Layout of the Preview:
1) Brief Positional Overview
2) Top 20 Prospects. Includes Grade, NFL Comparison, Summary, Extra Thoughts
*Comparisons are more about physical profile and play style, NOT projection
3) Grades only: 21-39
90+: All Pro
85+ Pro Bowl
81-84: 1st Round / Year 1 Contributor / Starter
79-80: 2nd Round / Year 1 Contributor / Year 2 Starter
77-78: 3rd Round / Contribute by end of Year 1 / Year 2 Starter
74-76: Early Day 3 / Special Teams / Future Backup / Possible Starter
71-73: Mid-Day 3 / Special Teams / Future backup / Gamble Starter
68-70: Late Day 3 / Back End of Roster / Practice Squad / Developmental
65-67: Preferred UDFA
4) Positional Approach – Draft Weekend
In consecutive drafts, NYG has used top 50 picks on edge defenders including #5 overall a year ago. Their top backups, veteran Jihad Ward and undrafted second-year player Tomon Fox, were both brought in by this regime. They’re both physical edge setters and play more stout than fast. Then there is Elerson Smith; a day three pick from the previous regime that has been on the field for 121 snaps in two years, just 14 of which came in 2022. When looking at the starting duo of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, both current impact and quality long-term projection are in play. The former turned on the heat late in the year and if that is the indication of what to expect in the future, he will easily justify being a top five pick. Ojulari, who set the franchise record for sacks by a rookie in 2021, was marred by multiple soft-tissue injuries in 2022. This was a guy that came into the league with a question about his knee, remember. When on the field, Ojulari actually had a higher pressure rate than Thibodeaux. The ability is there, and it has been proven over multiple years. But this is a shaky group that lacks depth from a pass rush perspective and even the biggest Ojulari supporters must label him an injury problem right now.
TOP 20 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1) Will Anderson Jr. – Alabama – 6’4/253
NFL Comparison: Khalil Mack / LAC
Junior entry from Hampton, GA. Three-year starter. Named All-SEC all three seasons of his career and earned All-American honors in both 2021 and 2022. SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. Anderson brings the combination of physical traits, production against top tier competition, and intangibles that produce a “face of the franchise” outlook. When it comes to his play on the field, he is an every-down asset. His ideal blend of bend, explosion, and agility can beat one on one blockers and it goes deeper than the pass rush. He shows a great feel and the physical nature to set an edge, free himself, and finish plays at and behind the line of scrimmage. He is more than a pure pass rusher. Even if he was drafted for just that pass rush role, the upside still warrants the high pick. There are a couple of power-rush shortcomings when a sizeable tackle bodies him, but the secondary rush moves are so far developed and the amount of wins he creates with the initial burst and leverage advantage will merge together and create a ceiling that is up there with the top pass rushers in the league. The mental approach to his craft will elevate the floor, making him one of the safest and best prospects in this draft.
*For a team looking to add Carter or Anderson, man what a tough call. Carter is the better player right now, but something about Anderson seems safer. I would even say the ceiling is higher. Remember what Khalil Mack was doing early in his career? That can easily be Anderson if the team keeps him outside more than what Alabama did in 2022. He played the edge 150 less than times in 2022 than he did 2021. That is where his biggest issues arise. I’m sure there was a strong reason behind it, but it caused a dip in his production and impact. Anderson is a near-lock for 12+ sacks a year for a long time and do not sleep on his run defense, it is nearly just as good.
2) Myles Murphy – Clemson – 6’5/268
NFL Comparison: Robert Quinn / FA
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Marietta, GA. Two-time All ACC including first team honors in 2022. Murphy, a highly touted five-star recruit, burst onto the scene right away, winning the ACC Newcomer of the Year award in 2020. This was two seasons after Clelin Ferrell moved on to the NFL and the drop off in play was minimal-to-none. Ferrell was the fourth overall pick that year in the 2019 draft, and Murphy was close to that level as a true freshman. You read that right. This is an absolute freak in every complimentary form of the word. His height and length are used as weapons against lone blockers, as he is almost always the one that wins the initial hand battle. The explosion and closing speed combined with his natural bend can constantly put a tackle in catch up. And the trait that ties it all together is the sheer effort he puts into his craft. Murphy’s talent made, and will make, plays for the defense. But the hustle is what can put him over the top. Murphy has made over 36 plays behind the line of scrimmage and has forced six fumbles. He is a reliable and consistent force to be reckoned with and there is a potential superstar inside of him.
