NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 edge defender prospects

Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) pressures Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

• Andre Carter set to be Army's first draft pick since 2008: While he’s liable to get out-leveraged in the run game, Carter is poised to excel as a pass rusher with a high ceiling.

• Alabama's Will Anderson takes top spot: He racked up 201 pressures in three seasons with the Crimson Tide.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

The 2023 edge defender class is a deep, deep group with potential impact players stretching into Day 2. The crown jewels are at the top, though, with some true athletic marvels. It’s likely we’ll see at least three top-10 picks from this edge class, if not four. 

10. Zach Harrison, Ohio State (Senior | 6-6, 271)

  • 2022 Grade: 86.1 
  • Play Style: Pocket Collapser
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Harrison, a former five-star recruit, was touted to be next in line in the Buckeyes' defensive end to top-five pick pipeline. That never quite came to fruition, as he’s a little bit more physically limited than the Bosas and Chase Young. Harrison is a touch stiff, struggling to bend the edge back to the quarterback.

For many, that’s a death knell at defensive end, but Harrison has other physical gifts that make you think he can get past it. He’s got tremendous linear explosiveness for a 6-foot-6, 271-pounder. Back in high school, he even ran a 10.7-second 100-meter dash. That screams bull-rush potential, even if he hasn't been consistent in that regard at Ohio State.

9. Will McDonald IV, Iowa State (RS Senior | 6-3, 236)

  • 2022 Grade: 79.1
  • Play Style: Speed Rusher
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Of all the players on this list, none was stuck out of position more frequently than McDonald. As an undersized edge to begin with, McDonald was trapped playing base end in a three-down front. The fact that he could even play a role usually reserved for 275-plus-pounders at only 236 pounds is impressive itself, but it didn’t do him any favors in showcasing his tremendous explosiveness off the edge. Still, he earned pass-rushing grades of 84.1 and 85.3 the past two seasons in that role. The Senior Bowl will be big for McDonald’s evaluation, as we’ll actually get to see him put in a position to succeed.

8. Andre Carter, Army (RS Junior | 6-7, 260)

  • 2022 Grade: 78.0
  • Play Style: Long Finesse Rusher
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Carter is a unique prospect for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that he plays for Army. The Black Knights haven’t had a prospect drafted since 2008 (Caleb Campbell) and haven’t had someone taken before the seventh round since 1947. Carter is set to change that.

The other glaring reason is Carter’s body type. He’s 6-foot-7, 260 pounds with cat-like quicks. And when you look at the muscle mass on his frame, it’s easy to see him adding 10-20 pounds with offseasons dedicated to football instead of military training. That will be necessary, though, as Carter lacks the physicality to be a three-down player at the moment. At his height, he’s liable to get out-leveraged in the run game, which has shown with his 72.7 and 57.6 run-defense grades the past two seasons.

Still, you see a player who knows how to use his hands and how to rush the passer. Carter tied Aidan Hutchinson for the highest pass-rushing grade in the country in 2021 before opposing offenses wised up and accounted for him in obvious passing situations this year. That’s a good indication of how high his ceiling could push.

7. B.J. Ojulari, LSU (Junior | 6-3, 250)

  • 2022 Grade: 75.8
  • Play Style: Edge Bender
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because B.J. is the younger brother of Giants edge rusher and former second-rounder Azeez. When you flip on B.J.’s tape, the similarities are obvious. Neither are elite athletes, but both are plus athletes who can win at the next level. Ojulari has a refined set of pass-rushing moves that he can work to win outside, inside or through offensive tackles. He’s a pure edge rusher and isn’t someone you want kicking inside to go head-up with offensive tackles.

The biggest thing Ojulari has on his older brother coming into the league is experience. Having seen time ever since his true freshman year, Ojulari has been on the field for 1,728 snaps. By the time Azeez’s name was called with Pick No. 50, he’d played only 900 snaps in his Georgia career.

6. Laiatu Latu, UCLA (RS Junior | 6-4, 265)

  • 2022 Grade: 87.9
  • Play Style: Technician
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Latu had a breakout 2022 campaign that saw him finish with the fourth-highest pass-rushing grade among Power Five edge rushers. Latu displayed a diverse array of pass-rushing moves that he was able to win with from any alignment along the defensive line. At 265 pounds, Latu can win with power as well as quicks.

The reason Latu had a “breakout” in the first place is that he hadn’t stepped on a football field since 2019. Latu was medically retired by Washington after lingering numbness in his neck after surgery. After two seasons away from football, he transferred to UCLA and was granted medical clearance just on the eve of the 2022 season. It didn’t take long for him to shake the rust off and rack up 52 pressures for a 90.8 pass-rushing grade with the Bruins.

