The 2022 NFL Draft is just a few days away and the Green Bay Packers have four of the first 59 picks in this year’s draft. That gives GM Brian Gutekunst plenty of ammunition to make picks or trades to improve the team.
This is the last in a series of articles looking at players the Packers may be interested in selecting at this year’s draft. The only players listed here are realistic possibilities for the Packers to pick at 22 and 28 or if they trade up or down slightly from that spot.
Today we will examine edge rushers. The Packers have two quality starters at this position in Rashan Gary and Preston Smith but after the starters, there are a lot of questions. Za’Darius Smith was released this offseason and the Packers still lack depth behind the starters. Neither Jonathan Garvin nor Tipa Galeai have proven they can consistently pressure the quarterback thus far in their careers.
The Packers (and the rest of the league) place a big premium on edge rushers and the Packers may use a first-round pick here if the right player is still on the board.
There are a handful of elite edge rushers available in this year’s draft but players like Aiden Hutchinson of Michigan, Travon Walker of Georgia and Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon will be selected early in the first round so unless the Packers make a huge trade to move up, these players won’t be joining Green Bay.
Expect the Packers to select at least one edge rusher in this draft but the question is when. If they don’t get one on day one, the talent level drops off and the possibility of getting an impact player goes down dramatically.
So here is a list of possible edge rushers the Packers may take in the first round. They are not listed in any particular order:
George Karlaftis, Purdue
Karlaftis is strong and powerful off the edge. While he is only 6’4” and 270 pounds, he has a variety of moves and his quick off the snap of the ball, allowing him to get penetration and to fill gaps in the offensive line.
Karlaftis was also better in his sophomore season than his junior year so the regression may be of concern. He is still young at 21 and uses his hands well to get an edge on blockers.
The question is where should Karlaftis line up? He is probably best suited to be a defensive end in a 4-3 defense although he could move to outside linebacker and come off the edge, a transition Gary made when he joined the Packers. If he joins the Packers, he may have a season or two to be the third edge rusher as he develops his game much like Gary did in his first year.
Jermaine Johnson, Florida State
Johnson is 6’5” and 255 and will probably also line up as an OLB in the NFL because of his size. He can stop the run as well as rush the passer and does a good job of reading running plays and finding the ball. His closing speed is something the Packers would certainly appreciate.
Johnson still needs to work on his technique. He often got by on his physical strength in college which won’t be as easy in the NFL. He has the tools to develop more moves but will need some coaching to succeed with it at the next level.
There is a chance he’s gone before the Packers pick at 22 because of his natural ability but if he’s still there, Gute may be tempted to grab him.
Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
Bonitto is quick off the ball and played both defensive line and outside linebacker at Oklahoma so he has the ability to play both positions.
In addition to his quickness at rushing the passer, he can also drop back into coverage because of his speed and ability to change directions.
Bonitto will need to be more consistent with his effort. He took too many plays off in college and won’t be able to do that at the next level.
With the right coaching and more consistent effort, Bonitto has the raw talent to become a solid edge rusher at the next level.
Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State
Ebiketie is just 6’2” and 252 pounds but he has long arms that can benefit him in the pass rush. The former Penn State star had 9.5 sacks last season and 17 tackles for loss. He has a non-stop motor and is a sure tackler although he doesn’t always take the best angles to the ball carrier on running plays.
Scouts are divided on Ebiketie. Some believe he can become a consistent pass rusher in the NFL using his bull rush and his hands which he uses well to get an advantage on blockers. Others think he is too small and too inconsistent at diagnosing plays.
He’s also a bit older after five years in college which could make the Packers wary since he figures to be limited to being a situational pass rushing specialist in his first year or two in the NFL.
David Ojabo, Michigan
Ojabo could be the biggest gamble in the draft. Before he suffered a torn Achilles during Michigan’s pro day, he was considered a likely top 10 pick in this year’s draft. At 6’5” and 248 pounds, he has the size and length the Packers prefer in an edge rusher.
Before the injury, he was a great pass rusher with 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season. He’s also young and kind of green as he played only two seasons at Michigan and had limited high school experience.
With the right coaching and a full recovery from injury, he’s an ideal pass rusher with speed off the edge and the ability to make counter moves to beat blockers when his speed doesn’t get him past them.
Ajabo needs to work on disengaging from blockers on running plays but he uses his speed to chase down running plays on the opposite side of the field.
Although Ajabo may not be able to play much if at all in 2022, if he returns to pre-injury form, he could give the Packers the equivalent of two first-round picks in 2023 and a blue-chip talent without having a top-10 pick. But would the Packers take a chance on a player coming off that serious an injury who may not be able to contribute much this season?
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