2022 NFL Draft: Top-5 Positional Rankings on Defense

by Brandon Coyle
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In the 2021 NFL Draft, the first seven picks all went to the offensive side of the ball. It’s safe to say that this year will be very different for the 2022 NFL Draft. The defensive side of this draft is loaded with star power and depth at multiple positions. With the way this quarterback class is trending we could see a blue chip talent off the edge or in the secondary taken with the first overall pick.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out my top-5 positional rankings on offense.

Defensive Tackle

Demarvin Leal DT, Texas A&M

A premier inside rusher, Leal has cemented himself at the top of this interior class for the 2022 NFL Draft. As an Aggie, he is moved all over the defensive line using his unique size and speed to use. At 6-foot-4 290 pounds, defensive coordinators will be able to use his versatility on passing downs. He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage and uses his strength to move lineman back into the pocket. Leal will be at the top of many big boards when April comes around. 

Perrion Winfrey DT, Oklahoma

A pass rushing three technique, Winfrey is a quick mover off the line of scrimmage. In only five games into this season, Winfrey has totaled 17 pressures in just 108 pass rushing snaps. His role in the Oklahoma defense has been centered around getting to the quarterback and Winfrey has done just that. His run defense needs work, but pass rush is king in the NFL. Technique wise, Winfrey has it all down; he’s a leverage monster off the snap, stays low and works his hands into the lineman’s chest.  

Jordan Davis DT, Georgia

Davis is an absolute massive human being at the center of one of the best defenses college football has seen in a number of years. Jordan Davis stands in at 6-foot-6 350+ pounds, a pure nose tackle with game breaking strength. Nose tackles have been phased out of some NFL defenses, but Davis has the juice to push the pocket on pass rushing downs.

His length is a problem for lineman as he can extend at will and his ability to take on double teams will clog any run offense. He’ll never be more than a 75% snap count player as he will slow down by the end of games. However, NFL teams running odd fronts will see Davis as a special player. 

Haskell Garrett DT, Ohio State

One of the few bright spots on the Buckeye defense, the front four has talent and starts with Haskell Garrett. He’s an older prospect in his fifth year at Ohio State, but Garrett has shown the chops to make it in the NFL. Garret is strong in his upper and lower half and comes off the ball with power and pops lineman backwards. He moves well alterally and is able to side step and fill gaps or make tackles in the backfield. 

Tyler Davis DT, Clemson

Tyler Davis was a standout freshman for the Clemson defense in 2019, but didn’t follow up with the production in 2020. He  played in two games this season before suffering an injury that may sideline him for the next two months. Quick off the line of scrimmage, he was able to make splash plays beating lineman to their gap and getting into the backfield. Hopefully, Davis will be able to make it back this season, otherwise he may look to come back and have a strong senior season. 

Defensive End

Kayvon Thibodeaux DE, Oregon

One of the best football players in the whole country, Kayvon Thibodeaux deserves number one overall hype in the 2022 NFL Draft. An explosive athlete off the edge, Thibodeaux has all the juice to pressure the quarterback consistently and finish with the sack.

His power is great and he is able to drive through offensive tackles while keeping good leverage. Flexibility is a huge part for rushing the passer and Thibodeaux has all the bend you could ask for when turning the corner. Thibodeaux should be a top five pick come April and is a top three player in this draft.

Zach Harrison DE, Ohio State

A difference maker off the edge for the Buckeyes, Harrison has already made splash plays to start this season. Harrison was a top recruit for this Ohio State defense and his elite athleticism is starting to show through. At 6-foot-6 268 pounds, Harrison moves better than some 230 pounders.

His burst and first step covers a lot of ground, pushes upfield quickly against offensive tackles. His ability to hold the edge and shed hasn’t been there consistently. However, a player with his hands and get off should only get better making plays on the edge. 

Drake Jackson DE, USC

The best player on the Trojan defense, Drake Jackson has put his name in the hat of one of the top edge rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft class. He’s got a long, athletic frame with a versatile skill set allowing him to line up at multiple alignments. Jackson is a high motor guy and doesn’t stop working until he finishes the play with a tackle.

Jackson has showed off multiple pass rush moves including a spin move that he uses to perfection. Being a taller player, he needs to rush with a lower pad level which will help him bend at the top of the pocket. Jackson will be a perfect wide nine in an odd front. 