*I do not put a ton of credence into who travels to certain workouts from specific teams. I have put some effort in the past and I have not found any objective trails that lead to projecting where a guy lands. I do believe there is significant interest in Murphy from NYG, however and what they’ve done in recent months reinforces that notion. He is a match for what BUF added along the edge when Schoen was there and what BAL added along the edge while Martindale was there. I said this last offseason and I will say it again; I believe this team wants more size on the outside. Add in Ojulari was drafted by a previous regime and the fact he is now an injury risk, this could be a round one target for NYG if he falls. Everyone is talking corner and receiver, rightfully so. My money would be on one of those spots too. But adding another premiere edge rusher is, no question, on their priority list and would be hard to look past if he is there.
3) Tyree Wilson – Texas Tech – 6’6/271
NFL Comparison: Emmanuel Ogbah / Oklahoma State
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Henderson, TX. Spent two seasons at Texas A&M prior to transferring to Texas Tech in 2020. Two-time All-Big 12, including first team honors in 2022 and a 2022 All-American. Wilson is blessed with a frame that is off the charts when considering the prototype for the position. Some people look like they were put on earth to play football, and that is Wilson. With his hands hanging near his knees and well-distributed thickness on a 6’6” frame immediately screams traditional 4-3 defensive end. He showed a lot of versatility throughout his career, proving to factor as a B gap pass rusher in addition a dominant edge setter in the running game. He can take over one on one matchups, a credible level of sheer dominance. He will not win a lot of battles with pure speed and burst and there are occasional leverage issues that come from such a high-cut frame. As he learns to use his hands and length to his advantage on a more routine basis, Wilson has the ceiling of a double digit sack guy that also provides elite run defense with the inside-out maneuverability that every scheme wants.
*A lot of talk around Wilson being the number two edge guy with an outside shot at being the top dog. This completely stems from his size, in my opinion. Sure, it is freakish how big and long he is, extremely rare territory. He was productive and versatile. In addition, the scouting list I get my hands on over summer had Wilson as the top overall senior in the country heading into 2022 (from the league). He was on the elite-radar all year and his play was good. Wilson, to me, is a top 15 overall player on my board, thus I obviously like him. But I have not been able to put that Pro Bowl / All Pro grade on him because I think he fed off some poor blockers in college. I did not love his tape against his top competition, and I get a tad a worried about the hip tightness. Regarding NYG, it is not relevant. He will not escape the top 10 overall draft weekend it sounds like.
4) Nolan Smith – Georgia – 6’2/238
NFL Comparison: Vic Beasley / RET
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Savannah, GA. Played in just eight games in 2022 before tearing his pectoral muscle, which needed surgery. Smith, a team captain, was the top recruit in the nation out of high school in 2019. He was also a running back but there was no mistake what he would be at the next level, as he won the Georgia Co-Newcomer of the Year Award his freshman year. Because of how Georgia plays defense and considering the amount of top shelf talent they have on that squad; Smith remains a bit of an unknown. He played just over 1,100 snaps in college. Most prospects reach that number in under two full seasons. Smith also measures in much lighter than the average edge defenders in the league. The debate will come in when considering his top-shelf speed, burst, and quickness. Smith can out-move all blockers both as a run defender and pass rusher. His impact in a scheme that plays with a lot of slants and twists will be felt immediately. With that said, he does not fit into every scheme and a role will need to be engineered for him, as he could have trouble holding up over the course of a season. Smith’s intangibles will enable several teams to gamble on the rare athleticism, but the risk assessment will need to be weighed heavily.
*Every year we see supreme athletes come into the league along the defensive front. It has gotten to the point where I am left wondering how future offensive lineman are going to be able keep up. Anyway, Smith is in a tier of his own when it comes to speed, burst, and agility. The size will get him in trouble at times, but he is very hard and unlikely guy to lock on to. I do not see him escaping the top 15 but even if he did, I’m not sure I see the fit with NYG. If they add another edge presence, it will be one with more size. There is considerable risk here for anyone that takes him.
