2022 NFL Draft Cheat Sheet: Defensive Ends

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

If I had my way, Kayvon Thibodeaux would be the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft. There’s not a doubt in my mind about Thibodeaux’s pass-rushing ability, and he has the prototypical size to play the position at an elite NFL level. Thibodeaux has the rare combination of strength, size, and speed that scouts look for in top draft picks, and his knowledge of the game clearly shines through in his play. The former Duck has a variety of moves to deploy against you, making consistently great use of his extensive skillset. I don’t have much else to say on the matter: on my board, Kayvon Thibodeaux is the best in this class at in any position.

The NFL, though, seems to have other plans for him. Thibodeaux has garnered a lot of effort concerns from NFL scouts. You see this seemingly every year with one of the top draft scouts: does he really love football? Why is he so concerned with his image? I mean, god forbid a football player has any other interests. Either way, I think the strongest argument for Thibodeaux’s game is that no scouts have anything negative to say about his production on the field. Personally, I don’t think the effort concerns have that much merit, and he’s still viewed as a top ten pick by most, so maybe the NFL hasn’t completely lose their collective mind just yet.

Comparison: Thibodeaux’s twitch, get-off, body type, and intelligence on and off the field reminds me a bit of Myles Garrett.

Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

Now, we move to the prospect who likely will be the top pick in the draft, despite my best efforts to push my Thibodeaux agenda. Don’t get me wrong, though. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson is still very much a top tier prospect in this draft. Listed by the NFL as 6’7 260, Hutchinson is in the high percentile of defensive ends when it comes to height and weight, even at the pro level. According to scouts, his strength level and gym habits (which could just be NFL code for “white guy” so take it with a grain of salt) are the stuff of epic myths. He doesn’t have a ton of pure speed or burst off the line, but he makes up for it with a motor that truly never dies. Hutchinson wants to rip you in half, and I respect that.

But when I watch him, I can’t help but think his game is a little…janky. The NFL agrees with me, stating that Hutchinson “plays the game in pieces rather than a continuous flow,” which is a perfect description. I think that some of this jankiness might help Hutchinson in areas of his game. He might not know exactly what he’s going to do next, but his blocker doesn’t either. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, and I can see how his erratic play style can help, but he’s a clear second fiddle behind Thibodeaux in my opinion.

Comparison: Bleacher Report compares Hutchinson to a taller Maxx Crosby. Good call!

Travon Walker, Georgia

The amount of defensive players that Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs have pumped into this draft is insane. Among them is this year’s quick draft riser on the defensive side, Travon Walker. Few prospects have shot up draft board quite like Walker, and it’s easy to see why scouts love him. Walker runs a 4.51 second 40 yard dash at 6’5 272, and has long arms and strong hands to strike fear into offensive tackles. Above everyone else, Walker was perhaps the most physically impressive defensive end at the NFL Combine this year. He may not have put up the sack numbers at Georgia, but he has the “just look at that guy” factor, and that’s important.

On the other hand, I think the NFL is worried about where Walker might slot in on a professional defense. Again, he didn’t have the sack numbers you love to see from a top defensive end. Maybe he’s a linebacker? But he doesn’t have the burst to blow through holes in the line like a great linebacker should. Maybe he could be a freelancer, but the NFL doesn’t really love to see those kind of guys. Taking Walker in the draft is a pick that you make when you can afford to blow it. He has all the tools, but it might take a while for him to put it all together. I’m not super worried about him failing at the pro level, but his lack of production does make my raise an eyebrow.

Comparison: Walker’s raw tools and tweener-ish nature reminds me of an even less polished Rashan Gary when he was coming out.

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