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2022 NFL Draft: Infante’s “My Guys” defensive team

Which defensive players is Windy City Gridiron’s Lead Draft Analyst going to bat for in the 2022 NFL Draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 28 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 Scouting Combine is right around the corner, and the college all-star circuit has come and gone.

As the process for the 2022 NFL Draft continues to heat up, I figured I’d share with you all some of the players I’m going to bat for in this class: not my top talents at each position in every case, but guys I feel higher on than the consensus.

Some players might be Round 1 talents on my board, others late Day 3 selections. Either way, they’re prospects I believe deserve to be thought of in a higher light than they currently are, so I’m deciding to share what I like about each talent.

For Ryan Pace’s inconsistencies as the general manager of the Bears, he did show an ability to secure some of “my guys” in recent drafts, especially Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins, Darnell Mooney and Trevis Gipson. Riley Ridley was another Pace pick I was a huge fan of in the moment, but let’s not talk about that...

Now that Ryan Poles runs the roost in Chicago, I’m personally hoping he’ll take my advice and consider some of these players — just don’t give up too much draft capital in the process!

I’ve gone over my favorite offensive prospects, so now, here are the defensive players in the 2022 NFL Draft that I currently feel confident saying are “my guys”.

DL: Matthew Butler, Tennessee; Thomas Booker, Stanford

The 2022 draft appears to have plenty of talented interior defenders, so picking two players out of the bunch was difficult.

Matthew Butler is a quality 3-technique defender who can play in several alignments along the defensive line. He’s quick off the snap and is able to generate some nice pressure along the interior. His ability to string together pass-rushing moves and working in his hands to disengage at the point of attack allows him to succeed along the defensive line. A lack of elite measureables and pretty average play strength could limit his strength a bit, but his quickness is certainly enticing and could see him outdo his eventual draft stock.

Another versatile defender who can play anywhere along the defensive line, Thomas Booker is a long-limbed lineman with 7 collegiate pass deflections and two blocked PAT attempts in 2020 alone. His long arms help him deflect the ball, but they also help him with holding blockers away from his frame. He has enough raw power needed to eat up gaps in the run game, and his first-step quickness allows him to penetrate the backfield so well. Pad level and lower-half flexibility can improve in his game, but Booker’s burst and power makes him a potential sleeper as a 3-technique.

EDGE: George Karlaftis, Purdue; Kyron Johnson, Kansas

One is a consensus first-round pick. The other is a player few currently project as a draftable talent. Yet, both George Karlaftis and Kyron Johnson have caught my eye for varies reasons.

The highest-rated defender on this list, Karlaftis is a stellar edge defender with plenty of intriguing physical attributes. The sheer power in his game is incredible, as he does a great job of generating torque in his lower half and pushing the pocket at the point of attack. His heavy hands allow him to overwhelm blockers at the point of attack, and he’s much more explosive and flexible than many people give him credit for. Though he’s seen many first-round projections, I view him higher than the consensus: I think he’s a potential superstar.

At just 6-foot and 230 pounds size is an issue with Johnson, pause. His play strength is just okay, and a lack of length could make it tougher for him to disengage from blockers. That said, I just can’t get over how athletic he is. His first step is wicked good, and his straight-line speed makes him a dangerous backside defender. He’s super flexible, allowing him to turn the corner effectively and change direction very well in the open field. For fans of edge rushers dropping back in coverage, Johnson is one of the best in the class. He might actually be better suited as an off-ball linebacker, but regardless of where he ends up, he’s a lot of fun to watch.

LB: Chad Muma, Wyoming; JoJo Domann, Nebraska

Do you like athletic linebackers? Good news: there are a boatload of them this year!

