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2023 Senior Bowl Preview - Defense


(Mandatory Image Credit: Scott Donaldson / al.com)


Written by: Joseph Yun


The Reese’s ® Senior Bowl is upon us again in just over a week. While my colleague, Dominic Ambrose will preview the offensive prospects, which you can find here, I will dive into the defensive class. The annual gala of pigskin scouting nirvana is gathering steam in quaint Mobile. Director Jim Nagy and his brilliant staff have done wonders, making it the offseason’s premier destination for all things draft-related. Who are the top names to watch for? Which small school or lesser-known prospect will shine next week to launch a pro career?


Note: The teams and prospects will be broken down into positions and team assignments according to how the Senior Bowl has them listed on its website. Also, their best position will be added in some instances.

American


DL


1. D.J. Dale 6’0 300 Senior Alabama (IDL)


2. Ali Gaye 6’6 255 Redshirt Senior LSU (EDGE)


3. Derick Hall 6’3 255 Senior Auburn (EDGE)


4. Dylan Horton 6’4 261 Redshirt Senior TCU (EDGE)


5. Isaiah McGuire 6’4 271 Senior Missouri (EDGE)


6. Zacch Pickens 6’4 305 Senior South Carolina (IDL)


7. Jalen Redmond 6’3 289 Redshirt Senior Oklahoma (IDL)


8. Tavius Robinson 6’7 260 Redshirt Senior Ole Miss (EDGE)


9. Cameron Young 6’4 316 Redshirt Senior Mississippi State (IDL)


10. Byron Young 6’3 300 Senior Alabama (IDL)


11. Byron Young 6’2 249 Senior Tennessee (EDGE)


Big EDGE Name: Ali Gaye


- The LSU pedigree is undeniable from Gaye even if the production is not. He needs a big week in order to recover some stock lost throughout his career. He’s an uber physical trait EDGE with the tools but not the fundamentals. Can he muster enough wins in one on one drills to make a difference during the week?


Top EDGE Prospect: Derick Hall


- Hall has been a consistent producer during the past two seasons for an Auburn program trying to find itself AGAIN. He’s a really good athlete who can power past opponents as well as use his quickness. The measurements will be key for him. The good news is that he’s improved with every rep, unlike some others who regress. He should be in line for a big jump after the process. An early Day 2 grade perhaps?


Potential EDGE Risers: Dylan Horton; Tavius Robinson; Byron Young (Tennessee)


- Horton starred for the national runners-up Horned Frogs after transferring in from New Mexico three years ago. He improved his tackles and sacks numbers every season. The former TCU product isn’t the biggest or fastest EDGE in the class but he just is around the ball constantly. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the drills. Robinson improved upon his numbers like Horton every year while at Ole Miss. He finished with 43 tackles and six sacks for his senior season. A ball of clay at this point much like his former colleague in Oxford, Sam Williams, who starred for the Cowboys this season. It will be fun to see him in this setting to see what he has done and how far he has left to go. Rounding out the sleeper trio is the Tennessee version of Byron Young, who has the potential to have a good week. He’s a bit undersized at just 249 listed pounds but wins a ton with power. He was Mr. Consistency as he posted 12.5 sacks in two years for the Volunteers.


Big IDL Name: DJ Dale (Alabama)


- Dale is the biggest name in a group of name brand IDL prospects. It will be interesting to see where he lines up in the drills. He’s a short squat trench monster type with some pass rush repertoire. A big week could have his name called within the first three rounds.


Top IDL Prospect: Jalen Redmond


- Redmond is the name to watch in Mobile in terms of already there IDL prospects. He was a steady contributor for the Sooners defense and blossomed under Brent Venables last season. A slightly undersized tackle so he might be limited to 4-3 systems but can play nose in a pinch. Should have a good week.


Potential IDL Risers: Byron Young (Alabama); Zacch Pickens


- We finish this section with a pair of SEC performers in Young and Pickens, two intriguing talents. Pickens needs a big week to offset some concerns about motor and technical ability. He isn’t the greatest athlete but is serviceable as a gap occupational specialist. The former Gamecock needs to show some effort in rushing the passer more often. This Byron Young (amusingly both are on the same team) is from Alabama and has been a rock for the Tide. With a good week, he could fly up the boards into Day 2 if things break right.


