Senior Bowl Review: Defensive line

January 30, 2017

The operative word for the defensive linemen at the 2017 Senior Bowl game was potential. Certainly, there was no one on the DL in Saturday’s game that came anywhere near close to the kind of dominating performances turned out by guys like Aaron Donald and Ziggy Ansah in recent years.

Perhaps the most intriguing defensive line prospect, particularly at DE, at the Senior Bowl was Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, if for no other reason than he’s one of the few full-sized edge rushers projected to run under 4.70 seconds in the 40 at next month’s scouting combine. Willis certainly showed plenty of quickness and athleticism in the actual Senior Bowl game as he posted a couple of sacks as well as a couple of forced fumbles. Willis showed a long, explosive first step and the ability to accelerate around the corner. At the same, though, Willis still looked like something of a one-trick pony as he took the great circle route to the QB on just about every rush. In that sense he really reminded us of former Giants’ DE Osi Umenyiora who managed to make a pretty good living off his wide-rush ability. What scouts didn’t see was the ability to lower his pads, get leverage and flatten out to the QB. Willis also didn’t show much in the way of counter moves or the ability to work his way to the QB when his initial move was stymied. Willis also was barely a factor in run defense as he struggled to anchor at the point of attack, but you can’t teach speed so a lot of teams will be trying to figure over the next few weeks whether Willis has the potential to develop an effective arsenal of pass-rush moves.

Meanwhile, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon, who had a sack and forced fumble in the Senior Bowl game, was also able to build on a good week practice, although like KSU’s Willis he left a few question on the board. At 6-6, 280, Kpassagnon isn’t likely going to run around anybody, but he is a long strider who covers a lot of ground once he gets going. Kpassagnon was also effective using his long arms to keep the opposing OT off-balance and showed the agility to plant and change direction. The word out of Mobile, though, was that Kpassagnon still needs to add some upper body strength to really become consistently effective.

At the same time, underrated Keionta Davis quietly had a strong game – he had 6 tackles including a sack and another ½ tackle for loss on the day – after quietly putting together a strong weak of practices. Davis looks a little bit like a whirling dervish out there; he’s got a quick first step and is tough to block because he’s always seems to be bobbing and weaving on his way to the pocket. On the other hand, Ohio DE Tarell Basham had a something of a quiet game with just a half tackle to show for his efforts on Saturday, although he also didn’t appear to actually get all that many snaps. Basham, the MAC’s defensive player of the year this past season when he had 11.5 sacks, did show a decent first step and the ability to dip his shoulder and flatten out the QB, but wasn’t able to consistently shed those blocks.

It was tougher to get a read on the DTs in the Senior Bowl game. Notre Dame’s Ike Rochell did build on his strong week of practice as he showed a punishing initial punch, as well as well-developed swim move that got him several pressures. Same for UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes who demonstrated a quick, compact first step and the ability to jump into gaps, maintain leverage and get upfield. The Michigan duo of Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow also flashed at times, but neither was as disruptive as they had been in practice.

Meanwhile, Auburn’s Montravius Adams was very active posting 6 tackles as he did a nice job gumming up the point of attack, as well as sliding easily up and down the line of scrimmage, but he didn’t get much upfield penetration. In fact, there were several Senior Bowl DTs, including Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson, Clemson’s Carlos Watkins, Chralotte’s Larry Ogunjobi and USC’s Stevie ‘T’ Tu’ikolovatu did a pretty job holding the point of attack, but struggled at times to get upfield.