After a bustling week in Mobile, here are some thoughts on a talented class of defensive players that were on display at the Senior Bowl. It was a superb week for many front-seven defenders, a group that was definitely the star of the week. As mentioned below, grading defensive backs in a practice setting that we see can be awfully tough, but I certainly saw some players that shined in both practice and in Saturday’s game. Let’s dig right in.
— Trey Daubert (@treydaubert) January 24, 2019
Good Greg Gaines, Washington
Better Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois
Best Isaiah Buggs, Alabama
Starting with the defensive tackle from Washington, Gaines surprised me this week in Mobile. He was able to consistently use his stout frame to gain leverage against larger interior offensive linemen and showed great lateral quickness against guards in 1-on-1 drills. Gaines was a hoss in run defense for the Huskies this season, and surely looked the part this week in practices and on game day. While he does lack a stout pass rush plan, I’d trust this guy any day on early downs on my defensive line.
Saunders, an FCS product from WIU, had the craziest week of any Senior Bowl participant. It started early Tuesday morning when he found out his fiancée was going into labor. Saunders stayed for practices, where he stood out for his noteworthy motor and incredible athleticism, before flying to Chicago Friday morning and back to Mobile the next day for the game. Khalen’s fiancée, Ayanna, did give birth to their healthy baby daughter, Kambridge, on Tuesday morning. In Saturday’s game, Khalen shot himself out of a cannon on the defense’s second drive, ripping Will Grier down for a sack on the first play of the drive before spinning past guard Javon Patterson on second down where he almost brought down Grier once again.
The best week of practice by a defensive lineman by far goes to Isaiah Buggs, who played in front of lots of fans encouraging him and the two other Alabama draft hopefuls in attendance, Ross Pierschbacher and Christian Miller (DNP-Injury). Buggs started the week with a rather disappointing weigh-in, coming in 2.5 inches shorter than listed, but he was able to add some weight to his frame, jumping from 286 lbs to 295 lbs. Despite the additional weight, Buggs didn’t show any detriment to his athleticism, bullying offensive linemen consistently through the week both in the team scrimmages as well as 1-on-1 drills.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) January 24, 2019
Good Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Better Charles Omenihu, Texas
Best L.J. Collier, TCU
Across all three days of practice, Montez Sweat was the most consistent edge rusher on the field. Sweat showed off the same strengths that he did all season long on film, which were his obscene strength and lengthy arms around the edge. Sweat didn’t do too much to answer questions about his bend and flexion around the corner, which is where I would’ve liked to see more from him.
Charles Omenihu locked in a first round grade this week in my eyes, showing the Big 12 can produce defensive talent once again. Omenihu once again displayed his versatility this week, taking reps all across the line and performing stoutly no matter who he lined up across. The former Longhorn was deadly with his bull rush at times, but wasn’t afraid to turn the corner on the edge when needed. Omenihu looks to be the first Big 12 defensive player selected in the first round of the draft since WVU’s Karl Joseph in 2016.
Starting Day 1 of practices on Tuesday, L.J. Collier set the tone for the week with his physical play. The TCU edge rusher really brought his A-game, and then he continued to perform better and better as the week progressed. For someone who was lightly on my radar before the week started, Collier did the most to improve his draft stock over the five days at the Senior Bowl. Collier capped things off with a two-sack performance on game day, including a forced fumble, which earned him my vote for Defensive MVP.
I 👀 you NMST LB Terrill Hanks pic.twitter.com/qEEnmCMyHM
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 23, 2019
Good Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
Better Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
Best Deshaun Davis, Auburn
Former Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill, a safety converted to linebacker, cemented himself as a draftable prospect this week in an impressive three days of practice. While Tranquill has shown on tape that he can be rangy and display above average lateral quickness, the former Irish linebacker looked great during 11-on-11 drills this week.
Another player who stood out from the first exhibition of the week at weigh-ins, Terrill Hanks proved he can hang with the big boys and isn’t getting recognition just for coming from a small school. While the adjective ‘chiseled’ may not do his figure justice, Hanks showed everyone that he can be more than just a run-stuffing early-down linebacker. In practices throughout the week, he got the better of many running backs who proved much too slippery for other linebackers in attendance.
