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2024 NFL Draft Senior Bowl Primer: Defense (Fantasy Football)

2024 NFL Draft Senior Bowl Primer: Defense (Fantasy Football)

It’s great to be back in Mobile, Alabama for another chance to cover the Senior Bowl. One of my favorite events to cover, I always look forward to getting back down here to see the next wave of talent entering the NFL. Looking at this year’s class, it feels like it could be a good draft. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of talent here in Mobile and some of the names that are on these rosters could very well end up going in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Here’s an in-depth preview of the defensive talent we’ll see this year for the 2024 Senior Bowl!

For my coverage on the Senior Bowl this year, you can follow along on Twitter/X: @RussNFLDraft

2024 Senior Bowl Preview

2024 Senior Bowl Edge Rusher Preview

Most to Prove: Laiatu Latu (UCLA)

There’s a chance that Latu is the best player in Mobile this year. The 6-foot-5 and 265 pound edge rusher put together back-to-back seasons with double digit sack totals for the Bruins. Last season, Latu had 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2022 and increased that total quite a bit in 2023 with 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. His total of 21.5 tackles for loss is the most by any player in the country and it’s the highest by a UCLA Bruin since Anthony Barr did the same in 2012.

Already labeled as a first round pick, there’s potential for Latu to be the first edge rusher selected in the 2024 NFL Draft. Much of that is due to the draft not having a clear-cut favorite at the position but there’s also a lot to like when watching Latu play.

As a pass-rusher his explosiveness immediately stands out. In addition to that, he actively rushes the passer with his hands and fluid hips. He has an impressive spin move that allows him to penetrate the pocket consistently. When he matches up with offensive lineman in the 1-on-1 portions of practice, he’ll need to show that his ability to translate speed-to-power is consistent.

There won’t be many questions surrounding his frame and athletic ability but there will be questions on the neck injury that forced him to step away from football in 2020 and 2021. After transferring from Washington, he’s shown that he is healthy and that when he is healthy, he’s one of the best pass rushers in the class this year. The big question will be if he can remain healthy in the NFL. Teams might hesitate due to medicals but with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, that could give other teams the reassurance to select him in the top-10 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Most to Gain: Chris Braswell (Alabama)

There will be no secret that I will be higher on Chris Braswell than most. While his teammate Dallas Turner is far more explosive and athletic, there’s much to be desired when watching Braswell play for the Crimson Tide. Especially after having a career year in 2023 with 42 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Braswell plays with a good combination of power and speed. His motor and overall effort really helps him stand out on tape and it wouldn’t be surprising if that carries over to a strong performance in Mobile. As a pass-rusher, Braswell loves to use a long-arm technique to get to the quarterback but his ability to counter is also impressive. When countering, you’ll find him using a quick arm over move or he’ll utilize an inside rip move to beat the opposition.

In Mobile, he’ll need to show faster hand usage and teams will most certainly want to see more fluidity within his lower half. If he shows improvements there, I’d have to think we could hear his name called in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Playing with a bulldozer mentality, there’s much to be desired when watching Braswell on tape. Seeing how he performs and responds on the field of battle will be important as he tries to climb up draft boards.

Mystery Man: Austin Booker (Kansas)

I’m still in the early stages of breaking down the tape of Austin Booker from Kansas. That said, if you put on his performance against Texas, you can see the potential. Last season, Booker earned an 82.2 PFF grade with 56 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

Right now, he’s a big mystery due to the fact that he hasn’t played a lot of football. Prior to transferring to Kansas, the 6-foot-6 and 245 pound edge rusher was at Minnesota. After not playing in 2021 and only playing 6 games in 2022, he moved onto the Jayhawks. During the 2022 season, he did have an undisclosed injury but after this season, it’s safe to say that he’s healthy and has a lot of potential.

Through the Texas game, you can see that Booker has a great first step and his length immediately stands out. He’ll need to get stronger as he’s easily displaced in the run game but with time, there’s potential for him to get stronger and develop a more consistent pass rush. Early in his career, I could see him being a rotational player with his primary focus being a pass-rusher on 3rd downs. If he’s able to stand out and separate himself some from the pack, he should easily hear his name called during the 2024 NFL Draft.

2024 Senior Bowl Defensive Lineman Preview

Most to Prove: Byron Murphy II (Texas)

Entering the Senior Bowl as one of the top prospects, there’s going to be plenty of pressure on Murphy to shine. As of late, there’s been a lot of buzz circulating that Murphy could end up being a top-15 pick in this year’s draft. Meanwhile, there’s potential for him to be the top defensive tackle selected. Much of that will depend on his showing in Mobile.

He enters the draft process listed at 6-foot-1 and 308 pounds while having played 39 games with 16 starts in his career. When you put on the film, Murphy immediately stands out. Much of that is due to his explosiveness and the fluidity within his lower half. During the draft process, there’s always a handful of players that standout right away and Murphy is one of those players.

