2018 Senior Bowl Preview: North Defense

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Edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is a player to watch on the North 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 North team. The game is on January 27, 2018.

EDGE Defenders:

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma): Oklahoma’s undersized star edge defender, the 6’1”, 240-pound Okoronkwo has a lot to love. Okoronkwo wins with his first step and athleticism, allowing him to bend around the edge easily. He has a great motor and does the dirty work in the run game. Because of his size and athleticism, combined with his ability to play well in space and drop back into coverage, many teams will want to move Okoronkwo into an off-ball linebacker role. Wherever he plays, Okoronkwo will work his hardest and provide instant leadership in the locker room. I wouldn’t be surprised of Okoronkwo goes top-50.

Kemoko Turay (Rutgers): Kemoko Turay has had an interesting career. Coming off an amazing redshirt-freshman season, Turay was getting first round buzz thanks to his 6’6”, 257-pound frame and athleticism. He has since proven to be very inconsistent and got put in the doghouse at Rutgers because of lackluster effort. When he’s on and motivated, Turay shows good technique with his hands and an unstoppable motor to go with his athleticism and bend around the edge. When he’s uninterested and not trying, he vanishes completely. He also plays with a high pad level, losing leverage, and didn’t impress me as a run defender. He’ll have to have a good week in Mobile on the field and in interviews to get a team to take the chance on a first round talent with attitude and passion issues. If a team can get him clean up his act, he’ll be a steal.

Tyquan Lewis (Ohio State): Tyquan Lewis was a fan favorite at Ohio State, but I struggle to see him as a high-level starter in the NFL. Lewis has a high motor and has NFL size (6’3”, 265), but I don’t see him there physically. He gets eaten up by blockers a lot and has trouble getting off them and isn’t very athletic. He has a slow get off the line and doesn’t bend particularly well. Lewis can spot start because I liked how he played against the run, he set the edge and tackled well, but he’s nothing more than that in my opinion. Scouts will like his leadership traits, but he leaves a lot to be desired on the field.

Jalyn Holmes (Ohio State): A large human being at 6’5”, 270, Holmes will be appealing to many NFL teams. He played multiple spots along OSU’s defensive front, but he never got a lot of playing time behind all the talent OUS has pumped out lately. Holmes has a good combination of speed and power, showing good explosion of the snap and the ability to physically outmatch offensive linemen, but he also lacks nuance with his technique and often plays high. Holmes is a project, but I like his upside because there is a lot to work with and he can really boost his stock with a good showing in Mobile, coming out of the shadows a bit.

Garret Dooley (Wisconsin): Garret Dooley is a smart, attentive defender that can diagnose plays and understands gap assignments. Dooley has good size at 6’2”, 245, but he lacks length and isn’t the strongest guy. Dooley is a scrappy guy and looks like a solid athlete in space and off the snap, but he doesn’t bend around the edge well. Dooley’s intelligence and toughness will get him praise from scouts.

Dewey Jarvis (Brown): I couldn’t find any film of the Bears’ star edge rusher, so I must rely on his stats to show how much he dominated the lower level of competition. Compiling 17.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, 9 forced fumbles, and 6 passes defended. He’s undersized at 6’2”, 230-pounds, so he needs to show he can play against the bigger, stronger, better competition in Mobile. Showing he can play special teams would be a huge boost to his stock. I’m interested to see him play this week.

Interior Defensive Linemen:

Harrison Phillips (Stanford): Harrison Phillips is one of the highest rated defensive prospects in Mobile this year, due in part to his effectiveness in stopping the run. Phillips is a disruptor that has strong hands and solid technique, which allows him to blow up any run plays his direction. Where I get hung up on him is when he’s double-teamed, he rarely impacts plays, and he worries me as a pass rusher due to his lack of moves. If he impresses as a pass rusher in Mobile, his stock can rise into early to mid-round 2, but his effectiveness as a run defender makes him a round 3 prospect.

