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2022 Combine preview: Edge rusher

When we think of the value at the top of the draft, we usually think of the quarterback, edge rusher and offensive tackle positions, and this year's draft has a couple terrific edge rushers right at the top, and also good depth throughout.

Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux both have a chance to be Top 5 picks, but we could see a half dozen or more edge rushers go in the first round come April's NFL Draft.

Top 5 edge rushers to watch at the Combine:

1. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan, 6-6, 265

Hutchinson is an instinctive and powerful rusher who can set an edge in the run game just as well as he can get after the quarterback. He's got terrific size that will allow him to push inside if needed and create some position flexibility. He set the Michigan single-season sack record with 14.0 this past season, but also recorded 16.5 tackles for loss and 62 tackles (36 solo), helping lead Michigan to the College Football Playoffs.

2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon, 6-5, 258

Thibodeaux might have the highest ceiling of all the edge rusher prospects because he's still a raw talent from a technical standpoint. He's a terrific athlete and is expected to test very well at the Combine. He's a plus run defender and wins on the pass rush with pure athleticism and power vs. having a refined set of pass-rush moves. He's long, strong and plays with a superior motor. Just imagine what he can be when NFL coaches work with him to refine the pass rush part of his game more.

View photos of the defensive line prospects who were invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

3. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State, 6-5, 262

There wasn't a player at the Senior Bowl who helped himself more than Johnson. He was dominant in one-on-one pass-rush drills, showing off speed, power and a plethora of pass-rush moves, including a pretty wicked spin move. He notched 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and 70 tackles (33 solo) for the Seminoles this past season. He's definitely an ascending prospect on the edge.

4. David Ojabo, Michigan, 6-5, 250

Ojabo was the other half of Michigan's devastating edge rush duo opposite Hutchinson. What stands out about Ojabo is his repertoire of rush moves for such an inexperienced player (14 career games at Michigan). He's got quick feet and uses his hands well. He recorded 11.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss this past season. How much did he benefit from having Hutchinson on the other side? That's the question teams will have to figure out over the next couple months.

5. George Karlaftis, Iowa, 6-4, 275

When people talk about a player having a relentless motor, just throw on the film of Karlaftis for a prime example of what they're talking about. He doesn't have eye-popping sack totals (4.5 last season), but he's a complete player on the edge.

Combine sleeper to watch: DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky, 6-4, 240

Malone decided to come back to school another year to show off better tape to NFL personnel, and that was a good decision. He plays much stronger and possesses much more strength than his frame would indicate. He was a bull-rush master at the Senior Bowl, despite weighing in at 240. He plays in the backfield, recording 48.5 tackles for loss over his last three seasons.

Lions need at the position: High

Charles Harris, who led the Lions with 7.5 sacks, is a free agent. The team also has to make a decision about Trey Flowers' long-term future with the team this offseason, and veteran Romeo Okwara is coming off a serious Achilles injury. The Lions' 30 sacks this past season were the third fewest in the NFL.

The Lions have the making of a pretty decent secondary, especially if they add to the safety position this offseason, they just need a better marriage between the rush and cover, particularly from the rush side. Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant have some upside as young edge rushers, but teams can never have too many good, young pass rushers.

The Lions have the No. 2 pick and don't have a need for an offensive tackle. That could put pass rusher and potentially a safety, high on their wish list. Both Hutchinson or Thibodeaux could be there at No. 2. One way for this defense to take a big leap forward would be to add an elite rusher.

Key stat: Opponents converted on third down 45.1 percent of the time against the Lions' defense in 2021, which was the fourth highest percentage in the league. Detroit's defense ranked 30th in conversion percentage allowed on third downs of 10-plus yards. The 17 first downs allowed in those situations were tied for the second most in the NFL.

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