Playing in front of a hometown crowd, Mobile native Deshaun Davis did not disappoint those who came out to watch him, including NFL scouts. Besides the fact that he had the most tackles on game day, Davis really looked the part in practices this week, with improved lateral agility and ability to stick with shiftier tight ends in coverage. While Davis most likely won’t be selected during the first two days of the draft, a team will get good value in the former Auburn Tiger in the 4th or 5th round.
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 24, 2019
Good Jordan Brown, South Dakota State
Better Rock Ya-Sin, Temple
Best Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kentucky
Mentally, the top cornerback in this year’s Senior Bowl group looked to be Jordan Brown of South Dakota State. While 1-on-1’s weren’t his strong suit, he still had a few good reps this week which showed he can match up with wide receivers despite his smaller frame. Where Brown really shines though is in full 11-on-11 team drills, showing top-notch instincts in zone coverages. Weighing in just shy of 200 lbs, I think Brown’s best role in the league is a slot nickel corner, where he can come in and compete for a team day one.
One corner who impressed me a bunch this week was Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, who I already figured could be a late third round selection, but have bumped up on my big board now. Ya-Sin showed great speed and quickness mirroring wide receivers in coverage. While he did get cooked a few times in 1-on-1’s this week (who didn’t), Ya-Sin certainly had his fair share of shut-down reps.
When it comes to physicality amongst cornerbacks, no player showed more in practice this week than Lonnie Johnson Jr. of Kentucky. In a week of subpar defensive back play, Johnson Jr. really flashed amongst his peers. Measuring in at 6’2” and with an arm length of just over 32 inches, the former Wildcat proved that his size isn’t just for show, but he can use it to his advantage against receivers who are not used to playing against such a large corner.
Our here at the Senior Bowl – Boston College's Will Harris nabs this interception during passing drills. pic.twitter.com/ygUHe7GgyF
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 24, 2019
Good Juan Thornhill, Virginia
Better Nasir Adderley, Delaware
Best Will Harris, Boston College
Out of all the positions on showcase at the Senior Bowl this year, safety was without a doubt the most disappointing group of all. While that is partially due to defensive backs spending most of their time against wide receivers in 1-on-1 drills, most safeties really failed to make a name for themselves when it came to full team drills too. While not the most athletic safety of the bunch, one player who will get drafted on his instincts alone is Virginia’s Juan Thornhill. When I talked to Louisville WR Jaylen Smith on game day, he brought up Thornhill’s superior intelligence on the field. “You’ve got to prepare mentally to beat a guy like that mentally […] his instincts will get him to the ball before his natural athletic ability will.”
Nasir Adderley was the top-ranked safety of the group coming into the week, and he performed in an okay fashion throughout the week. While most reps against wide receivers, especially those with superior footwork and quickness, ended in failure, Adderley held his own against the tight ends for most of the week. He came away with a good interception in coverage against Tyree Jackson to close the game out on Saturday.
Of all safeties in Mobile this week, Boston College’s Will Harris was the only one who really put up a fighting chance when lined up against wide receivers 1-on-1. Harris was able to show outstanding hip fluidity and steady footwork against receivers in those drills. Come game time, Harris showed his ability to play both single-high safety as well as stacked up in the box against the run. NFL teams will love the versatility Harris brings to their team’s defense, and should have an outside shot of being drafted on Day 2.
— Dan DeYoung (@DanDeYoung80) January 26, 2019
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah
If I’m being completely honest, I did not pay attention to special teams drills in practice this week other than Cole Tracy kicking field goals during for South Team day one. However, on game day I found out what I was missing in Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky. On the first punt of the game, Wishnowsky took a low snap and absolutely boomed the ball 56 yards downfield inside the 10-yard line. More appealing than the distance though was the hang time on the punt, which I recorded at just over five seconds. When I was standing next to his teammates on the North Team at the time of the punt, anyone not watching the play immediately turned their head after the noise Wishnowsky’s foot produced on the kick. The native Australian, Wishnowsky was the Ray Guy Award winner his sophomore year in 2016 and is one of the few special teams players I could see being drafted this year.
While it was quite the busy week in Mobile, NFL Draft season is still in its infancy. For more coverage throughout the combine, pro days, and the draft stay right here on @DFF_Devy and @DFF_Dynasty. For questions and general football talk, follow me on Twitter @BrumleyNFL to stay plugged in! Thank you for reading!