5) Will McDonald IV – Iowa State – 6’4/239
NFL Comparison: Randy Gregory / DEN
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Pewaukee, WI. Three-time First Team All-Big 12 and a Third Team All-American in 2021. McDonald’s athletic background is rare. He did not start playing football until his junior year of high school but was a state champion discus thrower (and third place high jumper) and a conference player of the year in basketball. The blend of talent and movement traits show up on tape as a pass rusher. He is bendy, explosive, and long. The Iowa State single season sack record holder can be a menace for blockers to get a hold of. He can shoot out of a cannon up the edge with the ability to turn a tight corner at the meeting point. At his worst, he is still a hard guy to race up the outside. When it comes to his rush moves, he is still developing but there have been flashes of a Dwight Freeney-caliber spin move. That kind of agility combined with his top shelf burst is hard to find in one player alone. McDonald is not yet a finished product and his lack of power is worrisome. His lower body looks like it belongs in the cornerback room and his run defense will never be a strong suit. A pass rush upside like this, especially considering he is earlier on the progression curve than others, needs to be gambled on. If he hits his ceiling, he can be one of the top pass rushers in the league.
*Grades are very mixed on McDonald IV. Some will have him as high as top 15 overall and considering the position he plays, a surprise draft weekend is possible. Personally, the body type worries me enough to keep him on the brink of round 1-2. He is going to turn 24 a month after the draft and I wonder how much potential there is when it comes to adding mass on his frame. If he does pan out to be a quality every-down defender, there will still be plenty of value potential in his third down pash rush ability. Worth a swing for odd fronts.
6) Lukas Van Ness – Iowa – 6’5/272
NFL Comparison: Marcus Davenport / MIN
Third year sophomore entry. Rotational player from Barrington, IL. All-Big Ten in 2022. Oddly enough, Van Ness was never a starter for Iowa. That has less to do with his ability and more to do with the odd way the program uses seniority for personnel decisions. That aside, Van Ness is one of the most physically gifted and overall versatile defenders in the class. He spent the majority of 2021 as an inside player and the majority of 2022 as an edge defender. He will be able to play both spots at the next level. Van Ness has elite power and it created plays for the defense against both the run and pass. His lockout game will be NFL ready week one and the very least a team will get out of him is stout run defense and versatile alignment possibilities. The upside can be considered as high as any pass rusher in the class. The tools are nearly unmatched by anyone but in the same break, he played under 1,000 snaps in college. There is a lot of unknown and much more development, notably with his rush moves, that will vary his outlook widely. Early on he can be used as a movable chess piece based on situations and matchups while his body fully develops and a team finds where his best fit truly is because right now, it is a guessing game.
*On paper, Van Ness is overly impressive. On tape, he already looks like he can handle the rigors of NFL power snap to snap. The thing that separates him from a higher grade for me is the lack of innovation he shows as a pass rusher and the tightness that show up from time to time. Can he play fast laterally? I still don’t know. While the movement is impressive for a kid that weighs 270+, we are not talking about Travon Walker. He is versatile, but we are not talking Aidan Hutchinson. There is a lot of development still to be had here and if his game is going to be pass rush-based, I would say a lot of development. NYG will have interest in him at #25 if he is there. He won’t be my top pick, but his outlook makes sense if they want to make an aggressive move at EDGE.
7) Tuli Tuipulotu – USC – 6’3/266
NFL Comparison: Trey Hendrickson / Florida Atlantic
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Hawthorne, CA. Two-Time first team All-Pac 12 and a 2022 first team All-American. Led the nation with 13.5 sacks and led power five programs with 22 tackles for loss. Has multiple family members with NFL ties including Niners safety Talanoa Hufanga. Tuipulotu primarily lined up outside the tackle in USC’s three-man front, but he saw more than a fair share of snaps inside closer to the guard. No matter where he was, he produced. He plays with immense power both in his hands and below the waist. Tuipulotu excels with techniques and bend and shows an excellent feel for the intentions of the offense. This is a guy that can forecast and react exceptionally well, constantly finding himself on the right side of blocks and within striking distance of the ball carrier. He is a finisher with an intense, fiery mindset. This energy stick up front can play all over the line and create mismatches across multiple locations of the trenches.
