It’s time to ramp up the preview for the 2022 college football season as Week 0 is just over a month away.
The 2022 PFF College Football Preview Guide has just dropped and in conjunction with that is an expansion of PFF’s preseason positional rankings that will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.
Below are PFF’s picks for the top-25 edge defenders entering the 2022 college football season along with some superlatives at the end, including the biggest projections and sleepers.
(Note: This has nothing to do with pro potential.)
The Top Dog
Anderson is college football's undisputed best returning defender, as the 6-foot- 4, 243-pound edge rusher is a high-level playmaker who ranked top-five at his position in tackles for loss or no gain against the run (15) and positively-graded run play rate this past season. Additionally, his 81 quarterback pressures also led all players regardless of position. The former five-star recruit earned a 79.1 PFF grade as a true freshman (2020) and 89.8 as a sophomore (2021), which is rare to see at that age, especially in the SEC. He has checked all the boxes, but Anderson's dominance comes down to his technical superiority over his opponents. Opposing offenses will be doing everything they can to scheme away from him in 2022.
Tupuola-Fetui enters 2022 as a huge wild card as he continues to recover from multiple injuries, including an Achilles injury, from a year ago. When healthy enough to play since 2020, he has produced a 91.0 pass-rush grade and 24.8% win rate. He has game-wrecking ability due to his power and bull-rush if healthy, but that’s a big if.
A long battle with COVID-19 disrupted Thomas’ 2020 junior year, but he still managed to play 119 snaps in what was supposed to be a bounce-back season after a sophomore slump in 2019. The 2018 No. 3 overall recruit went from an 83.4 PFF grade as a freshman to a 69.8 mark the year after. Thomas got back on the right track this past season, earning a 76.7 pass-rush grade and 18.7% pass-rush win rate — 11th and fourth, respectively, among returning Power Five edge defenders. What’s most encouraging about his performance this past season is his true pass-rush grade was nearly 25 grading points higher than the last time we saw him consistently on the field in 2019.
Nchami has been limited to just 288 snaps since 2019 due to injuries. When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound edge defender has produced a 92.8 pass-rush grade, a 27.7% pass-rush win rate and a 23.9% pressure rate. Nchami’s performance against Rutgers in 2020 was one of the best performances PFF College has seen. He posted a 96.0 pass-rush game grade, which is second to only a Chase Young outing for the best single-game mark from a Power Five edge defender since 2014. Nchami can be an elite pass-rusher if he stays healthy.
Star Alabama edge defender Will Anderson Jr. was a five-star recruit in 2020 and the starter opposite him, Turner, was a five-star recruit in 2021. While Turner isn’t on Anderson's level quite yet, he does have the traits to be one of college football's premier edge rushers. As a freshman in 2021, Turner earned a 66.7 PFF grade with 25 pressures and 24 defensive stops — the latter two of which led all SEC true freshmen by a good margin. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound edge defender is explosive off the line and a weapon as a penetrator on stunts. If his game is more refined in 2022, Alabama will have a flat-out unfair edge tandem.
The 2021 season may have been McDonald’s first year as a starter for the Cyclones, but he has always been a highly productive player. Over the past three years, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound edge defender has posted a 90.0 pass-rush grade, a 21.1% win rate and a 17.4% pressure rate from 550-plus rushes — all of which are top-five marks in the Big 12 in that span. And most of that production came from three-man rushes. McDonald’s 2021 campaign was as consistent as it gets, tallying multiple pressures in every game played.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a run or pass play — Stone is a true playmaker on the edge. Among Pac-12 edge defenders in 2021, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Cougar ranked third in pressures generated (43) and first in defensive stops (41). The all-around edge possesses good lateral quickness and burst to go out and make a play at any given time. Stone has professional bloodlines as the son of Ron Stone Sr. — a two-time All-Pro offensive lineman in the NFL. He’s also a very vocal leader on the Cougars defense, which is evident when watching the team play.
Stewart is one of college football's best-kept secrets, as he is similar to a Tazmanian Devil when rushing the passer on the edge due to his quickness and power. Stewart recorded eye-popping numbers as a true freshman for the Chanticleers in 2021, earning an 87.5 pass-rush grade while racking 41 total pressures — 15 of which were sacks while three were strip-sack fumbles.