In most years here in Mobile, one or two defensive players stand out as likely difference makers in the NFL.
Aaron Donald dominated nearly every individual and team practice repetition. Melvin Ingram and Dee Ford and Ezekiel Ansah routinely disrupted the pocket during team drills and made it difficult for quarterbacks to find any comfort in practice. Chris Borland looked like he teleported to the point of attack, surprising running backs who found him there in team drills. Bobby Wagner immediately dismissed concerns he was too limited to play an all-around role, standing out every bit as the more-heralded Lavonte David.
Even in limited repetitions, in drills that favor defensive prospects, in practices without full contact – that kind of talent stands out.
I didn’t see a front seven prospect with that kind of upside here this week. The scouts I watched practice also had difficulty identifying a true first-round talent.
Had Bradley Chubb or Sam Hubbard or Skai Evans not declined their invite or Harold Landry or Duke Ejiofor or Maurice Hurst been healthy enough to participate, we may have seen an elite prospect.
That doesn’t mean some of these players won’t develop into difference makers. And it’s not to say that some won’t become valuable contributors and rotational players. They will. It’s also not to slight any of the athletes here. Earning an invite to the Senior Bowl is special. The players here are deserving, incredibly talented athletes who have worked extremely hard to get this opportunity.
There will be players who carve out important NFL roles who may not have impressed here. Nigel Bradham often looked to Sean Spence to help him get the defense lined up here. Bradham is now a critical piece on a Super Bowl defense. Trey Flowers, Grady Jarrett, and Joe Schobert have all been much better pros than Mobile practice players.
I look forward to more film study on these prospects in the coming months. Here are a few final – but still first – impressions of the front seven prospects I watched most carefully this week.
Edge Marcus Davenport – The lone edge prospect discussed as a possible first-round pick entering the week, Davenport drew the most attention of the South defensive prospects. Although he only rarely showed flashes of dominance, Davenport has taken more criticism than deserved. His first round projection wasn’t based on a polished edge rush. It was based on his dominance of lesser competition – a prerequisite for any non-BCS player – and his athletic and projectable 6-6, 260-pound frame. Davenport isn’t Carlos Dunlap or Danielle Hunter but few college prospects are ready for those comparisons at this point in their careers. Davenport may not have generated any additional buzz but he has the same upside he had last week.
Edge Ogbo Okoronkwo – Unlike Davenport, Okoronkwo held up well in one-on-one drills. The offensive line talent here this week is not elite, however, so it remains difficult to project whether Okoronkwo can be as consistent against NFL competition. There weren’t enough coverage snaps to project his value to a 3-4 front.
Edge Kemoko Turay – Quietly, Turay may have shown the most consistent edge rush move this week. I didn’t see a consistent inside counter. That’s not critical, however, at this stage. It can be learned. And it’s much easier to learn an inside counter than find the speed to win off the edge. Turay will have a good chance to carve out a pass-rushing role in the NFL and could be more.
Edge Kylie Fitts – I was pleasantly surprised with Fitts’ edge and power moves and he set the edge well against the run frequently. He wasn’t as successful later in the week but he did enough to get teams to consider him on Day 3 of the draft.
Off-Ball Linebacker Shaquem Griffin – What Griffin did this week was extraordinary. Despite having his left hand amputated as a child, Griffin showed a successful array of pass rush moves – edge, inside counter, and spin – from the right side (i.e. with his left arm to the inside). That’s nothing new for Griffin but it was striking to watch in person. I’m not sure where Griffin fits in the NFL. At a minimum, he can be a valuable special teams player with his athleticism and power. But his play against the run and in coverage this week should earn him consideration as an off-ball linebacker. Teams also asked to see him at safety this week, though he looked considerably less comfortable there.
Inside Linebacker Tre Williams – I thought Williams was the best between the tackles linebacker prospect in practices. There are limitations in coverage, however, that may keep him from having an every-down role on Sunday.
Off-Ball Linebacker Darius Leonard – I have a soft spot for athletic FCS linebackers in Mobile and was anxious to see how Leonard stacked up against better competition. His early work in one-on-one coverage reps was disappointing. But Leonard continued to improve and played with better anticipation and closing speed as the week progressed. With the North team down two linebackers on the third day of practice, Leonard found a rhythm and made plays throughout team drills. Long (82” wingspan) and athletic, Leonard could fit the new mold of nickel linebacker necessary to play against multiple wide receiver sets but still contribute against the run.
Inside Linebacker Mike McCray – McCray won’t be fast enough to hold up in coverage against elite running backs and tight ends and his zone reactions were questionable here. But he was right with Williams as a consistent force between the tackles this week.
Defensive Tackles Nathan Shepherd, Harrison Phillips, B.J. Hill, Poona Ford, Justin Jones – Evaluating defensive tackles is difficult here. The one-on-one pass rushing drills make them look better than they are and you have to be careful to watch the hands and pad level rather than the result. Team drills can be misleading because ballcarriers are not to be taken to the ground and determining whether a defensive tackle impacted a play in the gap isn’t always evident. But the five listed here flashed at times, with Shepherd particularly noticeable before a broken hand ended his week early on Day 2. All will have a chance to be rotational contributors.
Safety Kyzir White – After catching my eye with his size and fluid hip movements in defensive back drills, White disappointed in team drills. He struggled to stay with tight ends and backs. At 6-2, 216 pounds, White may be a better fit in hybrid linebacker role. He won’t be an asset in coverage like Telvin Smith or Deone Bucannon but he could fill a Mark Barron type role on the right defense.
More of Jene Bramel’s annual coverage of the 2018 Senior Bowl can be found here at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.