*The concern with Tuipulotu is how well his game translates to the next level with average tools. During the season, before I went deep-dive on defensive prospects, I thought he would be a first rounder. He measured in a bit smaller than I thought he would, and the speed isn’t there to fully make up for it. That said, Tuipulotu can beat blockers on an island a variety of ways, inside and outside. He would be a great day two pick for this defense and a guy that complements the current NYG edge group well. Think a much better version of Ximines/Fox. A more athletic version of Ward, but just as physical. How often he missed tackles (an alarming number) was odd and I am curious to know how much that weighs with the NYG brass.
8) BJ Ojulari – LSU – 6’2/248
NFL Comparison: Takkarist McKinley / DAL
Junior entry. Two-year starter from Marietta, GA. First Team All-SEC in 2022. Ojulari, the brother of Giants outside linebacker Azeez, has been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout the pre-draft process after missing games early in 2022 because of a knee issue. Remember that Azeez had his draft stock altered a bit by a knee injury during his own pre-draft process and has been an injury problem in the league. This will likely cause extra screening for BJ. On tape, Ojulari screams 3-4 outside linebacker. He can explode off the edge with proper bend and long arm-usage. He flashed top tier traits but was inconsistent. He does not have the look of a guy that has a clear plan and ability to adjust on the fly. The baseline tools are all there, but he simply disappears for stretches of play. He does fly to the ball and his effort switch is always on, he just has a raw feel to his game that needs to be hardened before seeing majority snaps. He will start off as a backup/rotational player with the definite upside of starting in a 3-4 scheme.
*I do not have a credible medical background and I do not have an inside source with Ojulari / LSU. I am going to say I am slightly worried about the lower body injuries. Throughout my research, I found he missed a few practices with a “cranky patella”. We are now seeing an obstructed pre-draft process because of a hamstring. Considering the issues Azeez had and is having, I am just a little worried about his durability. An outside linebacker’s game in a 3-4 is so much based on the ability to bend at the knee while producing power, speed, and agility. Doing it on a cranky knee with vulnerable soft tissue around it can be a major problem.
9) Derick Hall – Auburn – 6’3/254
NFL Comparison: Arnold Ebiketie / ATL
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Gulfport, MS. Two-time All-SEC, first team in 2022. Hall has the look of a pro edge defender in every possible way. He is rocked up with elite length and a broad wingspan. His frame is packed with muscle, but the lower body aesthetic promotes that of a track athlete. When looking into his game on a more detailed level, the sheer effort and violence are the initial standouts. He is an every-down defender with techniques that have come a long way. While there are some lower body tightness issues that can make reactionary movement somewhat lagged, the straight line burst and closing gear are weapons. Hall’s best role would be a simple speed rusher off the edge. Teams that use wide-nine alignments will be drawn to him, but he will also hold his own setting the edge against the run. Hall can be a starter or number one pass rusher off the bench. Either way, he brings big time value to the defense.
*There will be teams that have a high second round grade on Hall. The profile of his tools is hard to find and easy to be drawn to. Everything about him looks like an elite edge rusher and he is a real football player. Old school in his approach. This is not just a freak athlete that looks the part. This also seems like a Martindale type, and he plays more stout against the run than his size suggests. I know I keep saying this, but because I believe NYG is going to add a pass rusher in this draft, don’t be surprised to see Hall’s name come across the board if they are looking for another Ojulari-type.
10) Keion White – Georgia Tech – 6’5/285
NFL Comparison: William Gholston / TB
Sixth year senior. Three-year starter from Garner, NC. Two-time All-Conference. Spent four seasons at Old Dominion where he played tight end for two years, one of which he was a starter. In his first season at defensive end, he tied a school record with 19 tackles for loss. The program cancelled the 2020 season because of Covid-19, prompting an eventual transfer to Georgia Tech. 2021 was supposed to be his coming out party, but a broken leg kept him to just four games. White then played in every 2022 contest and led the Yellow Jackets with 14 tackles for loss, fifth best in the ACC. White is a bit of a blank canvas, but he does not have tremendous youth on his side. The combination of strength and speed is unmatched among almost all defensive linemen in this class. However, the 24-year-old does not play with enough fluidity. There is rigidness in his movement, and he struggles to read the action. The flashes of physical dominance are enough, though, at a premium position to warrant a day two selection. At the very least, he can be an excellent five-technique that will provide elite run defense.
