Senior Bowl Preview: The Defense

In similar fashion to the way prospects from the offensive side of the ball improved their draft stock at past Senior Bowls, so have the defensive players. Several invitees descend upon Mobile after tremendous senior campaigns and hope to keep climbing up draft boards. Others have a chance to redeem themselves.

No senior in the nation improved his draft stock last season more than Tamba Hali of Penn State. Named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Hali led the conference in both sacks and tackles for loss. A high motor player with a great array of skill, his '05 season helped move him into the first round. A good '06 Senior Bowl week could send Hali into the draft's first dozen selections.

Another sack specialist who'll look to impress scout in Mobile is Bronco Nagurski Award winner Elvis Dumerville. The nations leader in sacks and tackles for loss totaled 23 and 20 respectively last season. A defender with the ability to be a disruptive force such as Dumerville usually has an early spot in round one saved for him. Yet measuring under 6-feet tall and weighing less than 260-pounds, scouts doubt whether the Louisville sack artist will be able to consistently line-up in a three point stance at the next level, as he did in college. Senior Bowl week is critical for Dumerville who will most assuredly be used at several linebacker spots starting Monday. He's already shown to be a forceful defender up the field but Dumerville must prove the ability to make plays in reverse to be a first day pick.

The story is similar for Daryl Tapp. Virginia Tech's all-American defensive end led the team with ten sacks last season. Yet Tapp's measurables (6'1"/260-pounds) are not much different from Dumerville's. Likewise Tapp must show the ability to handle the linebacker position or play in space to enhance his draft stock.

Last year Mathias Kiwanuka stunned many by deciding to forego NFL riches for another year on the college field. Entering the season as one of the nation's top prospects, the Boston College defensive end suffered through a campaign filled with injuries and expectations not met. As a result Kiwanuka has watched his stock slip. Previously considered a potential top six selection in the draft, the explosive prospect is struggling to stay in the draft's initial ten choices and can right the ship next week.

One of the more interesting stories to watch next week is Kiwanuka's college teammate, Will Blackmon. As a junior and sophomore Blackmon was considered one of the nation's top cornerbacks. A glaring need for wide receivers at Boston College forced Blackmon to the offensive side of the ball, where he responded by leading the team in receptions and receiving yards last year.

With the cornerback position being a high priority for NFL teams in April's draft, Blackmon will be moved back to the defensive side of the ball during Senior Bowl week. A good performance will put him into the draft's top 45-choices.

The Miami Hurricanes have a reputation of placing terrific defensive linemen into the NFL. Orien Harris was supposed to be the next in line. And while he flashed dominance throughout his college career, Harris was never the consistent force scouts thought possible. Players on the defensive line have a history of jumping up draft boards with good showings in Mobile. Harris hopes his week at the Senior Bowl will make NFL-scouts forget about recent disappointments.

Less than a day before our coverage of Senior Bowl week begins. Starting Sunday we'll bring you all the news as NFL scouts, coaches and general managers, as well as Senior Bowl players, begin to arrive in Mobile. Expect several reports tomorrow evening followed quickly by the results of Monday mornings weigh-ins.

 

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