Senior Bowl weigh-ins and practices are getting underway today in Mobile, Alabama, as the two squads of NFL Draft-eligible prospects begin their preparations for Saturday's game. On Monday, we broke down some key players to watch on both teams' offenses, and today we continue with a look at some of the top prospects and intriguing players on the defensive side of the ball.
Athleticism is running rampant here, with players all over the defense possessing exciting physical attributes. The key for the scouts, as always, will be identifying if those abilities can be harnessed into productive skills. Here's our look at the defenses.
Also, keep an eye on weigh-ins here as Tuesday goes along, as the numbers listed are what is provided by teams to the Senior Bowl itself.
The North team is stacked with talented prospects up front. There is one true nose tackle here, Penn State's Austin Johnson (6'4", 325), who recorded 6.5 sacks this year. Possible 3-4 ends who could go on days one or two of the draft include Vernon Butler (6'3", 309) of Louisiana Tech, Adolphus Washington (6'4", 290) from Ohio State, and Temple's Matt Ioannidis (6'4", 292). Each of those three players had at least three sacks this year, and could be a fit at the five-technique spot on the Packers' line.
On the other side, the South has more of a tall, lanky build of lineman, some of whom may shift outside to linebacker (more on that in a bit). However, Alabama's Jarran Reed (6'4", 313) is the big name as the anchor of the Crimson Tide's run defense, and is a possible first-rounder. The same goes for Sheldon Rankins (6'2", 303) of Louisville, who is more of a penetrator and pass-rusher. Baylor's Shawn Oakman (6'9", 275) is just a big, big man. Oakman remains raw and in need of coaching and development, but he has a remarkable frame and great athleticism.
For the North, it's another loaded group, mainly from the Big Ten. Joshua Perry (6'4", 254) from Ohio State, Joe Schobert (6'2", 236) of Wisconsin, and Carl Nassib (6'7", 272) from Penn State. Nassib and Schobert exploded in 2015 with huge senior years, with each earning the Big Ten's honor for the top players at their positions (Nassib on the defensive line, Schobert at linebacker). Schobert might be a better candidate for a 4-3 defense or to move to a 3-4 inside position. Nassib's size makes him a fit in either system as an end or rush linebacker. Perry played in a 4-3, but has great size and speed and has plenty of pass-rush experience, which should make him effective as a 3-4 outside linebacker as well.
The South group is led by Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence (6'3", 261), a transfer from Ohio State. Though listed at defensive end, Spence is an ideal candidate for a move to 3-4 outside linebacker. He was suspended for drug use (and for lying about it) in 2014 and kicked off the Buckeyes, but has vowed that those issues are behind him. If that is indeed true, he could be a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Georgia's Jordan Jenkins (6'3", 257) is also a solid prospect who recorded 19 sacks and 39 tackles for loss in four years.
For the North, Temple's Tyler Matakevich (6'1", 232) was a tackling machine, with over 100 total tackles in four straight seasons. Stanford's Blake Martinez (6'2", 245) racked up 138 tackles and two sacks of his own this season, while Utah's Jared Norris (6'2", 240) is a thumper who moved inside as a senior, in from a pass-rushing role on the outside.
The star linebacker in Mobile this week is Alabama's Reggie Ragland (6'2", 252), who is a big, physical player. The All-American should be put to the test in pass coverage during practices this week, however, as that is the biggest question mark in his game. Missouri's Kentrell Brothers (6'1", 235) led the FBS in tackles with 152 and blocked three kicks on special teams as well. Also worth mentioning is Florida's Antonio Morrison (6'1", 230), who racked up nearly 200 tackles in two years as a full-time starter.
The Packers have not shied away from smaller-school players, and Northern Iowa's Deiondre' Hall (6'2", 190) might be a nice fit. A lanky corner, he may need to add some bulk, but he had a very productive career (13 interceptions) and earned the Missouri Valley Conference's Defensive Player of the Year award. Eric Murray (6'0", 199) from Minnesota could also be an interesting player - the three-year starter could bring special teams experience as well, and blocked a pair of punts as a junior.
For the South, Jalen Mills (6'1", 194) from LSU has a nice size profile, and has started at both safety and corner in his career. There's another tall FCS player here, James Bradberry (6'1", 213) from Samford, who picked off two passes in each of his four years as a starter.
The safety group in general appears to be fairly strong in Mobile this year, and there are a few hybrid safeties who will draw some interest for their versatility. Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew (6'3", 230), for example, is an excellent athlete but a man without a sure position (note: he measured in Tuesday at 6' 1-3/4" and 219 pounds). His size suggests that he could eventually transition to inside linebacker full-time, but he could also play as a hybrid safety/coverage linebacker if put in a defense with a creative coordinator.
Ohio State's Tyvis Powell (6'3", 210) declared as a redshirt junior and has a knack for making big plays in big games - he was named defensive MVP in the Buckeyes' National Championship game win a year ago and picked off a two-point conversion in 2013 to seal a win at Michigan. Perhaps the best prospect for the North team, though, is Darian Thompson (6'2", 212) from Boise State. He picked off a Mountain West-record 19 passes in his career, including five as a senior.
The South squad features Jeremy Cash (6'2", 210) from Duke, an All-American who started for three years after transferring from Ohio State. He recorded 100 or more tackles in each of those three years, and added a whopping 18 tackles for loss as a senior. Cash played in a 4-2-5 defensive system at the hybrid safety/linebacker spot, which gave him plenty of opportunities to do everything - cover, rush the passer, and support the run defense. Keep an eye on William & Mary's DeAndre Houston-Carson (6'2", 195) and Maryland's Sean Davis (6'1", 202) as other free safety options.