With the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine the main focus this week, it's time to release my top 5 rankings for all the defensive positions. These rankings are subject to change, of course, but for the most part they shouldn't drastically change, unless a top-tier corner runs 4.6 or we get an otherworldly workout from someone unexpected.
Before I begin, remember, these are my individual rankings, not the full CBS Sports prospect rankings, which is an aggregate of Ryan Wilson, Josh Edwards and myself.
Here are my top five 2022 NFL Draft prospects at each defensive position:
- Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (CBS Sports rank: 4)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon (1)
- Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati (72)
- Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State (42)
- George Karlaftis, Purdue (11)
Hutchinson is a best-prospect-in-this-class candidate. He has the size, length, athleticism, power, and nuanced game to be the always coveted high-floor, high-upside prospect. He got better in each of his three seasons at Michigan and is expected to test similarly to other recent edge rushers who heard their names called inside the top 5 of the draft. There's not much space between Hutchinson and Thibodeaux in my scouting grade book, but Thibodeaux's behind the Michigan star because he's not quite as polished using his hands.
Sanders is the "high upside" rusher I'm betting on with the most confidence in this class. For him to be as powerful as he was during his illustrious Cincinnati career at around 240 pounds while standing nearly 6-foot-5 was shocking to me, in a good way. He's springy and beats blockers with his hands too. Ebiketie and Karlaftis are also complete edge rushers. Other names a few spots down my list include prospects who appear likely to go in Round 1: David Obajo from Michigan, Florida State's Jermaine Johnson, and Minnesota's Boye Mafe. They're the next three in my edge-rusher rankings. They're all graded inside my Top 50. The edge class is overflowing with talent.
- Devonte Wyatt, Georgia (44)
- Logan Hall, Houston (28)
- Phidarian Mathis, Alabama (76)
- Jordan Davis, Georgia (27)
- Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma (79)
Wyatt has the most dazzling combination of burst, closing speed, pop on contact, and hand-work mastery of any interior defensive lineman in this class. Day 1 starter, instant-impact type. Hall is the premier movable chess piece with a unique frame and incredible length. Davis is the most buzzed about nose tackle in this class because he is ab-so-lutely massive. And his movement skills are impressive for being around 360 pounds. Is he a three-down player though?
Winfrey is a tall, linear rusher who wins with first-step quickness. UConn's Travis Jones or LSU's Neil Farrell Jr. are the nose tackles you probably want your team to target if it misses or passes on Davis in Round 1. This defensive tackle class -- not great. Horrible? No. It's devoid of a legitimate, top-tier prospect and the depth is thin.
- Nakobe Dean, Georgia (13)
- Chad Muma, Wyoming (54)
- Devin Lloyd, Utah (19)
- Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma (124)
- Channing Tindall, Georgia (75)
I do not care about Dean's size. Even if he's something like 5-11 and 220 pounds at the combine. The dude is an absolute baller, with a game tailor-made for today's NFL. He's twitchy, he's smooth in coverage, he's explosive, and he plays a lot bigger than his size. The best linebackers in the league today are playing between 220 and 230 pounds. Don't overthink it with Dean. My first major surprise comes next, Muma over Devin Loyd. I like them both very much. I believe the Wyoming star is more coverage-ready. It's easy to get lulled into a trance by Lloyd's length and explosiveness. And while those traits are certainly helpful at linebacker, coverage is king.
Asamoah and Tindall are rockets to the football. Pumped for their workouts.
1. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU (2)
2. Roger McCreary, Auburn (16)
3. Andrew Booth, Clemson (14)
4. Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati (12)
5. Kyler Gordon, Washington (51)
Honorable Mention: Trent McDuffie, Washington
Stingley has a rare combination of fluidity, explosion, and ball skills to his game. McCreary will get dinged because he has short arms. Don't care. He was the most disruptive corner in the SEC over the past three years -- yes, that includes Stingley. McCreary is sudden, with elite recovery speed, and tremendous ball awareness.
Booth should not be as light-footed as he is at his size. Gardner is also a top 20 prospect for me -- I really like the top four corners. His college career was legendary. But is a 6-3, 200-pound corner ready to thrive in today's NFL where route-running brilliance has never been better?
Gordon and McDuffie were difficult evaluations for me. Much has been made about the lack of yardage they allowed in 2021. Well, yeah, they played in a zone-heavy defense. I like Gordon's traits more than McDuffies.
1. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (3)
T2. Daxton Hill, Michigan (24)
T3. Jalen Pitre, Baylor (34)
4. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State (41)
5. Lewis Cine, Georgia (63)
Hamilton is a Derwin James type. Hill and Pitre are clones of each other. Smaller, ultra-quick slot defenders who can range to the football at safety but are assets because of how versatile they are. Brisker isn't far behind those two and has freaky athletic characteristic with tantalizing size.
Cine will smack running backs as hard as any safety in this class and covers like a finesse player. Bryan Cook from Cincinnati is the other super-handy, NFL-ready safety in this class who has the potential to go on Day 2.
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