LB


1. SirVocea Daniels 6’0 230 Senior Pitt


2. Isaiah Land 6’4 225 Redshirt Senior FAMU


3. Eku Leota 6’3 259 Redshirt Senior Auburn


4. Will McDonald IV 6’4 226 Redshirt Senior Iowa State


5. Aubrey Miller 6’2 225 Graduate Senior Jackson State


6. Henry To’oTo’o 6’1 230 Senior Alabama


7. Dorian Williams 6’1 230 Senior Tulane


8. Dee Winters 6’0 230 Senior TCU


Big Names: Henry To’oTo’o; Will McDonald IV


- HT is a former five-star recruit who transferred in from Tennessee and more than lived up to the billing. He’s not the greatest athlete but is well-schooled in the fundamentals like most Saban-era linebackers. He’s the biggest name among a litany of big names in the group. He has Fred Warner's type of potential if used right. McDonald's has been in college forever it seems. He holds numerous sack records for the Cyclones as a result. The heir apparent to former Cyclone standout JaQuan Bailey finally gets his shot to impress scouts with his athleticism. The size could be a concern that limits him to linebacker, however.


Top Prospect: Dorian Williams


- The defensive general of the reigning Cotton Bowl champion and rowdy upstart Tulane Green Wave. Williams has the size to do well in Mobile. One-on-one drills should be interesting to watch with him. He’s one of the top linebackers in the class overall.


Potential Risers: Isaiah Land; Dee Winters


- Land could be a sleeper to rise up the boards after a solid week. He’s built like a safety given his listed size at 6’4 220+. An uber-productive EDGE used all over the place. The former FAMU product posted a whopping 29 sacks in just 29 career games, including 19 in 2021. It will be interesting to see how he fares in one on one drills. He’s an intriguing candidate to go early on Day 3 if not earlier. Winters exploded during his senior season, posting career bests-in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. Could the former TCU EDGE rusher prove to be a find during next week?

CB


1. Julius Brents 6’4 204 Senior Kansas State


2. Anthony Johnson 6’1 199 Redshirt Senior Virginia


3. Darrell Luter, Jr 6’0 190 Redshirt Senior South Alabama


4. Darius Rush 6’2 199 Redshirt Senior South Carolina


5. Tyrique Stevenson 6’1 214 Senior Miami


6. Rejzhon Wright 6’2 200 Redshirt Senior Oregon State


Big Name: Anthony Johnson


- Johnson is a former Louisville transfer who has the three physical traits that all teams seek in their corners: height, weight, and length. He’s a solid athlete and will likely compete for a top-three cornerback spot in Mobile. It will be interesting to see how he measures in at the weigh-ins. One-on-ones will be of interest against smaller and quicker receivers at all levels.


Top Prospect: Rejzhon Wright


- Wright could surprise some folks in Mobile with his coverage at all three levels. He’s competitive and very intelligent in how to cover every type of receiver. The former Beaver prospect could be a winner if he can hold up athletically against the smaller receivers. He can match up rep for rep against taller receivers, that’s for sure.


Potential Risers: Julius Brents; Darrell Luter, Jr


- Luter is your annual hometown product that the Senior Bowl selects from South Alabama. He could have a big week that vaults him into middle Day 2 consideration. The former Jaguar is athletic and ultra-productive, allowing just three touchdowns in three years. He can keep up with quicker receivers as well as go stride for stride with the bigger ones. Brents is a former Kansas State corner that transferred in from Iowa. He’s another bigger corner that could rise up the boards given the success of Tariq Woolen and others of that ilk. It will be interesting to see how he fares against quicker receivers given his projected size.


S


1. Chamarri Conner 6’0 205 Redshirt Senior Virginia Tech


2. DeMarcco Hellams 6’1 208 Senior Alabama


3. Jammie Robinson 5’11 197 Senior Florida State


4. Chris Smith 5’10 188 Redshirt Senior Georgia


5. Jay Ward 6’1 184 Senior LSU


Big Names: DeMarcco Hellams; Jay Ward


- The SEC pair had impressive careers for Alabama and Ward, respectively. Hellams, like all Crimson Tide defensive backs, are asked to cover a variety of roles in the secondary. He’s not the best burst athlete but is serviceable in terms of deep-field responsibility. He’s sticky in short to intermediate routes and is a physical tackler. Ward was a multiyear starter for the Bayou Bengals that converted to safety from cornerback. He should have a good week in one on one drills given his versatility.


