Senior Bowl 2019: Defensive prospects who can enter NFL Draft first-round conversation if they impress
Three edge-rushers and two defensive backs can move into the first-round discussion if they impress in Mobile
While just a week of practices that precede an exhibition all-star game, every year an assortment of draft prospects see their stocks fluctuate based on what happens on the field at the Senior Bowl.
The annual showcase takes place in Mobile, Alabama and boasts an impressive list of early-pick alumni, including Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, Von Miller, and Aaron Donald.
This article examines the defensive prospects who start the pre-draft process in the Day Two conversation yet can jump start an ascension into Round 1 with strong showings at the Senior Bowl.
Kris Boyd, CB, Texas
Boyd had 15 pass breakups in 2017... and followed that up with 15 more pass breakups as a senior on a feisty, relatively stingy Texas defense. At 6-foot-0 and 195 pounds, Boyd has good, not great size to play on the outside in the NFL, but he's a twitchy plant-and-drive player who's very aggressive when the ball's arriving to its intended target, as evidenced by his high pass-breakup numbers.
The Senior Bowl will be vital for Boyd as he tries to move into the first-round tier at the position. He's not a man or zone specialist necessarily, but his sticky coverage skills and the speed at which he closes on the football will be tested in Mobile. If he thrives in coverage, knocks away some passes, and shows the same tenacity stopping the run as he did in Austin, he could be on the fast track to Round 1 status.
Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech
Ferguson's production speaks for itself. He had 67.5 tackles for loss and 45 sacks in his four seasons at Louisiana Tech and has NFL defensive end size at 6-5 and 262 pounds. But his counter moves are more impressive than his initial moves off the snap, meaning it can take him extra time to get to the quarterback. Also, he's not a bendy edge-rusher despite being a good, relatively explosive athlete.
If Ferguson can piece together a solid week in Mobile, and does it by winning his reps quickly, landing in Round 1 will not be out of the question whatsoever.
Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia
Thornhill made the switch to full-time safety in 2018, and it paid off. He went from 63 tackles to 98. His interception total increased from four to six, and he still defended seven passes after knocking 12 to the ground in 2017. At 6-0 and 212 pounds, Thornhill has legitimate NFL safety size and is a fluid mover too who isn't timid about flying downhill in run support. However, despite his excellent range (that comes from his acceleration and sustained speed), Thornhill has a tendency to make out-of-control tackling attempts that, as you can probably guess, aren't very effective.
While he'll want to showcase his coverage skills in Mobile -- and he can man up against slot receivers with relative ease -- Thornhill has to make it known he's cleaned up his tackling. If he does that, he very well could find himself in the top tier of prospects at the safety position.
Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion
Another super-productive edge-rusher from a small school, Ximines doesn't quite have Ferguson's size. He's listed at 6-4 and 255 pounds but did rack up 51 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks during his time at Old Dominion.
Ximines is one of the most polished, developed pass-rushers in the entire class, thanks to a diverse arsenal of hand work, and smooth bend to the quarterback. As is the case with any small school player at the Senior Bowl, Ximines can catapult up draft boards if he shows he belongs against the country's best senior offensive tackles in the week of practices and/or in the game.
Renell Wren, DL, Arizona State
Wren has a hybrid profile, at 6-6 and 297 pounds with long arms. However, he played a lot of nose tackle for Arizona State in 2018 and possesses freakish burst off the snap.
Pass-rushing moves? Kinda/sorta. They're inconsistent and seemingly not readily available. Wren's trump cards are his burst and length, and he should lean on those. But, in Mobile, if he demonstrates the ability to use his hands as a counter of his quickness, look out. He could land in the back end of Round 1 and be well on his way to long, productive NFL career.
Charles Omenihu, EDGE/DL, Texas
Draft analysts like myself had long been waiting for the chiseled 6-6, 275-pound Omenihu to break out while at Texas, and as a senior he did just that with 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
He finally exhibited counter moves off his power rush and looked comfortable when needing to make quick, lateral movements. Omenihu is very naturally talented and showcased some polish in 2018. If his improvement translates to the field at the Senior Bowl, he will have first-round potential.
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