2018 Senior Bowl Preview: South Defense

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Edge rusher Marcus Davenport is a player to watch on the South Defense in the 2018 Senior Bowl.

The Senior Bowl week has begun, the final time for these prospects to duke it out on the field before the draft. A lot of hope for these players rests not only in their performance in the game and during the week in practice, but also off the field in the interview portion. To help get ready for the week, I am doing a rundown of every player who is going to be in Mobile, Alabama. The players I am showcasing in these next 4 articles are based on the official rosters as of January 19, 2018. This article will be about the defense for the South team. The game is on January 27, 2018.

EDGE Defenders:

Marcus Davenport (Texas-San Antonio): Marcus Davenport is a beautifully raw player that teams can’t wait to get their hands on. One of my favorite edge rushers in the class, the 6’6”, 250-pound monster has the explosion, strength, and ability to play the run and rush the passer make him an amazing prospect. He uses his length to his advantage, getting defenders away from him, and uses his speed and power to physically overmatch offensive linemen. He also displays a good usage of his hands. Mobile will be the perfect place for Davenport to show his skills against better competition and continue climbing up draft boards.

Kylie Fitts (Utah): I came away from Fitts’ tape unimpressed. Fitts has been injured a lot in his college career, which has definitely affected his play the last two seasons. On tape, I saw Fitts struggle to shed blocks and got swallowed up by offensive linemen. Fitts is athletic enough to drop back and make plays in space, but his pass rushing technique left a lot to be desired. All things considered, Fitts will have to show scouts in Mobile that he can play at a high level when he’s injury free to get a team to take a chance on him as more than a late-round flier.

Uchenna Nwosu (Southern California): I really like Uchenna Nwosu. The kid plays like he’s hair is on fire, and he never quits. He handled a lot of responsibilities in USC’s defense, as an edge rusher, linebacker, run defender, etc. and he handled it all. He’s undersized at 6’1”, 240, and I question his ability to shed blocks against offensive tackles, so I want to see him work with the off-ball linebacking group as well in Mobile. Nwosu is a surefire day-2 selection, and a great showing in Mobile could push him into the top-60.

Marquis Haynes (Mississippi): Another undersized edge defender I think could get moved in the NFL, Marquis Haynes put up big stats at Ole Miss, but at 6’3”, 230, he is best suited to not be an every-down pass rusher. He’s very athletic, showing great burst off the line, and has some oomph to his game despite his size. NFL teams are going to want to see him drop more into coverage and see his athleticism in space against running backs and slot receivers. Haynes is an early day-3 guy for me, assuming he can play as well in coverage as I think he can.

Interior Defensive Linemen:

Andrew Brown (Virginia): Andrew Brown impressed me a lot this season. The 6’3”, 285-pound Cavalier showed great explosiveness of the line and good bend around the edge. He also has strong, violent hands that allow him to push offensive linemen back and knock them off-balance. He needs some coaching up on his technique and hand usage, but he has a lot of plus traits that make me extremely interested to see him in one-on-one drills in Mobile.

Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama): A former top recruit, Da’Shawn Hand got buried under the plethora of talent at Alabama. At 6’4”, 288, Hand as the size and athleticism to play multiple spots on the defensive line and had the power to overmatch SEC offensive linemen. I loved his ability to fill gaps in the run game and drive offensive linemen back into the pocket. He wasn’t a highly effective pass rusher in terms of sacks at Alabama, but I feel he can really improve in this area in the NFL, especially with the right coaching.

Poona Ford (Texas): A late call-up from the Shrine Game, I love Poona Ford. I don’t care at all about height concerns, he’s 5’11” and 309 pounds, because he plays ball. Height also isn’t that big of an issue because guys like Ford use it to their advantage. Ford’s natural leverage and low center of gravity allow him to be an absolute headache for offensive linemen. He clogs up running lanes and uses his strength and quickness to get to the QB. While he might be underrated or scare of teams because of his height, he’ll make whoever drafts him very happy.

Linebackers:

Shaquem Griffin (Central Florida): One of college football’s most heartwarming stories, the one-handed Shaquem Griffin has turned into an amazing player and leader for national champions UCF. Griffin is very athletic and flies all around the field making plays. He’s a physical player that makes a lot of tackles in space and can beat blockers, despite him only having one hand. He also did a lot of damage as a blitzer, using his speed and length to get around the edge. He’s very undersized at 6’1”, 213 so he needs to show that he can hang with NFL offensive linemen, but I wouldn’t doubt this kid’s heart. He can be a good nickel LB in the league and a special teams demon.

Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson): A smaller linebacker at just 6’1”, 220-pounds, O’Daniel flashed range and athleticism at Clemson. I liked his movement skills in coverage and his ability to tackle in space. With his limited size, O’Daniel has issues with his strength. He has a hard time shedding blocks and can get overpowered by stronger running backs and tight ends in one-on-one tackling situations. His speed will make him attractive to teams as a nickel LB or even as a possible box safety, but he really has to impress in coverage drills in Mobile for that to happen.

Tre’ Williams (Auburn): Another undersized linebacker (6’1”, 229), Tre’ Williams showed good traits that translate to the NFL. Williams plays bigger than his size and does a lot of good work shedding blocks and finishing tackles. He may not be the best athlete, so I worry about him in pass coverage, especially in one-on-ones, and he won’t be the sideline to sideline mover either. He should be an immediate special teams contributor at the least, and if he shows skills in coverage at the Senior Bowl, he can be a rotational player as a rookie.

