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Senior Bowl- Defense

by Zachary Somma


Photo courtesy of Legit Football.


This Year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl just concluded down in Mobile, Alabama, and the event offered a great look at over 100 interesting prospects for the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. Players participated in various drills and competitions against each other over 3 practice sessions before playing in the game itself. So, going by position grouping, Draft Nation examines who did well and boosted their stock or who had a poor week and may have hurt theirs. Each position group has been ranked based on how Draft Nation evaluated each player's performance during practices and the game. This is not a ranking of each as an overall prospect, only how they performed in Mobile.


Photo courtesy of Reesi Nesbit/Missouri Athletics.


Edge Rushers


  1. Darius Robinson (Missouri)

  2. Adisa Isaac (Penn State)

  3. Laiatu Latu* (UCLA)

  4. Chris Braswell (Alabama)

  5. Austin Booker (Kansas)

  6. Myles Cole (Texas Tech)

  7. Brennan Jackson* (Washington State)

  8. Marshawn Kneeland (Western Michigan)

  9. Eric Watts (UConn)

  10. Javon Solomon (Troy)

  11. Nelson Ceaser (Houston)

  12. Jaylen Harrell (Michigan)

  13. Cedric Johnson (Ole Miss)

  14. Jalyx Hunt (Houston Christian)

  15. Javonte Jean-Baptiste (Notre Dame)

  16. Braiden McGregor (Michigan)

*Jackson and Latu withdrew following practice Day 2.


The edge rushers are always one of the most intensely scrutinized groupings during the Senior Bowl, and it is extremely important for each player to show out during practice. Good one-on-one tape between the edge rushers and the offensive linemen can really help each player raise their stock immensely. And no player at this year’s Senior Bowl did more to raise their stock than Missouri’s Darius Robinson. A bit of a tweener between a true edge rusher and interior defensive lineman, Robinson was simply unguardable during one-on-ones and made his presence known in team drills as well. He possesses fantastic athleticism and quickness for a man his size and has a bevy of pass rush moves at his disposal.


Plenty of other edge rushers stuck out as well. Penn State’s Adisa Isaac was almost just as dominant as Robinson but has a bit less athletic upside. UCLA’s Laiatu Latu is a fantastic player; probably the most polished pass rusher in the entire draft. He was very impressive in his limited reps. Austin Booker from Kansas is a very interesting player with not a lot of playing time under his belt in his college career. But he is a fluid mover and has the raw power potential to be a really good player with some development. In addition, some of the smaller school players also had great weeks. UConn’s Eric Watts, Troy’s Javon Solomon and Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland all impressed against some highly talented linemen in Mobile. 


Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics.


Defensive Tackles


  1. Gabe Hall (Baylor)

  2. Braden Fiske (Florida State)

  3. T’Vondre Sweat (Texas)

  4. Justin Eboigbe (Alabama)

  5. DeWayne Carter (Duke)

  6. Michael Hall Jr. (Ohio State)

  7. McKinnley Jackson (Texas A&M)

  8. Tyler Davis (Clemson)

  9. Brandon Dorlus (Oregon)

  10. Marcus Harris (Auburn)

  11. Jordan Jefferson (LSU)

  12. Jaden Crumedy (Mississippi State)

  13. Keith Randolph Jr (Illinois)


One great thing about the Senior Bowl is that position groupings that might have looked like they lacked high-end talent or depth have players emerge thanks to a good performance. In what has been viewed as an underwhelming DT class, a few guys really shined down in Mobile, none more than Baylor’s Gabe Hall. While the production is not eye-catching, Hall had a dominant few practices as a pass rusher. He utilized a phenomenal swim move that won consistently and easily during one-on-ones. Athletic testing will be big for him, so it will have to be seen if he can keep his momentum up with a good showing in Indianapolis for the Combine. Just as impressive was Florida State’s Braden Fiske. The former Western Michigan product demonstrates a phenomenal get off and effort on every rep. He’s explosive and will make big plays in the backfield in both run defense and as a pass rusher.


One player who was fairly established entering the week was T’Vondre Sweat, the huge 350+ pound nose tackle who consistently showed burst and immense power in his tape. He continued his good draft process with a good showing in Mobile. Also with good weeks were Alabama’s Justin Eboigbe, Duke’s DeWayne Carter, and Ohio State’s Michael Hall Jr.



Photo courtesy of @ACCNetwork/X.


Linebackers


  1. Payton Wilson (NC State)

  2. Jackson Sirmon (Cal)

  3. JD Bertrand (Notre Dame)

  4. Trevin Wallace (Kentucky)

  5. Marist Liufau (Notre Dame)

  6. Cedric Gray (UNC)

  7. James Williams* (Miami FL)

  8. Edefuan Ulofoshio (Washington)

  9. Nathaniel Watson (Mississippi State)

  10. Jontrey Hunter (Georgia State)

  11. Tyrice Knight (UTEP)

*Williams played Safety at Miami.


