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Detroit Lions 2022 draft preview: Edge defenders

A look at the 2022 NFL Draft class of edge defender and who may be the best fit for the Detroit Lions.

NC State v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Detroit Lions fans are no strangers to the edge defender class in this 2022 NFL Draft. For months now, fans have been enamored with the Lions adding a top-tier pass rush with their second overall pick.

But this year’s draft class goes well beyond the top-20 prospects—although there are quite a few that could go in that range. If Detroit decides to pass on an edge defender early or decides they want to double up at the position, this isn’t a bad year to do it.

In Part 8 of our 2022 NFL Draft preview, let’s take a closer look at this year’s edge class.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive tackle, guard, defensive tackle

Under contract: Romeo Okwara (signed through 2023), Charles Harris (2023), Austin Bryant (2022), Julian Okwara (2023), Jessie Lemonier (2022), Rashod Berry (2022)

Short term need: 7/10
Long-term need: 9/10

After releasing Trey Flowers in a cost-cutting move, the Lions’ edge defender room looks awfully thin. Charles Harris is a solid starter, but it’s hard to know if the Lions can rely on Romeo Okwara after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 4. Even if he’s good to go and returns to his former level of play, neither Harris nor Okwara are game-wreckers.

Beyond them, the Lions simply don’t have a player they could trust to start. Between the four depth players, they have nine total starts and 11.0 career sacks. Julian Okwara has shown the most growth, with 5.0 sacks last year in a rotational role.

The situation looks even more dire looking into the future. No one is signed beyond 2023.

Day 1/Day 2 options: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, Georgia’s Travon Walker, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, Purdue’s George Karlaftis, Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie, Minnesota’s Boye Mafe

I’m going to spare you another debate amongst the top three edge rushers in this class, as you’re likely sick of the discussion. But know that all three are very much in play for the Lions’ second overall pick.

Let’s talk a little more about Jermaine Johnson because there is a small—but very vocal—crowd that believes he belongs in the conversation, too. Initially a JUCO transfer, Johnson failed to break into the starting lineup at Georgia for two seasons, and subsequently transferred and thrived as a Seminole in 2021. He tallied 18.0 tackles for loss and 12.0 sacks on his way to first-team All-ACC. And if the JUCO stuff concerns you, it shouldn’t. He righted the ship, took ownership of his early mistakes, and was a team captain for Florida State last year.

He’s built exactly like how you’d want an NFL edge rusher to look like and he’s well balanced between pass rusher and run defender. But while his athletic profile is mostly great, he hasn’t shown the quick first step that most dominant pass rushers have at the NFL level. But after dominating the Senior Bowl for the Lions-coached team, you know he’s got to be on their radar. In fact, they brought him in for another visit, too.

Karlaftis, Ebiketie, and Mafe are decent options at 32, 34, or 66 if the Lions pass on edge early—or decide to double up at the position. Karlaftis seems unlikely to fall to the Lions at the bottom of the first round, even though his production was just mediocre at Purdue. But his quick first step and aggressive strength-to-power play style will translate well to the NFL. Ebiketie is one of the more fun prospects to watch in this year’s class. He’s got a relentless motor and an athletic profile to go with it. He made some left tackles look silly last year.

But with only one year as a starter, Ebiketie is still raw. There’s more to unlock with him, and that may make him even more appealing, honestly.

If Mafe fell to 66, Brad Holmes may powerbomb John Dorsey through a table in excitement. A developmental prospect, for sure, but in terms of body type and athleticism, he is the mold for an NFL edge defender (although his arm length is a concern to some). He showed some improvement at Minnesota, but he’ll need some seasoning before becoming a full-time starter.

Mid-round options: Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto, San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas, USC Drake Jackson, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare, Kentucky’s Joshua Paschal

There are far too many options to list them all here, so I kept it to realistic options at 66 and 97.

Bonitto’s 4.54 40-yard dash time was among the best in this year’s edge class and it shows up on film. But at just 248 pounds and 32.5-inch arms, he may just be a pass rush specialist at the next level who could occasionally drop into coverage. Still, his 27.8 percent pass rush win rate—best in the country—is hard to ignore.

Thomas is an interesting, versatile prospect who started his career at San Diego State split between a nose tackle and defensive tackle. He’s built well for the edge position and he settled in there last season with 11.5 sacks for the Aztecs. He lacks the bend to be an elite prospect, but he has enough functional athleticism to have starter potential after some development.

Jackson is a strangely polarizing prospect, as seen here:

The pros for Jackson are that he’s one of the best athletes in this year’s class and has shown that translate on the field. He also has long arms and is a high-effort player. The cons are that he hasn’t had a high level of production at the college level. In fact, his best statistical career was his freshman season (11.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks).

Enagbare was with the Lions at the Senior Bowl and is built with incredible hand size (10.6 inches) and arm length (34.75 inches). That helps him set the edge as a run defender and out-physical even the more bulky offensive tackles. But as a pass rusher, he’s limited both in his technique and his speed.

Finally, Paschal brings some of the versatility that Travon Walker lovers covet. He played 3-technique, edge, and linebacker at Kentucky, and with this athletic profile, you can see why:

A team captain after beating a cancer diagnosis, Paschal is an awesome story and a tenacious football player. He’d immediately help out as a run defender, but he’s limited as a pass rusher (13.5 sacks in five years).