Darius Leonard (South Carolina State): I didn’t find a lot of film for Leonard, but his athleticism definitely stood out. At 6’2”, 228, Leonard moves well all around the field and he has the fluidity to change directions. However, he got stuck on blockers a lot, which is concerning for his level of competition, and he needs to improve this if he wants to play linebacker at the NFL level.

Micah Kiser (Virginia): Micah Kiser is a throwback linebacker in the sense that coverage is where he looks his worst, but he is a sure run defender. Kiser is a sure tackler that does a good job going downhill and fighting trough blocks and can rush the passer off the edge or up the middle. The main holdup with Kiser is his athleticism. He doesn’t move well in space and doesn’t look like he can cover sideline to sideline. He’s also stiff in coverage and can get abused by slot receivers and running backs. His best spot in the NFL is for 3-4 teams that want a leader in the middle of the defense who can make tackles, and he can help on special teams.

Cornerbacks:

Siran Neal (Jacksonville State): I didn’t find much film of Siran Neal, but I am a fan of what I have seen. He’s a bigger corner (6’1”, 205) and has good strength and athleticism. He plays press well, jamming receivers and having the speed to turn and go with them. He also has the speed to recover when he gets beat. Some say a move to safety is in his future because his hips are somewhat stiff, and he can work on the back end as well thanks to his ability to tackle and run support. Siran Neal is a player I’m going to watch closely in Mobile because I feel he can rise like Lamar’s Brandon Langley did last year.

Chandon Sullivan (Georgia State): Put me down as being a fan of Chandon Sullivan. The four-year starter for Georgia State showed a lot of NFL qualities in the tape I viewed. Sullivan has adequate size to be both a slot corner and play on the outside at 5’11”, 195-pounds, and he has great length. I liked his athleticism and the fluidity of his movement. He flips his hips easily and can turn and run stride for stride with the receiver. I want to see him show better ball skills and while he is a willing to come up and make tackles, he needs to do a better job of fighting through blocks and finishing tackles. I’m very excited to see Sullivan go up against top competition and Mobile and watch more tape of him going forward. He might be my favorite corner down there this year.

D’Montre Wade (Murray State): Another small school cornerback, D’Montre Wade has some talent, but I don’t have enough film to make a definitive grade. He is a well-built guy at 6’0”, 200-pounds, and has good athleticism. I mostly saw him play zone coverage, especially deep zone, and he got back there in a hurry. This leads me to wonder if he can play safety to offer versatility. His six interceptions could also point to his ball skills. I’m intrigued by Wade and I will watch him closely in Mobile.

Danny Johnson (Southern): I couldn’t find any tape for this small school cornerback, but Southern’s star cornerback has caught the eye of some NFL talent evaluators. The 5’10”, 194 corner has shown ball skills and athleticism that have put him on watchlists around the league. He also showcased his abilities as a returner.

MJ Stewart (North Carolina): A pure slot corner, MJ Stewart impressed me all throughout the season with his short area quickness and fluidity/change of direction. He also has a knack for making plays on the ball while it’s in the air. What I want to see in Mobile is whether Stewart can handle duties on the outside, but no matter what he projects as an above-average nickel corner, which is becoming an increasingly important position.

Kameron Kelly (San Diego State): A former safety, I feel Kelly should probably make the move back to the backend of the defense. Kelly is incredibly physical on the outside, which will cause a lot of penalties, but also helps him in run support because he is a good tackler. He lacks the change of direction skills to live as an outside corner, and he looks slow when trying to get vertical down the field. Allowing him to start back deeper will allow him to use his ball skills and tackling ability in a more effective manner.

Levi Wallace (Alabama): Someone that kept popping out to me on film, Levi Wallace is a long, lean corner at 5’11”, 185 that uses his length to his advantage. I liked how he jammed receivers at the line and used his hands/length in press coverage down the field. He also made a lot of plays on the ball and on ball carriers, proving to be a reliable tackler. Where I worry about Wallace is that he doesn’t seem like the most athletic guy at corner, which causes him to get beat a little too often, getting hung up on speedy receivers that just fly right past him. Those one-on-one drills in Mobile will be huge for Wallace.

Safeties:

Quin Blanding (Virginia): Following a historic career at Virginia, Quin Blanding doesn’t do it for me as a prospect. Blanding is a reliable tackler with great size at 6’2”, 210. I just don’t see him as good enough in coverage to really be successful in the NFL. An average athlete who is stiff in coverage and doesn’t track the ball well just doesn’t scream NFL starter to me. He’ll get drafted because of his pedigree and leadership, but I struggle to see anything more than special teamer from him.

Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama): The cream of the safety crop in Mobile this year, Jeremy Reaves was on my radar at the start of the season and has moved up my board on every viewing. The former cornerback has a lot of experience playing on the line in man and press coverage and has position flexibility all over the secondary. I love his athleticism and the range to come along with it because Reaves is a sure tackler and has good ball skills, allowing him to make plays all over the field in both run support and pass coverage. Reaves has been a pleasant surprise all season and has been vastly underrated all season, expect that to change after next week.

Tray Matthews (Auburn): I was not impressed by Tray Matthews for a handful of reasons. I felt that Matthews was a god athlete and was fluid in motion. However, he didn’t cover very well and was beaten a lot. While he takes good angles and fills assignments in run support, Matthews looked very tentative and shied away from contact rather than embracing it, forcing him to miss a lot of tackles. Matthews doesn’t really have a fit on an NFL defense as it stands, and until he learns to embrace contact and finish tackles, I don’t even see a special teams role for him.

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