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2017 Senior Bowl Final Thoughts- Defense

Steve Shoup

Offensive Recap | Senior Bowl Coverage | On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator 

Edge rushers:

While a number of players flashed, I think the guy that was most impressive to me was Derek Rivers from Youngstown State. I think he showed the most natural pass rushing skills of the group, and he has promise of being a threat off the right side challenging left tackles. Rivers has excellent burst off the line, and he’s got some ability to bend and takes good pursuit angles to the QB. While he still needs to learn to play in space, Rivers fits best as a 3-4 rush linebacker. He can get overmatched in the running game at times, but his pass rush potential is a major skill and one that could get him drafted in the top 75 picks.

After Rivers there was a large group of solid performers who had some big plays in practice and the game, but might not have the tools to be major threats at the next level. This includes Jordan Willis, Daeshon Hall, Vince Biegel, Tarell Basham, and Dawuane Smoot. All of these guys showed the belong in the NFL and can play some, but all have some limitations as well. They don’t really project to be 10+ sack edge rushers, and mainly will need to be the 2nd or 3rd option on teams at best. While it’s possible one or two crack the top 3 rounds, most should go in the 4th or 5th round range.

One other intriguing EDGE player (if he is that), is Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon. He weighed-in at 6’6″ 280 lbs, with long arms, offering a lot of intriguing potential. The comparison some through around was that he could be the next Calais Campbell, but he could also be the next Margus Hunt. Unfortunately his play this week showed a little of both and really didn’t answer many questions. There was more good than bad to be sure, but he’s a player that carries some risk of never really reaching his potential. The potential is there and if he develops nicely you could find a good starter, but if not he might be out of the league in 3 years. On his potential alone he will probably end up selected in the top 100 picks and I wouldn’t be surprised if some team takes him top 75.

 

Interior defensive line:

This was an extremely deep group as everyone here looked draftable and it feels safe to say that six of these players (Chris Wormley, Jaleel Johnson, Carlos Watkins, Montravius Adams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Eddie Vanderdoes) will go in the top 100, but beyond that little is clear. The order of preference of these six guys varies depends on who you ask, and opinions on their upside vary as well. Some feel that one or two of these guys could challenge for a late first round pick and are at worst in the top 45, others don’t see any of these as top 50 options.

For me the safest guys are probably Wormley, Watkins and Johnson, but none are complete players and I don’t see any as first round talent. Tomlinson is a solid and safe guy, but he offers limited pass rush ability which keeps him as a 3rd rounder to me. Adams has intriguing potential if he can develop, but if he doesn’t he’s just a rotational player. Vanderdoes could get a little overlooked after two injury filled years, but the talent is there.

Overall this is a talented group and a number of starters or key contributors should come from it (including players beyond the top 6), but I don’t know if there are any true stars in this group.

Linebackers:

While there are a couple linebackers who will get selected in the later rounds two guys really stood out as early round guys, Temple’s Haason Reddick and Florida’s Alex Anzalone. Reddick was a college defensive end and he looked like he might just have to be an undersized situational rusher at the next level. Now though after his big Senior Bowl week the idea has changed and he seems to be capable of fitting into just about any defensive role. On a 4-3 team you could see him as either a strong side or weak side linebacker as he has the ability to do either. In a 3-4 defense he could play in an EDGE role, or he could line-up (at least on early downs) as an ILB. Regardless of where you want to play with him, after watching him at the Senior Bowl it’s clear that he can play at the next level. I would say he’s a lock now for the top 50 picks and will probably go in the last half of the first round.

Anzalone won’t see his stock jump that much (in part due to the past injury concerns), but his play this week was incredibly impressive. He was flying all over the field covering tight ends and running backs as good as anyone, while at the same time showing well in run support and some blitz drills. I think if he’s healthy he goes somewhere in the 3rd round and he has the chance to be a very good starter at the next level.

Cornerbacks:

Tre’Davious White and Rasul Douglas probably helped themselves the best among the corners this week. White is in a battle with probably the most talented group of underclass corners we’ve seen in some time, to find a draft position in the top 50. While it’s pretty safe he goes in that range, White needed a strong week to make the case to go in the first round and overall I think he did well in accomplishing that goal. White was the best corner in practice the first two days, consistently covering all types of receivers on a variety of routes. He didn’t bite on double-moves or get lost in the footwork of quicker receivers. On deeper sideline routes he did a nice job as using the sideline as a friend limiting opportunities for receivers. While it was only two days, I think White helped himself and he could sneak into the end of the 1st.

Douglas won’t see his draft stock that high, but he’s a bigger/longer corner that some teams covet and he showed well throughout the week of practice in coverage and run support. I think he’s well in the mix for the top 75, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes in the 2nd round.

As for other corners it was a mixed bag. Desmond King flashed at times, but struggled enough that it seems likely he needs to move to safety. Cameron Sutton actually worked as a safety some helping his value in his versatility. Marquez White shows nice length and ability to cover bigger receivers, but he struggled some with some of the quicker receivers or on deep balls. Jourdan Lewis looks to be a really good slot corner and could be a top 3 round guy for sure.

Safeties:

One of the big stories this week was the play of safety Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut. Not only did he live up to the 6’4″ 220 size measurements, but he showed that he still has speed/quickness/change of direction ability at that size. He was really good in man coverage this week and it’s easy to project him as an option to cover bigger physical tight ends and receivers at the next level. He displayed really good range both in coverage and run support throughout the week and feels capable of playing FS, SS, or even in the slot (vs bigger slot options). That’s a lot of versatility, particularly for a player his size, and it’s possible he’s just scratching the surface of his upside. It’s easy to see why he’s getting 2nd round buzz right now and he feels like a lock for the top 3 rounds.

While he didn’t create the buzz Melifonwu did, Justin Evans from Texas A&M had a strong early week of practice. Despite the thought that he’s a strong safety only, Evans showed nice range when lining up at FS and good reaction times. He’s probably best used at a SS at the next level, but his ability to at least handle the FS position is a big plus for him. He should at least be a solid starter at the next level, and should be in the top 3 rounds.

Other safeties such as John Johnson, Lorenzo Jerome, Jordan Sterns and Nate Gerry showed they are all draftable and make for interesting day 3 picks. Johnson is probably the most underrated for me as he has natural coverage ability and good range. He feels like he should be in the mix to go higher, as I think he has real good starting potential.



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