Adam Anderson DE, Georgia

One of the most intriguing players in this edge rushing class, Anderson may be the best pure pass rusher in the country. As a pass rush specialist at Georgia, Anderson is one of the most efficient rushers, recording eight pressures on just 54 pass rush snaps.

Anderson won’t fit every scheme in the NFL due to his size, but it’s hard to ignore the elite get-off Anderson possesses. He has a special ability to keep his momentum towards the quarterback while bending around the corner. Offensive tackles will have fits blocking a fresh Adam Anderson each drive. 

Kingsley Enagbare DE, South Carolina

The most productive pass rusher in college football right now, Kingsley Enagbare has terrorized offensive tackles this season. He has 22 pressures in just 105 pass rush snaps. Enagbare has the prototypical size and athleticism to make a difference against the run on the edge. He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage and does a good job winning against the outside or inside shoulders of tackles. Enagbare possesses a tool box of pass rush moves he deploys well and keeps tackles uncomfortable. 

Linebacker

Jack Campbell LB, Iowa

Campbell was an underrated prospect going into this season for the 2022 NFL Draft as he had limited snaps in 2020. However, he has blossomed into a great player in 2021. Campbell doesn’t necessarily fit the new age linebacker mold at 6-foot-5 243 pounds, but has the sideline-to-sideline range to play Mike at the next level.

Campbell is one of the best tacklers in this class, coming downhill like a heat-seeking missile locked in on the ball carrier. His eyes are great sorting through traffic and moving with the ball. His spatial awareness in zone coverage is getting better week-by-week, sits well in the middle of the field and has great sense for route concepts where he can make a play on the ball.  

Edefuan Ulofoshio LB, Washington

A long athlete, Edefuan is explosive in his first step as a linebacker. He has great speed and is able to make plays all over the field. A strong tackler, Edefuan works well through blocks in the run game and plugs gaps well. he’s a work in progress in coverage and recognizing route concepts but has all the tools to develop. Many NFL teams will fall in love with the athleticism and ability to play in space. 

Merlin Robertson LB, Arizona State

A versatile player in the second level, Arizona State deploys Robertson all over the front seven. Robertson is moved from a wide nine alignment to off-ball weak side linebacker roles throughout each game. His ability to play multiple positions will be valuable to NFL defenses. Robertson rushes off the edge well with active hands and gets them inside their chest consistently. He’s also comfortable dropping in zone and moving with receivers in and out. 

Owen Pappoe LB, Auburn

Former top recruit Owen Pappoe has been a starter in the middle of this defense since day one. He’s incredible athlete and has all the speed and range to play anywhere in the second level. A stout build at 6-foot-1 226 pounds, he lacks length which has hurt him trying to make tackles at times.

However, his eyes are consistently in the right spot and reads play action early. Pappoe matches up well against running backs and tight ends in man coverage. A prospect with Pappoe’s athleticism won’t last long in the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Devin Lloyd LB, Utah

Devin Lloyd has been impressive to start this season making highlight reel plays every week for the Utes. Lloyd plays with a downhill mentality and looks to keep everything in front of him. An instinctual player, he recognizes blocking schemes quickly and is able to blow up runs in the backfield.

Lloyd has good hand usage getting off blocks and getting through traffic. The Utah prospect doesn’t have great range, but enough to roam the middle of the field. He’s a bit clunky in space and has trouble making tackles on the edge. Lloyd’s stock is on a huge upwards trajectory in the 2022 NFL Draft to start the year. 

Cornerback

Derek Stingley Jr, CB, LSU

One of the most highly anticipated prospects in the past three years, Stingley lives up to all the hype. He may be leaving a sour taste in evaluator’s after dealing with injuries in 2020 and looks to have played his last game in 2021 with a season-ending injury.

As a prospect though, Stingley may be the best athlete in the class. At 6-foot-1 195 pounds with 4.3 forty yard dash speed and smooth agility. He has sticky man coverage ability and can jam receivers at the line and recognizes routes well. Stingly has tremendous ball skills at the catch point times his punch well to knock the ball out. When you look past the injuries, Stingley is an elite level cornerback prospect that will be a top five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft

Andrew Booth Jr. CB, Clemson

If it wasn’t for Stingley, Booth would be CB1 in almost any other draft class. Booth possesses great foot speed being able to stay with any route and flip his hips instantly. Physical at the line of scrimmage, Booth is able to knock receivers off their route and stay physical through the stem.

