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Senior Bowl Preview: Edge Rushers

Among all positions in this year’s NFL Draft, the one that is packed with the most talent and depth is undoubtedly the edge rusher group. While there are standout talents such as Nick Bosa, Brian Burns, and Jachai Polite who declared early for the draft and are not eligible for the Senior Bowl, there are plenty of stars left around to show off in Mobile. This group has four, possibly even five defenders who could hear their name called on Thursday of draft weekend, and outside of the quarterbacks, will draw the most media coverage of any position. Let’s dive right into the edge rushers that we’ll see in Mobile!

(Steve Roberts – USA TODAY Sports)

Senior Bowl Invitees

Where to start? With 16 edge rushers on the Senior Bowl roster, there’s an absurd amount of talent that will be featured this year in Mobile. Starting with the Power 5 products, the group is headlined by Josh Allen, the Kentucky product who could be a dark horse to be the first overall selection in the NFL Draft. Allen could have declared the draft last year as a fringe first-round candidate, but he decided to return to Lexington to showcase why he should be the top pick in this year’s draft. With 17 sacks in 13 games, he did just that and put his name in the conversation to be one of the first players selected in April.

Other SEC edge rushers what will be featured at the Senior Bowl include Georgia duo Jonathan Ledbetter and D’Andre Walker, Alabama’s Christian Miller, and Montez Sweat of Mississippi State. Of the four, Sweat has the highest potential to develop into a Pro Bowl talent. Back-to-back First-Team All-SEC honors with 22 sacks in his two seasons at Mississippi State headlined Sweat’s performance on the field. He’s currently ranked as a first-round talent on my board after preliminary viewings but could propel himself into a top-15 ranking with a strong spring.

The three players that I view have the most to prove at the Senior Bowl are Maryland’s Byron Cowart, Michigan’s Chase Winovich, and Oregon’s Jalen Jelks. Cowart just four short years ago was the number-one ranked recruit in the nation, but after two underwhelming seasons at Auburn, playing in 26 games and totaling only 15 tackles, Cowart found himself at Maryland for his senior season. While his production as a Terrapin wasn’t quite on par for what is expected from a five-star recruit, he was able to show some of the traits that college scouts fell in love with in the first place. Jelks played out of position his senior year at Oregon, typically lining up as a 4i, whereas I see him projecting best in the NFL as a 3-4 wide-9. Whichever team is coaching Jelks at the combine, Oakland or San Francisco, they will want to see how Jelks lines up across the line at a variety of positions.

This year, there are four small school edge rushers that will be featured at the Senior Bowl. Carl Granderson of Wyoming would’ve had a chance to be selected on Day 2 of the draft if he were to have declared early last year following a 9.5 sack season, but the Cowboy senior returned for one last go-around in the college ranks, possibly hurting his draft stock. Granderson has great physical traits, something you can’t teach, but isn’t technically sound at rounding the edge and leveraging momentum against his blocker.

Coming from the Conference-USA, there are two prospects that have turned heads the past few seasons at the college ranks, Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech and Oshane Ximines from Old Dominion. Ferguson was the NCAA sack leader in 2018 with 17.5 sacks in 13 games, for a total of 45 sacks in his collegiate career. Ferguson isn’t just productive in pass rush alone, but will also provide help as a solid run defender at the NFL level as well. Ximines, the former Monarch, has not yet reached his ceiling as a pass rusher, but certainly flashes potential on tape. With 12 sacks this season, highlighted by a two-sack game in a huge upset versus Virginia Tech, Ximines will have a chance to show his potential against the offensive line group in Mobile.

Speaking of small school products, John Cominsky of the University of Charleston is one of the few Division 2 players to earn an invite to this year’s Senior Bowl. Cominsky, a former quarterback in high school, had a slow transition to the defensive end position but really emerged last year in his junior season with 23 TFL. After dominating smaller school competition the past two seasons, can Cominsky impress against top talent at the Senior Bowl?

Heading back to Power 5 conferences to round things out, TCU features two pass rushers this year in Mobile, Ben Banogu and L.J. Collier. Both Horned Frogs linemen lack elite burst and athleticism that will limit their ceilings to more of a rotational pass rusher, rather than every-down players, but Banogu and Collier are both technically very proficient in their pass rush plans.

To finish things off, there are two more edge rushers that have a chance to hear their names called on the first night of the draft. First, Charles Omenihu from Texas, who has seen his stock soar in his senior year. At 6’7” and 280lbs, the Longhorn possesses rare versatility along the defensive line, with the ability to play almost any position that is asked of him. Just looking at Omenihu’s 9.5 sacks may seem underwhelming compared to other pass rushers in this class, but while other linemen may have rallied for more QB takedowns, few harness the sheer power and athleticism that Omenihu flashes on film.

Rounding out the group is Zach Allen of Boston College, who also will be able to show off his versatility in Mobile. Allen was asked to line up both inside and on the edge for the Eagles. While he may not be a three-down product his first year or two in the league, Allen has the tools to develop into an anchor at defensive end in both odd and even-front formations.

Senior Bowl

(Gregory Shamus – Getty Images)

Names To Watch

With 16 edge rushers already slated to participate in Senior Bowl activities, there isn’t too much room for additions without current players dropping out. However, there are a handful of fourth-year juniors that I think Jim Nagy and company could benefit from hosting in Mobile.

One player I have my eyes on that declared early is Iowa’s Anthony Nelson. Nelson was a force for the Hawkeyes this year, recording double-digit sacks while earning 2nd-Team All-Conference honors. Right now, he projects as a mid-Day 2 pick, but if he were to get invited to Mobile I could see his stock rising as high as a fringe first-rounder.

The MAC conference has two edge rushers that I’ll be watching closely over the next couple of weeks to see if they’ll be headed to Mobile. One is Sutton Smith of Northern Illinois, who has been one of the most productive pass rushers over the last two seasons. After gaining national attention last season leading the country in sacks with 14, he backed it up this season tallying 15 sacks. Staying in the MAC-West, Eastern Michigan’s Maxx Crosby rose up draft boards last season with a double-digit sack output. The fourth-year junior shined bright in the spotlight this year posting 19 TFL to go along with 7.5 sacks in 12 games.

Finally, finishing with someone who has already earned himself a Senior Bowl invite but has yet to accept, Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. The Tigers’ redshirt junior surprised many when he, along with fellow linemen Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, opted against declaring for the draft last season. The move paid off though as Ferrell and company dominated Alabama in the National Championship, including many reps where Ferrell put star Alabama tackle Jonah Williams on skates. The decision to come to Mobile is in Ferrell’s hands and I sure do hope that he accepts.

That’s it for today’s coverage featuring the group of edge rushers that you need to know about come the final weekend of the month. Make sure to return to DFF Devy throughout the spring for all your draft needs, both here on the site and on Twitter @DFF_Devy. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations about what topics I should write about next, contact me on Twitter @BrumleyNFL. As always, appreciate you reading, and happy Draft Season!

 

abrumley

Michigan born and raised. Find my content on @DFF_IDP & @DFF_Devy. You can find me on Twitter @BrumleyNFL. #DFFArmy #IDP #DevyWatch IDP Rankings on @FakePigskin #SFB8

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