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Part 6, Edge: It's a do-or-die decision
The 2022 NFL Draft is defined by a paramount position. Aidan Hutchinson is the safest bet, Kayvon Thibodeaux is this year's ultimate boom-or-bust and, no, the scouts do not hold back.
This is the 38th year in which Bob McGinn has written and NFL draft series. Previously, it appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19) and The Athletic (2020-’21). Until 2014, personnel people often were quoted by name. The series reluctantly an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of most scouts … The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test was not administered at the NFL scouting combine this year, possibly for the first time. Therefore, players generally took the test at spring timing days in 2021 or at pro days in the past two months. The NFL average score is about 19.
Today: Edge rushers.
No position in the draft can match the edge rushers for its number of blue-chip prospects at the top, its outrageously deep middle class and its talented though troubled individuals that will tempt teams in the second and third day.
Other than quarterback, pass rush is the name of the game in the NFL of today. Strike it rich in this area and your defense, possibly your entire team, might improve swiftly. Miss and, well, your team will have blown a wonderful opportunity.
“It’s the entire draft right there,” said an executive for an NFC team that is among the multitude seeking to upgrade its rush.
In the last five drafts, a total of 59 edge rushers, 11.8 per year, has been selected in the first three rounds. That number could approach 20 this week.
“It probably is the best position,” said an AFC executive, “and it’s an important position. It’s where the money’s being spent. It’s affecting games more than some other positions are affecting games.”
There likely aren’t radical variances in the way teams rank the edge rushers. They have the same names the general public does. The winners are those that consistently choose wisely between what often are two closely rated players.
“What it’s all about,” the AFC exec said.
Laughing, another AFC personnel man added, “No pressure at all.”
In 2017, the Falcons were coming off an appearance in the Super Bowl and weren’t picking until No. 31. With a pass rush ranked 26th, GM Thomas Dimitroff engineered a deal with Seattle in which Atlanta advanced five slots to No. 26 in exchange for third- and seventh-round choices.
His choice was edge rusher Takk McKinley when T.J. Watt was available and would go four picks later to the Steelers. McKinley became a bust and the rush didn’t improve, Watt became a star and Dimitroff, for many reasons, was fired 3 ½ years later.
In 2019, the Raiders were looking pass rush at No. 4. Their choice was Clelin Ferrell, another bust. On the board were three players that have become top-notch rushers: Josh Allen (No. 7 to Jacksonville), Rashan Gary (No. 12 to Green Bay) and Brian Burns (No. 16 to Carolina). Again, the awful miscue on Ferrell by GM Mike Mayock (in coordination with coach Jon Gruden) didn’t get Mayock fired in January, but it certainly didn’t help.
Late at night in the spring of the year, a GM might stand alone gazing upon his painstakingly arranged draft board just as Richard Nixon gazed (and spoke) at portraits of his presidential predecessors in the White House almost 50 years ago. Football decision-makers can feel so magnificently prepared, but when the human element is at play they can never be 100% which of those player cards affixed to that board will help save his job and which of those player cards will get him fired.
“There’s a lot of intriguing (edge) guys,” a veteran evaluator of many drafts said. “But half of them will (bust). You know it for sure. You can ignore it, but some of these guys aren’t going to make it.”
But try the GMs must, the value at the position demanding it be so.
So which players should GMs be especially wary of this year? Michigan’s David Ojabo, a one-year wonder if there ever was one and, since March 18, a player dealing with a torn Achilles’ tendon, demands extra attention.
In a poll of 17 scouts seeking the answer to which of the leading players has the best chance to bust, Ojabo led with 7 ½ votes. He was followed by Kayvon Thibodeaux (three), Drake Jackson (two), George Karlaftis (two), Travon Walker (1 ½) and Boye Mafe (one).
Conspicuous by his absence in the vote was Aidan Hutchinson, a player often described as the safest of picks.
The panel also was asked for their choice as best pure pass rusher in the draft. Five players received mentions, including six each for Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, three for Jermaine Johnson and one each for Jackson and Walker.