He penetrates backfields consistently due to his violent hands, burst and flexible lower half. Playing with plenty of juice, Murphy pops off the tape on just about every play. He does a good job splitting double teams and has shown consistently that he can defeat reach blocks due to his quickness and strength. Look for him to have one of the best performances of the week and when it’s all said and done, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a lock in the first round for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Most to Gain: T’Vondre Sweat (Texas)

There’s plenty of attention towards T’Vondre Sweat‘s teammate, Bryon Murphy. Rightfully so, he’s very talented as I mentioned previously. That said, Sweat is no slouch and could make himself some money this weekend. Whenever you watch the Longhorns defense, Sweat immediately stands out with his 6-foot-4 and 362 pound frame.

Putting on the tape, you can see Sweat bullying his way into the backfield just due to his power and size. But there’s some impressive lateral movement from him to defeat reach blocks and he does flash a good push-pull move and effective swim move. Additionally, he’s shown the desired versatility to play anywhere on the interior.

Teams will love the experience that Sweat provides as he’s played in 62 career games with 18 career starts. There may be some concerns about his playing weight and if it causes any issues with his conditioning or chances of becoming a three-down player for an NFL defense. That said, he was a two-sport athlete in high school by playing football and basketball. In basketball, he had averaged 14.3 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game and 2.4 blocks per game.

Sweat will bring his talent to the Senior Bowl this week and it wouldn’t be surprising if there are times that he’s unblockable. Whether he’s facing an offensive lineman 1-on-1 or getting double teamed, he can always find ways to penetrate the backfield. One key thing that Sweat will need to prove is that he can be more than just an early down defender while in Mobile. If he does, there’s potential for him to get locked in as a top-40 pick or potentially a first rounder in this year’s draft.

Mystery Man: Darius Robinson (Missouri)

No question about it, there’s quite a few different players that could be talked about here but I’m going to go with a player from my hometown of Canton, Michigan. When watching Darius Robinson, you can see a yoked up defender that has the desired frame to play anywhere on the defensive line at 6-foot-5 and 296 pounds.

After this week, it wouldn’t be surprising if Robinson ends up pulling Karl Brooks comparisons from Bowling Green last year. That said, Robinson will need to show that he can win off-the-edge during the 1-on-1 portions of practice this week. In the Missouri defense, he played head up on guards and tackles due to the Tigers having a 3-3-5 stack defense.

His versatility will intrigue teams but they’ll definitely want to see him come to the table with a consistent pass-rush plan and some type of counter as a pass-rusher. His arm length and ability to turn speed-to-power should help him tremendously this week at the Senior Bowl. Even though he’s a little rough around the edges, there’s a lot of potential with Robinson and teams should see that. After all, he didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. Keep tabs on Robinson as he’ll probably play with both the interior defensive lineman and edge rushers this week.

2024 Senior Bowl Linebacker Preview

Most to Prove: Payton Wilson (North Carolina State)

Age and injuries may hurt Payton Wilson‘s draft stock overall but teams will get up close and personal with him this week. When you put on the tape, there’s a lot to love, not just like. Wilson is a high-energy and high-effort player that just gets after it on the field. His motor is relentless and he’s always around the football. During his career, he finished with 13 pass deflections and seven interceptions.

While he’s dealt with a knee and shoulder injury in college, Wilson has shown this season what he can do when fully healthy. Teams are going to love his versatility and it’ll be interesting to see what he ends up playing in the NFL. In the Wolfpack defense, he played off-the-ball, covered the slot and even aligned as an edge rusher.

His versatility will certainly be a difference maker for teams evaluating him but it wouldn’t be surprising if teams like his ability off-the-edge more than anything. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Wilson posted 100+ tackles twice in his career and he finished his career with 48 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. Look for Wilson to show this week in Mobile that he’s healthy and can do anything asked of him for an NFL defense.

Most to Gain: Jaden (JD) Bertrand (Notre Dame)

If you’re looking for an old-school type of linebacker then look no further. Consistent in stopping the run, Bertrand is a force in the tackle box. At 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, he’s got good range and shows the ability to chase down ball carriers.

Over the last three seasons, Bertrand has put up consistent numbers with over 70+ tackles in each season. Meanwhile, he took a slight step forward with competing at the catch point this year by recording five pass deflections. There could be some limitations with his overall athletic profile and he may get beat up the seams or against more fluid route runners.

But he does have three-down ability at the next level. It wouldn’t be surprising if teams found his play style comparable to Alex Anzalone. For now, Bertrand looks like a borderline day two pick but with a strong showing in Mobile, he could solidify that status.

Mystery Man: Cedric Gray (North Carolina)

There’s a couple of wildcards in this group. Much of it will depend on which linebackers can and cannot cover and operate consistently in space. One of those players could be Cedric Gray from North Carolina. He’s got a good muscular frame at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds and the speed necessary to go sideline-to-sideline.

His man coverage skills are hindered due to how he hesitates when pass-catchers are breaking their routes. That said, he has shown good awareness when dropping into zone coverage and he could end up becoming a good hook/curl defender.

