This year’s Senior Bowl was dominated by defensive players with at least ten different players raising their draft stock a round or two. Below is a recap of the players who made the biggest jump.
Stock up – Defense
DT Aaron Donald – Pittsburgh: Dominated individual and team drills all week. Donald was just too quick and powerful for almost all the o-lineman in 1-1 drills. He showed well in the game, blowing up a run play in the backfield and getting a hit on David Fales that led to an interception. There are still some concerns about his size (6’1, 290) but Donald almost assuredly moved into the back half of the first round with his performance last week.
DT Caraun Reid – Princeton: Disruptive in drills all week, Reid backed it up in the game with two sacks of Logan Thomas on back-to-back plays. He beat highly ranked guard Cyril Richardson on the first sack and then beat the other guard (Brandon Linder) for a sack on the next play with a different move. Reid’s production his senior year was down, but he was constantly double and triple teamed. When given a chance to work against just 1 blocker at the Senior bowl, he dominated. Reid could be a steal in the 3rd or 4th round.
DE Chris Smith – Arkansas: A little undersized for a 4-3 DE (6’1, 266), Smith showed off an explosive first step, good strength and solid pass rushing moves all week. He was in the backfield multiple times during the game and also showed good discipline against the run. Smith proved he can get to the QB despite his lack of size and probably locked up a 3rd round draft slot at the latest.
DE/OLB Dee Ford – Auburn: The MVP of the Senior Bowl game, Ford had 2 sacks, a pass deflection, and at least 4 or 5 QB hurries. He was in the backfield all day making life miserable for opposing QBs. The question with Ford is whether he is a 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. He looked much more comfortable with his hand on the ground and was so explosive that I wouldn’t be surprised if a 4-3 team takes a chance on him as a pass rush specialist. Ford’s explosion reminded me of Bruce Irvin who was a mid 1-st round pick for the Seahawks despite being undersized and a DE/OLB tweener. I’d be shocked if Ford makes it out of the 1st round.
OLB Christian Kirksey – Iowa: Was a bit of a no-name coming into Senior Bowl week, but not any longer as Kirsey was consistently impressive all week. Known as a good tackler due to his production at Iowa, Kirksey showed surprising pass rush and coverage skills and looked like a complete player at OLB. He went from a day 3 question mark to a solid day 2 pick. Huge week.
OLB Telvin Smith – Florida St: He’s built like a safety, but that didn’t stop him from making plays all over the field during the senior bowl game. He single-handedly stuffed two screen passes and an outside run with his great speed and solid tackling. Despite his excellent range, his best skill might be in coverage as he blanketed tight ends and running backs out of the backfield all week in drills and has the speed to match-up against slot receivers as well. There is talk of moving Smith to safety, but I can’t see why a team would mess with a good thing at OLB especially with the proliferation of passing offenses in the NFL. I think Smith locked up no worse than a 3rd round grade.