2023 NFL Draft Position Review: Edge Defenders

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2023 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2023 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 13, 2023. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Edge Defender Class
Early-round talent: B+
Mid-round: A-
Late-round: B+
Overall grade: A-

Merging the 2023 and 2022 prospects
Will Anderson
Travon Walker
Aidan Hutchinson
Kayvon Thibodeaux
Tyree Wilson
Myles Murphy
Jermaine Johnson
George Karlaftis
Lukas Van Ness
Logan Hall
Arnold Ebiketie
Tuli Tuipulotu
Isaiah Foskey
Will McDonald
Boye Mafe
Nolan Smith

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts, and NFL coaches who know way more than I do.

After three straight drafts that were not especially strong at edge rusher, the 2022 class came along and provided an excellent group of pass rushers and defenders for the NFL. The 2023 NFL Draft’s class is similar, possessing good depth into the second day and the mid-rounds.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Anderson would be the best prospect, although Walker and Hutchinson would be pretty much tied with Anderson. Tyree Wilson is not as good of a prospect as Kayvon Thibodeaux was, but they are very comparable. Wilson and Myles Murphy are better prospects than Jermaine Johnson and George Karlaftis. Lukas Van Ness is behind Karlaftis, but ahead of Logan Hall. Tuli Tuipulotu, Isaiah Foskey and Will McDonald are similar to Ebiketie and Mafe. Nolan Smith might go higher than some of these players based on his great combine workout, but his college tape was not as good as that of Mafe or Ebiketie.



Safest Pick: Will Anderson, Alabama
Previous Picks:
2022: Aidan Hutchinson
2021: Jaelen Phillips
2020: Chase Young
2019: Nick Bosa, Josh Allen
2018: Bradley Chubb, Tremaine Edmunds
2017: Myles Garrett
2016: Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner
2015: Dante Fowler
2014: Jadeveon Clowney
2013: Bjoern Werner, Dion Jordan

This was an easy choice given that Anderson is one of the safer prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, which is why he is a top contender to be the first non-quarterback taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. Anderson is a super instinctive defender with natural pass-rushing skills. While he is not the biggest or fastest, he is a dominant force off the edge. Anderson looks like a safe pick to become a good NFL starter.

Biggest Bust Potential: Nolan Smith, Georgia
Previous Picks:
2022: Amaré Barno
2021: Gregory Rousseau
2020: Terrell Lewis
2019: Jachai Polite
2018: Arden Key, Lorenzo Carter
2017: Takk McKinley
2016: Kevin Dodd, Noah Spence
2015: Owa Odighizuwa, Randy Gregory
2014: Kareem Martin, Dee Ford
2013: Barkevious Mingo


Smith looks like a dangerous pick in my opinion. At Georgia, he never put up a season of good production, averaging roughly three sacks annually over his career, despite a scheme that sets up outside rushers. Smith has great speed, but at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, he is extremely undersized for the NFL. He lacks the length and weight to shed blocks, and his speed alone will not be enough to consistently beat pro offensive tackles. Smith’s body type and lack of production look like warning signs for bust potential.



Defensive End Rankings by Attributes


Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: T.J. Watt, Steelers
  1. Will Anderson
  2. Will McDonald
  3. Tyree Wilson
  4. Tuli Tuipulotu
  5. Isaiah Foskey
  6. Myles Murphy
  7. Nolan Smith
  8. Lukas Van Ness


Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and coaches will tell you that an elite pass rusher is the most important position on the defensive side of the ball. Unless a team has a defensive tackle like Aaron Donald, it has to have edge rushers who can consistently pressure the quarterback.

Anderson is a dynamic quarterback hunter capable of taking over games, dominating offensive lines, and making a game-changing play on any snap. He is quick off the ball, and his anticipation gives him a first-step that gives him a head start over his blockers. With good body lean, Anderson flies up field, and he is a threat to dart by tackles or to just run around them to get to the quarterback. Anderson’s burst translates to the inside as well, where he will fire past interior blockers and close on the signal-caller in a hurry. Along with his instincts, Anderson has excellent vision to redirect his way through trash. He uses his hands and feet at the same time to work off blocks while continuing to charge upfield. Anderson is very strong for his size. He is also superb at shedding blocks through strong hands and his ability to use his hands and feet at the same time. Anderson has functional length to keep blockers away from getting a lock of his chest, and this length comes into play with him working off blocks. Anderson shows heavy hands alongside a shock in his upper body to knock blockers backward and off balance before bullrushing through them.

