Last week, we covered some quarterbacks that the Green Bay Packers could target. Today, we’re looking at edge defenders.
The edge defender position should be in play early for the Green Bay Packers in the 2022 NFL Draft. Our team at Game On Wisconsin called the position a sneaky need for the 2021 Draft and that need will only grow next offseason.
The contracts of the Packers’ top three edge defenders – Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary – all expire after the 2022 season, though Gary could be retained on a 5th year option.
The fact that the Green Bay Packers are grossly over-budget for the 2022 season doesn’t help. Some heads may be on the chopping block and the edge defender group is not exempt from that.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Zach Harrison, Nik Bonitto, George Karlaftis, Brenton Cox Jr, Aidan Hutchinson, and Drake Jackson are early favorites for first-round consideration. The following five players could also work their way into the discussion with a solid 2021 season.
Ali Gaye – LSU, 6’ 6” 262
A native of Nambia, Ali Gaye immigrated to the United States at 12 years-old. He began playing football shortly after and spent two seasons in JUCO ball before winding up at LSU.
Ali Gaye’s unlikely path to Baton Rouge and playing football at LSU pic.twitter.com/NZlcOv57fS
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) October 5, 2020
Gaye is 6’ 6” with tree limbs for arms. He has the type of length that NFL DCs salivate over but he hasn’t figured out how to take full advantage of that gift yet. He’d benefit from adding some upper body strength.
Along with his insane length, Gaye also displays great movement skills for the EDGE position. He moves well both downhill and laterally, and has the flexibility to consistently bend the edge. He’s been able to impact the passing game well enough but still has much to learn about defending the run.
Gaye struggles to find leverage and can be driven out of the lane by powerful blockers. His 23.3% missed tackle rate is also a big concern. However, his natural pass-rush abilities will make him an attractive prospect for all 32 teams. Gaye is definitely one to keep an eye on this season.
Isaiah Thomas – Oklahoma, 6’ 5” 265
With 2021 third-rounder, Ronnie Perkins, unavailable for the first four games of the season, Isaiah Thomas was given an opportunity to put his pass-rushing skills on display.
Oklahoma has 3 of the top 10 highest-graded edge defenders this season:
♨️ Ronnie Perkins – 90.8 (1st)
♨️ Nik Bonitto – 89.0 (4th)
♨️ Isaiah Thomas – 86.2 (8th) pic.twitter.com/4Zj5MD5hCe
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 31, 2020
He did exactly that, utilizing his strong hands and dangerous bull-rush. Thomas does a great job of using his length to keep blockers off of him. This allows him time to read the quarterback, then shed and pursue.
Following Perkins’ return, Thomas spent more time at defensive tackle. He was out of position in that role, however. He was easily controlled by double-teams and showed a lack of contact balance. But Thomas was able to hold his ground against the run in one-on-one situations. He can be trusted to maintain his gap, even against squatty guards.
While Thomas is consistent against the run and offers value as a pass-rusher, he’s limited athletically. He doesn’t fit the mold of an explosive edge-bender and shouldn’t be the focal point of an NFL pass-rush. Still, his experience inside offers him versatility – the kind of versatility the Green Bay Packers covet.
Boye Mafe – Minnesota, 6’ 4” 265
If you’ve been paying attention to college football, you’ve likely already heard of Boye Mafe. He broke out as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and has been on the radar ever since. The issue with Mafe is that we’ve seen little improvement over the last two years.
Number five on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List last year, Mafe will enter the season with high expectations yet again. He has arguably the best combination of power and explosion in college ball. We’ve seen flashes of those natural traits translating to the football field but we need to see them on a more consistent basis.
Mafe has been too reliant on his natural athleticism. Even as a redshirt senior, his pass-rush skills need refining. He’s bull rush or nothing right now, and his hands are all over the place, though, he does have a history of using those hands to bat down balls.
With his penetrating style, Mafe often finds himself out of position against the run, but that’s of his own doing. He can hold his ground and is a decent tackler. Still, it’s his potential as a pass-rusher that makes him such an attractive prospect.
Boye Mafe Highlights pic.twitter.com/h7p1Xqlqhw
— Mostly Always (@Mostly_Always) June 27, 2020
Adam Anderson – Georgia, 6’ 5” 225
Let’s address the elephant in the room – Anderson is 225-pounds. There’s plenty of room for more good weight but even if he adds 10-pounds, Anderson would be an under-sized edge defender in the NFL.
That lack of beef obviously hinders his ability to set the edge. Anderson is a solid tackler but he will likely have to be hidden against the run.
Anderson shines as a pass-rusher. In fact, he was the top-graded pass-rusher for Pro Football Focus last season. Anderson’s get-off and pursuit ability are second to none. He has a deep bag of tricks and can counter his way out of any situation.
I hope Adam Anderson gets more playing time next year. Has all the tools to be a first rounder if he can bulk up a bit. (It’s actually him this time😂) pic.twitter.com/G734BddBDU
— Lorenz (@ScoutingLenz) January 5, 2021
Because of his skill-set and athletic ability, Anderson will enter the 2021 season as arguably the top pass-rusher in the NCAA. His thin frame will limit him as a draft prospect but we love his ability to get after the quarterback.
Josh Paschal – Kentucky, 6’ 3” 278
Josh Paschal is arguably the most violent edge defender in this class. He’s a powerful edge-setter who initiates contact, winning at the point of attack with great consistency. Paschal has very strong hands and is the definition of power-rusher.
At 6’ 3”, 278-pounds, Paschal is a load but he can move too. He’s bendy, moves well laterally, and slides off blockers with minimal effort. Though, he does have some natural limitations that will be difficult to overcome.
Paschal lacks length and acceleration, and will never be the prototypical edge-bender. He is, however, the best run-stopper on this list. Paschal’s frame and power allow him to not only set a strong edge but also anchor against double-teams.
Paschal offers the kind of inside-outside versatility that will keep him on the field for all three downs. He’s also a melanoma survivor and one of my dudes for the 2022 class. Paschal is primed to dominate once again.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) November 17, 2018