Chad Muma is a bigger linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 241 pounds who projects best as a MIKE linebacker at the next level. He’s a high-motored player who fights to the whistle on a consistent basis, chasing down ball-carriers with a red-hot style of play. For someone as big as he is, he’s a very good straight-line athlete with the ability to burst well and close in on the ball. His hips are pretty fluid, and his explosiveness and size makes him a dangerous blitzer up the A gap. Muma is still developing in terms of trusting what his eyes see out on the field, but his physical attributes can’t be taught.

The Bears don’t really need a WILL linebacker with Roquan Smith in the fold, but if they want to try and convert JoJo Domann to a MIKE just to appease me, I certainly wouldn’t complain! A former collegiate safety, Domann has tremendous lateral agility and has plenty of range as both a tackler across the middle of the field and as a coverage defender in man and zone. His upfield acceleration allows him to defend more vertical route concepts, and his spatial awareness across the middle of the field is impressive. He struggles with shedding blocks in the box and has two season-ending injuries to his name, but the value he brings as a three-down linebacker jumps off the screen whenever I watch him.

CB: Marcus Jones, Houston; Mario Goodrich, Clemson; Montaric Brown, Arkansas

I decided to add three cornerbacks to this list partially to reflect the prominence of nickel packages, but I also really like several cornerbacks in this class.

Marcus Jones may be small at about 5-foot-8, but his athleticism and ball skills are among the top in the class. He has elite speed and the raw fluidity needed to defend vertical routes, and he plays with a high motor and great tracking skills with the ball in the air, as reflected by his 9 career interceptions and 31 pass deflections in four seasons. Competitive in every aspect of the cornerback position, Jones is always the most dynamic player whenever I break down his tape. He also brings stellar value as a returner, having scored 9 total touchdowns on special teams over the course of his career. His size is an obvious drawback and hinders his play strength, but his value as a nickel corner and a special teamer is unreal.

Despite playing at a top-tier program like Clemson, Mario Goodrich arguably isn’t talked about as much as he should be. He offers boundary and field-side versatility, as he’s a flexible and explosive athlete with loose hips changing direction in coverage. His acceleration upfield makes him a good fit in scheme heavy in deep zones along the outside, and he’s a smart zone defender who is quick to read when to jump a route to make a play on the ball. His physicality and abilities in press are hit or miss, but he’s a smooth operator who could start in the league.

The last cornerback is someone I hadn’t gotten around to watching until recently, but man, am I glad I watched Montaric Brown. He broke out statistically in 2021 with 5 interceptions, but his 2020 tape was also solid when I went back to watch it. Brown has great ball skills, showing the coordination needed to contort and high-point the ball, as well as compete at the catch point. He’s a good athlete with solid mobility and the deep speed needed to take receivers vertically. Nagging injuries have plagued him over the years, and his angles in run support can lack motivation at times. In coverage, though, Brown is a potential diamond in the rough.

S: Kerby Joseph, Illinois; J.T. Woods, Baylor

If you’ve watched Kerby Joseph and J.T. Woods, you’ll be able to figure out what my favorite archetype of safety is.

Joseph exploded in 2021 with 5 interceptions and was named an All-Big Ten first-team defender for his work in coverage. He is a super smart safety with a high football IQ and the ability to consistently diagnose route concepts. His ability to jump on a route and time his attacks on the ball allows him to make plays that very few safeties can match in this class. Joseph’s fluidity allows him to cover a significant amount of space in coverage, too. Though maybe not the fastest defensive back or the most physical tackler, he’s a bonafide playmaker on the back end.

When you close out the Senior Bowl with a game-clinching interception, odds are you’ll make an impact on NFL teams. A Woods interception was a common occurrence at Baylor, where he had 8 interceptions in his two seasons as a full-time starter. He has great straight-line speed and impressive fluidity, contributing to his top-notch range in coverage. He tracks the ball with a ball-hawk mentality and good ball skills for a safety. Like Joseph, Woods struggles as a tackler, and he also doesn’t offer much physicality shedding blocks. His issues in run support could hurt his draft stock, but if rangy ball-hawks are your thing, he’s definitely a name to watch.