As quarterback has evolved to become the most critical position on the field, finding premier pass rushers to pose problems for the passer is a must. With six months until the 2022 NFL Draft, who are the top outside linebackers who will present the future of pass-rush potential in the NFL?
Top 10 Outside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10
These are the top 10 outside linebackers with six months until the 2022 NFL Draft.
10) Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington
We can hear the dissenting voices already. Yes, we know that some analysts have declared Zion Tupuola-Fetui a better pass-rush prospect than Joe Tryon-Shoyinka coming out of Washington. Yes, we know he had 7 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 forced fumbles in just three games last season. We’re aware that the Washington boy is a beast.
So, why does Tupuola-Fetui only rank as the 10th-best outside linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft class? Well, it’s due to the torn Achilles injury he suffered in April. His return in the win over Arizona was remarkable, given the usual timeframe for recovery from such an injury. Nonetheless, it remains uncertain as to whether he will declare for the draft. He looked exceptional in his return, but basing a full return to form on one performance is dicey.
If he does return to form and declare, ZTF will rocket up our consensus big board. There aren’t many 6’4″, 280-pound pass rushers who possess insane length, explosion, and versatility. He’s a menace around the outside track but can be disruptive from the interior too.
9) Jeffrey Gunter, Coastal Carolina
If NFL teams value versatility in their defensive playmakers, they’ll struggle to find anyone that meets their needs more than Jeffrey Gunter. The Coastal Carolina pass rusher has been used in various alignments during his time as a Chanticleer. Gunter can play as the defensive end in a four-man front, has seen success as an OLB in a 3-4 formation, and can align at the wide-9 position.
Furthermore, Gunter’s been used to devastating effects as a kick blocker. There is little that the 6’4″, 260-pound outside linebacker can’t do. Additionally, he’s been insanely productive. With five games left of the 2021 college football season, Gunter has amassed 36 career tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks with 7 forced fumbles.
If you don’t understand why Gunter is one of the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft class, allow me to enlighten you. The Coastal Carolina OLB has an intriguing athletic mix of size, speed, and strength. Gunter’s strength and length allow him to collapse the pocket, with an imposing bull rush his primary weapon of choice.
8) DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky
If insane production alone were the critical component for our top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft, then Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone would sit comfortably atop this pile. Through Week 8 of the college season, Malone has tallied a staggering 50.5 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles in his career.
Take a look outside the box score and watch some film. You’ll find that there is plenty to like about the Hilltopper as a 2022 NFL Draft prospect. He’s quick and long, and as a result, can effortlessly catapult into the opposing backfield to be disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.
Although he has deceptive strength behind his diminutive frame, the biggest knock on Malone’s résumé will be his size. At 6’4″ and 240 pounds, he’s a highly lean pass rusher who may struggle to overpower more physical offensive tackles at the next level.
7) Nolan Smith, Georgia
As the Georgia defense establishes itself as one of the greatest of all time in college football, its litany of defensive playmakers are rising to the top of the 2022 NFL Draft class. There probably isn’t a more giant riser in this class than Jordan Davis — figuratively and literally — but teammate Nolan Smith is also impressing and imposing himself.
Smith already has more tackles for loss and forced fumbles this season than in any previous campaign. His 2.5 sacks through six games match his total from his last two campaigns. While Davis is occupying opposing offensive lines, Smith and the rest of his teammates are padding their statistical résumés.
The No. 1 high school recruit in the 2019 class is finally beginning to realize his potential as one of the best OLBs in the 2022 class. Smith has the speed, explosion, and strength to make an impact at the next level. Furthermore, he can bend around the edge, which is becoming more important in the NFL.
6) Amaré Barno, Virginia Tech
Although he had a breakout season in 2020 with an absurd amount of statistical production, Virginia Tech’s Amaré Barno wasn’t a name that was widely mentioned when discussing the top outside linebackers in this 2022 NFL Draft class.