“Kayvon and Aidan are not like Myles Garrett or Von Miller or Khalil Mack from a pass-rushing standpoint,” an AFC personnel man said. “Some of them this year may be more physically talented than the Bosa brothers but they’re not as gifted with their hand use. This is not a very strong draft.”
Finally, the 17 evaluators rated the edge rushers 1-2-3-4-5, with a first-place vote worth 5 points, a second-place vote worth 4 and so on.
Hutchinson, with 78 points and 13 firsts, was the runaway winner. Following, in order, were Walker (51, two), Thibodeaux (45, one), Johnson (31, one), Ojabo (18 ½), Karlaftis (16), Jackson (7 ½), Josh Paschal (four), Arnold Ebiketie (two), DeAngelo Malone (one) and Mafe (one).
“There’s the top four, then there’s about eight guys beyond that that will be drafted (high),” said an AFC exec. “You’re just going to have to be fortunate to (pick) the one that turns out to be the best.”
RANKING THE EDGE RUSHERS
1. AIDAN HUTCHINSON, Michigan (6-6 ½, 268, 4.76, 1): Finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy after setting the school single-season record with 14 sacks. “I wouldn’t say he has the biggest upside,” one scout said. “But I would trust him the most for having a consistent impact. Some people say Jared Allen. Some people brought up Michael Strahan. If that’s what he is, he might be a Hall of Famer. It will be hard for him to bust unless he just gets hurt.” Was also compared by scouts to Maxx Crosby, Nick Bosa and Joey Bosa. “Kind of like a big windup toy,” a second scout said. “Good get-off and relentless chase for a big man. Little tightness in his back. Has strong arm punch and leg drive to walk back the left tackle. Also has a dip and rip running the hoop to beat them at the top of the rush.” Was a defensive lineman in a 4-3 from 2018-’20 before moving to OLB in a 3-4 last year. “In a normal NFL draft, where a couple quarterbacks are going in the top 5, Hutchinson is a fringe top-10 guy,” said a third scout. “The downside is what you see is probably what you’re going to get. There’s not a lot of upside left for him. He’s definitely a little maxed out. He played well this year. You cannot deny that. He played hard, worked hard. He’s got a lot of hand action. He’s a polished pass rusher. But, man, there are times you see him get blocked, and he’s going to get blocked a lot. He’s got a hard-charging style. He’s a culture guy.” Returned from the broken ankle that he suffered in Game 3 of 2020 for a final season and led Wolverines to a victory over Ohio State, a Big Ten championship and a berth in the CFP semifinals. “I saw his interview after the Big Ten Championship Game and I said to myself, ‘I’m taking him,’” said a fourth scout. “This kid is so confident, so mature. If his new coach says, ‘I want you to take over the locker room,’ I think he can.” Didn’t run particularly well and his arms measured merely 32 1/8 inches, alarmingly the shortest of the top 25 edge rushers. However, his short shuttle (4.15) and 3-cone (6.73) times led the position. His Wonderlic score was 23. “He’s got self-awareness and knows he’s not the greatest athlete,” said a fifth scout. “He doesn’t have things maybe the top athletes do so he compensates with other elements to make himself this really good player. That’s how he’s gotten to where he is. If you just said, ‘Go win this one-on-one rush,’ I could give you the Oregon kid or the other Michigan kid.” Finished with 160 tackles (28 for loss), 18 ½ sacks, four forced fumbles and nine passes defensed. “I know what he is,” said a sixth scout. “But you know what? In the National Football League today you’ve got to have a degree of athleticism or else you’re not going to win. You can be tricky dicky all you want but he’s not the Bosa boys.” From Plymouth, Mich.
