Senior Bowl Defensive Linemen

Derrik Klassen
Rotoworld

North 

EDGE

Carter Coughlin, Minnesota

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If Carter Coughlin doesn’t improve his stock at the Senior Bowl, he will do it at the NFL Combine. Coughlin is a light, explosive 6-foot-4, 245-pounds and should be able to bait plenty of offensive tackles into oversetting in 1-vs-1 drills after a few reps. While some of the bigger and stronger offensive tackles should be able to lock Coughlin up pretty well, his sheer speed off the ball and ability to weave inside or outside of offensive tackles should allow him to prove himself a time or two. Coughlin is probably best served as a third-down specialist in the NFL, perhaps for teams who like to kick their base ends inside on clear pass-rush downs. 

 

Joshua Uche, Michigan

Every defensive coordinator wants a Swiss Army Knife in their defense. Whether in the starting lineup or as a rotational piece only to be used when appropriate, the value in having a defender who can wear a number of hats considering how much of defense is hiding your hand and confusing offenses. 

Josh Uche is going to be some team’s Swiss Army Knife. 

An outside linebacker by denotation, Uche is a number of things. In Don Brown’s multiple defense, Uche has been an off-ball linebacker, a pass-rushing stand-up outside linebacker, and a three-point stance defensive end. Slot him in somewhere between the slot receiver and the center, and put him close to the line of scrimmage, and he’ll find a way to make some plays. 

Purely as a pass-rusher, Uche will be best served playing a weak-side role and being stunted or twisted as often as possible. It’s not just that Uche is a bit light for the position (6’1/241), it’s that his speed and jab-step are best used as a moving piece as often as possible. If offensive lines slip up in picking up the stunt or twist for even a second, Uche has the speed to rip right by ‘em and get to the quarterback. 

For as talented as he is, Uche may not be for every team. Uche isn’t going to be a full-time standard three-down defensive end for base 4-3 teams and his jack-of-all-trades style may not be coveted even by 3-4 teams early in the draft (as teams often swing on clear potential in one area quite often). That being said, whichever team lands Uche on Day 2 will get an instant contributor and someone who can mold to the front however is deemed necessary. 

 

Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina

Though nothing special, Jason Strowbridge has been a beacon of consistency for the Tar Heels front for the past few seasons. In each of the past three seasons, Strowbridge has earned at least 5.5 tackles for loss while upping his solo tackles mark each year. Strowbridge, a converted defensive end, is best when he can shoot gaps in the run game or when he is let loose as a pass-rusher. While being a bit underweight at 6-foot-5, 285-pounds did not hurt him much in college, it’s likely Strowbridge is going to need to add some beef to survive in NFL trenches. 

 

Alton Robinson, Syracuse

Every draft cycle has players who project as first-round picks during the offseason, then fall flat as seniors. Alton Robinson is one of such players for the 2020 class. After a 10-sack junior campaign, Robinson was on his way to being a top EDGE pick. His 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame and adequate bend seemed to be a winning combination. However, Robinson’s production was cut in half in 2019 and he failed to impress as often with some of the bend and explosiveness that dazzled analysts during his junior season. Perhaps a good week of 1-on-1’s could swing Robinson’s fortune back the other way a bit. 

 

Trevon Hill, Miami

Though Trevon Hill was a Hurricane for the 2019 season, he spent most of his college career at Virginia Tech before being dismissed. In his one season with Miami, Hill racked up 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a speed rusher. Hill doesn’t have much of a choice but to be a speed rusher considering he is 6-foot-3, 238-pounds, but he’s got just enough speed and shiftiness to make it work for him. Hill will need to bulk up a bit at the next level, but he should find a spot as a third-down specialist. 

 

Bradlee Anae, Utah

Bradlee Anae may be a great case of “knows how to play the position, but may not have the tools for it” among defensive line prospects this year. 

As far as technique and approach goes, Anae’s got it down. He can mix up his approaches from rep to rep, favoring for a speed-to-power rush on one play before setting up to counter move inside on the next rep. Anae plays with violent, calculated hand usage and is rarely beaten because he fails to initiate contact correctly or early enough in the down. 

That being said, if Anae wants to be anything more than a rotational player, he will need to overcome his lack of athleticism. Anae is neither particularly electric off the snap, nor does he show desirable bend in getting around the edge. That isn’t to say he is a slug off the line and cannot bend in any capacity, but as far as being a starting defensive end goes, it’s tough to envision Anae’s athletic profile working out unless he becomes the best at using his hands and strength to his advantage. 

