Senior Bowl Players to Watch – Defense

Some of FAM’s favorite defensive prospects to watch in the 2018 Senior Bowl (January 27, 2018). Offensive players found here.

 

Cornerbacks

Duke Dawson — Florida Gators — A bit shorter than desired, but one of several uber-talented Gators on the defensive side of the football. He’s not much of a run-stuffer on the edge, but he’s a talented pass-defender with great quickness that lives on the hips of receivers.

Kameron Kelly — San Diego State Aztecs — Transitioned from wide-out to safety to corner, but has progressed wonderfully along the way in the attacking SDSU defense. Will have opportunities galore in NFL defenses that like long, aggressive and productive corners. Should run well as he flies to the football.

Darius Phillips — Western Michigan Broncos — We have long raved about Phillips, most recently in our Group of Five prospects to watch. The practices this week will show his coverage skills, for better or worse.

Levi Wallace — Alabama Crimson Tide — Balled out in his lone season as starter (48 total tackles, 4.5 for loss, two sacks, three interceptions for 66 yards and a score, and 15 pass deflections), and was a key to the talented secondary, and a reason Minkah Fitzpatrick could run amok. Size is good but speed and pure coverage skills are exceptional.

Isaac Yiadom — Boston College Eagles — Recorded over twenty passes defensed in two plus years as starter and is one of two senior corners for BC in attendance. He possesses good size at six feet plus  and evident ball skills, making him intriguing to scouts. Could add some bulk and must run well, but could rise in a down year for corners outside the early rounds.

 

Safeties

Marcus Allen — Penn State Nittany Lions — An experienced safety with great size (6-2 205), excellent tackling ability and knowledge of directing a secondary; however one thing stands out. He managed just one career interception in 49 career games. Having just ten pass deflections as well does not help, so he must answer questions as to his coverage abilities.

Quin Blanding — Virginia Cavaliers — Seemingly a seventh year senior, he wrapped up his four year career with stats galore and NFL size from the safety position. He’s an imposing hitter due to his frame and should see his stock rise if he runs well. Despite his tenure, he can still work on pass coverage and overall tackling.

Trayvon Henderson — Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors — Followed a great redo of his junior year after injury with a dud of a senior season, but injury and overall defensive struggles played their part. Henderson has good size, and can tackle, but must prove he’s an NFL caliber athlete.

Jeremy Reaves — South Alabama Jaguars — Lacks NFL size but this Group of Five Guy to Watch is a dynamite safety. Ready and willing to tackle, as well as make plays against the pass, he deserved far more hype than he received nationally. Must earn some draft hype because of his Sun Belt resume and size, but we are sold.

Armani Watts — Texas A&M Aggies — Just 5-11 205 but lightning quick to the football, and thus capable of bringing the thunder (seven forced fumbles, five recovered). An exceptional tackler and also able against the pass (ten career interceptions), it’s evident why he was so highly regarded in the SEC.

Kyzir White — West Virginia Mountaineers — One of the Galloping White’s of West Virginia, Kyzir is a defensive menace with legit NFL speed and great size. Will test exceptionally well, like his brother Kevin, and will hopefully stay healthy for a long NFL career. The talent is evident.

 

Linebackers

Ja’Whaun Bentley — Purdue Boilermakers — A thickly-built Mack truck on the inside, he showed tremendous skill against the run, recording 23 run stuffs (at or behind LOS on a run) on the year. Technically sound after a fairly prolific career despite turnover on his coaching staff. Big time hitter and could prove a huge value.

Garret Dooley — Wisconsin Badgers — A converted middle linebacker who wreaked significant havoc in his lone season as starter on the outside, he moved around from Mike to end to the edge where his strength, burst and leverage could come into play. We predicted big things heading into 2017, and he didn’t necessarily disappoint with 10.5 TFL and six sacks in a strong OLB unit for the Badgers.

Shaun Dion Hamilton — Alabama Crimson Tide — Another great inside linebacker prospect out of Alabama, checks in at 6-0 232 pounds and is projected to run somewhere in the 4.63 range. A three down linebacker at Alabama who played well into coverage but his main strength is filling running gaps and stopping the run. Does have injury concerns, as he suffered a season ending injury against LSU after fracturing the knee cap on the same knee reconstructed just a year before.

Marquis Haynes — Ole Miss Rebels — A super productive burst from the outside for the Rebs, he fought through some lean years for the team after what seemed to be a successful run for Ole Miss. Played end, but with linebacker size (and hopefully a knack for coverage) will find his home as a 3-4 OLB. That said, as a pass rusher he was dynamite, with an average of eight sacks per season in the SEC and three forced fumbles in each season he played.

Micah Kiser — Virginia Cavaliers — A thickly built shit-kicker on the inside for the Cavs, he sheds blockers like a pro. He’s a prolific tackler with a nose for the ball and toughness you look for in a middle linebacker. The UVA great is a tackling machine (408 career stops), who always excels at rushing the passer.