Justin Jones (North Carolina State): A smaller defensive lineman at 6’1”, 312, Justin Jones gets hung up a lot when he doesn’t get initial hand placement and is pushed out of the play. He does possess a good first step and has some power to his moves, which help him as a pass rusher. Much like Phillips, Hill has issues shedding double teams and getting outside on run plays, but he is effective at stopping runs his way inside. Jones seems like a situational player who can develop his way into more playing time.

BJ Hill (North Carolina State):  Jones’ teammate BJ Hill is quite the opposite. The 6’3”, 315-pound Hill impressed me with his ability to diagnose and stuff run plays. He has a strong base and fights through blocks to get into the backfield and can get outside to the edge. He has a high motor and can get through the double teams that Jones struggled against. Where Hill struggles is as a pass rusher. He’s severely underdeveloped in this area and essentially has to be built from the ground up. He is a run stop specialist until he learns how to effectively rush the passer, but I like his chances to develop.

Nathan Shepherd (Fort Hays State): A small school defensive lineman, Nathan Shepherd didn’t really impress me. Granted he faced a lot of double teams, Shepherd didn’t really show any pass rush moves, nor did he show good technique, playing with a high pad level. Shepherd does look well-built and has good athleticism, good quickness of the snap and a high motor, which I really like from big guys. Shepherd is a project that I don’t see getting drafted, but a good outing in Mobile could make a team fall in love with what he could become and be willing to take him late.

Linebackers:

Fred Warner (BYU):

Mike McCray (Michigan): A big presence in the Wolverine’s defense, the 6’4”, 250-pound McCray didn’t impress me in coverage. McCray is a slow mover and lacks reactionary quickness to be consistent in coverage and in space. He does possess good strength and the ability to shed blocks, which makes me wonder if he can play edge. That might be his only chance to be an NFL starter unless a 3-4 team is comfortable with his issues and hopes they can develop him into a downhill thumper.

Nick DeLuca (North Dakota State): I like what Nick DeLuca brings to the table. The 6’3”, 245-pound FCS All-American is very athletic. DeLuca moves well in space and has fluid movement skills that allow him to be an asset in pass coverage. I also like his ability to blitz up the middle. He reminds me of Alec Ogletree in that he makes a lot of tackles, but when he misses, he missed badly. That is something he needs to work on to be consistent in the NFL, but he also needs to do a better job of getting off blocks. That said, DeLuca is one of my favorite linebackers in Mobile and can rise up draft boards thanks to his toughness and athleticism.

Myles Pierce (The Citadel):  I couldn’t find any film of this small-school linebacker, but he dominated his competition level for 169 tackles with 24 for a loss. He’s undersized at 6’0”, 229, so he needs to show the athleticism to cover backs and slot receivers in that nickel LB role for him to get significant playing time outside special teams.

Cornerbacks:

Darius Phillips (Western Michigan): One word to describe Phillip: playmaker. Phillips was around the ball constantly at Western Michigan, showing off incredible ball skills. The former wide receiver can track the ball into his hands and has soft hands to rarely drop interceptions. Phillips is a great athlete that has the speed to go deep and recover, and the fluidity to seamlessly change direction. I liked how he mirrored receivers in man coverage and wasn’t afraid to jam receivers at the line despite his smaller stature (5’10”, 190). He also served as WMU’s return man, scoring 6 total touchdowns. A lot of where he goes might depend on his weigh in because his height might scare teams off form playing him outside, but his playmaking and immediate special teams impact make him an easy day-2 pick in my opinion.

Christian Campbell (Penn State): A bigger, stronger corner at 6’1”, 195, Christian Campbell does his best work at the line in press coverage. The only problem is that’s all he can really do. Campbell didn’t impress me in man or zone coverage due to his average athleticism and poor technique. And for being as big as he is, he didn’t impress me in run support either. Campbell needs to have a great week in Mobile in my opinion to be draftable.

Isaac Yiadom (Boston College): Another bigger corner with length (6’0”, 190), Isaac Yiadom did his best work in press coverage where his strength allowed him to jam and reroute receivers. However, Yiadom also falls victim to average athleticism that makes him susceptible to giving up big plays to faster receivers if he doesn’t jam them. He also does a better job in run support than what Campbell showed, and looks like he can be a gunner on special teams.

