Edge rushers are distinctly valuable in today's NFL, and six of them were selected within the first 33 picks of the 2022 draft. Generating a pressure on the opposing quarterback drastically drops passer rating, and is the instance when many pass breakups and interceptions occur.
So which rookie edge rushers will be the most productive in Year 1? Read below to find out.
5. Jermaine Johnson, Jets
I was lower on Johnson than most, then again, after rumors running rampant close to the draft he was going to be a top 10 or even top 5 pick, he went at No. 26 overall, and the Jets had to trade up to select him.
Johnson was drafted to be the running mate for Carl Lawson, New York's big free-agent expenditure last season who didn't play in 2021 due to an Achilles injury. Lawson is a unique, established rusher who will draw the doubles and chips from backs and tight ends initially, which certainly bodes well for the start to Johnson's NFL career. The Florida State star is a decently explosive, linear rusher who wins in straight-up situations with a nasty punch. His long arms are weapons on the field. He closes on the quarterback outstandingly too.
Typically I shy away from rookie edge rushers who will be tasked with being the "alpha outside rusher" in Year 1. But Karlaftis' film screamed "NFL ready." He's big, powerful, a smooth, very capable athlete, Karlaftis rarely looks awkward or uncomfortable bending the corner or out in space.
And while he does enter a rather barren outside rusher room in Kansas City, the intimidating presence of interior disruptor Chris Jones can't be ignored, and certainly is not ignored by offenses during their gameplan install. That attention will help Karlaftis get advantage matchups at least early in his rookie season on a defense that will be playing with plenty of leads thanks to Patrick Mahomes and Co.
3. Sam Williams, Cowboys
Williams had first-round film. Didn't seem very debatable to me. Off-field issues pushed him well into Round 2, and after failing to retain Randy Gregory this offseason, he was a logical choice for a pass rush now anchored by Micah Parsons that still features DeMarcus Lawrence but needs impactful depth.
A broken bone in his foot limited Lawrence to seven regular season games in 2021. The year before that, he was on the field for right around 60% of the snaps, and he's 30 now. Williams won't be relied upon to be the first or even second outside rusher -- which I like -- however, cracking the starting/full-time lineup won't be an impossibility because of Lawrence's age and wear and the fact that Parsons does bounce from edge to traditional linebacker.
Blessed with rebar hands, Williams routinely moves offensive linemen with his powerful punches and he's noticeably explosive around the corner. The Cowboys should often be in scenarios in which the pass rush can really get after it. The second-round pick from Ole Miss will be an important element of the Dallas defense in Year 1.
Hutchinson is prospect every GM wants to present to his owner. He's a high floor, high ceiling rusher. For as developed as his bull rush, swim and swipe moves are, this is a 21-year-old pressure-generator. Hutchinson is entering the league younger than rookie-year Nick Bosa was, and he's only a few months older than Kayvon Thibodeaux.
The "he's already reached his ceiling" analysis during the pre-draft process was bunk. In Detroit, Hutchinson will assume alpha rusher duties immediately, which I usually don't love for a first-year pro at that position. But he's ready. The hand work, the size, the bend. It's all there. Plus, it's not as if Detroit's roster is devoid of pass-rush talent. Former first-round Charles Harris is back after a resurgent season in 2021, and the Okwara brothers are unique types on the outside as well. Plus third-round pick Joshua Paschal plays with his hair on fire, and there's plenty of youthful meat on the interior to draw attention inside.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Giants
Thibodeaux doesn't bring it from a pass-rush move perspective like Hutchinson. He's more explosive. He can win quicker around the corner. And sometimes as a first-year player is learning to effectively utilize his hands to combat blockers, simply being a better athlete than the opposition matters more than anything else.
Thibodeaux gave me Danielle Hunter vibes on film. Similar size, length, incendiary burst, stunning speed-to-power conversion, occasional counter move -- scary similar. On a team with second-year pro Azeez Ojulari -- who's pretty explosive in his own right -- flashing around the opposite corner and the likes of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence inside, Thibodeaux is the Ferrari ready to erupt out of the garage.