2. TRAVON WALKER, Georgia (6-5, 270, 4.59, 1): Third-year junior, one-year starter at DE in a multiple-front defense. “He’ll be a 4-3 D-end, especially if he goes in the top 10,” one scout said. “A 4-3 team will take him. You’re not going to take him as a 5-technique or try to stand him up. He had five (actually six) sacks this year, then showed up at the combine and had a phenomenal workout. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by that … Georgia is a little bit more of a two-gap scheme than get up the field. There’s a theory among coaches that run 4-3 that this guy is going to thrive in an attack front. He very well might. There are clips where he’s super impressive chasing the ball. He can run for a big man. But when I see him going second, first, third or fourth, I’m, like, ‘Wow, he’s going to go higher than his sack total.’ That’s unheard of. People of this generation have forgotten about Mike Mamula. If he goes (high) you might be saying, ‘OK, maybe this guy is Mike Mamula.’” Started all 15 games in 2021 after playing in 21 games in 2019-’20. “He excites you,” another scout said. “Loved watching his tape. He’s not even close to his potential. He played zero, 3-tech, 5-tech and rushed from 7. If they just ever turn him loose he’s going to be a problem. He plays his ass off. His upside is incredible. With his motor, it’s going to be hard for him to fail unless there’s something in his makeup that allows him to.” His arm length (35 ½) and hand size (10 ¾) led the position. Wonderlic of 11. “He’s a D-end that when you rush the passer he can rush inside,” said a third scout. “He could be (Za’Darius Smith). He doesn’t have the most ideal rush productivity but the guy’s disruptive. Pressures, hits, knockdowns … those things are just as important. He needs to be going forward. They get drafted to go get the quarterback.” Finished with 65 tackles (13 for loss), 9 ½ sacks, one forced fumble and four passes defensed. “I just don’t see a guy that’s going to make a clear-cut difference in your football team,” a fourth scout said. “Is he a Bosa? No. He has more twitch than Hutchinson. He’s not Von Miller by any stretch. I don’t see a well thought-out arsenal of pass rush. I’m not sure that 3-technique isn’t where he belongs.” From Thomaston, Ga.
3. KAYVON THIBODEAUX, Oregon (6-4, 256, 4.63, 1): Played both up and down on the outside in a 3-4 defense. “He’s the best pure pass rusher if he plays hard all the time and acts like he likes football,” said one scout. “Does he like playing in the NFL, or like the NFL lifestyle and what that entails? If you put Hutchinson’s heart in Thibodeaux’s body then you’d have Myles Garrett.”
Third-year junior started 21 of 32 games. Arms were 33 1/8. “Little undersized, which you see when he gets into tight quarters,” a second scout said. “He gets bounced around some. But he’s got tremendous get-off. His acceleration is really impressive. He’ll coast a little. He’s easily frustrated. If somebody is in his face and holds him off he tends to throttle down and not fight through it like more determined athletes would do. But when he’s on the move and when he’s hot, he’s hot. To get the complete results you want from him you’re going to have to coach the coasting part out of him.” Finished with 123 tackles (35 ½ for loss), 19 sacks, three forced fumbles and seven passes defensed. Wonderlic of 18. “I know he’s got the hype but he’s got some tightness to him,” said a third scout. “When Whitney Mercilus came out, he was loose. They’re kind of in the same mold. Whitney was a better athlete. There’s a stiffness to Kayvon. I don’t know if he can succeed if he can’t get the edge or win right away. You see him go down the middle of people sometimes. I think tackles will sit on him and just absorb him.” Described by a fourth scout who interviewed him as “very opinionated, not afraid to speak his mind on what he’s seen in life and his perception of himself and the world.” Another scout with interview experience said: “Like the kid. Smart as shit. He presents himself like that (selfish money guy) but he does like football.” From South Central LA. “You’re talking to the biggest non-fan in the world,” a sixth scout said. “First of all, his lower body from the knee down looks like a damn safety. He goes against shitty tackles; the Pac-12 had no tackles this year. He’s a marketing guy who’s in Phil Knight’s back pocket. He doesn’t play that good against the run. I think he could bust.”