Booth high points passes downfield well and has shown a special ability to make plays at the catch point. Inexperienced coming into 2020, Booth now has taken over as a starting outside corner for the Tigers. Booth has burst to play in zone and mirror skills to play man on the outside. 

Kaiir Elam CB, Florida

A taller cornerback prospect, Kaiir Elam has elite size and length for the position. At 6-foot-2 192 pounds, Elam is the dream for NFL coordinators. He’s versatile in his skillset being able to play man and zone coverage. A twitchy athlete, Elam is able to see breaks before they happen and stays on the receiver’s hip. He’s got special click and close ability to make plays on the pass. In run support, Elam needs to work on his technique coming downhill and making tackles. 

Trent McDuffie CB, Washington

McDuffie is a smoothe-moving athlete as he changes direction within routes with ease. He’s on the smaller side for an outside corner and may become a slot cornerback at the next level. However, he has all the tools to succeed at both positions.

The Washington product has long speed downfield and is able to stay with any deep route. He lacks the ability to be a heavy press corner, but is comfortable in off coverage sitting in zone. A stout run defender, McDuffie plays bigger than his size when coming downhill in the flat. 

Ahmad Gardner CB, Cincinnati

One of the most physical cornerback prospects that has come out in recent years in the 2022 NFL Draft, Ahmad Gardner doesn’t shy away from getting his hands on receivers early in their route and making them uncomfortable at the catch point. His physicality has caused him to be flagged very often at the college level which is concerning. However, NFL coaches would rather a more physical player than one that is less. His length plays huge at the catch point and is able to high point balls downfield. Gardner projects as a press man corner. 

Safety

Kyle Hamilton S, Notre Dame

The number one player in the class in many people’s eyes and for good reason. Kyle Hamilton is a blue chip level safety prospect that has the tools to step in and be one of the best in the league from day one. At 6-foot-4 219 pounds, Hamilton moves as quickly as a slot cornerback while playing as physically as a linebacker. His zone coverage ability is off the charts, he can make plays from one hash to the sideline with ease. Hamilton comes downhill with a vengeance, and is unforgiving against any ball carriers in his path. It’s not often prospects come along deserving comparisons to the best at their position, but Hamilton is special and has traits you only see in the best safeties. 

Jalen Catalon S, Arkansas

On the smaller side for safeties at 5-foot-10 198 pounds, but plays bigger when coming downhill. As a deep safety, Catalon is everything you could ask for; fluid hips, great ball skills, and long speed downfield. First step coming downhill is lightning fast, accelerates from a standstill well. Plays like a pure ball hawk in zone coverage, knows how much ground he has to cover and will bait throws downfield. In the run game Catalon finds himself having trouble getting off blocks and missing tackles. Improvements with his pursuit angles will help change that. 

Daxton Hill S, Michigan

Versatile secondary piece, logged over 100 snaps in the box, in the slot, and deep safety. Good range to play single-high or split field. Hill has the skills to mirror in man coverage, has good footwork at the top of the route to break with the receiver. Takes great angles coming downhill in run support. Targets a bit too high on ball carriers when looking to tackle him, needs to improve on his technique. 

Jordan Battle S, Alabama

Battle is another versatile player in the secondary, being moved all over the field. Super instinctual player, Battle does a great job reading plays instantly and being able to fly to the football. Good eyes in zone coverage reading the quarterback and recognizing route concepts. Struggled mirroring slot receivers and got beaten downfield a bit too often. Primed for a big second half of the season in this Alabama secondary. 

Brandon Joseph S, Northwestern

Good size for an NFL safety at 6-foot-1 192 pounds paired with solid burst coming downhill. Eyes are in the right spot and are able to get an early jump on the ball coming downhill. Very strong tackler at the point of contact and has the ball skills to be a playmaker at the catch point. Doesn’t have elite speed or sideline-to-sideline range, projects more as a box/flat defender. Off to a bit of a slow start this season, needs to finish strong towards the end of the season. 

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