Michael Joseph (Dubuque): A Division III first-team All-American, Michael Joseph dominated lower competition. I was only able to find one game of Joseph on film, and I was intrigued. He was obviously better than everyone else on the field, but I liked the traits I saw. He was around the ball constantly. He finished the game with two interceptions and four passes defended, using length and quickness to undercut routes. He also wasn’t afraid to come up and make tackles. I always love seeing these lower division players in Mobile and I’ll be on the lookout for Joseph during practices to see how he does against good competition.

Taron Johnson (Weber State): Another small-school prospect I had trouble finding film of, Taron Johnson looked like a great athlete against South Dakota in 2015. He has good fluidity in his hips that allow him to seamlessly change directions, and he has the speed to turn and run stride for stride down the field with receivers. He also displayed great tackling ability, both in effort and in power, bringing down running backs and receivers in open space. Not knowing much about him, I will pay close attention to him throughout the week and during the game. And just like Michael Joseph, teams are going to want to see how Johnson performs against higher level talent than what he is used to seeing in the FCS.

Duke Dawson (Florida): As a pure slot corner, I like Duke Dawson’s pro potential. Dawson is physical enough to jam receivers at the line and likes to make tackles, which is paramount for nickel CBs. I like watching him play forward but playing with the ball behind him is a different story. A limited athlete, Dawson struggles going deep with speedy receivers, which hurts his chances to play outside corner, but can be masked in the slot. In a class stacked at CB, Dawson might have trouble going before day-3 because of his limited role.

JaMarcus King (South Carolina): A bigger, physical corner, JaMarcus King lives as a press corner on the outside using his strength and length to jam receivers. He has shown the ability the move well, but I don’t think he has great change of direction skills, which could limit his ability to be an outside corner. He does tackle very well and loves to be physical at the catch point. I’ve seen some say he should move to safety, which I could see and would like to see him workout as.

Safeties:

Trayvon Henderson (Hawaii): The first thing that stands out from Trayvon Henderson is his pure athleticism and his ability to deliver bone-crushing hits. He is a very athletic safety, with great speed and the ability to change direction and has great ball skills. Henderson loves to come up and make tackles, finishing well with great closing speed. I was pleasantly surprised with how good Henderson looked on tape and I’m very excited to see him in Mobile against better competition.

Kyzir White (West Virginia): The biggest safety in Mobile this year at 6’2”, 216, Kyzir White is a high motor player that loves to play physical. White was moved all over WVU’s defense, versatility that helps his draft stock because of his size and athleticism. He delivers big hits and will get on a lot of highlight tapes. He has the ability to be successful in man and zone coverage, a huge plus for modern safeties, and has the speed to cover receivers down the field. My criticism comes with consistency. He flies around the field making plays, which is a great thing, but he overpursues lot and misses tackles or assignments. If he can play more under control, White could be the next in a growing line of defensive chess pieces all around the NFL as teams look to add athletic, versatile defenders.

Armani Watts (Texas A&M): One of the most well-rounded safety prospects in this class, I thought Watts would have came out last year, but he opted for one more season at College Station. At 5’11”, 205, Watts has a compact build that allows him to be consistent in run support and lay the boom. I like Watts’ athleticism and ability to play deep zone for his bigger size. The problem with Watts is consistency. He sometimes misses the easy plays/assignments and ends up in some incredibly frustrating plays. A little more consistency and Watts can be a top safety in the class.

Marcus Allen (Penn State): Arguably the best run supporting safety in the class, Marcus Allen had a storied career at Penn State. He plays downhill and has perfect tackling form. Allen consistently fights through blocks to take down the ball carrier and does good work in the open field. Allen’s main issue is his lack of coverage experience. Often used in the box Allen never really had to cover deep down the field or play on the line in man coverage against slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Teams will love his run support ability and leadership, but will scrutinize his lack of coverage ability, so a good showing in Mobile is necessary for him. If he can show the ability to play better in coverage, Allen could be a fast riser between now and the draft.

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