Jene Bramel’s Senior Bowl Preview: The Defensive Front Seven

Jene Bramel delivers his defensive player watchlist at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for the 2018 Senior Bowl.

There are no headline defensive talents at this year’s Senior Bowl. That’s not unusual. The Senior Bowl has produced five or fewer first round draft picks in each of the past three seasons.

Don’t take the lack of early first day prospects as an indictment on these rosters, however. Time and again, players attending the Senior Bowl have proven themselves more than capable of elite NFL production. During the five years that I’ve observed practice in Mobile, I’ve seen players like Bobby Wagner, Chris Borland, Lavonte David, and Deone Bucannon stand out, improve their draft stock, and grow into cornerstone members of their team’s defenses.

There are many intriguing names on the field this week looking to become the next Wagner or Bucannon.

Edge Prospects

Four edge rushers will get the most scrutiny from scouts. Two are listed as defensive ends and will get the majority of their practice reps against offensive linemen. Two are listed as outside linebackers and will be asked to show off a wider range of athletic traits.

  • DE Marcus Davenport | UTSA | 6-7, 255 | South
  • DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo | Oklahoma | 6-1, 240 | North
  • OLB Kemoko Turay | Rutgers | 6-5, 252 | North
  • OLB Uchenna Nwosu | USC | 6-2, 240 | South

Davenport will turn heads at the weigh-in. His combination of size, speed, and power was often a dominant combination against C-USA competition. If his speed-to-power and bend translate to one-on-one drills in the pit, he could cement himself as a first-round prospect. Some have compared him favorably to Carlos Dunlap, others see him as an athlete who has yet to prove himself capable of beating better talent.

Okoronkwo is a more polished edge rusher than Davenport but his size may concern NFL teams. While he doesn’t have prototypical measurables, his college tape is reassuring. Turay and Nwosu could ensure themselves worthy of a Top 100 grade with consistently good practice play.

Standout FCS Linebackers

Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage always includes FCS talent. While it’s rare to see these players stand out against higher level competition, many have drastically improved their draft stock and become strong NFL contributors. Two linebackers fit the profile this year.

  • ILB Nick DeLuca | North Dakota State | 6-3, 245 | North
  • OLB Darius Leonard | South Carolina State | 6-3, 235 | South

DeLuca will measure well and is athletic enough to compete in coverage and play the run from sideline to sideline. There are questions about his instincts and the consistency between the tackles. If his athleticism plays up and he looks more linebacker than athlete against this week’s competition, he’ll improve his draft grade considerably.

The early scouting consensus on Leonard – rangy and raw with questionable instincts – reminds me of Demario Davis, another FCS prospect who parlayed a strong Senior Bowl week into a third-round draft selection. Coverage reps against backs and tight ends will be critical for Leonard, as will how well he sheds blocks in team sessions.

Others of Interest

Alabama defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand will get reps at defensive end. At 6-4, 288 pounds, a versatile week of practice will make Hand attractive to a wide variety of teams.

Central Florida outside linebacker Shaqueem Griffin had his left hand amputated as a young boy but may be the best all-around linebacker prospect in Mobile.

Auburn’s Tre Williams (6-2, 225) and Clemson’s Dorian O’Daniel (6-1, 220) are looking to join the now well-established trend of undersized off-ball linebackers. Both are listed as inside linebackers on the South roster but should see time outside. Both will have to be successful in coverage to prove themselves NFL ready.

Jene Bramel’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

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