As promised yesterday, here are my Senior Bowl scouting notes for the defensive side of the ball. In an effort to conserve the amount of articles I write (I have only three left before hitting the 35 article mark), this will double as your Senior Bowl open game thread.
Keep in mind that with 120-plus players attending the Senior Bowl, it’s basically impossible to get a full scouting report on every player. Teams in attendance have the position coaches and scouts look at their respective area of expertise, but I’m just one man with his head on a swivel trying to take in as much information as possible.
You can check out my offensive notes here.
Outside of the top quarterbacks, Javon Kinlaw was obviously the cream of the crop at the Senior Bowl during practice week. He only practiced for two days, and won’t play in the game, but he did more than enough to solidify his place in the top half of the first round with a strong performance.
Neville Gallimore wasn’t too far behind Kinlaw, however, as he impressed scouts with his explosive power and hand placement. He exposed some poor technique from Nick Harris a few times, and flashed his disruptive pass rushing prowess all week. Gallimore still wasn’t able to answer questions about his inconsistencies defending the run, but the Senior Bowl game itself might help scouts get a better understanding of his run deficiencies.
Josiah Coatney impressed me on Day 1 of practice with his powerful anchor and ruthlessness, but he was a bit inconsistent in the following days when matched up against better blockers. The Ole Miss product is a sleeper as a run-stuffing 3-tech who will likely be available on Day 3.
Larrell Murchison was a steady interior force for the North roster, and he showed the explosiveness that teams were looking for. Since NC State gave Murchison a ton of two gap responsibility, scouts wanted to see him in a gap shooting role, and he showed promise this week.
Marlon Davidson looked like the best edge rusher on hand, though he only practiced on the first day due to injury. Davidson was overshadowed on Auburn’s defensive line by Derrick Brown this year, but he proved that his production isn’t merely a product of playing alongside Brown and Nick Coe. A team looking for a starting 5-tech will probably snatch him up in the second round.
Josh Uche is a lot different from Davidson, as a 3-4 outside linebacker who lined up all over the place during Senior Bowl practices. He outclassed his peers with an excellent speed rush and some nice speed counter moves that exposed slower offensive linemen, but Uche’s size (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) has some worrying about how limited of a role he will have at the next level. He certainly should not play on the edge during running situations. So to get a look at his potential versatility, the Lions coaching staff played him often at linebacker to see how he held up in coverage during 7-on-7 and full team drills. His speed showed up in such situations, and at Michigan he had an opportunity to cover the curl-flat while playing the edge, but it’ll be interesting to see how team’s value the explosive tweener.
Kenny Willekes may see a big bump in his stock as well. The Michigan State defensive end almost declared for the draft last year before electing to return after a suffering a broken leg. He was tenacious as hell and made a ton of splashy plays in 9-on-7 run drills. He’s a Day 3 sleeper to keep an eye on.
Jason Strowbridge came in to the Senior Bowl as a positional tweener somewhere between defensive tackle and edge, but after weighing in at 285 pounds, he solidified his status as an edge rusher. He was one of the top standouts of Day 2 and opened some scouts eyes regarding his pass rushing versatility.
The only edge rusher who hurt their stock in my eyes was Penn State’s Robert Windsor, a late invite who clearly didn’t have the strength to hold up against the better offensive linemen on hand. Like Strowbridge, he’s a hybrid defensive tackle and edge rusher, but he got pushed around fairly often in 9-on-7 drills and didn’t showcase much of the motor that he’s been praised for in the past.
While he didn’t answer any questions about his lack of size, Akeem Davis-Gaither continued to show his coverage chops all week and quelled concerns about the level of competition he faced at Appalachian State. There wasn’t much of an opportunity for Davis-Gaither to look bad, as teams weren’t allowed to tackle and thus we couldn’t see how he holds up against more powerful running backs. Still, Davis-Gaither solidified his stock as a mid-round coverage linebacker who can immediately play a dime ‘backer role and contribute on special teams. He’d be an interesting target for the Raiders with one of their third or fourth round picks.
