Top 10 Defensive Ends in the 2022 NFL Draft: Travon Walker cracks the top five

With the 2022 NFL Draft fast approaching, who are the top defensive ends in the class? Is Aidan Hutchinson No. 1? Here's a closer look.

We have a new consensus Top 300 NFL Draft Big Board here at PFN. Alongside the release of that big board, new positional rankings have also been compiled. Here’s a look at the top defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft. Who among Aidan Hutchinson, George Karlaftis, and Jermaine Johnson II takes the top spot? Let’s take a look.

Top 10 Defensive Ends in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10

These are the top defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft. For purposes of schematic differentiation, projected stand-up rushers such as Kayvon Thibodeaux and David Ojabo were listed in our outside linebacker rankings.

10) Josh Paschal, Kentucky

Josh Paschal should’ve been able to register the backfield as a private domicile given how often he lived there this past season for Kentucky. Paschal earned 15 tackles for loss on the year and proved to be a menace for opposing offensive linemen. It wasn’t just Paschal’s skill set that stressed offenses, but also how he was used — because he could take on a multitude of different roles.

At the next level, Paschal has a curious projection. He was listed over 280 pounds in college, but at the NFL Combine, he measured in at 6’2 5/8″, 268 pounds. Regardless, Paschal still has great density and power capacity, and he has the explosiveness (37.5″ vertical and 123″ broad) to move between 3-technique and wide 9-technique. He’s a chess piece and a disruptor all in one.

9) Zachary Carter, Florida

Whichever kind of defensive end you project a prospect to be, power and play strength are fairly important elements of success at the next level. Zachary Carter isn’t lacking in either of those departments. He’s one of the larger players on this list, standing around 6’4″, 282 pounds. With that size, he’s not the highest-tier athlete, but Carter still brings good burst, and his power capacity helps elevate his game.

Carter was very productive for the Gators this past season and flashed numerous times at the Senior Bowl in early February. He likely fits best as a 3-4 defensive end at the next level, where he’ll see more interior reps. Yet, he has the tools to be a big EDGE as well for teams who like to move their linemen around and exploit matchups.

8) Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma

Oklahoma has quite a few eligible defensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft. Nik Bonitto is one of the draft’s best outside linebackers. Perrion Winfrey is one of the top defensive tackles on the board. And Isaiah Thomas also finds himself on the list of top defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Thomas was quietly very productive over the past couple of seasons, with 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss through 2020 and 2021. Standing around 6’5″, 266 pounds, Thomas is an impressive athlete for his size. When he has a runway, Thomas builds up speed and pressures tackles. He also brings a violent disposition with his hands.

7) Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

If production is a pre-requisite for you at edge rusher, then you’ll like Cameron Thomas. Over his three-year career at San Diego State, Thomas amassed 39 tackles for loss and 20 sacks, averaging 13 tackles for loss and almost 7 sacks per season, respectively. Of course, his monster 2021 campaign inflated those values. In 2021, Thomas put up 71 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks.

With his production, it’s no surprise that Thomas brings a constant motor from start to finish. At 6’4″, 267 pounds, Thomas is more of a power rusher, but he’s shown he can employ hand moves at the apex and stack counters. Thomas did play on the interior at times for the Aztecs, so he could feasibly cut weight and move to DE full-time in the NFL.

6) Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

The top group of defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft is full of different player types, and South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare is just one example. No one mistakes Enagbare for being a speed rusher, but the former Gamecock does have an enticing skill set with his length, play strength, and bend capacity.

At 6’3 3/4″, 258 pounds, with near 35″ arms, Enagbare has an impressive physical profile. He doesn’t have an elite get-off, but he possesses a good sense of timing around the edge. With strong, precise hands, Enagbare can maximize his length and combat extensions. And he has the ankle flexion to dip and rip. For teams that like length and high-motor rushers, Enagbare fits the bill.