The run game is where Gray seems to thrive. He puts himself in a good position to take on blocks and make tackles. Additionally, he does a good job working his hands when taking on those blocks. Much of that is why he recorded over 120 tackles this past season. As teams look for help on day two and day three of the draft at linebacker, it’ll be interesting to see if Gray can solidify himself as a top-75 pick for teams.

2024 Senior Bowl Cornerback Preview

Most to Prove: Quinyon Mitchell (Toledo)

Already getting first round buzz, there’s a lot on the line for Quinyon Mitchell out of Toledo. Much of his buzz is warranted and he’ll have a chance this week to prove that it’s no fluke. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, Mitchell has shown on tape that he’s explosive and has the arm length needed to lockup receivers.

Whether he’s playing in man or zone coverage, he always seems to be around the football. After all, he’s posted 44 pass deflections and six interceptions over the last two seasons. Reading routes as well as any cornerback in Mobile, he’s got the chance that he does it better than anyone. Additionally, how he competes at the catch point should help him win teams over. Look for Mitchell to have plenty of eyes on him this week in Mobile.

Most to Gain: Mike Sainristil (Michigan)

Love him or hate him, Sainristil is an absolute dawg. He’s got big playmaking ability and he shows that he’s dynamite in a small package whenever he gets the chance. Some teams may label him as a nickel corner and others will say he’s got the chance to play outside. All of that will be talked about heavily this week as he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds.

On tape, he’s a physical playmaker with good closing speed and is always around the football. Sainristil reads the quarterback pretty well and has shown the ball skills needed to succeed at the next level. During the 1-on-1 portions of practice, it’ll be important for Sainristil to show the fluidity to transition but if he can lock pass-catchers up on the outside, it should do wonders for him the 2024 NFL Draft.

Mystery Man: Johnny Dixon (Penn State)

It wouldn’t be surprising if Johnny Dixon walks out of Mobile making himself a lot of money. At 6-foot and 196 pounds, he’s got the frame needed to play outside. To assist him against receivers, Dixon has long arms and is able to jam and redirect receivers at the line-of-scrimmage.

Over the last two seasons, he’s been in the shadows of his teammate Kalen King but there’s a chance for Dixon to outshine him this week. With three interceptions and 13 pass deflections over the last two years, there’s a good amount of production from him.

While his physical play stands out, it can get him in trouble from time-to-time. He’ll need to show that he can clean that up while having the hip fluidity needed to turn and run with receivers consistently. Right now, he’s a bit of a long shot to be a day two pick but he could solidify that status with a strong showing this week.

2024 Senior Bowl Safety Preview

Most to Prove: Kamren Kinchens (Miami FL)

Depending on who you talk with, there’s a strong chance that Kinchens is the best safety in the 2024 NFL Draft. He’s rock solid at 6-foot and 205 pounds with the range needed to be trusted in the defensive backfield. This past season, he posted 59 tackles with five pass deflections and an interception.

When watching him on tape, Kinchens plays with good body control when attacking the ball and making tackles. He’s fluid and reacts quickly to the ball when it’s in the air. There are times that he plays high and it slows him down in his backpedal or when opening his hips but overall, he recovers well and competes at the catch point.

Over the last three years, he’s started 27 games and looks destined to be an NFL starter. Teams could look to use him in a variety of ways such as a single-high defender or they could give him two-high responsibilities. But it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up becoming more of a buzz defender due to his ability to attack downhill.

Most to Gain: Javon Bullard (Georgia)

One of the more underrated defensive backs at the Senior Bowl is Javon Bullard of Georgia. He’s a 22 game starter that stands 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. He appears to be a very good athlete on tape and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up having some of the top speed metrics in Mobile.

Watching him play as a single-high safety, you can see the speed and the range that helps him get to the football. He locates the ball well and tracks it like a centerfielder. Moving his feet quickly, he can change direction or close passing windows on receivers. He’ll need to become more consistent there but it flashes on tape. Meanwhile, he’ll need to become more consistent when tackling as he missed 7 tackles this season (per PFF).

Mystery Man: Cole Bishop (Utah)

If you’re looking for a versatile defensive back that can play in multiple spots in the secondary, then Cole Bishop could be your guy. He’s played over 1700 snaps (per PFF) over the last three seasons and it hasn’t been primarily in one spot. Whether it be the slot, the box, as a deep safety or even as a cornerback on the outside, Bishop has done it for the Utes. He enters the Senior Bowl at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with 29 career starts.

When watching his film, his versatility stands out right away. In addition to that, he reads and reacts very well. He’s physical and has the desired athletic ability to chase down ballcarriers. His form tackling is one of his biggest concerns. Over the last two seasons, he’s missed a total of 26 tackles. He’ll need to improve there if he wants a shot at being an every down starter. This week will be crucial for him as it’s a good safety group down here in Mobile. He’ll need to show that he’s made some improvements from his career at Utah but most importantly, he’ll need to show that a team can build off his strengths as a player.

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