As a pass rusher, McDonald is fast off the ball with smooth athleticism to dart around blockers. Team sources rave about McDonald’s pass-rush ability and his natural skills at getting after the quarterback. He is fast and athletic, allowing him to shoot past blockers and put steady heat on the signal-caller. With his serious burst, McDonald closes space in a hurry and fires upfield. He shows natural pass-rushing feel and instincts. McDonald has long arms and is able to use his hands and feet at the same time. Aided by his quickness and agility, he has a dangerous spin move to get off blocks.

Wilson is a dangerous pass-rushing edge defender who gives offensive tackles a lot of problems. The biggest strength that Wilson has is his length. With his long arms and wingspan, Wilson is superb at keeping offensive tackles away from his body and they have a hard time getting into his chest to lock him up. Thanks to that space, Wilson can utilize his speed to get upfield, and he has the strength to break free from blocks. Wilson is not crazy fast off the edge, but he is quick and has good closing speed with a burst to eat up ground when he gets free. Wilson’s strength and length translate into him being very effective on the bull rush. He can push offensive tackles back into the pocket and then disengage to hit the quarterback. Wilson’s long arms and strength allow him to field an effective rip move to go along with a bull rush and speed around the edge.

In the pass rush, Tuipulotu is quick off the edge using a good first-step to fire upfield. He blasts off the ball and uses his quickness to get past the offensive line. With active hands, Tuipulotu chops blockers off of him, using speed to power to shed blocks before closing on the quarterback. On top of his speed, Tuipulotu has a strong bull rush and can ride tackles backward into the quarterback. Tuipulotu will give a second effort and rushes hard through the whistle. However, he has some stiffness and can struggle to dip his hips to redirect to the signal-caller.

Foskey is a talented as a pass rusher, capable of making a difference for his defense. He has a good first-step and a burst off the ball to get upfield. Foskey’s quickness lets him gain ground and gives him the ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Foskey is adept at getting on the edges of tackles to achieve penetration while using his hands at the same time to try and keep linemen from locking onto him. Foskey flashes some speed-to-power ability when he has tackles backpedaling and some upper body strength to manipulate off-balance tackles. However, Foskey has limitations as a pass rusher. He is a big lineman who has some serious stiffness and a lack of agility. That leads to him having some issues with redirecting toward the quarterback and getting turned to the signal-caller after his quickness allows him to get upfield. Foskey is unable to sink his hips to dip underneath tackles, and that could lead to him getting pushed around the pocket by NFL edge blockers.

For the NFL, Murphy has the ability to be an impactful defensive end and double-digit sacker. He is a dangerous pass rusher with a dynamic skill set that makes him a talented quarterback hunter. However, Murphy is very inconsistent and will disappear. When motivated, he is fast and athletic off the edge, possessing the pure speed to dart past offensive tackles and get upfield. Murphy also has active hands that he can use at the same time as his feet. He uses speed around the corner, and his power to bull rush through tackles. With his strength and size, Murphy has the ability to utterly manhandle tight ends and dominate them at the point of attack. Murphy has natural speed to power that makes him very difficult to single block when he gets going. However, Murphy seems disinterested and plays down to opponents. He should have been a dominant force at Clemson, but that never happened.

Smith has a good burst off the ball to work upfield and a first-step that routinely has him the first player out of his stance on either line. With his speed and athleticism, Smith is dangerous to fly around the corner and get quick pressure on the quarterback. However, Smith lacks size and can have issues getting off blocks. He never had a season of good production at Georgia, and that could be a bigger problem in the NFL.

