Comparing the analytics of the top EDGE prospects in the 2022 NFL draft
The 2022 NFL draft features a tantalizing group of edge rushers. Many consider the EDGE position to be the best of the class.
One team that is commonly linked to these alluring EDGE prospects is the New York Jets. Whether it be with their fourth overall selection or their 10th overall selection, a strong percentage of mock drafts feature the Jets taking an edge rusher in the first round.
How do some of the top EDGE prospects compare to one another from an analytics perspective?
Here are the prospects we’ll be comparing today:
- Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan, age 21.6 (#1 on NFL Mock Draft Database’s Consensus Big Board)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon, age 21.2 (#3)
- Travon Walker, Georgia, age 21.3 (#8)
- Jermaine Johnson, Florida State, age 23.2 (#12)
- George Karlaftis, Purdue, age 21.0 (#15)
- David Ojabo, Michigan, age 21.9 (#22)
Pass-rush win rate
Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush win rate statistic gives us an idea of how consistently a player wins his battles in the passing game. A “win” is essentially a play in which the pass-rusher defeats his blocker to put himself on track to reach the pocket.
If a player gets a win, it does not necessarily mean he hit the quarterback, sacked the quarterback, or even earned credit for a QB pressure.
And that’s the beauty of the stat – it tracks the lone thing that a rusher has full control over. While a rusher cannot control whether he gets enough time to get home for a sack or hit, nothing is stopping him from beating his man.
To calculate a player’s pass-rush win rate, all we have to do is divide his number of pass-rush wins by the number of snaps in which he rushed the passer.
Here is how these top-six EDGE prospects stacked up in 2021 (ranks among 133 Power-5 edge rushers with 200+ pass-rush snaps):
- Aidan Hutchinson, 25.0% (4th)
- George Karlaftis, 23.6% (5th)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, 23.2% (6th)
- David Ojabo, 19.0% (18th)
- Jermaine Johnson, 14.1% (54th)
- Travon Walker, 10.1% (101st)
Hutchinson leads the way with a 25.0% win rate, ranking fourth-best among qualifiers. Karlaftis and Thibodeaux directly follow him on the leaderboard with win rates of 23.6% and 23.2%.
That’s your definitive top-three in this metric. Hutchinson, Karlaftis, and Thibodeaux were among the most unstoppable pass-rushers in college football last year.
There is a steep drop-off between each of the next three players.
Ojabo did not quite reach the elite tier but still fared very well as his 19.0% win rate placed 18th.
Johnson was slightly above the median as he ranked 54th with a 14.1% win rate.
Walker’s number is the most glaring one on this list. He placed all the way down at 101st with a 10.1% win rate.
While Walker has historically great athletic tools that give him mouth-watering potential, he still has a lot of development to do before he can use those tools to become a dominant player. The collegiate production just wasn’t there.
Walker is as raw as they come for a possible top-10 draft pick, but his potential is so great that a team will likely still draft him in that range regardless of his lackluster pass-rushing numbers at Georgia. He’ll be drafted for what he could be, not what he is.
Pro Football Focus run-defense grade
Pro Football Focus’ run-defense grade is an estimate of a player’s performance quality against the run. It’s a better evaluation tool than raw production statistics like run-stops or tackles for loss since it accounts for off-the-stat-sheet things like edge-setting, gap-filling, and penetration. Players can be credited for good efforts that do not result in them making a tackle and they can also be knocked for poor efforts in which they allow a big run to happen.
Without further ado, here is how these top-six EDGE prospects stacked up in 2021 (ranks among 136 Power-5 edge rushers with 175+ run-defense snaps):
- Aidan Hutchinson, 90.8 (2nd)
- Jermaine Johnson, 79.2 (16th)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, 76.8 (24th)
- George Karlaftis, 75.1 (31st)
- Travon Walker, 73.7 (34th)
- David Ojabo, 70.2 (53rd)
Hutchinson stakes his claim as the EDGE1 by coupling up his pass-rushing excellence with run-stopping prowess.
