Top 10 Outside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux remains our top prospect

    Kayvon Thibodeaux and David Ojabo lead the way as the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft, but don't sleep on Sam Williams.

    Top 10 Outside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux remains our top prospect

    In a defensively deep class, who are the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft? With the ever-growing emphasis on the passing game, finding premier pass rushers to get after the quarterback is increasingly important. Thankfully for pass-rush-needy teams, this class is packed full of them.

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    Between the top outside linebackers and defensive ends in the 2022 NFL Draft class, every archetype of pass rusher is available later this month. Some prospects straddle the lines between 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE, so if they appear on this list, this is how we project their usage at the NFL level.

    10) DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky

    If insane production alone were the critical component for our top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft, DeAngelo Malone would sit comfortably atop this pile. The Western Kentucky Hilltopper tallied a staggering 59 tackles for loss, 32.5 sacks, and 8 forced fumbles in his career. Outside of the box score, you’ll find plenty to like about Malone as a 2022 NFL Draft prospect.

    He combines excellent speed with a slender frame that allows him to get skinny through gaps to impact the backfield. With 33 1/2″ arms, Malone has the length to keep blockers away from his frame. He also showcases some excellent handwork. While he has some deceptive strength in his frame, teams will likely want Malone to add a little weight to counter the anchor issues he currently experiences.

    9) Dominique Robinson, Miami (OH)

    As the NFL bets on athletic traits, there may not be anyone on this list of the top outside linebackers with more upside than Miami (OH) prospect Dominique Robinson. The former quarterback turned wide receiver only transitioned to the defensive side of the ball in 2020. Since then, he’s tallied 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks and earned national attention at the Reese’s Senior Bowl.

    With an 82 3/8″ wingspan and 33 3/8″ arms, Robinson has an intriguing frame. From that frame, he showcases explosion, bend, and the ability to convert speed to power. For someone so inexperienced at the position, Robinson also has demonstrated some impressive technical refinement. While he’s still a ball of clay as a prospect, a 41″ vertical, 4.72-second 40-yard dash at 253 pounds, and 25 bench press reps show his athletic profile.

    8) Alex Wright, UAB

    The Group of Five presence in our top outside linebackers of the 2022 NFL Draft continues with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Alex Wright. A true junior, Wright is only three years removed from being a lowly-ranked high school recruit. However, he’s established himself as an exciting and ascending prospect in that time.

    For a prospect who measures in at 6’7″ and 270 pounds, Wright demonstrates excellent bend as an EDGE prospect. He’s also explosive, twitchy, and already possesses an arsenal of pass-rush weapons. With length and pursuit speed, Wright has also demonstrated the ability to be disruptive in the run game. With three-down NFL potential, Wright sits as a top-100 player on the Pro Football Network Top 300 Big Board.

    7) Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

    Despite coming off the back of a career-high 15 tackles for loss season, Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto has slid somewhat under the radar as a top outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft. That said, one of PFN’s draft analysts has an exceptionally high grade on the Oklahoma prospect. Furthermore, Bonitto features within the top 100 for three of our analysts. As a result, he currently sits as the seventh-ranked OLB in the class.

    It’s easy to see the allure with Bonitto. While he’s not as strong as some of the other top outside linebackers, he’s an exceptional athlete. Bonitto is light on his feet, explosive, and has incredible lateral agility. As a result, he possesses the bend coveted by modern NFL teams and some eye-catching ways to win, including spin moves. An impressive Combine performance may help cement his place as a Day 2 selection later this month.

    6) Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

    Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders is a lesson on watching tape instead of looking only at statistics. His 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks may seem meager. But when watching the Bearcats this season, you’re aware that opposing offensive coordinators actively sought to scheme away from Sanders in much the same way they chose not to throw on teammate Ahmad Gardner.

    Sanders wins with explosiveness, speed, and exceptional lateral agility. He possesses long arms that allow him to impact offensive linemen before they get the chance to get a hand on him. There are some inconsistencies with strength that might impact how the NFL views him. But if he can iron these out, then Sanders can become a highly impactful pass rusher at the next level.

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    5) Drake Jackson, USC

    Like multiple prospects on this list, USC’s Drake Jackson has seen time at OLB and DE during his college career. Although he never reproduced the impressive statistical production of his freshman season at defensive end, Jackson’s showcased a more impressive all-around game while playing at outside linebacker.

    The USC product possesses game-changing speed, exceptional lateral agility, and the ability to change direction instantly. Jackson puts this to devastating use around the outside track but is equally capable of coming inside to disrupt with internal pressure. He has impressive length to help control offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage and has an arsenal of pass-rush moves that often render him unstoppable.

    4) Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State

    Having transferred from Temple for his senior season, Arnold Ebiketie made an immediate and devastating impact at the Power Five level. Tallying 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, the Penn State pass rusher had a career season and is ascending at the right time. For one PFN draft analyst, he ranks as a top-15 player in the class and one of the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft.

    At a time when Brian Burns is showcasing that bend can consistently win at the next level, Ebiketie might be the bendiest edge rusher in the class. Additionally, he’s demonstrated that he also wins with power. He also possesses a repertoire of pass-rush moves. With 34 1/8″ arms, the Penn State prospect has exceptional length for his frame, making him a dangerous proposition for opposing offensive tackles.

    3) Sam Williams, Mississippi

    Despite a productive season at the SEC level — 15 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles — Sam Williams has been an under-the-radar edge prospect in this class. There are past off-field issues that may cloud his stock. However, you’ll struggle to find a more powerful and impactful outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft class.

    If you’re looking for a bendy edge rusher, Williams probably isn’t it. He wins with explosion, power, and decent length for his size. As a pass rusher, Williams can bulldoze his opponent with a fearsome bull rush. His hands are powerful. He’s relentless in his desire to get to the quarterback. Williams also demonstrates a fearsome tenacity against the run. An excellent athlete for his size, the Ole Miss prospect has the makings of a top-quality NFL player.

    2) David Ojabo, Michigan

    While everyone was busy fawning over Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan teammate David Ojabo established himself as one of the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Relatively inexperienced, Ojabo put together a sensational season that saw him tally 12 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.

    Don’t believe the argument that Hutchinson allowed Ojabo to succeed. The OLB made his own money this fall. Ojabo showcases exceptional speed off the edge. Unlike his teammate, he showcases incredible bend. For someone so inexperienced, Ojabo is already in possession of the pass-rush tricks of the trade that will help him be dominant in the NFL.

    The inexperience obviously means he has work to do. This is particularly apparent against the run. Nevertheless, the upside is tantalizing. At present, the most significant question mark over his stock is how he returns from an Achilles injury suffered at the Michigan Pro Day.

    1) Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

    If reports are to be believed, Kayvon Thibodeaux is following down NFL Draft boards. Question marks about his “love of the game” and his “effort” have been repeatedly raised during this cycle. Yet, the Oregon talent remains the top talent on the Pro Football Network Top 300 Big Board.

    Furthermore, Thibodeaux is our top outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft class. He has excellent speed and explosion for his size. Thibodeaux disrupts both around the outside track and from the interior with excellent lateral agility. Although he might not be the most flexible pass rusher in the class, the Oregon prospect is impressive in this regard.

    We’re often guilty of describing elite EDGE players as just pass rushers. However, Thibodeaux also showcases ability against the run and in coverage. If the NFL wants to overthink his ability, some team will get an absolute steal in the 2022 NFL Draft.

    Oliver Hodgkinson is a College Football and NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson

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