In the pass rush, Van Ness is a high-effort player who does well getting coverage sacks. Van Ness does not win cleanly against offensive linemen, and he really struggles to shed blocks. Thanks to not using his hands well, Van Ness gets caught up a lot by offensive linemen. He lacks pass-rushing moves and is a stiff athlete who does not display wiggle as a rusher. For the NFL, Van Ness needs to improve significantly in terms of his hand usage and developing pass-rushing moves.



Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Jadeveon Clowney, Free Agent
  1. Tyree Wilson
  2. Will Anderson
  3. Myles Murphy
  4. Tuli Tuipulotu
  5. Isaiah Foskey
  6. Lukas Van Ness
  7. Nolan Smith
  8. Will McDonald


Recap: Defending the run isn’t as in demand as it used to be with NFL coaches, but they still watch it closely when evaluating prospects. After all, teams need some tough run defenders at the point of attack. Coaches also are looking closely at effort. This class features some quality run defenders.

Wilson is impressive in the ground game. He shows an ability to hold his gap, fight off blocks, and make tackles at the point of attack. Wilson has the strength to get free of offensive linemen and the speed to make tackles outside of his gap. Last year, Wilson recorded 61 tackles despite missing time with a foot injury. There is no doubt that he is a quality run defender entering the NFL. Wilson could become an excellent pro at limiting rushing offenses.

In the ground game, Anderson is tough as well, and his tackle total of 101 in 2021 was no fluke. He does a nice job of holding his ground and setting the edge against offensive tackles. Regularly, Anderson sheds blocks and works his way to the running back to make a tackle. He is dynamic in pursuit and at cutting down runs from the backside. Anderson’s competitiveness and drive can be seen in him being a well-rounded player who is willing to the dirty work as a run defender.

Murphy is a stout in run defense. At the point of attack, he sets the edge and uses his strength to maintain his gap. Murphy holds his ground well and doesn’t get pushed off the ball with downhill runs coming at him. Thanks to his strength and active hands, Murphy is adept at shedding blocks, and he flies to the ball to get in on tackles. Murphy also can blast his way into the backfield to get a tackle for a loss or blow the play up. As a pro edge defender, Murphy should be a good contributor in the ground game.

Tuipulotu is a physical defender at the point of attack against the run. He is tough and difficult to move in the ground game. He holds his gap well and has the strength to work off blocks. With a quality lateral anchor and good leverage, offensive linemen struggle to move Tuipulotu. He routinely takes on and shed blocks to get in on tackles to help produce quality down-and-distance situations.

As a run defender, Foskey is solid. He has a strong build with length to set a tough edge at the point of attack. Foskey can hold his ground in run defense, maintaining his gap and rarely ever getting pushed back. Foskey has the power and good hands to fight off blocks to get in on tackles of ball-carriers.

In the ground game, Van Ness is generally reliable at holding his gap. He does not get knocked off the ball and is able to set the edge. Van Ness shows sufficient instincts to stay home on misdirection plays and flow to the ball with good angles on stretch runs. Van Ness needs to improve his ability to get off blocks, which is why he had tackle totals of 33 and 36 in the past two seasons.

Smith is a decent run defender considering he weighs less than 240 pounds. He flashes the ability to get off blocks and flow to the ball-carrier. For the NFL, Smith will need to get better at defending downhill runs coming straight at him.

Team sources feel McDonald is a terrible run defender and too often gets destroyed against the run. They said that even against bad teams McDonald was getting embarrassed in the ground game. At sub-250 pounds, McDonald must get stronger for the NFL. He has to show more ability to hold his ground and not get pushed around. If McDonald could be just an average run defender, that would be a big improvement and make him a valuable starter in the passing-driven pro league.



Motor:
NFL prototype: Aidan Hutchinson, Lions
  1. Will Anderson
  2. Tyree Wilson
  3. Nolan Smith
  4. Tuli Tuipulotu
  5. Isaiah Foskey
  6. Lukas Van Ness
  7. Will McDonald
  8. Myles Murphy


Recap: Prospects who show a lack of effort can get knocked quickly by coaches when they start evaluating players. Coaches have zero patience for players who dog it. Conversely, a great motor will help players who may be short on athletic ability. The 2023 NFL Draft class has a lot of good motors amongst the early-round prospects, and the only player in the group who I would say has a motor in need of improvement is Murphy.