4. JERMAINE JOHNSON, Florida State (6-4 ½, 260, 4.62, 1): Subpar academics sent him to a junior college for two years. Started four of 24 games at Georgia in 2019-’20 before transferring for a final season in Tallahassee. “Started the year playing his way into third-round conversation and at the end played his way possibly into the first,” one scout said. “Not as explosive or as athletic as (Joe) Tryon or (Azeez) Ojulari, who played over him at Georgia. He can power off the edge. He’s got get-off and flattens down on the quarterback. He can create pressure looping outside when aligned as a 3-technique in sub packages. He can improve his edge rush by developing a counter move once engaged and using his hands better. Best as a 3-4 outside backer.” Several scouts mentioned his father, someone they regard as overly involved and an impediment. “He is a low-confidence know-it-all that’s been pushed by his dad his entire life,” one scout after an interview with Johnson. “I see him as a fake tough guy.” Finished with 106 tackles (26 for loss), 18 ½ sacks (12 at FSU), three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. Wonderlic of 15. Arms were 34. “The surprising thing was he was very good against the run,” a third scout said. “I almost thought he played the run better than he rushed the passer. He’s got exceptional hands and hand usage at the point of attack. That’s what grabbed me the most about him. The sacks came off hustle. He had some where he earned them going around the guy. He’s not a natural bend-the-corner right end but he’s good enough to do it … they called him ‘Hollywood.’ He’s a little arrogant. He’s probably hard to like at times. But he backed up everything he said he wanted to do, which is rare in this era.” From Eden Prairie, Minn.
5. DAVID OJABO, Michigan (6-4, 252, 4.58, 1-2): His whole world changed at pro day when he blew out his Achilles accelerating forward after a pass drop. “I still think he’ll go in the first round,” said one scout. “He’s more physically talented than Hutchinson or (George) Karlaftis. Someone’s going to get a steal as long as he comes back 100%.” Born and raised in Nigeria, he lived in Scotland from age 7 to 15 and then moved to New Jersey, where he played two years of high school football. Redshirted in 2019, made one tackle in six games in ’20 and exploded for 11 sacks opposite Hutchinson in ’21 before renouncing his final two years of eligibility. “He’s bigger and longer (33 ½ arms) than Randy Gregory and he doesn’t have the off-the-field stuff,” said a second scout. “He’s what you hoped you were getting out of Randy Gregory as an athlete and (person). I think he still goes late first just like Jeffery Simmons (in ’19).” Tiny hands (9) for his size. “Even before the injury I thought he was extremely tight in his ankles,” said a third scout. “I hate to say it, but it was almost predictable. He’s a straight-line rusher. Hutchinson got all the double teams so he was either single-blocked or not blocked at all so he could just straight-line it to the quarterback. I don’t see this guy having any bend ability. If you push him upfield he can’t redirect and come back to the quarterback. He just kept going upfield. There were times if the quarterback got pressured Ojabo would fold back and make a sack late in the down. I didn’t see power moves. Between that and he’s 250 and now with this injury, to me he’s the one I’m worried about.” Finished with 36 tackles (12 for loss), the 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and three passes defensed. Wonderlic of 20. “Athletically, he can beat your ass in a second,” said a fourth scout. “He’s gifted, but his instincts are not there yet. He’s only played football for a few years. First-year starter as a junior, most of the time they don’t succeed in the NFL. Buyer beware.”
6. GEORGE KARLAFTIS, Purdue (6-3 1/2, 263, 4.77, 1-2): Third-year junior started all 27 games of his career. “There’s a clear separation between him and Hutchinson,” one scout said. “He’s not as twitchy and doesn’t have the bend and that strength on the edge that Aidan does or that you really want in a first-round edge player. He certainly has high-level effort. He’s consistent. You know what you’re getting.” Lived in Athens, Greece until his father died and his mother moved the family to West Lafayette, Ind., when he was 13. “He’s polished and got a story to tell, and he’s compelling that way,” said a second scout who has interviewed him. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this guy’s going to wear out his assistant coach, whoever that is.’ This guy’s supposed to be this incredible effort guy but you can find clips of him just jogging along like the rest of the Boilers. I thought he was OK as a left end at the point … and he was OK as a right end pure rush man. He’s more of a culture-changer than a difference-maker or game-closer. I didn’t think he was as good as Rob Ninkovich.” Finished with 99 tackles (30 ½ for loss), 14 ½ sacks, four forced fumbles and five passes defensed. Arms were 32 5/8. One scout compared him to Trey Hendrickson. “He reminded me of the way Brandon Graham plays,” a fourth scout said. “He’s not as tall or as long but he plays with such natural leverage. He’s strong.” Wonderlic of 20.