Top Prospect: Chris Smith


- What’s that? Another baller from Georgia, you said? Smith is one of the top safety prospects in the class, bar none. The general and veteran leader of the stacked Bulldogs secondary gets his chance to shine on a colossal stage once more.


Potential Risers: Jammie Robinson


- Robinson transferred in from South Carolina and was a two-year starter for the Noles. He’s not the most built guy out there but he just knows how to play. He could be in line for a big jump up the boards. The former Seminole was used primarily as a safety but did play some nickel as well so the versatility will pay off. The tone setter for the resurgent FSU defense. He also had a tackle that will likely define FSU vs. Miami rivalry games for the near future this past season.

National


DL


1. Adetomiwa Adebawore 6’2 275 Senior Northwestern (EDGE)


2. Keeanu Benton 6’4 312 Senior Wisconsin (IDL)


3. Karl Brooks 6’3 305 Redshirt Senior Bowling Green (IDL)


4. Jerrod Clark 6’4 340 Redshirt Senior Coastal Carolina (IDL)


5. YaYa Diaby 6’3 267 Redshirt Senior Louisville (EDGE)


6. Isaiah Foskey 6’5 260 Senior Notre Dame (EDGE)


7. KJ Henry 6’5 250 Redshirt Senior Clemson (EDGE)


8. Thomas Incoom 6’2 265 Graduate Senior Central Michigan (EDGE)


9. Tyler Lacy 6’4 285 Redshirt Senior Oklahoma State (EDGE)


10. Lonnie Phelps, Jr 6’2 245 Redshirt Senior Kansas (EDGE)


11. Nesta Jade Silvera 6’2 315 Redshirt Senior Arizona State (IDL)


12. Keion White 6’4 286 Graduate Senior Georgia Tech (EDGE)


Big Names: Isaiah Foskey; KJ Henry


- Foskey could be the biggest name in Mobile among the defensive linemen with his reputation. He has 121 tackles, 28 tackles, and 25 sacks to his name in his college career. The former Irish product could be in line for a big jump if he can handle business this week. The position versatile star is among the highest of high in a loaded class. Henry, a Clemson edge rusher will have his opportunity to shine without his much more hyped former teammates. He’s a former five star recruit so the billing is there. Can he deliver on the promise?


Sleepers: Keeanu Benton; YaYa Diaby


- Benton broke out as a senior, producing 4.5 sacks to go along with 36 tackles and 10 tackles for loss after transitioning to defensive tackle from the nose. It will be interesting to see how he fares as he continues to move away from nose to a four man front DT. He’s a pretty solid athlete for the position and should do well during drills. Dumervil, Preston Brown, and now Diaby? YaYa is trying to make a name for himself as an impact EDGE rusher with all the physical traits like height and length. He’s an athletic prospect that can turn and burn around the edge. He could sneak up the boards into a middle Day 3 selection in a deep class with a good week.


Potential Risers: Keion White; Karl Brooks


- White presents an intriguing picture at both EDGE and IDL with his physical skillset. The former Georgia Tech product transferred from Old Dominion two years ago and has two seasons of production out of four. He finished his collegiate career nicely for the Ramblin Wreck with 54 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Brooks really broke out as a senior after a nice junior season, posting 50 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and and ten sacks. The former Bowling Green rusher could have a big week as a smaller school prospect and fly up the boards. An intriguing prospect for teams needing depth along the line.


LB


1. Andre Carter II 6’6 255 Senior Army


2. Nick Hampton 6’2 235 Redshirt Senior Appalachian State


3. Daiyan Henley 6’1 230 Graduate Senior Washington State


4. DJ Johnson 6’4 255 Graduate Senior Oregon


5. Cam Jones 6’1 228 Redshirt Senior Indiana


6. Carlton Martial 5’8 210 Graduate Senior Troy


7. DeMarvion Overshown 6’3 224 Redshirt Senior Texas


8. Ivan Pace, Jr 6’0 242 Senior Cincinnati


Big Names: DeMarvion Overshown; Daiyan Henley; Andre Carter II


- Overshown has a chance to be LB1 when the process is over and done with so he will need a moderate week to maintain that. Henley has been a steady riser up the board this past season. He’s a toolsy linebacker with athleticism so one on ones will be interesting. The former Cougars defender has a chance to leave with a top-three positional ranking. Carter is an intriguing EDGE prospect that recently had his service commitments deferred after a federal policy change. He was a productive pass rusher, racking up 19 sacks in his career, including 14.5 in 2021! The former Army product is an impressive athlete and is huge at 6’7 260. If he tests well, he should be at minimum a third-round selection.


