Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall: Curry is a very talented player but when I watched him I just didn’t see 1st round ability from him. He’s been very productive at Marshall and deserves to be at the Senior Bowl, I just don’t know that I buy him as a 1st round pick based on the film I’ve seen of him. I will be very interested to see how he does against this significant jump in competition.
Mike Martin, DT, Michigan: Martin is an all effort/all hustle defensive tackle that I like despite his lack of size. He’s going to be a rotational guy from day one in the NFL in my opinion and while he won’t wow people at the weigh-in I think he is going to make an impact at the next level.
Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State: I’m glad McClellin got an invite here because I like him as a defensive end. I don’t think he’s a 1st rounder but he’s definitely in the 2nd/3rd round range on my board right now and I haven’t done much film study on him yet. He’s got some edge speed and if he filled out his frame a little bit I think he could be a 4-3 left end and apply a pass rush from the position which is much harder to find that many realize. He can definitely help himself this week, so I’m looking forward to watching him.
Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington: Ta’amu had a TON of hype going into the bowl game against Baylor and then Baylor ran right up the middle all game and people started to hop off the bandwagon. Ta’amu didn’t impress me in that game at all obviously, but he didn’t get to be a legitimate NFL prospect because he played like that all season. He will make himself a lot of money this week if he shows he can stand up to double teams and that he has some burst off the line of scrimmage. But he will continue to drop if he gets washed out versus the run and shows no push as a pass rusher.
Billy Winn, DT, Boise State: Winn is a guy I have been high on since last year, he’s got impressive size and length based on the film I’ve seen of him and I really like his upside as a 4-3 DT or as a 3-4 defensive end. He’s got versatility and I think he’s going to end up going in the first two rounds, especially since this defensive tackle class isn’t exactly stacked.
Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati: Wolfe is an underrated player that doesn’t have huge upside but I think he has starting potential in the NFL. Brandon Holstein (@NFLDraftRoundUp on Twitter, follow him) pointed him out to me the first time months ago this season and when I got a chance to watch him I liked what I saw. Again, he’s not a stud defensive tackle but he is definitely draftable in the 3rd/4th round range in my opinion and I look forward to seeing what he can do this week.
Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Andre Branch was a player that I did not like at ALL when I watched him as a junior last season with Bowers opposite him, so I did not have high expectations for him as a senior at all. Most of his pressure on the quarterback came as a result of one on one’s and he didn’t show that he could use his hands at all and accomplished all his production thanks to his athleticism. But this year he flashed hand usage and the ability to use pass rush moves when I watched him. He has a TON to prove this week because if he has a good week he could be one of the biggest winners of the Senior Bowl thanks to his prototypical defensive end size and athleticism. Keep an eye out for Branch because he could make himself a ton of money this week.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Coples came into the season projected to be a top 5 pick and his stock has slowly slid ever since then. He didn’t live up to expectations as a defensive end this year and plenty of people are projecting him inside to defensive tackle. I have no doubt that he could bulk up to play defensive tackle, but I haven’t given up hope on him as a left end. I think people really underestimate how difficult it is to find a left defensive end that can play the run and rush the passer at a high level. Coples has that potential and I think that is what will keep him from sliding out of the top 20 or 25 ultimately. He has a lot to prove this week as well, and as a Tar Heel fan I will certainly be rooting for him.
Jaye Howard, DT, Florida: I am really happy that Howard is here. I remember watching him as a junior and thinking that he definitely had draftable ability and I believe he was on my list of potential break-out players this year. He definitely deserves to be here and he could open some eyes this week. He’s not the flashiest guy but he is reliable and should make some plays in the backfield this week.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: Ingram has a chance to make himself a lot of money this week as well. He’s got quality size for a defensive end and has really improved his stock over the course of the season when everyone (including me) thought Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney would be the talk of the defensive end position. I’m excited to see him live this week.
Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina: Powell is a player that I personally think is very overrated. He’s got a late round grade from me at this point and having seen a significant amount of film on him I’m not sure there’s a lot he can do this week to change my mind. His upside in the NFL is a 4-3 NT but he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and he doesn’t defend the run well either. His best bet is to land in a scheme that asks all of their defensive linemen to penetrate and make plays in the backfield, but he isn’t the athlete to consistently do that (it’s just what he likes to do, based on film). Powell could get exposed this week if he doesn’t play with better gap responsibility, and I have no reason to think he will based on the film I’ve watched.
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama: I’m very glad Upshaw is here and I’m sure a lot of other people are as well. He will likely be playing out of position at 4-3 DE all week, but he has enough ability to play with his hand down and succeed even if his best position is 3-4 OLB in my eyes. I’m excited to see him in person because he really impressed me when I watched him this year, especially in the National Championship.
Honestly, I’m not wowed with the linebackers here. Zach Brown (North Carolina) is the odds on favorite to be the first one drafted, but I’m not high on him and he looks like a better athlete than a linebacker when I watch him. He won’t be able to show his tackling ability this week so he could really impress people thanks to his athleticism and potential but he struggles with wrapping up and making quality tackles. One guy I do like is Nigel Bradham (Florida State). He’s not an elite prospect but I think he will be a NFL starter in a 4-3 defense. Another guy I am very high on is Keenean Robinson from Texas. He’s got great instincts and may be my odds on favorite to boost his stock as much as any other linebacker in Mobile this week. Look out for him, he is an absolute player.
This defensive back group took a hit when Mark Barron (Alabama) announced that he would not be here this week, but it makes sense that he elected to skip it because his stock can really only go down at this point. I’m very excited to see Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt) who I have been talking up for well over a year at corner, Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama, formerly of Florida), Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska), Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) and Leonard Johnson (Iowa State). Jenkins was a corner I was very high on when he was at Florida, so it will be fun to see him in person despite the troubles he has this past year. Jamell Fleming and Hayward were both on my potential break-out players list that I posted before the season this year, so I am very excited to see both of them live. I really like both of them in coverage even though they may not have prototypical size (Hayward may be 5’9” or 5’10”) and speed. They’re good cover corners and that should show this week.