And that isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibilities. Chandler Jones, though a higher caliber prospect at the time, is in a similar boat in that he isn’t a particularly fast or flexible athlete, but his long arms, overwhelming strength, and perfect technique make him a menace for offensive tackles to handle. He doesn’t have to be faster because he is almost always able to tip the scale in his favor through strength and technique. Anae is going to have to follow a similar path. 

 

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State

Kenny Willekes is likely a role player at the next level — and there is nothing wrong with that. While Willekes did increase his sack production in each of his three seasons as a starter at Michigan State, he did not show off the ability to get around the edge coveted pass-rushers should be able to. He can be a bit stiff when it comes time to turn and doesn’t always make good on his fiery first step. That being said, 1-on-1 drills in Mobile are sort of geared toward pass-rushers winning the rep, especially if they have a non-stop motor, which Willekes does. Though not the flashiest player, and really more of a run-defense specialist than anything, this could be the right environment for Willekes to improve his stock as a pass-rusher. 
 

 

DL

Larrell Murchison, North Carolina State

It took some time for Larrell Murchison to find his feet at the FBS level. After two years at the JUCO level, Murchison transferred to North Carolina State and spent his first season on campus redshirting. Murchison came to life after the redshirt, though, and started at defensive tackle for the following two seasons. Through some decent explosiveness and a high-energy play style, Murchison earned 11 sacks over his two seasons as a starter. Murchison is a tad light at 6-foot-3, 291-pounds and does not have the sheer speed to make it work at a high level, so he will likely be a Day 3 pick and depth player. 

 

Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

Whether or not 1-techs should be valuable highly in the draft is a separate discussion, but there isn’t much arguing that Neville Gallimore is one of, if not the, best 1-techs this class has to offer. 

At 6-foot-2, 302-pounds, Gallimore is a short and stout player who hunkers down over the middle. He may need to add a few pounds to play the position in the NFL, but considering he’s proven all the necessary skills to handle the position, there is no reason to believe needing to add a few pounds is going to hold Gallimore back. 

Though a 1-tech, Gallimore plays with ample quickness and explosiveness in working through blockers. He isn’t quite like some of the fiery 3-techs the league has to offer, but it’s not often that a 1-tech has the juice to be mistaken as a 3-tech. Those players are tough to find (though, for some reason, the New York Giants always have … all of them?).

Gallimore is a smart, savvy player, too. He plays with proper leverage when taking on blocks and does well to shuffle down the line of scrimmage for a man his size. If Gallimore gets into the right spot early (and he often does), he is not being moved out of it until he helps corral the ball carrier and end the play. 

 

Leki Fotu, Utah

Leki Fotu was supposed to be on this made up “starting” lineup, but he is no longer participating in the Senior Bowl. For whatever reason, Fotu failed his physical examination and was ruled out for the event, joining Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk and a handful of others. Fotu may be this class’ best 0- and 1-tech defensive tackle, so the fact that he can no longer show his skills in Mobile is a huge blow. Hopefully Fotu can rebound at the NFL Combine. 

 

Darrion Daniels, Nebraska

Darrion Daniels is one of (what feels like) a million Nebraska defensive linemen with NFL buzz this draft cycle. However, of the handful of Huskers hailing praise, Daniels is the only one to make the Senior Bowl. Daniels spent his first four years at Oklahoma State before spending his final year as a grad transfer with Nebraska. During his lone season at Nebraska, Daniels boasted some big boy strength and a red-hot motor that earned him 27 tackles from primarily a 1-tech position. Unfortunately, where run schemes are limited and team drills don’t mean a whole lot, a run defender like Daniels may not get much value from the Senior Bowl. 

 

Davon Hamilton, Ohio State

Davon Hamilton was a steady contributor for the Buckeyes front before taking a massive leap in 2019. After having never recorded more than 4.5 tackles for loss or a half-sack in any other season, Hamilton erupted for 11.5 tackles for loss and a stunning six sacks from his defensive tackle position. It’s not often a bulky 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle like Hamilton takes a leap as a senior to become a disruptor, but he did just that. Hamilton could still use some tuning up with respect to his technique, but he has all the baseline physical tools to stick around as a rotational player in the league for some time. 

South

EDGE

Marlon Davidson, Auburn

Calling Marlon Davidson an “edge” is a bit generous, but he’s not quite an interior defensive linemen, either. Davidson fits best into a 5-tech role that can flip-flop him around as a 3-tech and strong-side defensive end in base looks. His kind of size (6’3/278) and power can be put to good use if consistently put into favorable or creative matchups. Teams with multiple defenses such as Pittsburgh, New England, and wherever Wade Phillips lands could make use of a player like Davidson.

