Za’Darius Smith went to free agency to check out those respirators who wear purple. On Wednesday, Whitney Mercilus announced her retirement from the NFL. Yes, the Green Bay Packers will have Rashan Gary and Preston Smith in the fold in 2022 and beyond, but they need a fair amount of depth added to their edge rush.
Enter Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto.
It’s somewhat surprising that Bonitto should be a third-round pick, given his college output. He will enter the league with a strong CV. It may be that he’s a bit undersized at 245 pounds, but what he lacks in that department he more than makes up for in every other facet of his game. He’s got first-round talent written all over on him.
Bonitto uses his speed and football IQ to constantly make plays and disrupt the life of the opposing quarterback. His explosiveness off the line of scrimmage is top-notch, and he’s as sneaky as he can try to get around attacking tackles.
Oklahoma has long been known as an offensive juggernaut when Lincoln Riley ran the show. But the Sooners’ defense has started to come into its own over the past two seasons. A big reason for that was the presence of Bonitto and what he brought to the table.
According to The Draft Network, Bonitto does a lot of things really, really well.
Bonitto offers excellent first step speed and is explosive off the blocks. He’s able to take the lead quickly, forcing tackles into excessive kicking, then he uses his quickness and lateral agility to counter inside. Given his lack of size, his explosiveness and speed are his best assets to go home.
Bonitto displays excellent ankle flexibility to turn tight turns and tight angles when rushing the setter. He displays an excellent ability to bend the corner and get home to the quarterback. A very fluid athlete, Bonitto can make defenders miss with false bodies and fluid movements linked together.
Bonitto plays with an exceptional engine and exerts considerable effort in each test. He’s relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback and is often good at producing late down the line simply because he never stops working. He plays with his hair on fire and is aggressive in his attack.
A high-motor player with an explosive burst who’s a really tough athlete? Who doesn’t sign up for this?
Still, Bonitto should be a late pick for Day 2. Maybe he’ll go late in the second round of the draft. It’s a hidden gem waiting for a team to find it.
Green Bay has the power with Smith coming off an edge. Preston Smith certainly has finesse in his game, but he’s not known for being a speed rusher. Gary is explosive and has become an emerging star for the Packers across the defensive line. The duo is one of the best in the NFL. But the depth is much needed with the exit of Za’Darius Smith and the retirement of Mercilus.
This is where Bonitto comes in.
Bonitto can handle a full workload, but that wouldn’t be his role with the Packers from the start. Like Gary in his rookie season, the Packers could use Bonitto profusely, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry would find ways to get him on the court. However, Bonitto wouldn’t be an immediate starter given what the Packers already have in place.
A lighter workload in his rookie season would mean a fuller gas tank as the regular season winds down and moves into the playoffs. This is where Bonitto could shine for the Packers.
Drafting Bonitto would help Green Bay’s depth on the edge immensely, but selecting the former Oklahoma Sooner isn’t a depth move. It helps in that area, but Bonitto has star ability, and it’s easy to imagine him becoming a solid NFL starter for years to come.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein puts it best by noting Bonitto’s lack of size, but how he makes up for it all.
Undersized edge defender who plays in a tilt-based scheme that makes it harder to assess his three-try value. Assessing pass-rush talent, on the other hand, is pretty easy. He’s an extremely athletic rusher who combines downhill, stride length and flexibility in an alarming package for tackles trying to slow him down. Rush counters come instinctively and his ability to shift his attack from outside to inside seamlessly makes him a projectable rusher against athletic tackles as a pro.
Green Bay needed help on the edge after Za’Darius Smith left. Mercilus’ retreat has added salt to the wound. Now there’s a greater need to add pieces and help tone down whatever rests on the shoulders of Preston Smith and Gary.
Nik Bonitto’s writing could sweep away many of the question marks that currently persist.