*White is a safe prospect. If NYG wants to get the Jihad Ward role locked in for 2024 and beyond, he is one of the guys I would feel good about in that role. Physical and stout edge setter. Versatile and a team leader-type. White has some big fans in the league, some that think he is on the same level as Luke Van Ness and even Tyree Wilson. He presents the right value in round three, but I don’t think he will make it there. I’m not in love with the upside, that’s all. Can be a very solid player, though. Especially in this scheme.
11) Felix Anudike-Uzomah – Kansas State – 6’3/255
NFL Comparison: Olivier Vernon / RET
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Kansas City, MO. Two-time First Team All-Big 12, a 2022 All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Anudike-Uzomah already has the look of a refined and technically sound pro edge defender. He plays with exceptional pad level and hand usage that combines with a quick and sudden first step to give him a lot of initial wins. This is a guy that constantly puts himself in a good position to win. He plays smart, can read the action, and has several ways to free himself from contact. His skills set has been on a constant ascent since arriving at Kansas State. Anudike-Uzomah needs to show more consistency with his body control, however. Too many times does he end up on the ground or trying to re-gain his balance. The pre-draft process has not been a good one for him, as he’s been fighting multiple lower body injuries. There will be some unknown and risk here but there is no denying his high ceiling that stems from a pro-ready skill set, consistent production, and top shelf set of intangibles.
*If he had a clean and explosive pre-draft process, Anudike-Uzomah could have easily finished a few spots higher in the stack. He already has a lot of the nuances to pass rushing down but where I saw the biggest improvement from 2021 tape to 2022 was in the running game. He understands hand usage and leverage so well and it gets him in position. That is something many young edge defenders never figure out and it kills their career. The lower body injuries (nothing serious) and overall lack of stability give me some hesitation here, but by no means am I taking him out of the projected starter tier.
12) Yaya Diaby – Louisville – 6’3/263
NFL Comparison: Justin Houston / KC
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter after transferring from Georgia Military College where he spent two seasons. Earned All-ACC honors in 2022. Diaby steps off the bus in street clothes and you immediately know this is a pro football player. The combination of height, width, length, and well-distributed muscle mass is how they look in a factory. He was always a gifted athlete, but the skill set, and consistency took some time to come to fruition. Once it was there, Diaby proved to be of the best physical packages up front in the entire class. This is violent hand striker that out-muscled nearly everyone that tried to block him. He shows excellent burst and agility for a player his size. And he brings multiple usages to the table that a defensive coach can have a field day with. He is an outside player that will set a hard edge, but his biggest value will be found inside on passing downs. This is a safe prospect that can be so much more if he comes into the league and keeps his head focused.
*Diaby is one of my guys. It may not seem like it because of how far down the stack he is but as I’ve been saying, this edge group is incredibly strong and deep. He is one of the guys that did not fully workout at the combine or Pro Day – not for injury reasoning. Odd decision to say the least. He is a straight line burst guy that almost ran a sub 4.5 in Indy and some of the best leaping numbers in the class. At 263 pounds. His agility is the credible concern and that is what he didn’t test. That does bother me a bit, and it bothers scouts too. Besides that, Diaby has impressive tape and was a bit of a late bloomer. Louisville did not use him to his full capacity, but they did display his versatility. His pressure rate is among the best in the class by the way. He is the kind of physical presence this defense needs behind the top two guys on the edge.
13) Isaiah Foskey – Notre Dame – 6’5/264
NFL Comparison: Preston Smith / GB
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Antioch, GA. 2022 All-American. Foskey plays a physical brand of football. For defenses that are looking for a true edge setter without losing too much against the pass will look for a player exactly like Foskey. He is a heavy handed, bendy, country-strong defender that can stay on the field in all situations. His skill set can translate to any and all schemes. The amoeba fronts will like him a lot. Foskey can play with his hand in the ground or standing up, whichever look the play caller wants to give. He can beat one on one blockers but if he gets bodied, there is gap integrity and a keen awareness he shows against the run. The assignment-savvy team captain will be a dependable starter or heavy rotational player at the next level. The lack of true burst and speed up the edge may limit his overall impact, but this is the kind of winning player that finds a way to get it done.
