2017 Senior Bowl Defensive Positional Wrap-up

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Winner: Jaleel Johnson, Iowa

Loser: None

Analysis: Probably the toughest position to pick a winner and loser for, as no one looked like a top 30 prospect, but the entire group performed at a draftable level. Jaleel Johnson was the most explosive and powerful player at his position, and he projects well to a one-gap, 3 technique position in a four-man front. I don’t think he’s on Sheldon Rankins level from last year, but Johnson is a very solid player with a strong toolset for the NFL.

Chris Wormley and Isaac Rochell both had strong weeks as long, powerful defenders who could play 5 technique in a 3-4 front or make the move inside to 3 tech and hold their own. Wormley is extremely heavy-handed and plays with excellent leverage and technique, consistently winning first contact with a strong first step. He’s not a top-tier athlete, but Wormley has a few go-to moves as a pass rusher and knows how to counter. Rochell plays a little higher, but he understands leverage and long arm concepts, keeping blockers on their heels with his length and power at the point of attack. I’m very curious to see how Rochell tests at 6’4”, 282 pounds, as he showed a little bend and flexibility to be able to move around a defensive front.

Ryan Glasgow and Eddie Vanderdoes aren’t too different as prospects, both wide-set interior defensive lineman who play physical and aggressive despite being mediocre athletes. Vanderdoes has more pass rush juice than Glasgow, displaying a nice spin and swim to recover when his first move was stymied. Glasgow might be stronger, but he’s just 297 pounds to Vanderdoes’s 320, and I don’t know that the Michigan product can be an interchangeable nose and 3 tech at the NFL level. Vanderdoes is a better fit as a true nose, but he’s not going to be a long/late downs presence, which likely means a two-down role for him as a pro.

Carlos Watkins looks more like that interchangeable piece on a defensive line, able to play 3 or 1 technique and defend the run in both roles. Double teams did give him issues, however, which will be a cause of concern for teams in their evaluation process of the Clemson defensive lineman. I think the size and power are there, he just needs a little brushing up on his mental processing and technique. Watkins didn’t flash much as a pass rusher, and there will probably be some concerns about his upside in that area if he doesn’t test well in Indianapolis.

Dalvin Tomlinson had a terrific week, and probably positioned himself as a possible top five defensive linemen in the 2017 class. His power at the point of attack overwhelmed most offensive linemen, and Tomlinson showed off strong hand usage and the ability to consistently win with a rip or a club in one-on-ones. He’s a high floor player that can provide a team with versatility along the defensive line and balance against the run and the pass.

Tanzel Smart is an undersized defensive tackle, but he showed the traits needed to be successful in a one-gap, penetrating, 3 technique role with a little more refinement. I really liked his practice demeanor and his first step, as Smart consistently made offensive linemen uncomfortable off the snap with his burst and violent hands. As he learns to think the game a little better, I think Smart could be a high upside player at the next level.

Montravius Adams is too hot and cold for me, relying heavily on his first step to win up front. Even when he wins off the ball, Adams is still a very linear player, without the flexibility or overall agility to have a large area of impact. When he doesn’t win off the ball, he is often going for a ride.

Stevie Tu’ikolovatu from USC is an older prospect who weighed in at 350 pounds. He actually moved well for his size, but you’re still talking about a day three, rotational player in the NFL. Larry Ogunjobi did some nice things throughout the week, although I probably saw him the least of the defensive lineman. A couple people whose opinions I value think he’s worth digging into as a prospect, so I’m looking forward to more tape study on him.




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Edge Defenders

Winner: Derek Rivers, Youngstown State

Loser: Carroll Phillips, Illinois / Keionta Davis, Chattanooga

Analysis: I could probably put a couple players in each of these columns, but I’ve been bullish about Rivers, so I’ll start with him. From a mental processing, technique, and range of impact perspective, no edge here was a better run defender than Rivers this week. He excelled in his reads and execution during the 11-on-11 sessions, shutting down the edge and even making a few big stops. He was equally as brilliant during the game, while also showing an explosive first step off the edge as a pass rusher. Rivers plays so low with great leverage that his bull rush is very effective, but I was impressed with his ability to work the half-man relationship and dip-and-rip the corner with impressive bend. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t a top 70 player in this class if things go as expected in Indianapolis.

Haason Reddick was the most athletic edge defender at the Senior Bowl, but also played inside linebacker during the week, which made him a tough eval for this spot. At 6’1 1/2″, 237 pounds, Reddick is definitely undersized to be a true edge, but he weighed in better than expected, and seemed to hold his own fine as the force defender (albeit, small sample size). He was too quick for everyone in one-on-ones, but Reddick needs more polish with his hands to maximize his athleticism at the next level. I love his upside and I think he’ll wreck the combine, which could put him in consideration to be a top 50 pick for the right defense, especially considering how well he showed up in coverage this week.