It’s hard to go wrong in the run game here. All of these top prospects have good reputations in that phase. Ojabo is separated from the pack by a little bit (he’s the smallest player of the bunch at 250 pounds) but each of the other five guys ranked in the top-25%. Walker and Johnson compare more favorably to the other top prospects in the run game than in the pass game.
Sack conversion rate
This stat is not as all-encompassing as either of the previous two – it focuses on a specific trait – but I figured it’s worth including since sack production is the primary thing that fans like to see out of their team’s edge rushers.
Sack conversion rate is simply the percentage of a player’s total pressures that are converted into sacks (sacks divided by total pressures). It tells us how consistently a player finishes a sack when he gets home to pressure the quarterback.
There are a few different ways to interpret this stat. On one hand, it can be exactly what it looks like: a tool to evaluate the skill of sack-finishing. Guys with higher rates are better at finishing sacks and guys with lower rates struggle at finishing sacks. Simple.
On the other hand, it can be more of a luck-based metric that contextualizes a player’s overall production and reputation.
Players with high sack rates often luck into an unsustainable number of sacks that make them look better than they really are based on their win and pressure production (hello, 2013 Calvin Pace and 2019 Jordan Jenkins).
Players with low sack rates are often underrated because their lack of sacks overshadows their production with wins and pressures (hello, Carl Lawson).
It’s possible that players with abnormally high sack rates relative to their win-rate efficiency are due for a regression in future sack production, and vice versa for players with abnormally low sack rates relative to their win-rate efficiency.
Most likely, this stat is a combination of both worlds. Yes, there is some luck involved, but there is certainly some degree of skill to sack-finishing. And sack-finishing is definitely important – while wins, pressures, and hits are great, sacks are the ultimate prize.
However you choose to interpret this stat, I figured it was an interesting one to include. Here is how our top-six edge rushers stacked up in 2021 (ranks among 118 FBS edge rushers with 30+ total pressures):
- Jermaine Johnson, 30.4% (4th)
- David Ojabo, 26.2% (13th)
- Aidan Hutchinson, 18.9% (46th)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, 18.8% (49th)
- Travon Walker, 14.7% (85th)
- George Karlaftis, 9.3% (109th)
We have a wide spectrum of results here.
Johnson and Ojabo were excellent at finishing sacks. They had 11.5 and 11.0 sacks, respectively, although as we saw earlier, they were not quite as elite when it came to pass-rush win rate. When they got home, they tended to finish.
Hutchinson lit the world on fire with 14.0 sacks, but he was so incredibly consistent at generating pressures that it was actually a relatively tame sack total when compared to players like Johnson and Ojabo who nearly equaled him in sacks despite getting barely more than half as many of his 74 total pressures.
All of this says more about how much of an outlier Johnson and Ojabo’s sack totals were than it does about Hutchinson’s inability to finish sacks. Getting 14.0 sacks in 14 games is ridiculously impressive and it’s absurd to expect him to pick up more than that. Most of the players ranked above Hutchinson, such as Johnson and Ojabo, simply racked up an inordinate number of sacks on a much smaller number of pressures, meaning there is a decent chance that their sack total overrates them.
Thibodeaux (7.0 sacks in 10 games) had a nearly identical rate to Hutchinson, and for the same reasons. Their sack rates are plenty good for players who get into the backfield so frequently.
Walker (6.0 sacks in 13 games) and Karlaftis (4.5 sacks in 12 games) had some trouble finishing sacks. Karlaftis particularly struggled as he only had 4.5 sacks despite racking up a ton of wins and pressures.
To have a rate as low as 9.3%, Karlaftis certainly whiffed on some sack opportunities and must get better in that area. However, his sack rate also exemplifies why we cannot judge players based solely on sacks. One look at Karlaftis’ total of 4.5 sacks would tell you he is a mediocre pass-rusher, when in reality, we learned earlier in this article that he won his battles just about as often as Thibodeaux and Hutchinson did.