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Scouting the Senior Bowl: South Team Defense

The Senior Bowl South Team’s defense is swarming with defenders from the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers. Should the Saints draft some of them?

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Michigan State vs Alabama
Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) passes while defended by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) during the first quarter in the 2015 CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Jerome Miron
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Canal Street Chronicles will be represented at daily practices for the 2017 Senior Bowl. Coached by Gregg Williams’ Cleveland Browns defensive staff, we should get to see a lot of different looks from the South Team throughout the week of practices.

Here’s my tentative watch list of players on the South Team defense that I’ll be watching.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State
UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (47) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Linemen

  • DE Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M
  • DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State
  • DE Josh Carraway, TCU
  • DE Keionta Davis, Chattanooga
  • DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova
  • DT Carlos Watkins, Clemson
  • DT Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
  • DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
  • DT Montravius Adams, Auburn
  • DT Tanzel Smart, Tulane

This year’s draft class is being touted as a stout collection of defensive linemen, and the South Team unit doesn’t disappoint. The best edge rushers are probably Jordan Willis and Daeshon Hall. Hall started opposite Myles Garrett and is a very underrated talent who anchors well against the run but can get after the passer in his own right.

Willis has the better stat line (39.5 career tackles for loss, 25.5 sacks, six forced fumbles) but also has bad habits of overrunning the pocket and getting forced to the ground. Seeing their different approaches in attacking one-on-one drills will be fascinating.

Carlos Watkins and Eddie Vanderdoes are the best interior linemen on the South Team. They’re both highly disruptive, tall nose guards who could start for most teams right out of the gate. Vanderdoes is one of a few early graduates allowed to participate in the Senior Bowl but hasn’t played in months after an early-season knee injury. Showing he can handle the daily grind of practices and excel in areas not asked of him in UCLA’s defense will be big.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Clemson Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware (10) reacts after a play alongside defensive end Austin Bryant (91) during the fourth quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Steve Mitchell
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers

  • ILB Alex Anzalone, Florida
  • ILB Ben Boulware, Clemson
  • ILB Duke Riley, LSU
  • OLB Ryan Anderson, Alabama
  • OLB Tyus Bowser, Houston

The big name of the linebacker group is Ryan Anderson, the running-mate to Alabama’s star pass rusher Tim Williams. Anderson is a playmaker who created turnovers almost at will once in the starting lineup, bagging six forced fumbles and an interception the last two years. He’s also an active pass rusher with 19 career sacks. Anderson is a complete linebacker out on the edge and I look forward to him shining out of the shadow of Williams and Jonathan Allen.

The other noteworthy linebacker is Ben Boulware, an emotional leader of the National Championship-winning Clemson Tigers. Boulware has just fringe athleticism to win in the NFL, but his smarts may be unmatched. He correctly diagnosed nearly every play against Alabama in the season finale and frequently laid out some bone-crunching hits. He’ll have his hands full in practice with South Team tight ends Evan Engram, Gerald Everett, and O.J. Howard.

One name to watch as a late addition to the South Team roster is Paul Magloire, an Arizona linebacker/safety who almost flies around the field. Magloire led his squad in tackles even with missing a game to injury and has been highly impressive in Shrine Game practices.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn
Auburn Tigers wide receiver Tony Stevens (8) runs the ball while guarded by Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Justin Evans (14) during the second quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Credit: Shanna Lockwood
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Backs

  • CB Cam Sutton, Tennessee
  • CB Corn Elder, Miami
  • CB Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
  • CB Ezra Robinson, Tennessee State
  • CB Marquez White, Florida State
  • CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
  • S Johnathan Ford, Auburn
  • S Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
  • S Justin Evans, Texas A&M
  • S Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami

As talented as the 2017 NFL Draft’s defensive line looks to be, the secondary may have just as many future NFL starters in it. A number of underclassmen have declared, but this is a rare case where the seniors could rival them in playmaking ability.

Tre’Davious White is the top cornerback on the South Team and is already speculated to be selected in the middle of the first round. He has length, athleticism, and ball skills for days. White did seem to be vulnerable on deep passes where he struggled to track the ball in flight or concentrate on its placement, so matching up with speedy receivers like Taywan Taylor and Josh Reynolds will be a good test.

Another name to know is Damontae Kazee, a highly physical corner from the West Coast. Kazee attacks downfield with a relish and seems to always be in position to compete for catches - look at his 14.5 career tackles for loss and 15 interceptions the last two years. He could be a good fit for Dennis Allen’s zone coverages, as is Miami corner Corn Elder. Elder is a quick-twitch nickel corner who has been highly productive on blitzes.

Malik Hooker draws all the headlines as the draft’s top free safety, but Texas A&M product Justin Evans could be a consolation prize for a team later in the draft. Evans has uncanny range and can hit anyone anywhere in the field of play. He’s also developed some ball skills, picking off four passes and deflecting eight more in his senior year.