7. DRAKE JACKSON, Southern California (6-2 ½, 273, no 40, 1-2): Moved from DE to OLB in 2021 before declaring a year early. “I’d say Drake Jackson as far as having the (best) pure ability to rush,” one scout said. “He’s not good against the run. He’s not strong. He’s not physical. He’s not all that. But, as a rusher, he shows speed, hand usage and the ability to bend the corner. He can get low. A little Gumby-like as far as his flexibility. Jaelan Phillips was an end who could play the run and the pass. Jackson is a little bit one-dimensional. He’ll go higher than I have him but I recognize he has natural pass-rush traits.” Third-year junior. Weighed 275 during his best season, which was his first. Later played at 240, was 254 at the combine and then showed up at pro day 2 ½ weeks later scaling 273. “He did it on purpose,” a second scout said. “He sees himself as a defensive end. He didn’t look great, but he still moved amazingly well for a big guy. He’s so much more talented than where he’s going to get drafted. He may be more talented as a rusher and athletically than Kayvon Thibodeaux but the production just hasn’t been there the last couple years. He’s gotten progressively worse every year. You can put that on the fact of all the turnover and coaching changes they’ve had, but at some point you would think, with his natural ability and there aren’t a lot of good Pac-12 linemen, that he would be more productive. He hasn’t been.” Finished with 103 tackles (25 for loss) and 12 ½ sacks. Arms were 34. Wonderlic of 8. “Talented as f---,” a third scout said. “Not a bad character risk. He’s just a prima donna. High maintenance.” From Corona, Calif.
8. ARNOLD EBIKETIE, Penn State (6-2 ½, 247, 4.66, 2): Born in Cameroon, moved to the U.S. at 12 and played three years in high school. After a redshirt season, he started six of 24 games at Temple before beginning a grad-transfer season in Happy Valley. “More of a late bloomer,” one scout said. “They lined him up (both) up and down. Not a silky athlete. Kind of a straight power-explosiveness athlete. Makes a ton of plays. In run support, more of a leverage-fight his ass off kind of guy. He’s small. He’s more polished than Ojabo. More physical. More aware.” Had six sacks for the Owls and then 9 ½ in 12 starts for the Nittany Lions. Finished with 121 tackles (27 ½ for loss) and five forced fumbles. Wonderlic of 15. “He’s a pure speed rusher who needs technique work but does he play the game hard,” a second scout said. “He wins with tenacity and grit. He affects the game, but he’s so small.” Led the top 20 edge rushers in the broad jump (10-8). Arms were 34 1/8. From Silver Spring, Md.
9. JOSH PASCHAL, Kentucky (6-2 ½, 270, 4.79, 2): Might be the most admired player in the draft. Early in his collegiate career he underwent three operations on the ball of his right foot for malignant melanoma. Missed all but three games in 2018 after he needed to learn how to walk again. “He’s an incredible kid, a cancer survivor,” said one scout. “They absolutely love him there. They think he’s a glue guy extraordinaire. Just a winner. You’re not going to want to overdraft him. He’ll be a rotational defensive lineman, a great locker-room guy and all of that. There’s just a real high floor with him. Not a great ceiling.” One scout ranked him as their third-best DT as a 3-technique. “He’s interesting from a size standpoint because he doesn’t fit the ideal mold,” said a second scout. “You need a creative defensive coordinator or D-line coach to put him in positions to succeed. Knows how to win individual matchups. Whether you put him inside or outside, depending what you’re playing against that week, he can find ways to affect the quarterback.” Finished with 139 tackles (37 for loss) in 52 games (37 starts) and 13 ½ sacks. “He can play inside on subpackages and give you first- and second-down snaps at end (in a 4-3),” said another scout. “Great kid. He’ll be a solid player. There’s not much to like.” Led the position on the bench press (30) and the top 12 edge rushers in the Wonderlic (32). “He’s probably the most intriguing guy this year,” a fourth scout said. “He’s a defensive end. If he was 285, I’d put him at 3-technique. Boy, he’s a good football player. For his size he’s powerful, and the best kid in the whole damn draft.” Arms were 32 ¾. From Prince George’s County, Md.