Linebacker, much like running back, can be a tough position to evaluate at the Senior Ball and other all-star games. They don’t get the shine of the other positions with one-on-one drills, so their spotlight really only comes during the game itself and team drills. Still, this group of players was surprisingly eye-catching, and many made a number of splash plays in both run defense and in pass coverage. The name at the top of my list shouldn’t be a surprise, as Payton Wilson from NC State was a force during the week. The veteran linebacker is incredibly athletic and intelligent. It will not be a surprise if he puts up fantastic numbers come the NFL Combine. If he can manage to stay healthy at the next level, he has the potential to be an impact player at the position.


One of the best surprises was the play of Jackson Sirmon from Cal, a player this writer was personally unfamiliar with entering the week. Another experienced linebacker, Sirmon consistently made play after play in team drills, especially in the passing game. He was just a guy whose name popped up a lot when he was out there, and that was enough to at least catch my eye. The two Notre Dame linebackers, JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau, also had impressive weeks.


Photo courtesy of Toledo Athletics.


Cornerbacks


  1. Quinyon Mitchell* (Toledo)

  2. Jarvis Brownlee Jr. (Louisville)

  3. Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (Missouri)

  4. Khyree Jackson (Oregon)

  5. Cam Hart (Notre Dame)

  6. Chau Smith-Wade (Washington State)

  7. Max Melton (Rutgers)

  8. Carlton Johnson (Fresno State)

  9. DJ James (Auburn)

  10. Josh Newton (TCU)

  11. Kris Abrams-Draine (Missouri)

  12. Nehemiah Pritchett (Auburn)

  13. Johnny Dixon (Penn State)

  14. Andru Phillips (Kentucky)

  15. Kalen King (Penn State)

  16. Elijah Jones (Boston College)

  17. Willie Drew (Virginia State)

*Mitchell did not participate in Practice Day 3.


At last year’s Senior Bowl, the cornerbacks had a surprisingly good week despite the overall talent at the wide receiver position, and the same thing happened again this year. Let’s talk about maybe the star of the Senior Bowl, Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell. Despite the smaller school background, Mitchell is a known commodity in the scouting world. He has elite level ball production and skills that caught scouts’ eyes. However, his performance in Mobile proved that he could not only keep up with some of the top players from bigger schools but dominate them just as he did in the MAC. He’s athletically gifted, plays with toughness and physicality, and has that knack for finding the ball in the air and making a play on it. He is easily a guy with a clear path to being a 1st round pick come April.


There were many other CB’s that stood out alongside Mitchell during the week. Louisville’s Jarvis Brownlee Jr. had almost as dominant a time as Mitchell did while not being as big of a name. A little smaller size-wise, Brownlee Jr. vaulted himself into Day 2 conversations with his sticky coverage skills and fluid movement during the week. Oregon’s Khyree Jackson is a long, physical corner, similar to his former teammate Christian Gonzalez. While he certainly won’t go as high as he did in the draft, his length and compete level certainly have him on scouts’ radars as a Day 2 option. Other CB’s that stood out to me included Notre Dame’s Cam Hart, an experienced player who has graded out extremely well this past season, Washington State’s Chau Smith-Wade, who made some big plays in team drills and in the game itself, Rutgers’ Max Melton, and late addition Carlton Johnson out of Fresno State.


Photo courtesy of Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.


Safeties


  1. Javon Bullard (Georgia)

  2. Sione Vaki* (Utah)

  3. Kitan Oladapo (Oregon State)

  4. Kamren Kinchens (Miami FL)

  5. Jaylin Simpson (Auburn)

  6. Evan Williams (Oregon)

  7. Beau Brade* (Maryland)

  8. Tykee Smith (Georgia)

  9. Cole Bishop (Utah)

  10. Josh Proctor (Ohio State)

  11. Malik Mustapha* (Wake Forest)

           *Vaki also participated in RB drills.

*Brade and Mustapha withdrew following practice Day 2.


Outside of a few names, this safety class certainly had a lot to prove at the Senior Bowl this year, and overall, as a group, had a solid week. While some likely thought Miami’s Kamren Kinchens would be the star of the group, thanks to his pedigree coming in, it was a few other players who had some better moments. Take Javon Bullard from Georgia for example. An excellent athlete who excelled at coming downhill as a run defender, Bullard also showed off his coverage chops against both TE’s and WR’s during the week. Combine numbers will be big for him, so a good day in Indy could help buoy his stock even more.


One of the most fun players in the draft is Utah's Sione Vaki. A safety by nature, something he demonstrated he was very comfortable playing at a high level while in Mobile, Vaki also played a good amount of running back for the Utes the past 2 seasons. Originally moved there due to injuries, Vaki had some legitimately impressive moments this past season as a rusher. At the Senior Bowl, Vaki also took part in some limited RB drills and was really solid in them. Maybe most surprising was his acumen as a pass catcher out of the backfield. While Travis Hunter is the 2-way star expected in next year’s draft, Sione Vaki has a great chance at seeing some 2-way usage at the next level. It might not be a full-time thing, but it would not be a surprise if he got usage like the Patriots’ Marcus Jones does; a full-time CB who gets occasional usage on gadget plays out of the backfield.

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