As the NFL landscape continues to evolve at an astonishing pace, one thing remains constant: the pivotal role played by elite edge defenders. In the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft, the anticipation is palpable as scouts and general managers eagerly anticipate the arrival of a remarkably talented cohort of edge defenders, each brimming with the potential to reshape the future of their respective NFL teams.
In this comprehensive article, we embark on an in-depth exploration of the cream of the crop amongst these burgeoning stars, dissecting their unique skill sets, pinpointing areas of improvement, and delving into their potential fits within the ever-demanding and diverse landscape of the NFL. As the league continues to morph and adapt to new styles of play, it is increasingly evident that a game-changing edge defender can be the catalyst for success, and the 2024 draft class promises a multitude of intriguing possibilities.
Preseason watch list: The top five Edge Defenders in the 2024 NFL Draft
Jared Verse – Florida State
Verse takes the top spot on this list, and if he had entered his name into last year’s draft he would’ve likely been a top-10 pick. Verse is listed at 6’4″ and 251 pounds. Despite that 13th percentile weight for DEs, Verse is an extremely powerful rusher with an explosive first step off the line.
Beyond that, the former Albany Great Dane possesses a great understanding of pass-rush plans, and knows when to use one of the many different moves in his arsenal. This is proven by his 23.4% pass-rush win rate last season, in his first year playing in the FBS.
Despite all that, it has been a very long road to get here for Verse. In high school, he played both defensive end and tight end for Central Columbia and had no FBS offers at the end of his senior year. He then decided to take his talents to the University of Albany and play in the FCS.
He would spend three years at Albany before deciding to transfer to Florida State in January of 2022. In his first season with FSU, Verse exploded on the scene to the tune of 48 tackles, 9 sacks, and 17 tackles for loss in 12 games. He also earned first team-All-American and All-ACC honors last season. If Verse can repeat what he did last season, or even improve on it, he is a lock to go in the top ten of the NFL Draft come April 2024.
Dallas Turner – Alabama
Now I’ll start by saying that Dallas Turner is not the edge prospect that Will Anderson Jr. was, but he is still a clear blue-chip prospect in his own right. Last season was actually somewhat of a down year for Turner when you consider the electric freshman season he had. As a freshman in 2021, Turner combined for 30 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 10 tackles for loss. However, this past season he only had 37 total tackles, 4 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss.
Turner projects as more of a 3-4 OLB at the NFL level because of his speed, athleticism, and frame at 6’4″ and 242 pounds. Right now at Alabama, Turner is more of a speed kind of edge prospect and lacks some strength and bull rush in his profile.
Moving onto the positives, the Florida native, Turner is a bolt of lightning off the line and possesses elite hip flexibility and bend around the edges. He is also an especially quick and explosive athlete, and that is only benefitted from his exceptionally long arms.
Turner has some work to do before he can play as a full-time NFL edge, evidenced by his frame, and pass-rush win rate (11.1%). However, if he can figure it out and put it all together, he has sky-high potential.
Chop Robinson – Penn State
Demeioun “Chop” Robinson, is an explosive athlete, who demonstrates fantastic body control, flexibility, and bend as a pass rusher. He also has plus arm length, with room to add more weight onto his already powerful 6’4″, 250-pound frame. The Maryland native also possesses an ELITE first step, that resembles a bat out of hell coming after the QB.
This past season at Penn State, Robinson combined for 26 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 10 tackles for loss. Furthermore, in his freshman season, where he actually played for Maryland, he appeared in 8 games and had 19 tackles for 2 sacks and 2.5 TFLs.
Robinson’s speed-to-power conversion last season was terrifying for opposing offensive linemen, and that is evidenced by his 20.9% pass-rush win rate. He still needs to round out his pass-rush arsenal and work on his pass-rush plan, but he has the athleticism and will to be a great edge defender in the NFL.
Bralen Trice – Washington
Trice is coming off a hyper-productive campaign for Washington in 2022, where he totalled 38 tackles including 9 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Additionally, in 2021 as a redshirt freshman for UW, Trice combined for 14 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 TFLs.
Trice’s game boasts several notable strengths, with perhaps the most striking being his relentless motor, which drives him to give maximum effort on every play, from start to finish. His athleticism is often overlooked, yet he excels at transforming speed into raw power, showcasing an impressive initial burst off the line of scrimmage.
Hailing from Arizona, he possesses the ideal physical dimensions at 6’4″ and 274 pounds and demonstrates the ideal attributes to thrive as a versatile three-down defensive lineman in the NFL, exemplified by his impressive 26.2% pass-rush win rate.
J.T. Tuimoloau – Ohio State
J.T. Tuimoloau garnered substantial attention during his high school days, securing the number two spot in the 2021 rankings by 247 Sports. This accolade was undoubtedly well-deserved, given his exceptional blend of raw athleticism and a seamless playstyle, all packaged in a 6’4″, 270-pound frame. JTT further stands out due to his remarkable football IQ and instinctual approach, coupled with an extensive repertoire of pass-rushing techniques.
However, despite his high potential and strong start at Ohio State, one significant criticism has emerged, his lack of production in the early stages of his collegiate career. As a true sophomore in the previous season, he managed to amass 28 tackles, which included 3.5 sacks and an impressive 10.5 tackles for loss.
Nevertheless, when we take a closer look at his performance and exclude the game against Penn State from the equation, it becomes evident that JTT’s sack numbers plummeted to just 1.5, and his average PFF grade stood at a subpar 67.0.
A particularly interesting statistic that arises from his recent performance is his pedestrian 9.3% pass-rush win rate, shedding light on a crucial aspect of his game that requires further work. Despite all of that, his impressive physical tools make him a compelling prospect worth betting on early in the draft, and I expect he will be a first-round pick come next April.
I’ve made the choice to exclude UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu from my rankings due to concerns surrounding his injuries and the ambiguity surrounding his medical evaluations, along with how NFL teams might perceive these factors in the upcoming draft. However, it’s important to note that if he does make a full recovery and is in peak health, there’s no doubt that he possesses the talent to be among the top 5 edge rushers in this year’s draft class.