Sleepers: DJ Johnson; Ivan Pace, Jr


- Johnson was a Miami transfer from three seasons ago who converted to tight end two years ago and back to EDGE this season. There were times when he played both ways during the past two seasons. He needs a pretty good week to solidify his stock into the Day 3 range. The pace was a tackle monster for both Miami (OH) and Cincinnati the past two seasons, posting 261 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks in that span. He’s in line for a great week and should test well during the process.


Potential Risers: Carlton Martial; Nick Hampton


- Martial is undersized at just 5’9 so the measurements will be crucial for him. On the field, he’s a machine, posting 578 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his career. The former Troy linebacker will be an interesting case of on-field play vs. physical traits. He needs a big week to prove that he’s draftable. Hampton is an EDGE from the fun and wacky Appalachian State program. He contributed 26.5 sacks in his career but is undersized at just 226 listed pounds. The weigh-in portion will be important.

CB


1. Jakorian Bennett 5’11 195 Redshirt Senior Maryland


2. Mekhi Blackmon 6’0 180 Graduate Senior USC


3. Kyu Blu Kelly 6’1 190 Senior Stanford


4. Jartavius Martin 5’11 195 Redshirt Senior Illinois


5. Riley Moss 6’1 193 Redshirt Senior Iowa


Big Name: Riley Moss


- Moss isn’t the best athlete out there so one on ones might be a bit tricky to navigate for him in this setting. He was part of a stingy Iowa defense and is one of two Hawkeyes in Mobile as a result. The former Iowa star could excel in team drills more so than the one on ones. A name worth monitoring for sure.


Top Prospect: Kyu Blu Kelly


- Kelly has been a top-tier prospect for some years now, dating back to the 2020 season. The Cardinal haven’t been all that great during his tenure so he isn’t as well known. He’s technically sound and uses his size well much like a former Cardinal who made the transition at the pro level. NFL bloodlines as well as he’s the son of longtime cornerback Brian Kelly. Could he end up in the second round?


Potential Risers: Mekhi Blackmon; Jartavius Martin


- The USC defense as a whole wasn’t great but Blackmon held up despite that. The former Colorado corner transferred to USC for his final season. He’s fundamentally sound and should test well next week during the one on ones and the game. It will be interesting to see him outside of the horrendous USC defensive construct. Martin is a veteran defender who has seen it all in his career. He was part of a really good Illinois secondary chock full of prospects. Plays bigger than his size and can be physical with everyone at times. Can he prove that he’s more than a nickel?


S


1. Sydney Brown 5’10 205 Redshirt Senior Illinois


2. Ronnie Hickman 6’1 205 Senior Ohio State


3. Kaevon Merriweather 6’0 212 Redshirt Senior Iowa


4. JL Skinner 6’4 210 Senior Boise State


5. Daniel Scott 6’1 215 Graduate Senior Cal


Big Name: Ronnie Hickman


- The versatile safety from Ohio State could be in line for a big week as he can play both corner and safety. One-on-one drills should be fascinating to watch with him. 2021-22 was a good swan song for him, production-wise. He totaled 152 tackles, three interceptions, and seven passes defended in those seasons. The medical will be crucial going forward as he’s had several injuries knocking him out for two years.


Top Prospect: JL Skinner


- Skinner is a big 6’4 210 safety prospect from Boise State with the prerequisite physical traits you want. The frame isn’t a question obviously but the athleticism can be. Can he keep up with the smaller and quicker receivers in one on one drills? If he can prove that he can and also shine in team drills, he’s a second-round pick if not a sneaky round-one candidate.


Potential Risers: Daniel Scott; Sydney Brown


- Scott is a battle-tested veteran that was hidden amongst the weeds due to Cal being not good. He’s a ball hawk with two years’ worth of production as a senior. He posted 12 total ball involvements (six picks and six PBUs), and 167 total tackles. Can he translate those ball skills into the drills? Brown is another member of the vaunted Illinois secondary making his way to Mobile. He was a machine, posting 320 tackles, ten interceptions, and 16 pass deflections in his career. However, he needs to test well in one on ones to have a chance to get drafted any higher than the fourth round due to his traits. A good week for the strong safety type could see him drafted high along with a good Combine process.



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