*What NYG got out of Oshane Ximines would likely be the basement for Foskey. He is bigger and more physical. The flashes we have seen out of Ximines over the years are what we would likely see out of Foskey on a more routine basis. That is a borderline starter and a guy that helps the defense from a premium spot. Foskey is yet another name I think fits the micro-level need they need behind the top two but there is a chance the coaches do not see enough alignment versatility. Me? I feel safe with him, and I believe the #3 rusher is an ideal role for him.
14) Eku Leota – Auburn – 6’3/252
NFL Comparison: Alex Highsmith / PIT
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Asheville, NC. Spent three seasons at Northwestern before graduating and transferring to Auburn in 2021. Tore his pec in October 2022, forcing him into surgery and sidelining him for the remainder of the year. Leota has shown enough on tape, both in the Big Ten and SEC respectively, to warrant a future starting role in at the next level. His body type and play-style scream 3-4 outside linebacker. Even though he has dropped into coverage a little bit, he will be drafted to rush the passer. Leota has good juice and a borderline special blend of stride length, hop sets that transform into an elite speed rush, and bend. Throw in the well-developed lower body and overall strength, Leota can win more than his fair share of battles on the outside shoulder of the tackle. The question will be whether he can develop secondary/inside rush moves or not. He also can get swallowed by imposing run blocking tackles. While there are limitations here, Leota can be a major factor as a pass rusher and plays with the kind of hustle, passion, and grit to make up for a few weaknesses.
*One of my favorite occurrences during the scouting process takes place every year but never in predictable fashion. I turn on tape to watch a specific player, and an unknown or a guy I know very little about is the one that jumps off the screen. When I turned on Derick Hall vs. Penn State early in the year and the LSU tape from 2021, it was Leota that I came away wanting to see more of. He is such a high-energy, bendy, physical edge defender that made a few eye-opening plays. He does not have the baseline tools or upside Hall does, but we are not talking about a slouch in that department. Leota may be a specialty/sub-package guy at the next level with some upside as a starting player. Either way, he will be an energy stick for a front.
15) KJ Henry – Clemson – 6’4/251
NFL Comparison: Kemoko Turay / IND
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Winston-Salem, NC. First Team All-ACC in 2022, his lone season as a full-time starter. Henry was a 1,000-point scorer on the hardwood in high school. The three years following his redshirt were about rotating in as a pass rush specialist. In 2022, he took a full-time role all season and showed he could be more. His game is most attractive to 3-4 schemes where he can simply live on the outside and try to win on an island. His ability to put his foot in the ground and change direction while already in motion is a weapon when he has the space to work with. Henry won a lot of pass rushers via cutting across the tackle’s face with good pad level and disrupting the passer head on. The shortcoming that arose often was when he did not have the lateral space to work with, got bodied by the blocker and could not get enough push. His power game is lacking. He projects to be a pass rush specialist and backup, but a high level one that can offer a productive 20+ snaps per game.
*I see a very good backup type that will see a good number of snaps weekly. Perhaps a situation where a team as a solid edge duo or trio, but one of them is more of a power/size guy that can shift inside on sure-passing downs. Henry was among the national leaders in pressures, and I think there is some left to bite off if he can refine the skill set and secondary moves.
16) Ali Gaye – LSU – 6’6/263
NFL Comparison: Taco Charlton / CHI
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Lynwood, WA. Spent two seasons in Junior College prior to transferring to LSU. Gaye moved to the United States from Gambia when he was 12 years old. A bit of a late bloomer, Gaye arrived on campus in 2020 and looked like a future first rounder. The frame, the natural bend, and his ability to impact both the passing and running game respectively instantly with years of eligibility remaining gave off a lot of hope. Multiple injuries to both his upper and lower body throughout the 2021 season halted those projections. While he played a full season in 2022, Gaye has yet to return to the level we saw him play at in 2020. The ability is there and the tools are still worthy of being brought in for most schemes. A 4-3 front will be his best scheme-fit, but there is a skill set that could fit outside in 3-4 looks. He is a nasty edge setter that plays with a chip on his shoulder but for him to see every down snaps, he needs to get more consistent and clean up some of the body control issues.
