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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – The edge-rushers at the top of the 2022 NFL draft come in all shapes and sizes with a wide range of skills. The New York Giants have a need for the position, holding No. 5 and No. 7 overall and will consider several potential fits.
There’s Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, who is expected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and many other draft analysts to become the overall number 1. Hutchinson stands nearly 6-foot-7, 260 pounds and has the best technique of the pack.
Georgia’s Travon Walker (6-5, 272) works his way up draft boards with his power and eye-catching abilities for his size. His 4.51-second time in the 40-yard line was the fastest of a 270-pound player on the combine since at least 2006. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II showed fast hands and feet and production to match (11.5 sacks) as a senior . Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is not very big for the position (6-4, 254), but has a first step that teases the crowd on the upside.
The large selection of edge rushers is the beauty of the position, and this year’s draft is no different. Not everyone is Von Miller (Buffalo Bills) or Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns), the transient prototypes that most people could scout and predict their greatness. It’s a position where seemingly flawed prospects, such as the 2021 NFL’s 2021 defender TJ Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was considered an effort and selected as No. 30 overall in 2017, constantly prove that the evaluations are wrong.
So where is it all going badly? What’s not negotiable when scouting edge rushers and deciding what really makes them effective in getting to the quarterback at the next level?
“If you start focusing on just the measurable and you’re trying to create something, you can sometimes get yourself in trouble,” Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said at the NFL scouting combination. “I always say the most important part is: does he win these 1-on-1 matches?”
This is what the Giants and general manager Joe Schoen need to find out. Which of this year’s top-edge rushers consistently won at the college level, and will that translate to the NFL game? Are they worth the overall choice No. 5 or No. 7?
The Giants, who have not addressed the position in the top 10 since choosing Cedric Jones in 1996, are just one of the teams in the market for an edge rusher at the top of the draft. The teams with the top four picks – Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and New York Jets – also need the position.
Hutchinson, Walker, Johnson and Thibodeaux have all visited the Giants or will visit them before the draft, according to sources. It is a position they must take on even after selecting Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia in the second round last year. He had 8.0 sacks as a rookie.
“We have enough needs on the list to take the best available player,” Schoen said recently about the two high picks. “That’s how we want to set it [the draft board]. We will put the best footballer 1-7. “
The shoe was part of a front office that drafted edge-rushers Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa with Buffalo’s top picks each of the previous two years. It was not a training warrior either, but both were tall and productive when they came out of college.
Length could be a preferred feature for the Giants with defensive coordinator “Don” Wink Martindale coming from the Baltimore Ravens and bringing his 3-4 defensive plan favoring long outside linebackers. Walker (35.5-inch arms) and Johnson (34-inch) have it to their advantage.
Hutchinson (14.0 sacks) and Johnson have the production, which is still No. 1, which is not negotiable on many evaluators’ wish list.
“Legitimate production where you watch the movie and this guy really influences the quarterback because he does,” said former Giants draft boss and current NFL Network analyst Marc Ross about what he’s looking for in edge rushers. “Not through plan. Not through cleanup. Sacks. Not through trash bags, but this guy legally affects the quarterback consistently based on how he plays and his talent and abilities.”
Ross raised George Selvie, who played alongside Jason Pierre-Paul in South Florida. Selvie had 14.5 sacks his second year and Pierre-Paul had 6.5 in his only season at USF. But the film showed that many of Selvie’s bags were hollow. Pierre-Paul, meanwhile, constantly impacted the quarterback despite his modest layoffs.
The Giants and Ross drafted Pierre-Paul as number 15 overall in the first round of that 2010 draft. Pierre-Paul went on to become an All Pro, helping New York win a Super Bowl in its second season. Selvie, who ended his career with the Giants, was drafted in the seventh round and had 14 sacks in six NFL seasons.
So perhaps more important than collegiate sacks is pressure. There seems to be a correlation between edge pressure from college to the professionals in recent years. Thibodeaux has the highest print speed (15%) of the four pass-rushers that Kiper has estimated to be selected as the highest. He was followed by Hutchinson, Johnson and Walker at press speed.
This is, in my opinion, quite worrying for Travon Walker – who only had a pressure rate of 8% in college.
Here he, Hutchinson, Thibodeaux and Bonitto (!) Are on the x-axis of this diagram. pic.twitter.com/NVrN70TJhe
– Seth Walder (@SethWalder) April 7, 2022
But analyzes alone may not show the full picture for edge rushers. There are other fields that need to be checked.
“My one thing is beautiful [firm]if you do not have an element of power in the National Football League, then people will just be able to make you soft, “said one NFC boss.” And you have to be a really good athlete if you have no power. “
The director brought up Carolina Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns as an example of an occasional diver. He considers him one of the rare class of players who can survive without the true power because of his short area.
Burns, who ran 4.53 in the 40-yard line and had a 10-foot, 9-inch wide jump, has 25.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons. It was clear in the athletic test that his abilities could translate.
The evaluator believes that the same should be the case with Thibodeaux. He was beaten up last season but still produced. He had 7.0 sacks and a pressure percentage of 17.8% despite playing only 10 games and handling an ankle injury.
In Thibodeaux’s case, the athletic test matches the product on the track. But it’s rarely that easy. It’s not just a size, speed and weight position. Several evaluators said they will not just eliminate edge rushers based on a slow 40-yard line. There is too much going into the position: Hand use. Power. Moves. Countermeasures. Get off. Exploitation. Technical. Not everything can be measured while running and jumping in shorts by the combine.
“You want [confirmation in athletic testing], but it’s not a must, “Ross said.” What do you see in movies? That was Terrell Sugg’s lesson. You saw him on tape and there was a guy who legally came after that non-stop. As explosive as it can be on film. And then he goes out and runs a 5.0 flat [in the 40-yard dash]. Well, this guy can not play anymore. What!?”
Not that anyone in this year’s top crop falls into that category. Hutchinson ran a more than respectable 10-yard split in 1.62 seconds. The other three ran 4.58 seconds or better in the 40-yard line.
That’s what makes this a strong group of edge rushers at the top of the draft. And it gives the Schoen and the Giants quality opportunities to fill what has become a long-standing void – provided one they like is available when they’re on the clock.