Anderson was relentless in the pass rush, and he was able to create some sacks off of a second effort to go along with his great physical talent. Wilson has an excellent motor, and you never saw him take plays off. Ditto for Smith and Tuipulotu, as they never quit on a play and went through the whistle. This group of prospect really stands out for having good motors.

Foskey, Van Ness, and McDonald all give quality effort. None of them are bad, but they all can have stretches where they can get quiet. Murphy turned it on and off in 2021 and 2022. He needs to get more consistent and play hard with tenacity consistently.





Forcing Fumbles:
NFL prototype: Chandler Jones, Raiders
  1. Will McDonald
  2. Myles Murphy
  3. Isaiah Foskey
  4. Nolan Smith
  5. Tuli Tuipulotu
  6. Tyree Wilson
  7. Will Anderson
  8. Lukas Van Ness


Recap: The art of a strip sack is a great equalizer in the NFL. Strip sacks can change games and have a big impact on the scoreboard. McDonald is the clear leader in this category, as he notched 10 forced fumbles over his college career, including five in 2021. He is superb at slapping at the ball while taking the quarterback down. McDonald’s natural instincts to go for the strip sack are advanced.

Murphy and Foskey did nice job of forcing fumbles. Murphy had six over his career, with three coming in 2020 and the rest during the past two seasons. Foskey notched seven forced fumbles over the past two seasons. Smith had zero forced fumbles in 2022, but he recorded three forced fumbles in 2021. Tuipulotu had two forced fumbles in each of the past two seasons. He did a nice job of going for the strip. Wilson had one forced fumble in 2021, and he could stand to work on improving in this regard.

Surprisingly, Anderson had zero forced fumbles over the past two seasons despite recording 27.5 sacks in that time. Van Ness didn’t record a forced fumble in the past two years either. Both could stand to improve their emphasis to go for the strip when they get to the quarterback.



Strength:
NFL prototype: Joey Bosa, Chargers
  1. Tyree Wilson
  2. Myles Murphy
  3. Tuli Tuipulotu
  4. Isaiah Foskey
  5. Will Anderson
  6. Lukas Van Ness
  7. Will McDonald
  8. Nolan Smith


Recap: Wilson is very strong at the point of attack with crazy length – 35.63-inch arms. In combination with his developed upper body, he gives offensive tackles a lot of problems to sustain blocks or grab a hold of him. Wilson can get physical and push offensive lineman around. Thanks to his natural length and power, Wilson is a real challenge to block.

Murphy, Foskey Tuipulotu already have NFL strengthm with shock in their hands to disengage from blocks. They all are strong ends who can set a physical edge.

Anderson is strong and doesn’t get pushed around. He has functional strength, and that could improve as he develops in a pro strength and conditioning program. Van Ness has quality strength, but he could stand to improve his ability to get off blocks. McDonald and Smith could stand to get stronger as well.



Versatility:
NFL prototype: Nick Bosa, 49ers
  1. Will Anderson
  2. Myles Murphy
  3. Tyree Wilson
  4. Lukas Van Ness
  5. Tuli Tuipulotu
  6. Will McDonald
  7. Nolan Smith
  8. Isaiah Foskey


Recap: Defensive coordinators love versatility. Edge defenders who drop in coverage and play in space are in demand. Coaches also like ends who can move inside to tackle on passing downs. This class of edge rushers features a lot of versatility as a group.

Anderson and Murphy have the versatility where they could play as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end. Wilson has the size and length to be a 4-3 end, 3-4 five-technique, and rush from the inside in the sub package. Van Ness and Tuipulotu could rush from the inside in the sub package while being starting options as 4-3 defensive ends.

McDonald and Smith would fit best as 3-4 outside linebackers. In a 4-3 defense, they will probably have to move to Sam – strong side – linebacker and then move to defensive end in the sub package. Foskey is a 4-3 end only because he is too stiff to play 3-4 outside linebacker.




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