Senior Bowl Positional Breakdown: Defense
Senior Bowl/NFL Draft Resources:
-This is the deepest and most talented position group at the Senior Bowl, led by Montez Sweat from Mississippi State. Sweat has all but cemented his status as a first round pick with a great week in Mobile. He will probably battle Drew Lock with being the highest Senior Bowler drafted, likely in the top 15. Sweat has excellent size and has the ability to become an elite EDGE rusher that fits in any scheme.
Sweat might end up the only first rounder, but Zach Allen, Oshane Ximines, Jaylon Ferguson, and Anthony Nelson could all push for a late first spot. All four could be gone by the time the 3rd round starts. Allen and Nelson are similar guys who both profile better as 4-3 base ends who can kick inside on passing downs. Both players have some pass rush ability, but are long defenders who can carry a bit more weight and hold up well in the running game. Allen especially could sneak into the first round depending on team fit. Ximines and Ferguson both have some buzz around them, but an inconsistent Senior Bowl week probably keeps them from getting into the first round. Both players are long speed rushers who were highly productive in college, and will be seen as potential 10+ sack players down the road. If they test well at the Combine both could be top 50 picks.
After that group of five there are other intriguing EDGE players who could go off the board between the 3rd-5th rounds in Charles Omenihu, Jalen Jelks, Ben Banogu, John Cominsky, and LJ Collier. Omenihu and Jelks both could be 3rd round options, and should find interest in from a number of teams given their upside as potential starting caliber pass rushers. They both are a bit more on the developmental side, but they can contribute in a situational role early in their career.
Interior Defensive Linemen:
-Really deep group here, though there might not be any players taken in the top 50 of the class. Renell Wren, Khalen Saunders, and Isaiah Buggs all have top 100 pick potential, with Wren possibly a late 2nd round option. Behind them is a solid group of Greg Gaines, Daylon Mack, Dontavius Russell, and Keke Kingsley who could all go in the 4th-5th round range.
Wren had a great week of practice and confirmed his quickness and disruption that you see on tape. While under the radar for some, expect him to start moving up boards as his skill set is what most teams are looking for from their defensive linemen. Buggs got overlooked some on Alabama’s talented defensive line, but he’s a good all-around player who broke out with 9 sacks this past season. He lacks an elite trait, but just continues to find ways to win. Saunders is a small school guy, but for a 320 lbs nose tackle he has incredible athleticism and power. He plays a bit unrefined, but that can be fixed.
As for the 2nd tier group, these are all capable players who should find at least situational roles at the next level and one or two could develop into starters. Gaines is probably the most consistent player of the group, but Daylon Mack has been impressive with his raw power.
This group won’t produce any first rounders in this ultra-talented defensive line draft class, but I think at least two of these players end-up top 75 prospects and potentially four in the top 100.
-It’s a pretty solid group of mid-tier off ball linebackers at the Senior Bowl this year. Germaine Pratt, Tre’von Coney, and Terrill Hanks all have late 3rd-4th round potential. Later in the draft guys like Cameron Smith, Bobby Okereke, David Long Jr. and Deshaun Davis have solid depth potential. Pratt probably comes in with the highest grade, and he seems like he could push for an early role as a starter. Pratt is a big, athletic linebacker who is good in coverage and plays the run fairly well. He needs to work on learning the position more as he was a safety convert in college, but the starting upside is there. Coney has led the Irish in tackles the past two years and has some nice ability as a blitzer. He still needs to refine his coverage some, but he again looks like a potential starter. Hanks has probably the highest upside of the group and has had a strong week at the Senior Bowl.
Overall it’s not a great group as there doesn’t seem to be a true elite talent and it has maybe only 3 or 4 potential starters, but it’s still a position that will likely see multiple players drafted in the 75-125 pick range.
-It’s a pretty decent cornerback group down in Mobile this week for the Senior Bowl, as Amani Oruwariye, Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Johnson are three potential top 75 picks, with potentially one or two in the top 50. Oruwariye might have the best balance of upside and immediate impact of the group. He’s a long corner with good ball skills who has shown that he can be effective in man coverage versus top level receivers. Ya-Sin is the most raw of the corner prospects, but he has a really high upside. His footwork and technique needs cleaned up, but he’s effective both in coverage and run support. He’s another corner with good size and he’s willing to play physical, something that helps him match-up vs bigger receivers. Isaiah Johnson isn’t as highly thought of among the consensus, but after an impressive Senior Bowl week, I think the Houston product will start to generate more buzz. He has the length and speed to be effective on the outside and be a long term starter there.
Outside of the top three corners there are a few other mid-round options in Kris Boyd and Iman Marshall. Boyd especially is thought of in some circles as a top 100-125 prospect. He has his moments, but overall he had a rough week of practice so he might fall some in scouts eyes. Boyd shouldn’t be discounted completely though and he could still be a solid back-up corner with still some starting potential. Also, a trio of smaller school guys Corey Ballentine, Jordan Brown and Jimmy Moreland showed flashes that make them intriguing developmental projects.
-Delware’s Nasir Adderley and Virginia’s Juan Thornhill both came in with a fair amount of hype and have done a decent job of confirming their status among the top safeties in the draft class this year. Adderley has incredible range and pretty good instincts that make him an ideal single-high free safety. His man cover skills are pretty solid and his ball skills are very impressive. Adderley has had a strong week and will push to be the top safety off the board, with him potentially going in the first round.
Thornhill lacks the elite range, but he’s a quality starting safety prospect as well. He plays with great instincts and is strong in coverage that helps him make up for not being a top athlete for the position. Thornhill has proven ball skills with 13 career interceptions, including 6 this past season. He has experience at both strong and free safety and looks to be a quality starter at the next level. He should go off the board in the late 2nd-3rd round.
Beyond the top two safeties the Senior Bowl has a couple other solid options on display this week. Will Harris, Darnell Savage, Jaquan Johnson and Mike Edwards all have mid-round potential and could eventually develop into starting safeties. At the very least they look like long term quality back-ups and special teamers.
-The defensive side of the ball should produce at least one definite 1st round talent and potentially 1-3 others. Where we will see a lot of these guys drafted is in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Even if Montez Sweat is the only first rounder, it’s likely 5-6 EDGE players, 2-4 Defensive Linemen, 1-3 Linebackers, 3-4 Cornerbacks and 2 Safeties are selected in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. That is another 15-20 guys in the top three rounds on top of 20-25 players we should see from the offense. Relative to the NFL draft class this Senior Bowl group looks pretty strong and it should add a number of quality NFL starters come draft weekend.