In our final preview of the Senior Bowl before we actually get to the practice and game notes, we'll take a look at the defensive side of the field that I'll be taking a look at throughout the week.
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With as many as five of the players in this defensive end group possibly being a fit at the 3-4 outside linebacker spot, teams will be having a very keen eye to see how these players not only use their hands and rush the passer, but also how they play in space. Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan and Pernell McPhee are three of the more physical defensive ends of this group that could make the switch, and they likely will be viewed by 3-4 and 4-3 teams alike because of their body type and athleticism. Jeremy Beal, and Sam Acho are much leaner defensive ends, and while they will be tested to see how they engage and disengage their blockers as well as run defense, they will be targeted as guys who could make the switch. As for the others. Allen Bailey plays as though he could fit at DE in a 4-3, 3-4, or a DT in a 4-3. That versatility likely will be shown this week, and if he can maintain production in practice, he could shoot up boards. Finally, Brooks Reed and Pierre Allen are more hustle guys than anything else, and they'll need to showcase their motor and ability to play special teams.
Nowadays in the NFL, generally to be a starter, you need to be either a nose tackle, an pass rusher, or a 3-4 defensive end type of interior lineman. At nose tackle, Phil Taylor is the biggest of the bunch, and could be one of the few power, mauling nose tackles in this draft. A good week plus team needs could make him a fringe 1st rounder. Also at nose tackle, Drake Nevis of LSU has impressed me this season to fight through double teams, and could become a Jay Ratliff type player. Sione Fua could be a nose tackle, but he's likely more of a fringe starter and a run stopping 3-technique. Jarvis Jenkins and Stephen Paea could be coveted because of their fit either at nose tackles in some schemes or bigger 3-4 defensive ends. Both need to show that they can play either/or, and if so, because the need is so great, they could rise. Christian Ballard was effective all year in shedding blocks, but he and the rest of that Iowa D-Line never finished plays, something scouts will be watching for. Chris Neild of West Virginia has nose tackle size but lacks great athletic ability. And finally, D2 prospect Cedric Thornton of Southern Arkansas will be a guy who scouts such as myself will be very intrigued to see if his talent-dominance at his level could transfer over.
This year, surprisingly, there are a lot of talented inside linebackers, most of them seniors. Seven players in the Senior Bowl played inside linebacker in college. Headlining the group is Greg Jones and Quan Sturdivant, who have been productive and instinctive for the past two seasons in college and will have a chance to cap off great careers. Also, Nate Irving will be tested to see how healed he is from his accident two seasons ago that nearly ended his football career. Also, Casey Matthews, Kelvin Sheppard, Colin McCarthy, Josh Byrnes, and Chris White all will be playing inside linebacker, though I think most could play outside as well. I like Sheppard and Matthews the most from that group.
As for Outside linebackers, I really like Mason Foster, Lawrence Wilson, and KJ Wright. Foster is a beast as a tackler, could play inside in a 3-4. Wilson is very rangy and athletic, and improved coaching could make him a stud in the NFL. And Wright has great length, quickness, and instincts, and could be a great fit for a team looking for a versatile, coverage linebacker with good size. Mark Herzlich will be looking to prove he's 100% after recovering from cancer last year, and he's slowly shown more staminia over the season. Ross Homan wasn't all that impressive to me this year, but he could get a chance to stand out as maybe the best coverage linebacker here. And finally, Von Miller is listed as a linebacker here, so teams obviously want to see him play the 3-4 OLB spot. I really like his game, think he's a 3-4 OLB version of Brandon Graham.
Only an average cornerback crew here in Mobile, I like Kendric Burney and Rashad Carmichael to be the best of the bunch because of their quickness and ball skills. Also, Marcus Gilchrist and Ras-I Dowling have been two ACC cornerbacks that I've liked alot, and while both have the size and length to be starters, they'll need to show more consistency and more fluid hips. Chris Rucker has the skills, but needs to show that he isn't a character concern. Curtis and Jalil Brown both were somewhat overshadowed by others in their respected secondaries at times, but both have the size, speed combo to fit at cornerback or even free safety. Finally, three guys I'm not high on but who have the physical tools to impress are Johnny Patrick, Shareece Wright, and Curtis Marsh.
The two top safeties in this crew are Ahmad Black and DeAndre McDaniel. Black wasn't high on our board, but improved field vision and ball skills raised him on our board, while McDaniel fell slightly because his athletic ability didn't translate to as big an impact as expected. Da'Norris Searcy came on strong this year and manned centerfield well for this team as opposed to Deunta Williams. Joe Lefeged is a high motor, instinct based safety, but he'll have to impress me that he can be more than just a special teamer. And finally, Quinton Carter, Zac Etheridge, and Danny Aiken are fringe draft guys right now, but could rise in a relatively weak safety class this year.