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2022 NFL Draft: Playmaking Defenders

Looking at the best playmaking defenders against both the run and the pass for each position group leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft.

Phidarian Mathis Alabama 2022 NFL Draft Top Defensive Prospects
Photo: Evan Pilat/SEC Media Portal

Playmaking defenders in the NFL are players that the offense always needs to account for. These players can beat you in any number of ways and somehow find their way to the football in big moments. Last week, I looked at the nastiest offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft. This week, I have turned my attention to finding defensive playmakers.

To determine which 2022 NFL Draft prospects made plays at the highest rate, I have calculated what I call “Playmaker Rating”. This equation is simple. I total up the number of “Plays Made” (defined below) and divide that by how many snaps that player was on the field.

A “Play Made” is defined as any of the following:

  • Sack
  • Forced Fumble
  • Forced Incompletion (PBU, INT, or Incompletion due to tight coverage)
  • Batted Pass
  • Tackle for Stop

Playmaking Interior Defenders

Top Playmaking Interior Defenders

1. Noah Elliss
2. Phidarian Mathis
3. Devonte Wyatt
4. DJ Davidson
5. Neil Farrell Jr
Top 10 Playmaking Interior Defenders

Phidarian Mathis – Alabama

Phidarian Mathis NFL Draft
Photo: Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News-USA TODAY Sports

While Noah Elliss may have the best Playmaker Rate, Phidarian Mathis is the interior defensive lineman who did it against both the pass and the run. In 2021, Mathis recorded seven sacks, two batted passes, eight tackles for stops on pass plays, 20 tackles for stops on run plays, and one forced fumble. He had the best Playmaker Rate against the pass, making a play on 5.4% of QB dropbacks. Overall, he made a play on 6.9% of his snaps.

At Alabama, Mathis played everywhere on the defensive line from the 0-technique through the 5-technique. He wins the rep with a high football IQ and read/react instincts. Once he gets his read, he is quick and violent in his trigger towards the football.

Playmaking EDGE Defenders

Top Playmaking EDGE Defenders

1. Alex Wright
2. David Ojabo
3. Aidan Hutchinson
4. Josh Paschal
5. Jermaine Johnson
Top 10 Playmaking EDGE Defenders

Alex Wright – UAB

Alex Wright UAB
Photo: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alex Wright leads the way in Playmaker Rate among EDGE defenders. While he was only slightly above average in making plays against the pass, he was the best EDGE defender in making plays against the run. On the season, Wright recorded five sacks, three batted passes, eight tackles for stops on pass plays, 24 tackles for stops on run plays, and one forced fumble. Overall, he made a play on 8.7% of his snaps.

Wright boasts size, length, strength, explosiveness, and a non-stop motor. He might be one of the most enticing athletes in the draft class. Despite being raw when considering the finer points of the game, his ceiling is sky-high.

Playmaking Defenders at Linebacker

Top Playmaking Defenders at Linebacker

1. Leo Chenal
2. Nate Landman
3. Troy Andersen
4. Channing Tindall
5. Malcolm Rodriguez
Top 10 Playmaking Linebackers

Leo Chenal – Wisconsin

Leo Chenal NFL Draft
Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The linebacker position is inherently boosted in Playmaker Rating due to the typical role of an LB. They are going to be in the middle of run stops and patrolling the middle of the field in coverage. The leader among linebackers by a wide margin is Leo Chenal, who made a play on 12.4% of his snaps. In 2021, Chenal recorded 10 sacks, 19 tackles for stops on pass plays, 44 tackles for stops on run plays, and two forced fumbles. Although, most of his plays made against the pass came in the form of stops and sacks, as opposed to forced incompletions.

Chenal is a throwback linebacker who packs a punch. While he plays up to every ounce that his 261 lb frame has to offer, he does lack in the speed category. That lack of speed limits his ability to recover from misreads. While he does play with good instincts, every player is going to have mistakes from time to time.

Playmaking Defenders at Cornerback

Top Playmaking Defenders at Cornerback

1. Jalen Pitre
2. Marcus Jones
3. Damarion Williams
4. Cobie Durant
5. Roger McCreary
Top 10 Playmaking Cornerbacks

Jalen Pitre – Baylor

Jalen Pitre Baylor
Photo: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Pitre is not your typical CB prospect. It is difficult to truly consider him a CB. He is a positionless playmaking prospect who can play all three levels of the field. Pitre leads all CB prospects in Playmaker Rate, making a play on 9.2% of his snaps. In 2021, Pitre recorded five sacks, six forced incompletions, 16 tackles for stops on pass plays, 34 tackles for stops on run plays, and two forced fumbles.

Pitre will be best used as a versatile chess piece. He is a physical athlete with a nose for the football. At Baylor, he primarily played out of the slot. Given his skill set, he would be a great fit with a defensive coordinator who wants to get creative with his versatility.

Playmaking Defenders at Safety

Top Playmaking Defenders at Safety

1. Markquese Bell
2. Bryan Cook
3. Reed Blankenship
4. Bubba Bolden
5. Jaquan Brisker
Top 10 Playmaking Safeties

Markquese Bell – Florida A&M

Markquese Bell Florida AM
Photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat

Considered one of the top FCS and HBCU prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, Markquese Bell leads all safeties in playmaker rate. Bell made a play on 6.8% of his snaps and made a play on a whooping 10 of his snaps against the run. While some questions do persist about the FCS factor, Bell played above his competition level. He recorded two sacks, one forced incompletion, one batted pass, 15 tackles for stops on pass plays, 27 tackles for stops on run plays, and three forced fumbles.

Bell thrives against the run and offers athletic traits to cover a lot of ground against the pass. Playing with an aggressive demeanor is both a strength and a weakness for him, as it sometimes results in coverage busts.

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I like spreadsheets and football. I aim to take an analytical approach to my football research while also realizing the physical nature of football and how that impacts the numbers. While my main focus is Chicago Bears, I also write about the NFL as a whole.

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