10. BOYE MAFE, Minnesota (6-3 ½, 257, 4.59, 2): Played DE in a 4-3 defense from a two-point stance in 2021, his only year as a starter. “He’s put his hand in the dirt in subpackages,” said one scout. “This is a kid that will make some plays and then kind of disappear. He’s an effective pass rusher when he uses his hands. You’ll see him chop wrists. He can flatten and turn the corner. He does have sack fumble production (three), which a lot of people covet. He showed closing speed when the quarterback would bootleg away from him. Flashes speed to power but can stall out. He can squeeze down a tight end in the hole and set an edge when he drops his hips down and extends his arms. Hot and cold productivity, but has talent. He’ll eventually start. Very good Senior Bowl. Looks the part.” Finished with 87 tackles (19 ½ for loss) and 15 sacks. Arms were 32 5/8. Vertical jump of 41 ½ was the best at the position. “I trust him,” said another scout. “He’s a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 (outside linebacker). Love the makeup. Plays his butt off. He may never be an elite player but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had two or three 10-sack seasons. Not at all.” Wonderlic of 25. From Golden Valley, Minn.
11. DeANGELO MALONE, Western Kentucky (6-3, 239, 4.60, 2-3): Two-time conference defensive player of the year. “I’d take him over Mafe,” one scout said. “He is a player. You don’t see guys this physical anymore. He’s got burst around the edge. Got moves. Just a tough dude.” Returned for a fifth pandemic season in 2021. Finished with 349 tackles (60 for loss), 34 sacks, nine forced fumbles and eight passes defensed. “His deal is maintaining weight,” a second scout said. “He looks really good now at 240 but he played at 205 as a freshman. He needs to get somewhere and stay there and train and eat. Football’s important to him. More upside with Malone; more bird in the hand with Paschal.” Arms were 33 1/8. “He’s really an outside backer in a 3-4 but you do have to worry about the intellect for the hybrid type position,” a third scout said. “He can run. He’s got big-time numbers for pressures and sacks.” From Atlanta.
12. NIK BONITTO, Oklahoma (6-3, 248, 4.59, 2-3): Started 29 of 39 games, mostly as an outside linebacker in an odd front. “Someone’s going to take him second round,” said one scout. “I am scared of this guy. This is a guy like Ojabo that people try to make something more of because he can run and he worked out crazy. I don’t think his game transfers to the NFL very well. He’s just a little guy. Get off the ball and run by (the quarterback). Now put some moves together, let’s see you use your hands. He doesn’t have any of that. He gets stalemated very easily. Plays hard. He chases. Gets beat up in the run game. He’s a situational pass rusher but I don’t know if he has the instincts for being a 3-4 outside guy.” Finished with 117 tackles (32 for loss) and 18 ½ sacks. Arms were 32 ½. “Kind of a designated pass rusher,” a second scout said. “He’s got to prove he can play the run and cover. It’s hard to pinpoint him being a starter.” Fourth-year junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
13. CAMERON THOMAS, San Diego State (6-4, 265, no 40, 2-3): Redshirted in 2018, started 34 games from 2019-’21 and then declared a year early. “Boy, that SOB plays hard,” one scout said. “He’ll probably go second round. I wouldn’t take him there. He’s not that good of an athlete. He goes because of a high motor.” Similar in some ways to Paschal. “Not the best athletes but have overriding factors like instincts, toughness, quickness, effort, competitive nature,” a second scout said. Finished with 155 tackles (39 for loss) and 21 sacks. Another scout compared him to Trey Hendrickson. “He’s Maxx Crosby Part II,” a fourth scout said. “Plays nonstop. Little bit of a rigid athlete but he’s got excellent technique and he knows how to work the angles. They move him all around the front. This guy is all over the place. Pretty effective at all of it.” Wonderlic of 34 led the position. Arms were just 32 ½. His older brother, Zach, played LT for the Aztecs and has a chance to be drafted this year. “He’s a hard fit,” a fifth scout said. “I don’t know if he’s an edge guy or not.” From Carlsbad, Calif.