Some were disappointed in the performance of Dawuane Smoot as the week went on, but I wasn’t one of them. Smoot has a great first step and knows how to corner, with active hands at the top of the arc to create softer edges. His bend isn’t elite, but there’s enough there to consistently be a threat against tackles who want to sit inside on him. I wish he converted speed-to-power better and showed more counter moves in Mobile, but I still like him as an early-mid day two player who will probably be at his best from a 3-point stance.

Smoot’s teammate Carroll Phillips struggled a lot more, showing his lack of discipline in the run game and a very raw skill set as a pass rusher. Phillips was unproductive for much of his college career, and will be a 25-year-old rookie when the season rolls around. He’s going to have to test off the charts at the combine for me to take a swing on him before the middle of day three.

Tanoh Kpassagnon is mentally and technically raw and often plays too high, but his first step is explosive and he’s an energizer bunny with the strength and length to be a handful one-on-one. Unfortunately for him he has very little bend or flexibility around the edge, and is more of a linear athlete than a multi-directional one. In other words, he can’t turn tight corners to the pocket, which means he needs counters and hand usage to win, two areas of the game where he is much more raw. He’ll get hyped this week because he won a couple one-on-ones and he looks like a greek god, but he’s a mid day three player at best unless he shows out at the combine.

Jordan Willis has great college production and was an impact player in the game, but he’s extremely tight in his hips and has trouble turning the corner against NFL caliber talent. He struggled in one-on-ones, and might not be enough of a power rusher to make up for his lack of bend. Daeshon Hall added a few moves to his repertoire after constantly relying on bull rushes in college, but he was unable to sustain his performance after a strong first day, getting nicked up and sitting out most of the week.

Tarell Basham isn’t much different from Willis, but he’s a little less polished with his hands and plan of attack. He has a good first step and plays with a lot of energy, but Basham gets high at the point of attack and doesn’t generate as much power as he should. You can take advantage of him in space as well, so the more often he’s playing with his hand down the better.

Vince Biegel got better as the week went on, but he doesn’t have a go-to move and he doesn’t mentally process well on the move. He’s a bull in a china shop as an edge rusher, attempting to bull rush every offensive tackle off the ball and rarely establishing a plan of attack. That said, I think there is a baseline level of athleticism and power worth working with here, and the right NFL coaching staff could turn Biegel into a solid #3 rusher off the edge.

Tyus Bowser dropped into coverage all the time at Houston, but is a really interesting prospect as a rocked-up, 240-pound 3-4 outside linebacker with the twitch and overall athleticism needed to be a moldable piece of clay for the right coaching staff. He’s unrefined because he rarely rushed the passer in college, but he’s the kind of athlete you want to take a shot at on the edge.

Keionta Davis really doesn’t do anything well, and he may be better off trying to bulk up and play three technique in the NFL. Ryan Anderson and Josh Carraway got hurt, but neither were impressive during their time on the field. Anderson played a lot of off-ball linebacker and was roasted in coverage, while also getting stoned on his few edge rush opportunities in one-on-ones.

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Linebackers

Winner: Alex Anzalone, Florida

Loser: Ben Boulware, Clemson

Analysis: I’m excluding Reddick from this group, but in all fairness he was probably the best inside linebacker here. It’s an average group that will have a hard time pushing anyone into day two, but Anzalone played well throughout the week, showing better than expected range and coverage ability. He looks like a professional wrestler and plays with the demeanor of one too, but 18 games and 10 starts in four years at Florida because of injuries are numbers that will have a lot of teams out on him until the later rounds.

Boulware was OK in the box, but he’s a labored athlete who admitted to me that his biggest weakness is in man coverage. He couldn’t cover anyone in the backs-on-backers receiving drills, and generally seemed to lack the range to be a preferable starter in the NFL.

Both the Division II linebackers had their moments, but I thought Jordan Herdman did enough to work his way into draftable consideration thanks to his instincts and sure tackling, while Connor Harris seemed to be the more limited player. Ben Gedeon was swallowed up and lost the ball a lot on tape, but he actually surprised me as an athlete, so I’m curious to see what he runs in Indy. Duke Riley is an undersized linebacker who can definitely move, but seems to key-and-diagnose a tick slow at times. I didn’t notice Harvey Langi at all outside of a single play where he was toasted in coverage by Evan Engram. Several around me thought he was the stiffest and least explosive linebacker in Mobile.




