At worst, he is an early second-round steal.

Quay Walker, 6-3, 241, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Walker is the antithesis of teammate Dean. Ideal size with all the measurables, but not nearly as instinctive and consistent.
  • Fact: Another Georgia defender whose snaps and starts were limited playing on a deep and talented roster. Walker only become a starter as a senior.
  • Gone by: Middle of the second.

Christian Harris, 6-0, 226, Alabama

  • Breakdown: Good speed could make him effective as a blitzer and in coverage, but not a sure tackler.
  • Fact: Played cornerback and receiver in high school.
  • Gone by: End of the second round.

Others to watch: Chad Muma, Wyoming; Leo Chenal, Wisconsin; Troy Andersen, Montana State.


Position outlook: Two, maybe three top-15 picks and good depth into Day 2.

Ahmad Gardner, 6-2, 190, Cincinnati

  • Breakdown: Tall, long-armed and fast. Moves his lanky frame smoothly and plays aggressively at the line of scrimmage. Not a lot of power in his game and he can get grabby, but the corner nicknamed Sauce was the definition of lockdown.
  • Fact: Did not allow a TD reception in his three-year college career.
  • Gone by: No. 2 overall is not out of the question.

Derek Stingley Jr., 6-1, 195, LSU

  • Breakdown: Strong man-to-man technique. Plays balanced to mirror receivers. Can get lost in zone coverage and in run support.
  • Fact: Stingley was an All-American as a freshman but injuries (foot in 2021) and regression by the rest of the defense undercut his next two seasons.
  • Gone by: Middle of the first and that could be a steal for a player who seemed destined to be top five as a freshman.

Trent McDuffie, 5-10, 193, Washington

  • Breakdown: The latest in a recent line of tough and sound Washington cornerbacks. Lacking length, had only two interceptions in 28 career games (26 starts).
  • Fact: Talented musician can play the ukulele, bass, piano and guitar.
  • Gone by: First half of the first round.

Andrew Booth Jr., 6-0, 194, Clemson

  • Breakdown: Smooth in coverage and physical in run support, but tends to give up plays in front of him when not in press coverage.
  • Fact: Was penalized just once during his three-year career.
  • Gone by: Late first round.

Kyler Gordon, 5-11, 194, Washington

  • Breakdown: Explosive athlete whose instincts and reads need work.
  • Fact: In a loaded Washington secondary, Gordon didn't stick as a starter until his senior season.
  • Gone by: If there is a late-first round/early second run on cornerbacks, Gordon will be part of it.

Kaiir Elam, 6-2, 196, Florida

  • Breakdown: Big and fast, but played sloppily in 2021.
  • Fact: Father Abram Elam played seven seasons in the NFL. Nephew of Matt Elam, who also played at Florida and in the NFL.
  • Gone by: Tall corners tend to sneak into the first round.
  • Others to watch: Roger McCreary, Auburn; Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska; Marcus Jones, Houston; Tariq Woolen, UTSA.


Position outlook: Safeties don't get a ton of love in the NFL draft, but this group could produce three first-rounders.

Kyle Hamilton, 6-4, 220, Notre Dame

  • Breakdown: Rangy and dynamic athlete who tends to show up in places that offenses don't anticipate. His 40 times (4.59 at the combine) were underwhelming and might limit him in some defenses, but he has a knack for game-changing plays.
  • Fact: Was limited to seven games in 2021 because of a right knee injury that did not require surgery.
  • Gone by: Tape says top 10. Stopwatch suggests more like top 25.

Lewis Cine, 6-2, 199, Georgia

  • Breakdown: Covers a lot of ground in run support and plays with good fundamentals, but coverage skills need work.
  • Fact: Defensive player of the game in Georgia’s national championship victory against Alabama.
  • Gone by: Bottom of the first.

Dax Hill, 6-0, 190, Michigan

  • Breakdown: Durable, athletic and plays smart. Nickle cornerback skills, but size and strength are ordinary.
  • Fact: Former five-star recruit picked Michigan over Alabama out of high school in Oklahoma.
  • Gone by: Late first round.

Jalen Pitre, 5-11, 198, Baylor

  • Breakdown: Versatile, physical and aggressive near the line of scrimmage, but size suggests he needs to be better than he is in coverage at the next level.
  • Fact: All-American who led the Big 12 in tackles for loss (18) in 2021.
  • Gone by: Middle of the second round.

Jaquan Brisker, 6-1, 206, Penn State

  • Breakdown: Tough player with good instincts in both run support and coverage, though lacks high-end athleticism.
  • Fact: After two years at junior college, he ended up playing three seasons at Penn State, taking advantage of the extra year the NCAA granted to those who participated during the pandemic.
  • Gone by: End of Day 2.

Others to watch: Bryan Cook, Cincinnati; Kerby Joseph, Illinois; Verone McKinley III, Oregon.


Position outlook: The last punter to be selected in the first two rounds of the draft was Todd Sauerbrun in 1995. There is a chance that changes this year.

Matt Araiza, Punter, 6-1, 200, San Diego State

  • Breakdown: The “Punt God” is a field-flipping weapon and touchback machine on kickoffs. As a field goal kicker he is strong-legged but inconsistent.
  • Fact: Set the major college football record with a 51.19-yard average punt last season.
  • Gone by: Real chance to go by the end of Day 2.

Others to watch: Jordan Stout, P/K, Penn State; Jake Camarda, P, Georgia; Cade York, K, LSU; Gabe Brkic, K, Oklahoma.

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