5) Boye Mafe, Minnesota

Boye Mafe will be a 24-year-old rookie, but regardless of age, his sheer upside should have teams jumping to the podium in the top 50. Mafe had a career season at Minnesota in 2021 and followed it up with a stellar showing at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. During the Senior Bowl game, Mafe was impossible to block, and it was a glimpse of what he can become in the NFL.

Mafe can still work on his instincts and hand usage, but the traits are all there. At 6’3 3/4″, 261 pounds, Mafe has the frame density, explosiveness, speed, and the bend to sink below the corner. His 4.53 40-yard dash, 38″ vertical, and 125″ broad jump are all reflections of his elite athleticism. And while his length is slightly below average, Mafe compensates with his ability to win around the edge.

4) Travon Walker, Georgia

A few names have been mixed into the No. 1 overall pick conversation, and Georgia’s Travon Walker is one of them. It’s not much of a surprise, especially after seeing how Walker fared at the NFL Combine. At 6’5″, 272 pounds, with outrageous 35 1/2″ arms, Walker ran a 4.51, had a 35.5″ vertical, a 123″ broad jump, and a 6.89 three-cone.

Walker’s athleticism is legitimately otherworldly, and on tape, his power is just as potent. The problem is, that athleticism and power are the main two qualities that Walker wins with at the moment. He’s still raw from a hand usage standpoint, and the way Georgia used Walker, he was rarely rushing the edge in a pure defensive end role. That versatility, in a way, could make him more coveted. And at his peak, Walker can be a game-wrecker.

3) George Karlaftis, Purdue

Affectionately named “The Grecian Goliath” by our own Oliver Hodgkinson, George Karlaftis is a superb power rusher whose ability to generate point-of-contact force inspires awe. At 6’3 3/4″, Karlaftis has a dense 266-pound frame, but he was at times closer to 275-280 in college. It’s reasonable to expect that his playing weight could be over 270 in the NFL.

Subsequently, NFL teams that like having bigger edge rushers would jump at the chance to add Karlaftis. On top of his size and power, Karlaftis has an underrated finesse element. His power certainly comes first, but he does flash great burst off the line, as well as modest ankle flexion around the edge. He can be more consistent there, but Karlaftis has the tools to eventually be one of the top defensive ends from the 2022 NFL Draft class.

2) Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

Aidan Hutchinson is widely projected to be the No. 1 overall pick when the Jacksonville Jaguars arrive on the clock in late April. That expectation does inflate Hutchinson’s value a bit, but he’s still an exciting prospect. You don’t earn 14 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, and take home Heisman runner-up honors on accident.

Hutchinson is a great athlete, standing at 6’6 5/8″, 260 pounds. He has great strength, violent hands, and a relentless motor. His agility — emphasized by a fantastic 6.73 three-cone — doesn’t always show up in full capacity on tape, but his leverage may have something to do with that. Hutchinson plays upright a lot. But if he plays with a hand in the dirt at the NFL level, it could help him attain better leverage, while maximizing his athletic traits.

1) Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

Projecting for defensive end roles in the NFL, the top defensive end in the 2022 NFL Draft isn’t Hutchinson or Karlaftis. Instead, it’s Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II. It’s close between all of them, but Johnson arguably has the most well-rounded skill set. He has one of the highest floors in this DE class and a fairly high ceiling.

Johnson checked off the athleticism box at the 2022 NFL Combine, when he ran a 4.58 and had a 125″ broad jump at 6’4 5/8″ and 254 pounds. But beyond that athleticism, Johnson is a technician with strong and powerful hands. He has enough bend to win around the apex while using his length to disengage. Throw in his stellar run defense, and you’re looking at a tremendous three-down player.

Honorable Mentions

  • Micheal Clemons, Texas A&M
  • Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina
  • Tyreke Smith, Ohio State
  • Tre Williams, Arkansas
  • Luiji Vilain, Wake Forest
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