14. ALEX WRIGHT, Alabama-Birmingham (6-5, 271, no 40, 3-4): Third-year junior, three-year starter. “More of a base end type,” said one scout. “Power, stiff, long (arms were 34). Not a lot of pass-rush ability. He’s a fourth-round guy.” Finished with 91 tackles (19 for loss) and 12 ½ sacks. “Small-town Alabama (Elba),” a second scout said. “He is raw. Looks like he’s barely lifted weights (a position-low 15 reps on the bench), but he does. There’s a lot of potential with this kid. He’s got some ability off the edge. Obviously, he’s come out too soon. He could have helped himself by staying or transferring up perhaps. He’s got a pec injury and he hasn’t run, which I think will hurt him. He’s a much better prospect than the defensive end (Jordan Smith) who went last year to Jacksonville in the fourth round. This kid’s a much better kid, too.”
15. KINGSLEY ENAGBARE, South Carolina (6-3 ½, 271, 4.92, 3-4): Paced the Gamecocks in sacks and tackles for loss in 2020 and ’21. “He’s my No. 4 off-the-ball (strong-side) linebacker,” said one scout. “Played a mixture of outside linebacker and edge. Good college player but not dynamic by any means.” Ran a horrible 40 at the combine (4.87) before putting on 13 pounds and running even worse (4.98) at pro day. “He had kind of a rough spring from a speed standpoint,” a second scout said. “He’s got really good length (34 ¾ arms) and some natural rush. He does a really good job using his hands as a rusher because of his length. I just don’t think he’s got enough speed and juice. He’ll be a solid NFL player but he’s not going to be an impact rusher.” Finished with 121 tackles (24 for loss) and 15 sacks. From Atlanta.
OTHERS: Christopher Allen, Alabama; Jesse Luketa, Penn State; Sam Williams, Mississippi; Dominique Robinson, Miami (Ohio); Micheal Clemons, Texas A&M; Kyron Johnson, Kansas; Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati; Amare Barno, Virginia Tech; Tyreke Smith, Ohio State; David Anenih, Houston; Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M; Myron Tagavailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame; Tre Williams, Arkansas; Adam Anderson, Georgia.
Kyron Johnson, Kansas: Never really found a position as a four-year starter in Lawrence. On Nov. 13, his two strip sacks helped the Jayhawks upset Texas in Austin. After a fine week at the Senior Bowl rushing off the edge, he blazed a 4.45 40 at the combine. Johnson (6-0 ½, 231) is tiny, but one scout dared to mention Robert Mathis. With a 39 ½-inch vertical jump and 32 ½-inch arms, he’ll be drafted and at the very least be a menace on special teams.
Sam Williams, Mississippi: Has been charged with sexual battery on two different occasions but each time charges were dropped. The university suspended him for two months in summer 2020 after one of the arrests. In high school, he was kicked out of school for an incident in which a knife was involved. Williams (6-3 ½, 258, 4.56) scored 21 on the Wonderlic and had 12 ½ sacks in ’21, including an impressive performance against Alabama LT Evan Neal. One team removed him from its draft board. “He’s got second- or third-round ability,” said one scout. “But he has the worst intangibles ever.”
SCOUT TO REMEMBER
Bill McPeak: As the first-year head coach of Washington in 1961, the 35-year-old McPeak was responsible for trading a first-round draft choice to Cleveland for RB Bobby Mitchell, the franchise’s first African-American player who went on to make three Pro Bowls. McPeak himself made three Pro Bowls as a defensive end for Pittsburgh from 1949-’57. After his five-year stint in D.C., McPeak served as an NFL assistant coach for eight years before suffering a stroke. Following years of rehabilitation, he returned to football as New England’s director of pro personnel from 1979-’90. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of every team in the league, and always took the time to assist a young sportswriter. Having recently announced his retirement, he died of heart failure in May 1991 in Foxborough. He was 64.
QUOTE TO NOTE
NFL personnel man: “I’ve done this a long time. I quit counting my mistakes after about 1,466. If I’m going to miss on a guy, I’m going to miss on (Aidan) Hutchinson. Because on a losing team he is exactly what you need.”