clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2022 NFL Combine preview: 15 edge rushers the Lions should be watching

Who and what to watch on the EDGE during the 2022 NFL Combine.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Michigan Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine on-field workouts and drills begin on Thursday, March 3 with the offense on display over the first two days. When the weekend arrives, the defense will take the field for their drills. The interior defensive line, edge rushers, and linebackers go through the process on Saturday, March 5, and the defensive backs close out the event on Sunday, March 6.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, and interior defensive line groups.

Next up: Edge rushers

Team need

The Lions have talent on the edge, but also a lot of unanswered questions. What will happen with Trey Flowers and his big contract? Will Romeo Okwara recover from his Achilles injury in time for the season? Will the Lions be able to re-sign Charles Harris? Is Julian Okwara ready to take the next step? And can Austin Bryant develop further or is he maxed out?

It’s no surprise the Lions are routinely being mocked an edge rusher with the No. 2 overall pick.

What to watch for

Edge rushers need to have a versatile skill set. They need to be athletic enough to bend the corner and strong enough to set a firm edge. At the Combine, they get stressed on all the different techniques and skills required in today’s NFL.

In the on-field drills, keep an eye on their ability to bend when cornering (you’re looking for a 45-degree angle with their bodies). Maintaining speed and balance when changing direction will also be put to the test in multiple drills. Hand quickness and placement will be important whenever a bag is on the field. And as mentioned with the interior defensive linemen: edge rushers need to play with their heads up, so they can see their target.

Now, on to the prospects.

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

Suggested by Ryan and Morgan

Arguably the best player in this draft class, Hutchinson has a complete skill set, high character, a high ceiling, and a high floor. There aren’t a lot of faults to his game, but the consistent complaint I hear from fans is that he is not athletic. Hutchinson, who joined us on the PODcast a few weeks back, confirmed that he plans on doing everything at the Combine, and will have a chance to squash those who doubt his athleticism.

One writer who has written about player athleticism for years is Bruce Feldman of the Athletic. Each year he publishes his “Freaks list” ($ubscription) touting feats of athleticism amongst the college football community. In the latest installment, Hutchinson checked in as the second freakiest athlete in college football—behind only Alabama left tackle Evan Neal—with some impressive numbers.

“This offseason, Hutchinson timed 6.54 (in the three-cone drill, the most predictive drill for EDGE success in the NFL), which would’ve been better than anyone at the 2020 combine,” Feldman wrote. “In addition, he vertical jumped 36 inches, ran a 4.64 40 (yard dash) and ripped off a 4.07 shuttle time. Hutchinson also did a 2.57-second reactive plyo stair, which at 265, amazed even his strength coaches. He is the first athlete that veteran strength coach Ben Herbert has witnessed do a “Turkish Get-up” with 135 pounds and no collars (to lock on the plates) in 24 years working in college weight rooms.”

To get an idea of how impressive that is, if Hutchinson matches Feldman’s numbers at the Combine, this would be his RAS score:

A RAS score like that would get a lot of doubters on his bandwagon.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon, 6-foot-4, 255

Suggested by John

While it appears Hutchinson needs to prove his athleticism at the Combine, Thibodeaux has been showcasing his athletic talent for the past three seasons. If Thibodeaux participates in the Combine drills, he is expected to put on a show, and that may be enough to squash some of the recent negative rumors that have been swirling of late. One of the reasons I believe people have been so quick to dismiss Thibodeaux is because he hasn’t been in the spotlight recently. After skipping Oregon’s Bowl game, the last time we saw him on the field was December 3, nearly three months before he will take the field in Indianapolis. The Combine should help remind people of his talents.

David Ojabo, Michigan, 6-foot-5, 250

Suggested by Hamza

An absolute freak of an athlete, Ojabo went from Michigan’s scout team in 2019, to a complete game-wrecking starter in 2021. He is still incredibly raw as a player, but he simply does things other edge rushers are not capable of. His bend and speed can be jaw-dropping at times and should be a show in Indianapolis.

Jermaine Johnson, Florida State, 6-foot-5, 255

Suggested by Mike

Thought to be a fringe first-rounder heading into the Senior Bowl, his dominance at practice answered a lot of questions and solidified him as a surefire first-round pick and could go in the top-15 selections. Johnson will shine in drills that highlight length, explosion, and change of direction.

Travon Walker, Georgia, 6-foot-5, 275

Suggested by Erik

Walker is a prospect that has evaluators divided. Some see him as a 3-4 DE (5-technique) only, while others see a position versatile prospect that has more athleticism than what appears on the surface. If he lands in Detroit, I could see him line up from the 3- to the 9-technique. At Georgia, he was primarily asked to stop the run as 5T, but there were flashes of rare traits that showed up when he was asked to play off-platform. Look no further than his contributions on special teams to see there is more there than he was asked to do on a down-to-down basis. The Combine could do wonders to open people’s eyes to his physical gifts.

Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina, 6-foot-4, 261

Suggested by Jeremy

Gifted with impressive physical attributes, Enagbare’s height-weight-length (35-inch arm length) is NFL ready, and he was one of the starters at the Senior Bowl on the Lions-coached roster. Enagbare’s game is drenched in power but he lacks explosion which will likely drop him into Day 2 of the draft. If he can impress with athleticism at the Combine, he could improve his stock, but if he looks stiff (as expected), it shouldn’t impact him too much.

Sleepers

  • Boye Mafe (Minnesota, 6-foot-3 12, 255) is expected to be one of the Combine “winners” as his combination of speed, explosiveness, and bend are all elite.
  • Dominique Robinson (Miami, OH, 6-foot-4 12, 254) has a late Day 2 grade from some evaluators and an undraftable grade from others. His ability to explode and bend off the edge at the Combine could change some minds.

Hybrid EDGE and off-the-ball linebackers

  • DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky, 6-foot-3 14, 234) was the other starter on the Lions Senior Bowl roster and he was asked to rush the passer and drop into coverage in Mobile. He’ll draw a lot of attention from teams who run a hybrid front, like the Lions.
  • Jesse Luketa (Penn State, 6-foot-2 12, 261) is in the same mold as Malone, but he was a SAM linebacker in Penn State’s 4-3 scheme before switching to the edge as a senior. He has the traits to play at both spots and will also appeal to hybrid defensive schemes.

Leadership and character

  • Josh Paschal (Kentucky, 6-foot-2, 274) is capable of playing from the 3- to the 7-technique but it’s his leadership and character that will keep him in the NFL for the next decade. Not only is Paschal a cancer survivor, but he was also a three-time captain, and according to coaches, a “culture builder” at Kentucky. Also, his NIL video is hilarious.

Skilled pass rushers who need to improve against the run

  • Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma, 6-foot-3, 238) has the pass-rushing talent to get selected in the top-50, but he is a pass-rusher only at this stage of his development.
  • Sam Williams (Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 256) has enough pass-rushing talent to land in the back half of Day 2 but should go off the board after Bonitto.
  • Amare Barno (Virginia Tech, 6-foot-4 14, 239) is a mid-Day 3 defender who is still in the early stages of his development but has a high ceiling as a pass rusher. He was on the Lions roster at the Senior Bowl.
  • Jeffrey Gunter (Coastal Carolina, 6-foot-4, 261) has a similar projection as Barno but doesn’t have the connection to the Lions, as he was at the Shrine Bowl.