Georgia dominates defensive line talk in 2022 NFL draft

Former Georgia defenders from left to right; Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis, and Travon Walker greet each other following the National Championship ring ceremony in the G-Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Former Georgia defenders from left to right; Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis, and Travon Walker greet each other following the National Championship ring ceremony in the G-Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Here’s the fifth story of our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top defensive linemen.

When it comes to defensive linemen in the 2022 NF draft, the conversation revolves around the Bulldogs.

Georgia is expected to have three first-round defensive linemen in edge rusher Travon Walker and defensive tackles Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt. The trio anchored Georgia’s sensational championship winning defense last season.

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Walker could go as early as No. 1 overall. He’s been mentioned as a dark horse for Jacksonville, which has otherwise been heavily linked to Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson and offensive tackles. During an interview at Georgia’s pro day, Walker revealed he had dinner with the Jaguars a night earlier. The Jaguars have shown steady interest in Walker and recent rumors suggest he’s a real option at the top.

“I can do anything a coach needs me to do,” Walker said. “If he needs me to drop in coverage, put my hands down and rush. I can be one of those guys who helps contribute to winning a championship in the league.”

If it isn’t No. 1, Walker shouldn’t have to wait long.

“(Walker) only had 9.5 career sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses, so you say the production was not there, but the disruptive plays … his hurries were off the charts,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He was getting in the backfield. That’s the underrated part. Now, the quick-twitch is debatable for outside. I thought he showed more twitch and quickness inside. You have to find the right spot. You’ve got to coach him. He’s got incredible length. He’s got incredible talent.

“He’s a guy that is going to have to carve a niche and in what spot is that going to be? How’s the coaching? Will they get the most out of him? There’s a little bit of a risk-reward there.”

Davis and Wyatt have a larger range of outcomes. Davis shined at the combine - he ran a 4.78 at 341 pounds - but his tape shows a player who didn’t offer much on passing downs. The question for NFL teams throughout the process: Is Davis capable of more? Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart insists Davis, who was a leader and face of the defense, undoubtedly is.

“He could’ve been a three-down player here,” Smart said during Georgia’s pro day. “It’s more about conditioning. When he’s at his top-level conditioning and his best weight, he can play on third down. We got pass rushing ability out of the guy. We didn’t ask him to do that because we had the luxury of a Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt and Travon to do it. But he did it for us in practice all the time.”

Wyatt, 24, was a later bloomer who improved his stock by returning to school for 2021. He should be an easy plug-and-play 3-technique. Wyatt has shown he’ll be a factor on passing downs. Some evaluators may prefer Wyatt to Davis for that reason.

Davis seems likely to go in the first 20 picks. But Wyatt might slip to a playoff team in the 20s. Teams such as Green Bay (22 and 28), Arizona (23) and Tampa Bay (27) are logical matches. With the Packers or Buccaneers, Wyatt could join an elite nose tackle – as Davis was in college – in Kenny Clark or Vita Vea, respectively.

“He’s had (first-round) talent,” Smart said of Wyatt. “We’re all optimistic for Devonte. He’s a great kid. He’s homegrown from Atlanta. I think like (defensive line coach) Tray Scott, nobody gives him enough credit for the work he’s done. With all of them, but really with Devonte because Devonte has come the furthest from a natural talent standpoint. This guy decided to stay an extra year and he didn’t have to do that. It’s paid off for him in terms of maturity and moving up the draft board.”

If the Falcons trade down into the teens or 20s – a possible if not preferred move given their plethora of needs – both Davis and Wyatt are possibilites.

Beyond Georgia’s stars, the top defensive linemen are Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson (a Georgia transfer). Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are almost certainly going within the top-10 picks (maybe even the first two selections). Johnson might, too. Schematically, he’s a good fit with the Falcons.

Minnesota edge Boye Mafe isn’t a flashy name but should be a top-50 pick. He’s had 14.5 sacks over the past three seasons, including seven in 2021. His bend and athleticism bode well for his NFL prospects.

“It’s not about whether I’m slept on or not,” Mafe said at the scouting combine. “All it takes is one organization to fall in love with me. I just want to get to work, get to an organization and get ready to play.” Mafe added his best strengths are his personality, leadership and “just being adaptable to certain situations and my versatility on the field.”

Connecticut’s Travis Jones is the top nose tackle behind Davis and could be among the first 32 players chosen. Jones is another excellent run defender who needs to develop as a pass rusher. Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal has versatility that could fit the Falcons in the second round. Leal was once considered a potential top-10 pick and could become a quality pass rusher.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey impressed at the senior bowl and should be selected during day two. Houston’s versatile Logan Hall is also a potential top-50 pick. Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo was going to be a first rounder before blowing out his Achilles during his pro day. Ojabo could now be a value play for a team later in the first round or the second.

Other notable edge rushers: George Karlaftis (Purdue), Drake Jackson (USC), Josh Paschal (Kentucky), Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State), DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), Dominique Robinson (Miami (OH)), Cameron Thomas (San Diego State), Alex Wright (UAB), Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Jesse Luketa (Penn State), Myjai Sanders (Cincinnati), Tyreke Smith (Ohio State), Amare Barno (Virginia Tech), Thomas Booker (Stanford), Christopher Allen (Alabama), Sam Williams (Ole Miss).

Other notable defensive tackles: Phidarian Mathis (Alabama), Matthew Butler (Tennessee), Otito Ogbonnia (UCLA), Zachary Carter (Florida), Chris Hinton (Michigan), Eyioma Uwazurike (Iowa State), John Ridgeway (Arkansas), Haskell Garrett (Ohio State), Eric Johnson (Missouri State).

AJC’S 2022 POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES

WIDE RECEIVERSFalcons need to upgrade weapons | Top 10 WRs

RUNNING BACKS Position has become devalued in draft | Top 10 RBs

TIGHT ENDSChigoziem Okonkwo survived heart condition | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE LINEEx-UGA lineman Salyer points to wins in SEC trenches | Top 10 OL

QUARTERBACKSMalik Willis now top QB prospect for NFL draft | Top 10 QBs

DEFENSIVE LINEGeorgia dominates D-line talk ahead of draft

LINEBACKERS – Tuesday

CORNERBACKS – Wednesday, April 20

SAFETIES – Thursday, April 21

SPECIAL TEAMS – Friday, April 22