 

Jabari Zuniga, Florida

It’s a shame Jabari Zuniga never quite made good on his potential while at Florida. A 6-foot-4, 246-pound pass-rusher, Zuniga has all the size, bend, and power that NFL teams look for … but it’s only ever shown up in glimpses, never for an extended period of time. 

When it all comes together for Zuniga on a given rep, he looks unblockable. He rocks a lean, yet sturdy frame that allows him to be as quick as he is strong. Zuniga can get off the ball well and attack a tackle’s outside shoulder early. Though he is not an elite bender around the edge, Zuniga is plenty flexible and has proven himself capable of getting low to turn the corner. 

However, despite being a redshirt senior with years of starting experience, technique has yet to show up regularly in Zuniga’s game. Somewhat similar to Dante Fowler Jr. (who preceded Zuniga at Florida), there is no clear plan to many of Zuniga’s rushes. He attacks offensive linemen with the same stale approach every time and there is little counter to his game, meaning he is almost exclusively relying on his athletic ability. For truly elite athletes, that might be fine, but Zuniga isn’t quite that special. 

As such, Zuniga is going to be a bit of a project at the next level. Being both a project and a redshirt senior is a tad concerning, but it could be the case that all Zuniga really needs is concentrated NFL coaching to help improve his approach. Until Zuniga starts to attack each rep with a plan and be able to adjust that plan on the fly, he is going to be stuck as a depth player with more potential than production as a pro. 

 

Trevis Gipson, Tulsa

There may not be a single edge defender down in Mobile with more to prove than Trevis Gipson. Weighing in at 6-foot-4, 268-pounds, Gipson is a bit of a tweener size-wise and he plays like it. In Tulsa’s defense, Gipson fluctuates between 3-tech, 5-tech, and a standard defensive end alignment, often playing toward the wide side of the field. Gipson is not the bendiest player, which makes sense for someone who plays as much 3- and 5-tech as he does, and plays far too upright out of his stance. However, Gipson does sport ample strength to hold down the edge in run defense and not get washed out. Having just 13 career sacks, Gipson needs to show out at the Senior Bowl in order to be anything more than a late Day 3 flier. 

 

Darrell Taylor Jr., Tennessee

After three years of either redshirting or riding the bench, Darrell Taylor Jr. bloomed into a stud pass-rusher during his redshirt junior year in 2018. Taylor, a 6-foot-4 and 255-pound edge defender, turned in an eight-sack season in 2018 before notching another 8.5 sacks in 2019. He has played out of both a three-point stance and a stand-up two-point stance, proving comfortable with either technique. While Taylor is still a bit lacking in how he approaches each snap, he shows the necessary flexibility and get-off to be a valuable depth player in the NFL. 

 

Terrell Lewis, Alabama

Injuries put a damper on what could have been an excellent college career from Terrell Lewis. Though he played semi-regularly as a freshman in 2016, Lewis missed most of the 2017 season (only returning for the final three games) before missing all of the 2018 season with a knee injury. Lewis got to finally play a full year in 2019, but by then, injuries had taken a bit of a toll on his body and he didn’t quite seem like the fluid, explosive player he looked like in flashes over the previous few years. Hopefully with even more time removed from the knee injury, Lewis can get back into form. 

 

D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina

It’s tough to be the standout player on a defensive line that also features Javon Kinlaw. Regardless, D.J. Wonnum is a plenty impressive player in his own right. Wonnum is a four-year contributor and three-year starter for the Gamecocks, though that does include a 2018 season that was cut short with an injury. What’s troubling with Wonnum is that it’s difficult to identify a true trump card that he can lean on when he absolutely needs to win a rep. He isn’t the most explosive player, nor is he the savviest technician. Perhaps some of the NFL coaching Wonnum will get in Mobile can set him on the fast track to opening up his pass-rush arsenal. 

 

Jonathan Greenard, Florida

The new guy on campus in 2019, Jonathan Greenard quickly became a Florida Gators fan favorite. After spending most of his career at Louisville, partly under DC Todd Grantham, Greenard decided to follow Grantham to Florida to finish out his college career. He had a stellar 2019 campaign after having sat out in 2018. 

Greenard is a bulky end at 6-foot-3, 263 pounds, but he doesn’t let a few extra pounds slow him down from getting to the quarterback. His low, thick frame gives him a natural leverage advantage and he doesn’t waste time in packing a punch right into an offensive lineman’s chest in order to get where he needs to be. 

