NFL Draft News & Analysis

Early 2023 NFL Draft EDGE Rankings: Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. headlines the group

Arlington, TX, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Kyren Williams (23) is brought down by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) during the first half in the Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft is set to feature yet another strong edge defender class, only this time there may very well be some prospects entering the “can’t miss” tier. There’s a little something for everyone in this class, from speed-rushers to power-rushers to all-around skilled rushers.

It will be interesting to see things develop this fall, but there are already firmly four players on this list I’d feel comfortable putting in the first round, while a handful more are on the fringe.

1. Will Anderson Jr., Alabama (Junior)

After a 2022 NFL Draft that was criticized for its lack of high-end prospects, Anderson is primed to change that in 2023. He’s only the second true sophomore we’ve seen lead the nation in total pressures (82), joining Chase Young back in 2018. Despite being on the slighter end at 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds, Anderson is already a more well-rounded player than Young was at the same age. He earned an 89.6 run-defense grade last season with 33 run stops (second in the Power Five). 

He has a Von Miller-esque blend of elite-caliber explosiveness and flexibility where it really doesn’t matter what weight he plays at. There’s really nothing more for Anderson to prove in 2022. If he stays healthy, he’s a top-five pick.

2. Myles Murphy, Clemson (Junior)

Murphy is, in short, a brute. I’m not sure we’ve seen a defensive end as powerful as he is at as young an age. The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder earned a 92.5 run-defense grade as a true freshman in 2020. That’s special stuff.

Of course, Murphy comes with a lot of the same scheme caveats noted for his teammate Bryan Bresee in the early 2023 defensive tackle rankings. He doesn’t get the same kind of carte blanche that others do when rushing the passer. Even still, he managed nine sacks and 42 total pressures in 2021. We’ll see if he’s afforded more opportunities in 2022 with former Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables now coaching at Oklahoma. Either way, Murphy is going to be a first-rounder.

3. Andre Carter, Army (RS Junior)

There hasn’t been a service academy player selected in the first round of an NFL draft since 1947. Carter has all the ability to change that. Once a two-star tight end recruit from Connecticut, Carter’s lone FBS offer came from the Black Knights. After two seasons in a backup role, he burned opposing offensive lines to the ground in 2021. He finished with 15 sacks and a 93.4 pass-rushing grade. Against the three Power Five offenses he faced — Wisconsin, Wake Forest and Missouri — he earned an 89.2 pass-rushing grade.

Carter’s production is no high-effort fluke, either. He's 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds and already utilizes multiple pass-rushing moves. He’s quick to deploy and reset his hands while combining moves in a relentless fashion. And Carter does it all with elite length to keep opposing tackles at bay. After he tied Aidan Hutchinson for the highest pass-rushing grade in the country last year, his encore will be worth watching.

4. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State (Junior)

Anudike-Uzomah is right up there with Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. for the best pure edge winner in the draft class. He possesses that combination of burst and bend that makes life easy playing around blockers. His get-off will be right up there with the best in the NFL once he arrives. 

Anudike-Uzomah finished his sophomore year with an 89.9 pass-rushing grade and 13 sacks. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, he already has ideal size to continue winning from the edge in the NFL. You can start penciling his name into the first round if you haven’t already.

5. Nolan Smith, Georgia (Senior)

The former No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 class, Smith plays with a jet pack strapped to his back. He can close on ball-carriers in space as well as any other edge defender in the draft class. 

Why, though, with insane athleticism and his recruiting background did he not declare after the 2021 season? It comes back to his pass-rushing moves — or lack thereof. He doesn’t play with nearly the same violence rushing the passer as he does setting the edge in the run game. His 79.1 pass-rushing grade last season wasn’t going to get many NFL teams excited about drafting an undersized edge rusher (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) early.

Smith needs to come back in 2022 with a more refined pass-rushing plan and, hopefully, some added weight. If he does that, there’s no reason he can’t be a first-rounder.

6. Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame (Senior)

Foskey has a very tried-and-true play style when projecting to the NFL. He’s big (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), long and explosive (reportedly had a 1.58-second 10-split last spring). Not only does he tick those physical boxes, but he also plays a powerful game, continually working through blocks instead of around them. He’s already one of the best pocket collapsers in the class.

NFL evaluators love a hard edge setter, and Foskey is just that. He took a sizable step forward last season, going from a 63.5 overall grade in 2020 to an 80.7 mark in 2021. Foskey returned in 2022, though, because another such step forward can vault him from a fringe first-rounder into a potential top-20 pick. He’s got that kind of juice but simply needs to display it more consistently.

7. B.J. Ojulari, LSU (Junior)

A year ago at this time, Ojulari would have been near the top of these rankings after a scintillating freshman season that saw him earn a 73.8 pass-rushing grade. His sophomore follow-up, however, failed to show much more than we had already seen. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder still was all finesse off the edge without much in the way of physicality to his game. That’s not to say it’s impossible to succeed at the next level without it, as guys such as Yannick Ngakoue have thrived in a similar mold, but Ngakoue was also a third-rounder.

As the brother of Giants edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, B.J. quite obviously has some pass-rushing moves in his blood. Azeez’s game didn’t really take off until he started incorporating the long-arm bull-rushing threat into his repertoire, and B.J.’s stock could soar through the roof if he adds that to his game, as well. 

8. Zach Harrison, Ohio State (Senior)

Once thought to be next up among the Ohio State defensive end pipeline, Harrison never quite took the leap that Chase Young did before him. Even though he’s 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds and has been clocked in the past running a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, he still runs very hot and cold as a pass-rusher. 

In five of his 12 games last season, Harrison managed only one or zero pressures. He struggles mightily to bend the edge consistently due to some stiffness in his lower half. Of course, this is a very similar physical profile to that of Montez Sweat coming out of Mississippi State, and we’ve seen how he’s developed in the NFL. With those physical tools, Harrison is worth a shot somewhere early on in the 2023 NFL Draft.

9. Durell Nchami, Maryland (RS Senior)

Nchami would have been drafted long ago had injuries not derailed his career. He played 221 snaps as a true freshman in 2018 before tearing his ACL prior to the 2019 season. In his first game in 2020, Nchami suffered a setback only four snaps in and missed the next four weeks. In the only two full games he played that year, he racked up 14 pressures on only 46 pass-rushing snaps. Still, it wasn’t nearly enough tape to justify declaring for the draft.

He picked up in 2021 right where he left off with at least three pressures in the first five full games he played, but then injuries struck once again, with an undisclosed upper-body injury against Ohio State requiring surgery and ending his season. 

On the football field, he possesses some of the best pure bend in the draft class. His ability to get low around blocks is precisely what NFL teams are looking for at the position. It shows up when he stacks tackles in the run game, as well. All that’s missing is him proving he can get through a season healthy.

10. Eyabi Anoma, UT-Martin (RS Senior)

There were a number of players I felt bad about leaving off this top-10 list. Auburn’s Derick Hall, Washington’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Iowa State’s Will McDonald, SMU’s DeVere Levelston and Florida State transfer Jared Verse were all right on the cusp of making this list. Ultimately, what Anoma could become gives him the nod for now. 

If you follow recruiting closely, Anoma’s name should sound familiar. He was the fourth-ranked player in the 2018 recruiting class by 247Sports’ composite rankings and a top-50 recruit all time. He only started playing football as a junior in high school, but his immense physical skill set at his now listed 6-foot-6, 270 pounds was quickly recognized. He committed to Alabama, where he played 90 snaps as a true freshman before getting dismissed from the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules. 

He then landed at Houston, where — after being forced to sit out the 2019 season — Anoma was once again dismissed for undisclosed violations of team rules. Now four years removed from high school, Anoma finally started to see regular playing time at UT-Martin, earning a 72.3 overall grade on 308 snaps. Anoma simply needs to play football at this point. Remember, he’s been playing football for only six years now. He needs the reps. With an unbelievable get-off for a man his size, he doesn’t need much coaching to make an impact.

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