*One of the higher upside guys I have in this tier of edge defenders. Gaye’s tape from 2020 after transferring from junior college in the Covid-Year was enough to warrant that label. Consider the shaky leadership from the program itself since that time and the amount of changes the coaching staff underwent, there are going to be several defensive line coaches that want their shot at molding him. Gaye’s fit really can be found in any scheme. The team needs a plan for him, and Gaye needs to stay healthy. Upside is there to finish ahead several of the guys listed ahead of him.
17) Yasir Abdullah – Louisville – 6’1/237
NFL Comparison: Haason Reddick / PHI
Fifth year senior. Four-year starter from Miramar, FL. Two-time All ACC, first team in 2022. Abdullah has been an undersized edge defender his entire career. He arrived at Louisville after a successful high school track career in addition to football, posting times in the 100 M and 200 M that are usually reserved for receivers and defensive backs. It was not until 2021 where he really broke out and developed the skill set to offset his lack of bulk. Abdullah is overly reliant on the first step-win. He needs that initial crease. When he gets there, he plays under the pads of the blocker with ease while maintaining the ability to turn a tight corner and burst to his point. He plays the run well. He beat up tight ends on a routine basis and even showed the ability to cover them. Ask three different defenses where he fits best, and three different answers will come out. No matter what, his biggest impact will be felt as a speed rusher but there is enough a defense can do with him to keep him on the field in most situations.
*Similar to Reddick coming out of Temple in 2017, Abdullah needs the right situation to realize his potential. I do not see a guy that will end up with the same career and production as Reddick, but the idea behind him is the same. Sure, he can float back into coverage and move around in certain looks, but you bring this kid in to rush the passer. Period. That is his job. Do not line him up in the middle with occasional blitzes off the edge, it will not work. Abdullah is on the same level of explosion/speed as Reddick was coming out, very near what Nolan Smith is now. You like those guys? You must at least kinda like Abdullah.
18) Mike Morris – Michigan – 6’5/275
NFL Comparison: Alex Wright / CLE
Fourth year junior entry. Two-year starter from Belle Glade, FL. First Team All-Big Ten and Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2022. Morris was a late bloomer, as he was on the field for just five defensive snaps over the course of 2019-2020. He showed alignment versatility in 2021, seeing equal usage on the edge and inside the tackle. Once he was moved almost exclusively to the edge, Morris saw his production and level of consistency jump. His length and power will make him a force as an edge setting run defender. He plays a man’s game with proper hand usage. The athletic limitations that came from his leggy frame will limit his secondary rush moves, causing him to get bodied by pro-caliber tackles. His pad level and lower body explosion shortcomings will also need to be fixed if he wants to carry the consistency, he showed in 2022 to the NFL. He will start off as a rotational defender in any front but will likely end as a 4-3 defensive end when all is said a done, a borderline starting caliber one.
*Morris has the tools to be a quality player in the league. He still has a lot to prove and develop but if a team believes in their ability to develop young linemen, he can be a starter within two years. He has a uniqueness to him. There is some good tape against his best opponents, and he can be a fit in all situations. Do I have him too low? Some will say yes. I sense some danger here. Is he maxed out? Can he fix some of the lower body issues? How much does he sense the blocking schemes? These are the big questions I have, and we are not talking about a special athlete. Wide spectrum of possibilities here.
19) Jose Ramirez – Eastern Michigan – 6’2/242
NFL Comparison: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo / CLE
Sixth year senior. Three-year starter from Lake Alfred, FL. Three-time All-MAC, first team in 2022. Also finished his career as an All-American and the winner of the MAC Defensive Player of the Year Award. Originally signed with Arizona out of high school a wide receiver/safety recruit. He had to go the Junior College route before settling in at Eastern Michigan in 2019. Ramirez is a crafty edge rusher that played on a different level than his opponents in 2022. His ability to win off the snap with sudden burst set him up stay snug to blockers as he turned the corner. His rush moves are plentiful. The 24-year-old rookie does not defend the run with a stout presence, but he does have a way of getting to space and adjusting his weight on the fly. He is a strong finisher with good football sense. He will be a nice backup option for 3-4 fronts with a ceiling of being a good number three option if he can improve his strength.