In Grantham’s defense, Greenard has had experience playing from a stand-up and a three-down technique, and it probably doesn’t matter which he ends up playing in the NFL. So long as Greenard is slotted as a strong-side end and can be used as a blunt-force weapon in the run game, whether he is standing up or not won’t matter a whole lot. 

That being said, alignment is worth exploring with regards to third downs (and other obvious passing downs). Greenard can kick inside and be a “sub-rusher” in defensive packages meant to feature a smaller, faster defensive line to get after the quarterback. 

While no comparison is 1:1, and it’s tough to compare any player to a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Greenard has a bit of Za’Darius Smith to his game. Smith was a mid-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens back in 2015. After a couple of years as a developmental and bench player there, Smith blossomed into a versatile force in Baltimore’s front before taking his talents to Green Bay and stepping up his game even further. For creative defensive coordinators, the versatility and flexibility those kinds of players bring along can be exceptionally valuable. 

 

DL

Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

If Javon Kinlaw wasn’t already going to be the darling of the Senior Bowl, he is now. Even before practices got going, Kinlaw pulled the media crowd with anecdotes from his early struggles during his JUCO days and constant reassurance of his drive to be the best — no matter what. No player “won” the media session more than the former Gamecock. 

Kinlaw’s drive to be the best isn’t just talk, either. His growth as a player is as clear as any prospect’s has ever been. After coming into the season heralded as a good-not-great, likely Day 2 prospect, Kinlaw’s stock absolutely skyrocketed over the course of the 2019 season. The first month of the year, in particular, was a major win for Kinlaw. 

In each of the first four games of the year, Kinlaw recorded a sack. Though he slowed down as the year went on, that was in part because teams felt compelled to keep his explosive ability at bay as much as possible. 

Kinlaw’s calling card is his ability to absolutely wreck a play in an instant. He can fly off the line of scrimmage, crush an offensive lineman’s lungs with his punch, and barrel right into the quarterback and/or running back, depending on what kind of play was called. Of course, those style of defensive tackles always get compared to Aaron Donald — and no, he isn’t Aaron Donald — but Kinlaw does seem to be one of the most explosive interior defensive linemen the NFL draft has seen in the past few years. 

Against even the best offensive lines in the country, Kinlaw can set off an explosion right in the quarterback’s lap a second after the snap. In both clips above, Kinlaw wins the snap the moment he drills his hands into his opponent’s chest, giving him the crease he needs to slip by their outside shoulders and get after the quarterback. 

To nobody’s surprise, Kinlaw dominated the first day of Senior Bowl practices in similar fashion. The first day of practices and drills are rather tame (the second day is where it’s at), it’s still a noteworthy accomplishment on his pre-draft resume. 

 

Benito Jones, Ole Miss

Benito Jones is a medieval fort who was plopped into the middle of Ole Miss’ defense. A massive 6-foot-1, 329-pounds, Jones is as rotund as they come and plays with all the strength you would expect him to. Of course, Jones is rather limited in his ability to move across the line of scrimmage, and his pass-rush ability is mostly restricted to pushing the pocket head-on. Plenty of teams will be looking for run stuffers on Day 3, though, and Jones fits the mold perfectly, either as a 1-tech in a standard 4-3 defense or as (a now rare) true 0-tech in a 3-4 defense. Jones started at Ole Miss for three and a half seasons. 

 

Raekwon Davis, Alabama

Surprise, surprise: Alabama has one of the best defensive line prospects in the class. Raekwon Davis is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-7, 312-pounds and plays with way more explosive ability than a player his size should have. Unfortunately, Davis — who should be on the “starting” DL for this exercise — pulled out of the Senior Bowl with an injury. Expect Davis to recover for the NFL Combine, crush it there, and regain the draft stock he lost from being unable to play in Mobile. 

 

Josiah Coatney, Ole Miss

After a JUCO stint to kick off his college career, Josiah Coatney found a home at Ole Miss for following four seasons. Coatney redshirted in 2016 before jumping into a full-time starting role for the rest of his Rebel career. Through his three seasons, Coatney only racked up 15.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, but he was a versatile piece for Ole Miss’ front, bouncing around between 0-, 1-, and 3-tech defensive tackle positions. Coatney is a good late-round or UDFA option for teams with multiple fronts. 

 

Robert Windsor Penn State

After a fantastic junior campaign with 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, Robert Windsor fell back to earth a bit as a senior. His production dropped across the board as he only notched two starts, though he did play a fair amount in every game. Windsor is on the lighter side for defensive tackles at 6-foot-4, 285-pounds and it shows up too often in his play with how regularly he gets washed out of rush lanes. The 1-on-1 environment of the Senior Bowl could be a good chance for Windsor to show out, though.

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