Darius Leonard — South Carolina State Bulldogs — Cleaned up as a weakside backer over the past two seasons on the FCS level and at 6-3 235 has a good frame for the NFL. Will need to prove he’s got the speed, and that he’ll make the jump, but was so consistent and good over the past two years we are liking him as a lower level draftee.

 

Mike McCray — Michigan Wolverines — The Michigan Man manned the outside for two years in Ann Arbor and absolutely balled out, averaging 76 tackles, 14.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. He’s got terrific size at 6-4 245 and also shows well in pass coverage, picking off two passes with six PBUs as an upperclassman. Could shoot up boards if he runs well, but otherwise will be a mid-round steal.

Uchenna Nwosu — USC Trojans — Nary the career totals of some others on the list, he’s got an exceptional senior season to hang his hat on nonetheless. He made 75 total tackles, but proved invaluable in pass defense with 9.5 sacks, along with 13 pass deflections and one interception. The size isn’t lacking at 6-2 240 given his length and ability to use it in passing lanes and rushes.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo — Oklahoma Sooners — A defensive end/linebacker hybrid in the truest form on the field, he burst onto the scene in 2016 with nine sacks and two forced fumbles. In 2017 he showed similar prowess for the pass rush, but also made 17.5 TFL and an impressive 25 run stuffs. His height will give some pause, but his game is legit and honed against some solid tackles in game and practice.

 

Defensive Linemen

Marcus Davenport — UTSA Roadrunners — His stock has skyrocketed since season’s end and we expect the long time FAM watched Group of Five Guy to continue trending up draft boards. Measures 6-7 250-plus and is extremely quick for his size. Dominated as a senior after showing great promise the season prior. Likely able to play in any scheme thanks to his great size and elite speed.

 

Duke Ejiofor — Wake Forest Demon Deacons — With great get-off for a man of his size (6-4 275), he dominated his final two years for the Deacs, racking up back-to-back 17 TFL seasons and a combined 17.5 sacks. Anchored an undersized yet active rotation with his ability to stymie blockers and disrupt from the edge, allowing others to exploit the chaos. Great fit to any scheme with his size and power.

Poona Ford — Texas Longhorns — See our write-up in the East-West Shrine Game piece, but a fireplug of a defender on the inside.

B.J. Hill — North Carolina State Wolfpack — A massive body on the inside for the Wolfpack (6-4 315), he showed a good all-around game in occupying blockers and flashing some plays on the inside. As a freshman he was great, as a sophomore he was superb, and as a junior he had Bradley Chubb making all the plays from the edge, so we are not going to hold that against him. Will be a good NFL interior player and could play across schemes thanks to his length.

Jalyn Holmes — Ohio State Buckeyes — Possesses great size at 6-4 270, but was lost in the wash amidst the swell of elite ends to come into Columbus. A good role player, but lacks the burst and overall stats seen in the Bosas, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis. Still likely a solid player at the next level.

Harold Landry — Boston College Eagles — One of the best edge defenders the past three seasons, injury marred his 2017 campaign. In all he still has a great run stuffer and pass rusher, amassing 48 TFL and 25 sacks in just 38 games. Played with his hand on the ground and 6-3 250, and that size could limit him in some teams eyes as a down lineman. We are big fans regardless.

 

Tyquan Lewis — Ohio State Buckeyes — Survived the Bosa/Hubbard onslaught to the depth chart and managed to post great career numbers despite the crowd. Averaged over seven sacks and eleven TFL his final three years, forcing five fumbles his final two seasons. At 6-5 265 and with great technique and athleticism, he’s perhaps a second to third round pick.

Derrick Nnadi — Florida State Seminoles — At 6-1, 312 pounds, Nnadi used great leverage and lower body strength to flash NFL starter potential throughout the year. At other times, his lack of a true pass rushing move and inability to fight off double teams due to lack of upper body strength and tendency to play too high, especially with his hands, raise serious questions. A fit for typical 4-3 defenses, who demonstrated quickness and lateral agility, a team willing to develop his technique could land an interior stud for the future.

Harrison Phillips — Stanford Cardinal — A FirstAndMonday All-FAMerican and All-Everything else player as well. Superb strength and agility combo, which shows in his power moved that were unblockable in PAC 12 play. Scheme will not matter, he transcends it.

Chad Thomas — Miami Hurricanes — Thomas arrived in Coral Gables with much a little too much hype and quickly found that it didn’t translate to playing time. Developed into a vocal lead and finished his career with 103 tackles, 26 for loss, 10 sacks, seven pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and two recoveries. He didn’t get a chance to rock the turnover chain in 2017 but if the NFL doesn’t work out “Major Nine” has a promising career in music to look forward to, as he already has album credits with Rick Ross under his belt.

 

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