Senior Bowl week is underway as NFL Draft prospects weigh in and measure up. Then begins a few days of practice where NFL staffs get a close look at how they fare in a more neutral playing environment. The rosters are loaded this year, so here are some defensive players to keep an eye on.
Keeanu Benton, Defensive Line, Wisconsin: Keeanu Benton figures to be a fast riser this draft season. The Badger defender anchored Wisconsin’s defensive line and is one of the best pure nose tackles in the country. As NFL teams shift to bigger interior defenders, Benton could establish himself as a premium player in this class.
Jalen Redmond, Defensive Line, Oklahoma: Jalen Redmon will surprise people this week. He is a big, physical player who had an under the radar year. After Nik Bonitto and Perrion Winfrey were high draft picks last year, Redmond had to hold it down all by himself in Oklahoma. This week, he will show out.
Zacch Pickens, Defensive Line, South Carolina: Zacch Pickens was a solid, physical player on the Gamecocks defense. He played well against SEC competition and figures to have a strong week.
KJ Henry, Edge, Clemson: KJ Henry was a bit of an unsung presence on a loaded Clemson defensive line. Henry is not the biggest or the fastest, but is a high motor player who can set the edge against the run. He is a truly solid player.
Isaiah Foskey, Edge, Notre Dame: Foskey is one of the first round hopefuls at the Senior Bowl. He is a highly athletic and productive pass rusher who can bend the edge and power through blockers on his way to the passer.
Lonnie Phelps, Edge, Kansas: Kansas enjoyed a relatively successful year, surprising many with solid play on both sides of the ball. Lonnie Phelps led their defense as a physical, athletic presence rushing the passer.
Andre Carter II, Edge, Army: Andre Carter II is another likely first round pick playing in Mobile this week. He has prototypical size, with long arms and great burst off the edge. He is a pro-ready pass rusher with room to grow defending the run.
Will McDonald IV, Edge, Iowa State: Will McDonald has been a playmaker at Iowa State for years now. He is a quick twitch, high effort player who makes up for a lack of size with blazing speed. His fit in the NFL is unclear, but it’s hard not to see teams falling in love with him this week.
Dee Winters, Linebacker, TCU: Dee Winters has become a favorite of mine over the last few weeks. A bit smaller at linebacker, Winters makes up for it with flashy speed and a physical playing style. He is unafraid of attacking the line of scrimmage as a blitzer and run defender. TCU used his speed well and it will be interesting to see how coaches use him in Mobile.
Christopher Smith II, Safety, Georgia: On a star-studded defense, Christopher Smith was a steady playmaker in the Georgia secondary. His instincts, range and physicality allowed Georgia to move him around the secondary and he’d thrive in whichever alignment. Not a flashy player, but a dependable and smart defender.
JL Skinner, Safety, Boise State: JL Skinner figures to benefit from Senior Bowl week. He is built like a linebacker at 6’4” and 220 pounds, playing like one too. He is not the best athlete in space, but he has great instincts and an aggressive playing style that defensive coaches will love.