Here’s a sneak peek into the EDGE class for the 2023 NFL Draft.
The 2022 NFL Draft was highlighted by elite edge defenders. The first two players selected – and three of the top-5 – were edge defenders. The 2023 edge class has a chance to be just as special.
Will Anderson Jr is the early favorite to be the first player selected. Myles Murphy, Nolan Smith, BJ Ojulari, and Isaiah Foskey are all projected to be first-round picks as well.
But there’s a small army of edge defenders just waiting to burst onto the scene. Here are three sleepers at the edge defender position for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Robert Beal Jr – Georgia, Senior (RS)
The Georgia coaching staff will be tasked with replacing five defenders that were selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, which set a record. Three of those players were defensive linemen.
But they’ll be returning a fair amount of talented players, highlighted by edge defender Nolan Smith. Robert Beal Jr is penciled in as the starter opposite him.
That will be a bit of a double-edged sword for Beal. It may be difficult for him to make a name for himself but it should be relatively easy for him to win pass rush opportunities considering that he’ll see frequent single-man protections.
Beal has an attractive set of tools that – if he can build on them – will make him an early selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. His athleticism, length, and flexibility are all very obvious. He can convert speed to power, win from a number of angles, and can be trusted when deployed from various alignments. He’s already been productive, leading the Bulldogs in sacks last season.
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Still, he looks like a player that’s in the early stages of his development. He’s overly reliant on natural tools and is extremely raw in both phases of the game. He doesn’t approach pass rush reps with a plan and has a shallow bag of moves with few counter options.
All this from a guy who will be a 5th-year Senior this fall.
But Beal could show some improvement this season and if he does, he’ll be a valuable piece on what figures to be another stout Georgia defense. It would also likely land Beal in the first-round discussion for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Ochaun Mathis – Nebraska, Senior (RS)
After four seasons with TCU, and three as a starter, Ochaun Mathis is heading for greener pastures – potentially. Nebraska hasn’t had much team success recently but they can offer Mathis a role that’s more attractive to elite edge defenders.
Mathis has the potential to work himself into the elite category.
— Ochaun Mathis (@OchaunDevon) May 1, 2022
The Horned Frogs ask their edge defenders to run contain blitzes and sell out against the run-game, which understandably limits their pass rushers’ ability to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. But the ‘Huskers will be allowing Mathis to do exactly that.
From the obvious pass rushing reps we’ve seen from Mathis, he’s displayed good hand technique and a solid set of moves. His ability to bend and change direction are both great for the position, and he has an ideal frame with great length.
However, Mathis plays smaller than his listed weight of 257-lbs. He doesn’t consistently set a hard edge and can be driven out of his run fit. With just over 30 pressures in three consecutive seasons, he clearly hasn’t been the most impactful collegiate pass rusher, though we expect that to change with Nebraska.
Mathis has the movement ability and natural traits of a stand-up OLB in a 3-4 defense. That will be exactly his role with the ‘Huskers. His coverage abilities are a bit of an unknown right now but we’ll get to learn more about Mathis as he settles into his new spot in Nebraska.
If all goes according to plan, Ochaun Mathis should hear his name called early on in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Yaya Diaby – Louisville, Junior
Yaya Diaby may have the coolest name of any prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft but not many people have heard it yet.
Diaby hasn’t made much of an impact on the field. He’s recorded just 1.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs in two seasons as a starter for the Cardinals. He hasn’t established much of a pass-rushing repertoire which has seriously limited his ability to get home. The hand technique isn’t exactly ‘there’ yet either.
But Diaby has the potential to absolutely explode this season.
Playing field-DE in Louisville’s 3-4 heavy defense, Diaby has been on display against the run. He’s got a thick core with awesome length and strong hands.
He’s one of the most powerful edge defenders in this class. Diaby controls blockers at the point of attack and can read the field like a book. He’s an extremely strong and efficient tackler, missing just one tackle opportunity in each of the last two seasons. Diaby is one of the top run-stopping edge defenders in this class.
He has room to grow as a pass rusher but the talent is there. When Diaby times the snap well, he shows a nice burst and can run the arc quickly for a pass rusher of his size. His hands pack a powerful punch and collapse the pocket by putting tackles on their heels.
Diaby is a promising power 4-3 DE prospect. If he can flash more development and nuance as a pass rusher, he has a shot at becoming one of the top edge defenders for the 2023 NFL Draft class.