5. Nolan Smith, Georgia (Senior | 6-3, 235)

  • 2022 Grade: 83.7
  • Play Style: Athlete
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Smith may be undersized, but don’t call him a third-down specialist. The 235-pounder pours effort into the run game and has earned a 91.3 grade in that regard since the start of 2021. Smith plays with the kind of requisite violence to disengage from blocks in the run game and make plays. Where he really shines, though, is in space where he can shut down option runs and track down ball carriers in space with relative ease.

Smith was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 class, and while he may not have lived up to those lofty expectations entirely, his tape is repeated evidence of that pedigree. His get-off is imposing, and he’s still adding tools to his pass-rushing toolbox. 

4. Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (RS Senior | 6-6, 275)

  • 2022 Grade: 74.5
  • Play Style: Edge Setter
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

There isn’t an edge rusher like Wilson in every draft class. With a wingspan over 7 feet long, Wilson creates a ton of challenges for opposing linemen to block. He plays the position violently and isn’t simply using his length to play patty cake.

While he’s still not a finished product by any means, the year-on-year growth he’s shown is encouraging. As recently as 2020, Wilson looked like a complete fish out of water and earned a 61.1 pass-rushing grade. This past season, that figure jumped to 79.4 as he racked up 50 pressures in 10 games. Schemes that covet inside-outside versatility are going to love Wilson’s skill set.

3. Jared Verse, Florida State (RS Junior | 6-4, 248)

  • 2022 Grade: 82.4
  • Play Style: Explosive Pocket Pusher
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Verse is one of the biggest risers in the entire 2023 draft class. He transferred from Albany to Florida State this past offseason and took his game to another level entirely. In fact, Verse earned a higher pass-rushing grade this season against FBS competition (85.7) than he did last year against FCS foes (83.9). It would have been even higher were it not for an ankle injury that nagged him all year and limited him to only 360 snaps this year. Flip on the LSU tape (seven pressures) and Florida tape (five pressures), though, and you’ll see perfectly well what Verse is capable of.

He translates an explosive first step into an explosive strike into contact. His bull-rush and push-pull moves are deadly when executed correctly. While he has a tendency to get a bit out of control, it’s because he’s giving maximum effort to get to ball carriers.

2. Myles Murphy, Clemson (Junior | 6-5, 275)

  • 2022 Grade: 79.0
  • Play Style: Freak of Nature
  • Initial Round Projection: Top 10

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Murphy is an all-time athlete on the edge. The 275-pounder checked in at No. 3 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List after reportedly posting a 35-inch vertical and running in the high 4.5s. He’s a similar caliber of athlete to Travon Walker from a season ago, and Walker was drafted No. 1 overall based on his scintillating athletic profile alone. Flip on the film, and I’d argue that Murphy may even be a better functional athlete off the edge than Walker.

At the collegiate level at least, Murphy has already been more productive. He racked up 76 pressures over the past two seasons, although that’s far from his specialty. There’s nothing in his repertoire that he’s particularly consistent with outside of a long-arm move. That’s a good starting point for a rusher with his physical tools, but he has a ways to go. Setting the edge in the run game will be Murphy’s bread and butter from Day 1. He earned a 90.9 run-defense grade for his entire college career, which trails only Will Anderson in the class.

1. Will Anderson, Alabama (Junior | 6-4, 243)

  • 2022 Grade: 83.7
  • Play Style: Pure Twitch
  • Initial Round Projection: Top Five

Anderson has the “you know it when you see it” way of moving that so few 6-foot-4, 243-pounders do. The ones who have it are more likely than not elite tight ends, defensive ends or linebackers in the NFL. When watching Anderson, it’s difficult not to envision edge rushers like Von Miller or Khalil Mack. Burst, speed, agility, bend, coordination — it’s all there. And it’s why he racked up 201 pressures in three seasons at Alabama.

Now, he’s not a perfect prospect by any means. He plays a little out of control into contact at times, and that’s shown in his inconsistency with finishing ball carriers. He’s missed 36 tackles on 187 attempts in his career, including a 27.5% miss rate in 2022 alone. He’s far from a technician as a pass rusher, as well. That’s not much of a concern, considering how well he uses his hands, but it may mean a tad bit slower transition to the NFL. Either way, any cons list for Anderson is going to look very nitpicky. He’s a certified blue-chip prospect.

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