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Cornerbacks

Winner: Tre White, LSU

Loser: Brendan Langley, Lamar/Desmond King, Iowa

Analysis: Full disclosure: I watched the secondary less than any other position in Mobile. Having said that, White only practiced for two days, but he was the best cornerback here and generally played up to that level when I watched him. He jumped routes beautifully and made plays on the ball downfield as well.

I really liked seeing Cam Sutton step into the slot and play safety, and I thought he did well in both spots despite having rarely played either before. He closed well on the ball from off coverage and athletically seemed to be able to match whatever each receiver thrown at him.

Damontae Kazee was a player I didn’t catch a lot of, but he was rolled up and pressing when I did watch him, something he didn’t do often at San Diego State. He’s a very small corner without the preferable length for the position, but Kazee is tough as nails and showed his competitiveness this week.

Rasul Douglas will be an interesting prospect moving forward, as he was most analysts’ big winner after this week. I didn’t catch much of him, but what I did note was an overaggressive corner who can be caught on double moves easily and will probably get flagged a good bit in the NFL. That said, he’s a chatterbox of confidence with the length and physical tools to be a great fit in a press scheme if he can refine his technique. He’s high variance right now, but if he lands on a team where the highs can be more consistently channeled, Douglas could be a steal.

Jourdan Lewis and Desmond King came in as two of the bigger name corners at the event, but both left with mixed reviews. King looks athletically overmatched at times, struggling to match receivers vertically down the field. If he doesn’t test well, he could fall into the day three portion of the draft. Lewis seemed to struggle to identify routes and flip his hips in a timely fashion, but he competes at the catch point and had more highs than King did throughout the week.

Brendan Langley flashed some tools during the week of practice, but was consistently beaten in the game on Saturday. Langley struggled to get his hips around and find the football vertically, failing to stay in phase with his back to the ball. I’m not sure he runs or tests as well as people think he might.

I honestly caught so little of Corn Elder, Marquez White, Ezra Robinson, and Aarion Penton that I can’t really comment on their performance this week. I can tell you that analysts I trust liked White a good bit, especially after Thursday’s practice, while Robinson and Penton were generally discussed as two of the worst corners in Mobile. Arthur Maulet, Justin Thomas, and Dwayne Thomas all just played in the game, and it would be unfair to judge much of what they did there after not practicing all week.

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Safeties

Winner: Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis

Loser: Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami

Analysis: Take my winners and losers with a grain of salt, because safety was the position I spent the least time watching in Mobile. You just can’t glean very much from the position when the whistle sounds before they can fill against the run, and there are so few deep throws because of the simplified offense on a short week (and the caliber of quarterbacks there). Connecticut‘s Obi Melifonwu was the winner of the week for most people, and with good reason. He hits like a Mack truck and has the long, athletic build that will generate interest. I have yet to put on his tape, but Melifonwu was extremely active for the North team, although his pursuit and range as a tackler was on display more than anything.

Texas A&M’s Justin Evans made a great play on the first day of practice to break on a nine route to the sideline from his single-high, center-fielding position to knock away a potential big play. He looked like one of the more fluid athletes at his position, but I know there are concerns with his ability to finish as a tackler and his occasional over aggressiveness in coverage.

John Johnson from Boston College generated some serious buzz among a number of draft analysts for his size and athletic ability, but I didn’t catch him at all during practices. Jordan Sterns made a couple of nice plays underneath, but seemed to struggle with anything over his head.

Lorenzo Jerome has had a ridiculous all-star game slate, with two interceptions in the NFLPA Bowl and two interceptions and a forced fumble in the Senior Bowl. He made a terrific play on the second interception against Antonio Pipkin from a deep zone, reading the quarterback’s eyes and getting a tremendous jump on the throw to snag the errant pass in the end zone. I watched him in the box some during the week and he consistently found the football through trash, sticking his nose in on every tackle. If I had to pick one player that I was most excited to watch on tape that I hadn’t seen one second of before the Senior Bowl, I’d pick Jerome hands down.

Rayshawn Jenkins and Damarius Travis are both in similar boats as bigger safeties, but the former is either going to have to cut weight or convert to linebacker. Jenkins was burned early and often in one-on-ones in coverage, and even when he participated in backs-on-backers, he was consistently stood up and didn’t display much explosiveness to be a threat. Travis looked like the better athlete, but he weighed in around 208, and I didn’t catch any of him in coverage.

Rudy Ford had a solid first day of practice, but was injured during the next session I believe. I’ll be interested to see how Nate Gerry tests, as he is built more like a linebacker than a safety, and could be headed for a box/dime ‘backer role at the next level.

Follow Jon on Twitter @LedyardNFLDraft. Check out more of his work here, including his preliminary 2017 NFL Draft EDGE rankings, and his ongoing work on Contextualizing NFL Sack Production.

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