*Crafty is the word that comes to mind here. Ramirez falls short across multiple measurables, nearly all of them to be honest, but he knows how to beat blockers. His moves, and counter moves, are well-developed. Can he increase his power game enough to widen the repertoire? Pro tackles, who he played against very little against in college, are going to try and swallow him up. Ramirez needs to be taken at the right spot of the draft, but he is a guy that is way beyond many others on this list when it comes to having a plan.
20) Lonnie Phelps Jr – Kansas – 6’2/244
Senior entry. Four-year starter from Cincinnati, OH. Two-time All-MAC and earned All-Big 12 honors in 2022. Spent three seasons at Miami (OH) before transferring to Kansas for his final year. Phelps Jr. is a hyper, athletic tone setter than instantly adds energy and intensity to the team. He was a demon on special teams as well as off the edge defensively. He plays with a solid first step, easy bend, and natural avoidance of blockers. He does not always play with proper discipline, technique, and control but the one certainty he brings is effort. Phelps will create based on that alone. He is a bit of a project defensively, but the baseline tools are more than good enough, and he has proven to produce across multiple conferences. At the very least, Phelps Jr. will be one of the top special teamers on whatever team he lands on.
*One of two guys that transferred out of that Miami (OH) program that elevated their outlook in a big way this past season. Phelps is undersized and undisciplined. But man, the energy and effort he brings to the field along with his juice and sheer strength can find a home somewhere. He will make his money as a special team ace, one you will actually notice week to week, while a coaching staff tries to refine the skill set and find his best role. A 3-4 outside linebacker front is likely the only spot he fills into the best.
21: Isaiah McGuire – Missouri – 6’4/268: 72
22: Byron Young – Tennessee – 6’2/250: 72
23: Tavius Robinson – Mississippi – 6’6/257: 72
24: Tyrus Wheat – Mississippi State – 6’2/263: 72
25: Andre Carter II – Army – 6’7/256: 72
26: Zach Harrison – Ohio State – 6’5/274: 72
27: Robert Beal Jr. – Georgia – 6’4/247: 72
28: Tyler Lacy – Oklahoma State – 6’4/279: 71
29: Dylan Horton – TCU – 6’4/257: 71
30: DJ Johnson – Oregon – 6’4/260: 70
31: Thomas Incoom – Central Michigan – 6’2/262: 70
32: Ochaun Mathis – Nebraska – 6’5/250: 70
33: Nick Hampton – Appalachian State – 6’2/236: 69
34: BJ Thompson – Stephen F. Austin – 6’5/238: 69
35: Viliami Fehoko – San Jose State – 6’4/276: 69
36: Caleb Murphy – Ferris State – 6’3/254: 69
37: Brevin Allen – Campbell – 6’3/265: 69
38: Brenton Cox Jr. – Florida – 6’4/250: 69
39: Habakkuk Baldonado – Pittsburgh – 6’4/251: 69
The discussion around the defensive tackle position in relation to NYG was about depth. Whether they add a veteran or rookie, there needs to be an addition made for the sake of depth the long-term projection of the position. That notion rings true with the edge group as well and I could make the argument the need is even stronger. While I like the return of Jihad Ward, and Tomon Fox flashed as a physical edge setter, we cannot overlook how vulnerable this outside group is in the current state. If either Thibodeaux or Ojulari (again) goes down, who is stepping in? Pass rushers do not grow on trees and the idea that a difference making veteran can be scooped up over the summer or after rosters are cut down would be more fantasy than reality. NYG needs to add a rotational piece this group in this draft, the deepest group of edge rushers I have ever scouted.
Who and when is the question. Is round one too early? This team has several holes, and they just used a top five pick on the edge in 2022. Day two seems like the popular vote to many but remember, that is often the answer for many positions and NYG has just one pick in round two, one pick in round three as of now. Their late third was used on tight end Darren Waller. The fourth round is my projection. Because of the abundance of talent available at edge in this group, I must think there is going to be a future starter or three there when NYG comes on the clock day three. Next question will be about skill set. As stated earlier, I think Martindale will lean toward size and power more than he will burst and speed. The day three names that match up with that approach are likely to be Diaby, Foskey, Gaye, and Morris. All those guys can contribute in 2023 and fill the shoes of Ward in 2024. That is where I think they go but as always and especially with this position, there is no such thing as “too early” for another pass rusher. Including #25 overall.