After a dominant performance in the season opener against UNC, however, that all changed. The former Butler Community College product terrorized the Tar Heels all night long. Prospective first-round QB prospect Sam Howell was sacked 1.5 times by Barno, who added a forced fumble and 3.5 tackles for loss to his résumé.
Barno’s calling card is strength and length. He can overpower offensive tackles using his incredible power. Meanwhile, he puts his long arms to excellent use as a tackler and to disrupt the ball in the air. Although he transitioned to DE last year, his experience stood up combined with his 6’4″, 247-pound frame point to usage as an OLB at the next level.
Top 10 Outside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5
Who are the top five outside linebackers in this 2022 NFL Draft class?
5) Brenton Cox Jr., Florida
Like Barno, Brenton Cox Jr. has the size and experience profile to play either DE or OLB at the next level. Listed at 6’4″ and 250 pounds, the Florida pass rusher is something of a tweener. However, his ability to drop back into coverage ensures that he makes the list as one of the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Although he is suffering somewhat of a statistical slump compared to last season, there’s still plenty to love about the Florida LB. Cox flashes an impressive first step, explosion at the line of scrimmage, and good footwork and lateral agility.
As a result, he possesses an arsenal of pass-rush weapons. While Cox can exploit slower offensive tackles with an impressive spin move, his best weapon is a potent bull rush. His strength and length allow him to effortlessly push even the stoutest tackles back into their quarterback.
4) Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
While the Oklahoma defense has been widely derided — despite the Sooners sitting at 8-0 after Week 8 of the college football season — Nik Bonitto has been quietly piecing together an impressive statistical season. The exciting pass rusher is just 2.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks shy of a career-high campaign. He has at least another four games still to play.
One of PFN’s draft analysts has an exceptionally high grade on the Oklahoma outside linebacker. Furthermore, all three feature him in their Top 100 2022 NFL Draft prospects. As a result, Bonitto currently sits as the fourth-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.
3) Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
Impressive statistical production has been a common theme within this list of the top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Unlike some of the players listed here, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare hasn’t blitzed the box score this season. He’s had fewer tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles than last year. Is that something NFL teams should be concerned about?
Absolutely not. For there is one number that you won’t find on your free-to-view statistics sites. 33. That’s the number of quarterback pressures this season by the South Carolina pass rusher. Is that good? Well, it’s the same number as ascending prospect Aidan Hutchinson, who has been touted as a potential top-10 pick. We’ll let you decide if that’s good or not.
At 6’4″ and 260 pounds, Enagbare has the size to play defensive end in the NFL. However, he plays much lighter than his listed weight, and his ability to effortlessly drop back into coverage should ensure he carves out a role as an OLB at the next level. A hard-hitting playmaker with a relentless motor, he also possesses impressive athletic ability.
2) Adam Anderson, Georgia
While Adam Anderson falls just short of the summit of our top outside linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft, for my money, there isn’t a more exciting, entertaining, and electric prospect at the position. Two of our three draft analysts have him as a top-50 prospect in the class, ensuring he is currently the 27th overall prospect on our consensus big board.
Anderson has insane speed, explosion, and lateral agility, allowing him to perform as a pass rusher at ridiculous levels. The Georgia OLB should test off the charts at the NFL Combine. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. Meanwhile, a 40-inch vertical jump isn’t out of the question.
He can disrupt the opposition’s offensive line in multiple ways. His speed and bend allow him to be a problematic proposition around the outside track. Anderson’s lateral agility enables him to cut inside and disrupt from the interior. Although some NFL teams may have concerns about his size (230 pounds) and situational usage, there’s no denying his potential is through the roof.
1) Drake Jackson, USC
USC outside linebacker Drake Jackson earned a top-20 ranking from each of PFN’s three draft analysts, earning 12th overall. As a result, he sits atop our top outside linebacker rankings for the 2022 NFL Draft following Week 8 of the college football season.
Like multiple prospects on this list, Jackson has seen time at OLB and DE during his college career. Although he’s yet to reproduce the impressive statistical production of his freshman season at defensive end, Jackson’s been able to showcase 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.