The next edition of the combine series will turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball. We’ll start with the big men up front, the defensive linemen. First, we’ll focus on the Edge rushers, and then we’ll analyze the interior defensive linemen.
The Bednarik award finalist left a lasting impression at the combine. Montez Sweat, a redshirt senior from Mississippi State, opened the eyes of scouts after running a 4.41 40 yard dash. The time recorded for Sweat was a scouting combine record for defensive linemen. “Tez” finished his remarkable season with the honor of 2nd team AP All-American. He finished with 11.5 sacks bringing his career total to 22.5 sacks in 2 years at Mississippi State University. Sweat plays with a high motor, has exceptional lateral movement, and excels in change of direction. He displays good length and tends to use it very well.
The one negative on the surface coming out of the combine was the report of his physical testing. It was noted that he was suffering from a pre-existing heart condition. According to his agent, Sweat has played with this condition and doesn’t seem to affect his on the field play. They’ve classified the heart condition as low risk, and shouldn’t be a reason for concern regarding the player. Montez Sweat has a solid game tape with some very good qualities in an edge rusher. Match that tape with his combine results, and we should hear “Tez” chants from Starkville, MS early on during draft day.
The brother of current NFL player Joey Bosa is aiming to enter the league and make an impact! Nick Bosa dispelled any injury rumors at the combine by performing extremely well. He suffered a core muscle injury in September and decided to withdraw from Ohio State University to focus on preparing for the draft. He didn’t disappoint! Bosa ran a 40 yard dash time of 4.79. While you may think that it’s an average time, we need to look at the splits. The 10 yard split time of 1.60 is very impressive. With linemen, the first 10 yards is a lot more important than the final 30. Bosa displayed some remarkable upper body strength during the bench press. He finished with 29 reps at 225lbs which was the best among edge defenders at the combine.
In what was a very limited sample, Bosa performed very well, perhaps on a Heisman nominating pace, before his injury ended his season. He finished 2018 with 14 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, and 4 sacks in just 3 games. Bosa definitely has the tools to succeed in the NFL. He plans to keep the Bosa family 1st round streak going, as both his older brother and father were selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Nick Bosa should have no problem following in their footsteps and is very likely to be a top 5 lock in Thursday’s draft.
Who is the one defensive lineman that opened the most eyes at the combine? His name is Ben Banogu! He’s a 6’3 250lb edge rusher from Texas Christian University. Banogu came into the combine and finished in the top 10 in every recorded category. Now, he owns the Scouting combine record for longest broad jump. While he impressed statistically at the combine, his game tape suggests some areas that need improvement. Multiple scouts have suggested that his current pass rush technique won’t be successful at the next level. He needs to be more creative in his technique, and hand placement needs improvement. However, Banogu finished 8th in quarterback pressures nationally. Banogu has the athleticism and quickness to succeed in the NFL. With some good coaching and hard work from Ben, the edge rushing project could turn into a draft day steal!
The definition of a player displaying a high motor on the football field can be found in Chase Winovich’s game tape. He never takes a play off and gives 150% effort until the final whistle. He takes great pride in his effort and aims to go the extra mile to be successful. Let’s go to his pro day for an example. Winovich was scheduled to participate in defensive line drills for about 15 minutes.
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There have been rumblings about him as a linebacker at the next level. What does he do for the scouts? He stays on the field for an extra 15 minutes and goes through linebacker drills. The versatility of players at the next level can be beneficial to increasing their stock. Winovich, a 3rd team AP All American in 2018, exhibits an excellent first step and plays a very physical game of football. The unfavorable aspects of Winovich’s tape are that he lacks some length and flexibility needed to succeed on the edge. Chase Winovich would be an outstanding addition to any team willing to draft him. Look to hear the name Chase Winovich on day 2 of the draft.
Christian Wilkins leaves Clemson University with quite the resume. He’s a 2-time national champion, 1st team AP All American, and the recipient of 2 time All ACC honors. If you thought that was enough for on-field accolades, he succeeds off the field as well. In 2018, he was the recipient of the prestigious William V. Campbell trophy. This honor is given to the collegiate athlete who excels in 3 areas: Academics, community service, and on-field play. Past winners of this accolade include Peyton Manning and Alex Mack.
Wilkins played tremendously over his collegiate career. He was a freshman All American, and averaged 55 tackles, with 4.5 sacks over his final 3 years at Clemson. Wilkins displays strong character, a natural leader, and exhibits elite quickness on the field for a guy of his size. He tends to disappear at times on the field and has trouble dealing with double teams. Nonetheless, Wilkins is an elite talent, and expect for him to hear his name called on Thursday evening.
Let’s take a trip to the FCS to examine some talent from a small school. Enter Khalen Saunders from Western Illinois! He stands at 6’0 and weighing in at 324lbs. Saunders has been on scouts radar for some time, but eyes opened during Senior Bowl week. He showed everyone that he can compete with elite talent. Pro Football Focus credited Saunders with having the 2nd most successful win rate among interior defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl.
Saunders is a 2nd team FCS All American, and a 2-time member of 1st team All Missouri Valley Conference. Saunders played as a big body on the interior of the defensive line. He plays with physicality and uses his strength to control the line of scrimmage. One thing he’ll need to work on to succeed at the next level is technique. Physical toughness can only take a player so far before technique needs to take over. Saunders should project as a nose tackle in the NFL. He will be responsible for filling the A gaps to stop the run. Khalen Saunders could slip into a team’s envelope as early as the 3rd round in the NFL draft.
The jury is still out on this next prospect. Trysten Hill is a junior from the University of Central Florida. There have been questions regarding his character. Hill was a frequent visitor to the doghouse during his junior season at UCF. While his attitude may have kept him out of the starting lineup, he shined on the field when given the opportunity. Despite starting the previous 2 seasons, 2018 was his best season statistically.
Trysten Hill is very talented and has the tools necessary to succeed in the NFL. He gets off the ball remarkably fast and displays good reactionary quickness. When he’s on the field, the motor is running high! Sometimes, you think that Hill will overheat, but he just keeps on going strong. Two words come across my mind when thinking about Trysten Hill: Consistency and Upside. If he can play consistently at a high level, Hill has a tremendous upside to become a force in the middle of a defensive line for years to come. Day 2 of the draft could be the day that changes the life of Trysten Hill in becoming a member of the National Football League.
Renell Wren is a mammoth athlete standing at 6’5, and weighing in at 318lbs. Wren finished his senior season with 43 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and 1 sack. This earned him Honorable mention for All PAC 12 team. Wren meets the scout’s initial prerequisites: Good size, strength, and elite athleticism. While he didn’t become a regular starter until this past season, he still managed to catch the eye of teams and scouts. He started that quest during senior bowl week and continued impressing scouts in Indianapolis. He finished with the top combine score among defensive tackles with a 95. Some collegiate players blossom later than others and end up being very successful in the NFL. This may be the case for Renell Wren. He exhibits tremendous upside, and with good coaching, could dominate the interior for years in the NFL.
Defensive lineman are among the strongest position groups in this year’s draft. Obviously, teams will miss out on elite, can’t miss prospects such as Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, or Josh Allen. However, the middle rounds of the draft could produce solid talent that could turn into future pro bowl players in the NFL.