While I loved what I saw from Davis-Gaither, perhaps my two favorite linebackers in attendance were Ohio State’s Malik Harrison and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson. Wilson in particular caught my eye on Day 3 with some excellent pass coverage reps, including pulling down an interception and batting a few other balls away in 7-on-7 drills. He’s an under-the-radar name that I haven’t heard a lot of buzz on from scouts. Perhaps they’re trying to keep him a secret. Harrison, meanwhile, was lacking in coverage skills on film, but made some plays against the pass and looked good dropping into zones. He will be more of a two-down linebacker at the next level, but he showed that he might eventually become a three down guy.
Zach Baun lined up everywhere at Wisconsin, and is listed as an EDGE by some recruiting sites, but he mostly played Will linebacker this week in an effort to show some coverage skills. He showed adequate speed and coverage instincts, but still couldn’t quite keep up with the faster running backs on the outside. I love versatility, and Baun brings that to the table and then some, but I worry that he’s a true jack of all trades and master of none. Baun is such a fun player, but he doesn’t really fit in the Raiders defense unless the team envisions him as an inside linebacker. He’s not big enough to play on the edge in a 4 down front.
Evan Weaver looked slim as hell and is a complete heat-seeking missile against the run, but scouts would like to see him be more consistent in coverage. He looked faster this week than he did on tape due to the weight loss, but he still was caught guessing a handful of times in man-to-man coverage and doesn’t have the makeup speed to afford to guess incorrectly. Weaver’s fellow Pac-12 linebacker, Francis Bernard, tore it up in all phases and definitely boosted his stock. He’s another undersized linebacker who will make his living early on as a special teamer.
After Jeff Gladney, Damon Arnette and Kristian Fulton all dropped out, the cornerback class at the Senior Bowl was lacking in talent.
Troy Pride Jr. looked like the best of the bunch by far, with a patient yet tenacious approach that frustrated receivers. Michael Pittman Jr. told me that Pride was the best cornerback he faced all week, and I’m sure the other North team receivers would echo that same sentiment.
Meanwhile, the top corner on the South squad was clearly Dane Jackson, a late-round sleeper out of Pittsburgh who showcased a lot of speed and stickiness in coverage. Jackson’s slender frame gives teams pause about how he will hold up against the run, and he didn’t have a chance to address those concerns at Senior Bowl practice, but he probably raised his stock by a full round or two.
Other than those two, it was a mixed bag at the cornerback position. Lamar Jackson had his moments, but was called for pass interference several times on Day 3 with referees in attendance. UCLA’s Darnay Holmes solidified his mid-round stock with a solid performance, despite getting torched on a couple of plays. Javaris Davis, an Auburn cornerback who was added to the roster late, had a great showing in the slot and went from potential PFA to likely late-round pick.
Essang Bassey probably wishes he could have a do-over on the week. The Wake Forest product routinely was dusted all week and his stock certainly dropped. He wound up a step or two behind often on deep balls and ended up flat on his face a fair amount of times after tripping over his own feet. Bassey and Georgia Southern’s Kindle Vildor were picked on all week.
When watching safeties, getting a fully formed opinion based on film can take a lot of time because of the nature of the position. Safeties aren’t involved directly every play, so while it takes watching four or five films of an average player to get a good feel for their skill level, it may take watching six or seven films of a safety to feel equally comfortable.
That made the Senior Bowl all the more important for small school guys Kyle Dugger and Jeremy Chinn, who both performed quite well this week. Dugger looked bigger than some of the linebackers he was lined up next to and showed a ton of range in coverage. I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on any Lenoir-Rhyne tape, but I can see why scouts see Dugger as a potential Day 2 pick. Chinn, meanwhile, was perhaps the biggest winner of the pre-practice weigh-ins as he dazzled with a 6-foot-3, 219 pound, rocked up frame.
I liked what I saw from Chinn in coverage this week and anticipate a team moving to a coverage linebacker role at the next level. He could be one of the small-school safety converts that Paul Guenther has stated he likes to play at linebacker.
Both Notre Dame safeties, Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gillman looked good all week, but Elliott in particular raised his stock by locking up tight ends in coverage and looking sharp on his zone drops.